The Travel Writing Tribe
Travel can be one of the greatest things you can do to spark your creativity and curiosity. I spent much of the Pandemic lockdown reading books about countries that I wanted to visit when the world opened up again. That’s how I discovered today’s guest. Tim Hannigan is a writer and academic, and the author of several narrative history books, including ‘A Brief History of Indonesia’ and the award-winning ‘Raffles and the British Invasion of Java’. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Leicester and has led various workshops on travel writing and creative non-fiction as well as designing and writing the travel writing module for the Open School of Journalism. In his latest book, ‘The Travel Writing Tribe’ Tim sets out in search of this most venerable of genres, hunting down its legendary practitioners and confronting its greatest controversies. Is it ever okay for travel writers to make things up, and just where does the frontier between fact and fiction lie? What actually is travel writing, and is it just a genre dominated by posh white men? What of travel writing’s queasy colonial connections? In this wide-ranging interview, we discuss travel, creativity, and ecotourism.
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Artificial Intelligence Generated Transcript
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James Taylor 0:00
I’m James Taylor and you’re listening to the super creativity podcast the show dedicated to inspiring creative minds like yours. Travel can be one of the greatest things that you can do to spark your creativity and curiosity. I spent much of the pandemic lockdown reading books about countries they wanted to visit when the world opened up again. That’s how I discovered today’s guest. Tim Hannigan is a writer and academic and the author of several narrative history books including a brief history of Indonesia, and the award-winning raffles, and the British invasion of Java. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Leicester and has led various workshops on travel, writing, and creative nonfiction, as well as designing and writing the travel writing module for the Open School of Journalism. In his latest book, The travel writing tribe, Tim sets out in search of the most venerable of genres, hunting down his legendary practitioners, and confronting his greatest controversies. Is it ever okay for travel writers to make things up? And just weird as a frontier between fact and fiction? Like, what is travel writing? And is it a genre dominated by posh white men? What of travel writings queazy colonial connections? In this wide-ranging interview, we discuss travel, creativity, and eco-tourism. Enjoy the show. So Tim Hannigan Wonderful to have you with us today. Um, first of all, I’m gonna say this is a beautifully researched and written book, I just, I’m back from Italy, I took it on holiday with me and I kind of read it on the, on the river Tiber there, and it was just a fantastic book. My only criticism, though, for the whole book is that you’ve just fueled my book buying addiction, and introduced me to so many new wonderful writers I didn’t know about before that I’ve got this Amazon list that Swedish ridiculous now, so is that have you had that effect on many readers?
Tim Hannigan 1:57
I was about to say you are not the first person to say that. I mean, generally speaking, when you read a travel book, the danger is you’re going to want to travel to the place described. And I do travel to places in this book. But I think I think the higher risk is exactly what’s happened to you, James, you end up with a much extended to be read pile. But you know, of all the unfortunate upshots of reading something that’s not a terrible thing to happen.
James Taylor 2:24
No, no, not at all. And we’re going to get into about the book and the ideas in the book, somewhere in the book, and I can remember who it was you have a conversation with one of the writers, and they were asked a question, is it better to read a book about a place before you go there? Or is it best not to do that to kind of go with a beginner’s Zen beginner’s mind about a place? And then after you visited the place to come back and then read books about the place of you kind of you have any particular take on that one?
Tim Hannigan 2:54
Yeah, it’s an interesting one, isn’t it? Dervla Murphy, the great mighty Dervla Murphy says that she’s not interested in reading travel books about places she’s going to why would I read them when I could go there and find out for me, I think she was being slightly cheeky and slightly for she’s facetious about that. But I did also in the book, speak to some people who did not travel writers, but just avid travelers. And some of them said that some of them said they prefer to read afterward, to give a kind of context on what they’ve seen. Um, I think there’s a lot to be said, for doing that. For the reading afterward. It’s a bit like that thing of when you read a book review, or a movie review, after you’ve seen the movie or read the book, I, I do that. I mean, I read book reviews, I read movie reviews of books that I’m not going to read on movies, I’m not going to see but when I have seen one, so James Bond, the new bond last week, and the first thing I did when I got home was the cup of tea and read two or three reviews of it. So I think I think there is something to be said, for doing that with travel. I think when you’ve been to a place and then you read somebody else’s impression of it, you probably draw more from that account, you were just in Italy, if you were now to read a book about Italy, you’d read it in a very different way, from the way you would read it if it was described in places you hadn’t been to. There’s also arguably a kind of safety element in terms of not getting infected by the ideas of somebody else. I mean, this is one of the criticisms that’s often been leveled against travel writing by postcolonial scholars, it inadvertently ends up carrying traces of colonial discourse within it. And if you read a travel book about a place and then you go to the place, you’re potentially already carrying those little, those little seeds of, of preconceptions of, of tropes of stereotypes. So if you go first and then read afterward, you probably aren’t able to critically judge more and to say, it wasn’t really like that. So I think there’s a lot to be said, for reading after you’ve gone. That said, I also think that reading about places you’re not going to travel to. It’s just I mean, that that’s, that’s one of the greatest pleasures of it. I’m right at the moment reading Cullen through bronze, a new book, Yamuna River. Now, that’s a place I’ve never been to. And I doubt very much I’ll ever travel along the border regions of Mongolia and Russia and China. So I’m not, you know, it’s not affecting my own experience of the place. My own experience I’m ever going to have is through cons O’Brien’s book. And it’s just a wonderful thing to have vicariously to travel.
Definition of travel writing.
James Taylor 5:38
Absolutely. And I sense the start of the book that almost at the felt like there was a tension within you. You had several kinds of questions there, there were these different things between, you know, the academic way of, of looking at writing was the actual travel writers themselves, there was the colonialist’s side of things like the matricide stuff. And as you can go through the book, I kind of felt you’re getting a bit more relaxed. It almost felt like you were going on these journeys, having this conversation with all these authors. So it probably befits that we start and talk about what is your definition of travel writing? Has that definition perhaps changed or what a travel writer does, over from the start of the book until the end of the book?
Tim Hannigan 6:23
My perspective changed and I’m really glad that you picked up on it as he described, because that’s exactly what happened. And that was entirely authentic, you know, that was was a very much a reflection of how I felt I had all these kinds of anxieties, the beginning, somebody who was sort of a travel writer, but very much a travel writing reader, lifelong travel writing reader, but also somebody who kind of dabbled in the academic study of travel writing. So I did have all these questions of, is it okay is it? Is it alright? For people, generally people with a considerable degree of privilege, because voluntary travel tends to emerge from privilege. Involuntary travel tends to emerge from the complete opposite but those who travel involuntary seldom write books about it. So I did have all these anxieties, and gradually, just through the course of thinking it through talking about it, wrangling with it, wrestling with it, they did dissipate. And I did end up in a much more positive place at the end. The Spoiler alert is travel writing dead, no, it’s not dead, it’s absolutely fine. So my sort of perspective on travel, writing change, but I think, I think my sense of what travel writing is, at the base at the core, probably didn’t, academics have wasted reams of paper trying to pin down what travel writing is. And they tend to make the point that it’s, you know, it’s a broad and amorphous genre that sucks in bits of this. And that sucks in bits of memoir, bits of history, bits of journalism, and a lot more besides that. But I think the way I see travel writing is a base, it is nonfiction. So it’s not fictional, is rooted in first-person experience, usually written in the first person, although it doesn’t have to be but usually written in the first person. And it’s an account of an engagement with a place that is not entirely familiar to you. So it doesn’t have to be you traveling from the US to China or from Cornwall to Devon, or whatever it might be. It doesn’t, doesn’t have to be a great distance journey or a very distinct journey, but it has to be stepping out of your immediately familiar zone. So it’s engagement with a place that’s not entirely familiar to you, and then a first-person nonfiction narrative about it.
Origin Of Travel Writing
James Taylor 8:49
I’m glad you said the travel writing isn’t dead, because it’s that unknown. To start the book, you talk about this kind of relatedness, it always feels like every generation of a travel writer is saying, Well, you know, frankly, you should get out of the game now because the previous generation of travel writers had, it’s so much better, they had all these other things as well. So it seems that that as you get further in the book, and you introduce a lot more kinds of newer writers, this does seem is an optimism albeit the travel writing as genres changed. One of the things that I found you can open up and early in the book, which was a really pleasant surprise is when I think of travel writing, I usually think of a white male, upper-middle-class Etonians privileged, going on the world and saying look at what these interesting things these foreigners are doing are that you know, broadly kind of Yeah, James. But what I find fascinating is you kind of went back to the origins of this style in this genre. And it turns out it all started with a Galeazzi, a nun named Adria. So tell us about Nigeria because this is not where I thought the journey would Again,
Tim Hannigan 10:00
no, it’s fascinating, isn’t it? Um, you know, not only do we tend to think that classical travel writing right up to the 1990s was very much a thing done by men, by posh men, and presumably, largely read by men, has been lots of discussion of where the women, travel writers and so on. But now if we go right back to this, this early stage, in we think of the Dark Ages, pre-medieval, the earliest example that’s been identified of first-person narrative accounts of a journey, in European literature is by this nun, this mysterious nun, a girl or a girl who seems to be in from dilithium. Even that’s not clear. I mean, everything about her is somewhat mysterious, but she undertook in the sixth century, a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to Jerusalem, and then to Sinai. And this is not was not entirely out of the ordinary at the time, there were plenty of religious pilgrims from Western Europe making that trip and certainly writing accounts. But what she did seems to be original and different, is she wrote an account in the past tense in the first person, usually we because she was traveling in a party, she doesn’t explain who they were usually using. We have her journey through Jerusalem, and then down to Mount Sinai. And she seems to have been writing it back to the other nuns in her Nunnery back somewhere in the misty, Misty cliffs and forests of Galicia. So the original travel writer and the original travel writing audience, we’re all women, this genre that then went on to become excessively male. It’s worth saying that that’s not where the first-person travel narrative was invented. And there were there was a very strong first-person travel writing tradition in China in the same period. I mean, there were at that period, loads of Chinese monks wandering around China itself, but also going to India and Southeast Asia to find, find more information about Buddhism as it was practiced in other places, and they were often kind of proto anthropologists, proto ethnographers, and they tended to write first-person accounts, Japan as well slightly later developed quite strong nonfiction first-person, travel narrative tradition. So there have been going on in lots of other places, but there wasn’t any cross-fertilization, because those texts, those Chinese and Japanese texts weren’t translated into English, usually until the 19th and 20th centuries. So they were kind of on separate planes, parallel universes, but in Europe, it seems to have started with with a Lithia, none.
Travel Writing And Pandemic
James Taylor 12:49
Well, I’m glad to hear that. And then it seemed to be that we can move into this adventurer explorer, almost from a scientific standpoint of people going away, to go somewhere to maybe discover new species or new things and then come back and present that what they’d learned in a more kind of science in a maybe in a speech of some sort. And the book was almost a byproduct, it was it wasn’t the main thing here isn’t that they were going for. But then we seem to have gone had a change again. So where do you see, you know, travel writing just now? Are we kind of going into a new place? I mean, we’ve got COVID, that’s happened. And so I’m guessing a lot of people have had to explore more of their local environments.
Tim Hannigan 13:34
Yeah, I mean, this interesting thing, travel writing is arguably much older than, than most fiction writing traditions, apart from perhaps poetry. Maybe drama plays, certainly, it’s older than the novel. And it was originally this kind of knowledge genre, people went off to explore to find new species to find new lands, and then they wrote a narrative account of it. But what eventually happened coming through the 19th century into the 20th century is the strictly scientific writing the academic writing peeled off and became academia. And the travel narrative was left as a sort of entertainment or literary thing. So that’s where it developed, its kind of strong literary tendencies. And that’s kind of maintained and is still current today. But what you find if you look back to travel books from maybe 2025 years ago, is there still some kind of lingering vestige of an old informational imperative, you get the travel book about China? That’s mainly about the travel writers’ journey around China, the impressions trying to kind of create a portrait of the country, but you get a slight sense that this is Wikipedia before Wikipedia and possibly a little bit of wiki travel before you travel as well. So you read this book, to find out hard factual information about and also to maybe know what it would be like to travel there yourself. And that was still a feature of some of those narrative travel books as recently as the 1990s. That’s obviously all gone. Now, nobody reads a travel book, if they want a quick overview of the history of China, they go to Wikipedia, right, and they listen to a podcast or watch a documentary about it. So in a way, travel writing has been thrown back on its kind of core aspect, which is that that journey and what the writer encounters on the journey and what they find out, rather than a planned informational thing?
James Taylor 15:36
Yeah, there was an interesting point in the book, I can’t remember which of the authors described it, but I thought it was, it was something that can be linked to the work I do as a professional speaker, where I travel around the world speaking to different audiences and, and doing that, and I think she was saying that, essentially, these three parts what we thought of as travel writing, the first one is seeing what something was like in these other lands, the other people and these other lines are the cultures of the places. Well, now you say we’ve got Google, we’ve got Wikipedia to do that. Secondly, was the adventure part. And for the price of a plane ticket, pretty much anyone can go anywhere now. So you get a flight to book two this afternoon if you wanted to, I guess. But the third one, and I just thought this was so interesting, and what it almost kind of made it exciting, where you feel there’s so much more room now more to grow, is the when you when someone travels, you talk about travelers and travel ease, when someone goes to a place and then finds a story of that person. I think you mentioned that you know, the person that’s, you know, working in the bakery, and they have a fascinating story. They’re not Nestle storytellers themselves. But you’re able to then take on the role of being able to share that person’s story, anything. Well, the stories are unlimited. What if that’s the case,
Tim Hannigan 16:55
yeah, The person who drew attention to that was Samantha Subramanian, who is a journalist. He is from India. He lives in the UK. Now he was in Ireland when I met him. He lived in the States previously. So he’s a very kind of globe-trotting character. But he’s a journalist by training. And he made that point that yeah, it’s the human, the human interaction. There’s no There’s no voice. There’s no individual voice in Wikipedia, right? Yes, no, you read a detailed guidebook to a place but you don’t get those personal stories of the person in the bakery. And one of the other writers, I spoke to rural McLean, he talked about what drives him to travel is this need to people the map to fill that kind of hard, factual geographical knowledge of the world with the fluid stuff, which is the people and as you travel, as you speak in different places, you’re going to meet different people, you’re going to talk to different people in the taxi, you’re going to talk to different people in the hotel. And when you’re sort of talking to people after the event, you’re going to get very different, very different stories. And each of those individuals has just a world, an entire world locked up in them. And somebody going out there and meeting them is really the only way to draw that all together in a coherent block mean everyone has their own ability to share their own stories with whoever they meet, and possibly more than they once did the share the more widely using digital tools, but there’s still something in that figure of a traveler going out there traveling around a particular place, Italy will say talking to the person in the bakery and talking to the person in the taxi and talking to the person they just randomly meet walking by the river one day, and, and bringing those voices together into something more than the sum of its parts.
James Taylor 18:45
I’m James Taylor business, creativity, and innovation keynote speaker and this is a super creativity podcast. If you enjoy listening to conversations with creative thinkers, innovators, entrepreneurs, artists, authors, educators, and performers, then you’ve certainly come to the right place. Each week we discuss ideas, life, work, success, failures, creative process, and much much more. You’ll find show notes for today’s episode as well as free creativity training at JamesTaylor.me. If you’re enjoying learning by Tim Hannigan, then check out my interview with Professor Roger Kneebone, where we discuss why experts matter and how to develop mastery in your chosen profession. Hear my conversation with Professor Roger Kneebone at Jamestaylor.me. After the break, we returned to my interview with Tim Hannigan. We will discuss how travel can spark curiosity. This week’s episode is sponsored by SpeakersU the online community for international speakers, SpeakersU helps you launch grow and monetize your speaking business faster than you thought possible. If you want to share your message as a highly paid speaker then SpeakersU will teach you how just go to SpeakersU.com to access that free speaker business training.
One of the other things that can link and this was one of the other tensions that I was this not I could feel you’re trying to unwind during the book was I travel writers, and then the academics that study travel writing. And I felt they occupied not just different continents, but different galaxies. They were very different ways. They looked at things. And they had several criticisms, I guess of something earlier writers as well. And as I was reading, I thought, wow, many of these same criticisms could be put to speakers, professional speakers are going travel around the world. So you’re describing some of those very common criticisms that you saw somebody on the academic side looking at when they look at travel writers, some of the problems, the challenges that arise when you are that person going to another place, and then reporting that.
Criticisms On Travel Writing
Tim Hannigan 20:45
Yeah, it’s a, it’s a funny thing. And I think it applies to, I think it applies to an awful lot of literary studies academia in general. Now, there’s, there’s an idea, the idea of the death of the author that we take the author out of it, when we’re assessing a novel, say, or a poem, we don’t think about who wrote it, we just assess the text as a thing. And that’s fine. That’s it. That’s a legitimate approach. But it’s one that I just don’t think works when you’re dealing with a nonfiction travel text, because, unlike a novel, unlike a poem, this travel book is a record of experience. At some point, a traveler went out to wherever it was, they went and met some people and then came back and wrote about it. So you, you have to, you have to pay attention to the realities, the actuality of that journey. And there has often been a tendency for academics, to not quite make that connection. Somebody did once say to me, somebody who was themselves a travel writing scholar, but also an experienced World Traveler they’ve had rather than the very background of their own. And she said to me, travel writing scholars are just the most awful travelers, she was talking about a conference that she’d been to, and how she was somebody who lived in different countries traveled a lot. And she was just bowled over by the fact that none of them could find a bus stop. None of them knew where their hotels were, they all got continuously lost. And she just said she had this really strong impression that none of them, none of them knew how to travel. Yeah, it was traveled texts that they studied. And I think there is there has sometimes been that slightly kind of unworldly element. And when you do get the very critical takes, and by no means by no means all, travel, writing, scholarship is critical. It’s critical in the academic sense, but not critical in the sort of hostile sense, and it’s become less and less so. These days. If you go to an academic conference, you’ll find most people are much less hostile to travel writing than they might have been 20 years ago. But there is a sort of lack of contact with the realities of the production of a book, or with the realities of a journey. And in some of those hostile takes, you will find people just failing to take account of the fact that, you know, this journey was, was shaped by the demands of a publisher, for example, shaped by a knowledge of what people wanted to read, that they went to a particular place because that was going to have to be in the book. After all, the publisher would demand it. Thereat were some criticisms at one point of Michael Pailin. His books emerged from television shows that are produced and researched. I mean, Michael Beilein isn’t wandering randomly around the Sahara, on his trajectory, that route has been determined by researchers and producers. And then he writes a book based on the back of it, but I read in one particular academic critique, a criticism of things he did in places that he went that was produced by, by the demands of television rather than boys. They
Travel Writing VS Travel Vlogging
James Taylor 23:56
were looking for that great shot that great image to get a visual, but I guess some of the same things could be put to a vlog travel vloggers. You know you go on YouTube, as there seems to be a lot. And it seems to me I was this was a thing. You didn’t kind of talk about it in the book. But I guess because you talk about the travel writing drivers pose a travel vlogging tribe, which is maybe good. Do so is there any overlap between those worlds because the in some ways, it feels like the similarity but also some way it feels like they’re quite different spaces, and different folks are doing that work.
Tim Hannigan 24:31
Yeah. I mean, if we take travel writing in its broadest sense you can bring that all under one huge umbrella. I’m writing about travel, we might call it if we take writing in the broadest sense that will include vlogging and podcasting, whatever else. So yeah, we could call all of that writing about travel, and that would include travel journalism guide book writing, which I used to work in myself, and then the country A literary book form sets off slightly on the side. But no, I think there’s a strong, strong link between the two. Because people who are vlogging are in a way crafting a narrative. They’re not. They’re not, they’re not just sort of continuously living streaming as they wander around for a week or
James Taylor 25:20
although that does occasionally happen and is some of the most boring blokes you can probably watch. But something else you notice, I noticed in the book, you can make a decision and I guess it was to help corral this because it can be such a big topic is you chose to focus on British writers, travel writers. And what we’ve got a travel writer and author of written two books as well, as one of them was one the condition but also very early on, it seemed to be that British travel writers have a can or do something slightly different than say, an American travel writer or a federation medically Can you maybe describe like what you saw as some of the unique kind of flavors you often find in? In British travel, writing isn’t so obvious in other places? Um,
Tim Hannigan 26:09
I mean, I was loose with the British thing. Yeah. The two-book rule that was there to just, you know, an awful lot of people have done one travel book in a wide career that was mainly made up of writing novels or doing television or whatever it might be. So I wanted people who I could say were travel writers, not just somebody who’d done a travel book. So strict on that the British bit I was kind of loose on it didn’t matter if you weren’t British, but if you’d lived in Britain, or published in Britain or something, you’re in Monaco at one point. Yeah. And that’s Nick Danziger, who’s British but has an American passport and has never really lived in Britain very much skeptical as Bobo lives in Scotland is Bulgarian originally. So I was. Yeah, I was flexible on that front. But to answer the question, I think one of the things is that travel writing has been, in a way travel writing, literary travel, writing, book, travel writing, has been a kind of higher profile thing with a more obvious community and genre identity in Britain. And if you think about people who are American travel writers, we do the two of the biggest, most famous American travel writers around will be pulled through and Bill Bryson. Now, both of them began their writing careers in Britain, both of them have long, long periods of residency in Britain. So although they’re American, by birth, and by citizenship and I think now both living in America, certainly through is there as travel writers, they were kind of British or adjacent British because of that strong literary tradition of the written journey, which I think was less, less, less strong and less distinct in America, not to say that there’s not a vast amount of travel writing produced in America, but it didn’t somehow have that kind of core canon. That core sense of being a travel writer is a thing that you can do as a literary person. So I think that’s, that’s part of it has that strong tradition. Now, it also has a particular context, which is the history, the history of colonialism. And the 19th century into the 20th. Century traveling was very often associated, with the Empire. And that’s where some of its problems creep in.
James Taylor 28:29
And you’ve got, obviously, the William Dalrymple as well who have kind of looked at, to kind of bridge these different worlds and help us understand these different worlds as well. One of the other contentions in the book, which I think is kind of resolved, as we get further in is between how much artistic license a travel writer can take. And, and it seems to be that, you know, there was some, I’m turning to the name of the writer from who was the former politician who traveled around Iraq. He was very much, very sure it was very much one side, you know, this is literal stuff you’re writing here. And other ones were just a little bit more kind of flexible. You know, if they met someone on that long, long train journey, maybe they took that story from that train journey, and they can move on to another just to keep the pacing of the things as well. So talk, because there seems to be a big controversy. And I was kind of surprised about how controversial this was, but using a more artistic license added a little bit more kind of fiction into those travel books.
Tim Hannigan 29:30
Yeah. Look, it’s a thing that academics don’t travel themselves very much with but readers. Absolutely. And, and writers are very aware of it. Writers are aware of that very strong contract. Several people talked about the idea that there’s a contract. If you’re presenting something like a travel book, the readers will sort of implicitly assume there’s a contractual agreement here that you’re telling the truth you’re explaining exactly what happened. And then what brings attention is that virtually all writers, including the ones who claim to stick Absolutely, rigorously to the facts, do a little bit of fiddling, a little bit of polishing, even if it’s just a case of leaving things out to taking out the boring days taking out the day when you have to go back because you’d forgotten something or we have to take a detour. That doesn’t make sense. So there is behind the scenes, an awful lot of fiddling and an awful lot of polishing going on. So you do tend to get this kind of broad, two-fold distinction amongst travel writers, the ones who say, no, never make anything up, you know, there’s a contract, and I stick to it. And the ones who say, look, it’s literature, you know, and I need to be free in my creativity within it. But behind that, in my experience, most readers get quite upset, even if they think they’re okay with it. You know, if you say, Look, I’m fine. I know, this is a work of literature, I don’t expect this to be an absolutely strict journalistic record of what happened. You read the book, and then when you’re finished, I say, did you know it there was never a horse, he made up that horse, you’ll even if you’ve been very sanguine at the start, you’ll tend to react by going What do you know, once you’re confronted with the details? Most of the people I find, in my experience, respond like that. So I think that’s, the great and fascinating tension of travel writing is that that tension, that fact that it does almost always exist on a cusp, between fiction and nonfiction, just in the process of turning it into a narrative, there has to be an element of fictionalization, even if it’s only the leaving, leaving things out. But that’s what makes it interesting. I do think it’s important to say, though, that we should always remember the distinction between creativity, and imagination, and invention when it comes to storytelling. And one of the most creative things that you can do with the real world is giving it shape, give it sense, the things that happened, and work out how to how to take the meaning from that how to put it together as a narrative, without inventing anything. So I think sometimes this is where travel writing can be looked down upon by people who like fiction, as well, you know, you’re not deploying any real creativity there. That all happened. And I just think that’s absolute nonsense.
Travel Writing Increases Creativity
James Taylor 32:29
I guess it’s almost like, you know, you think someone talks about this hierarchy of literature, like poetry at the top than fiction, then then I think it was not nonfiction would probably travel writing kind of pretty low down there, and kids books, somewhere along those lines, but you kind of bring it in this idea of creativity. Because I guess you’re in some way, just something more constrained. There is the fact there is a place you’re traveling to, it feels almost like you know, the Japanese poetry where you have so many syllables and someone like you have to like, develop your creativity within that form. And so I think that like increase the creativity not decrease.
Tim Hannigan 33:09
I think that’s a fantastic way to put it. And I’m going to steal that James because that’s what travel writers do. They get good things out on their own, they steal. And that’s a wonderful way to put it. Yeah, I mean, look, it’s a, it’s a very well recognized and very well understood principle, stepping beyond travel, writing here for a month seven beyond writing, even that, that constraints deployed in the right way can be very good for creativity. The complete open field isn’t necessarily that great for boosting creativity, if you’ve got constraints that have a particular kind in place, people tend to respond quite well to them creatively. And I think that is something that you can apply to the writing of nonfiction travel writing, particularly, in this case, I’ve got constraints, I’m not allowed to make anything up. If I just start on day one, and right the way through today, 20 in a linear form, that’s going to be boring as hell, and nobody’s going to want to read that. So I’m faced with a challenge. I’m faced with a constraint I’ve got the constraint of not being able to make anything up. But I’ve got the challenge of how do I make this literary? How do I make this imaginative? How do I make this engaging without going beyond those boundaries of nonfiction? And that’s where I think the most interesting in travel writing gets generated when people react like that.
James Taylor 34:33
And the final question I just want to ask you was a theme I saw repeated in the book, which I was quite surprised about because you think of travel writers, those people they’ve got their notepads in their bags or traveling going from one place to another. And I think it was Robin Hanbury, tension. He spoke about this sense of, having a sense of belonging or you call it a taproot somewhere that when you’re always got you’re always having somewhere you’re coming back to somewhere. And that gives you your, your structure your you can accommodate, you know, those, those constrictions and gives you a constriction in which they feel the confidence to go out and explore. So this can feel as though a little bit counterintuitive. These people are going out into the world, that they’re not nomads in that sense that they’re doing something. And so can you talk to you like that idea of, of a sense of belonging, and this kind of taproot as it relates to races, girls think this is something that our listeners who are maybe professional musicians, professional speakers who are traveling around the world, and they’re always thinking about this, as the building the sense of belonging, going somewhere coming back and the tension within that as well.
Tim Hannigan 35:45
It’s a really interesting thing, isn’t it? And it comes up quite often with the particularly older generation of travel writers, Robin Henry Tennessee’s in his 80s. Cesar is an old Etonian, who was at Oxford was a genuine explorer, somebody who has been to places that nobody had been to before. And yet he has lived for most of his life, in the same place for more than 6060 years. I think at this stage. The same remote part of Coleman has always come back to there and talked about a taproot there, but he’s not he’s not the only one. There are younger writers back to Barkham, who was born and brought up in East Anglia in England and has stayed very rooted there. And Devon Murphy in Lismore in Ireland, and never lived anywhere else. But all while traveling, so is a pattern that people have this very strong sense of a taproot and a place to come back to. But I think, if you look at the wider body of travel writers, it isn’t always necessarily a fixed geographical anchor. Because I did think for a while when I was first looking at his patent, some writers have that and they tend to maybe be the older or, or more traditional, more conservative ones. And then some of the younger ones like some answer from anyone who I mentioned earlier, who was born in the UK, but But then as a baby went back to India lived in Indonesia as a child at some point back to India school in the States. time living in Ireland. I’m living in the UK, I think people like that are just sort of unrooted it seems, or caprylic acid over from Bulgaria, New Zealand, France, now the Highlands of Scotland, but I think those people have a degree of rootedness. And I think maybe in smattered Romanians case, it’s his educational background, you know, kind of ivy league, US educational background, and then a strong journalistic identity in the kind of long-form narrative journalism. So he’s a route in that, I think, somebody like cap Cass Bova has a well now has a route in Scotland. So I think that rootedness Can, can be in a geographical place can be in a sense of returning to that one spot from which all the journeys begin and end. But I think it can also be in a sense of your tribe. What your identity is, as a traveler. Yeah. And it might be as a professional musician, that’s you, your rootedness is within that, that community. So I don’t think it’s always necessarily a fixed geographical place, it can be something else as well.
Where do you belong?
James Taylor 38:13
So they leave that actually, I thought I was gonna be my last final question on this. Because I believe you’re, you’re in Ireland. Now you’re based in Ireland. Your wife is Irish, don’t worry. It’s the same as Irish Gaelic of Scotland, Scottish Gaelic, but I’m investing in Scotland, and Ireland, or Scotland. And someone wants to I don’t speak Gaelic, but once someone has told me, in English, we would normally say, the first if you’re in a meeting, or you’re seeing someone at a party, say, you know, where are you from? You might say that you know where you’re from, or if you’re in America, you know, what do you do? Because you wonder how much money you make necessarily, but in Gallic, it’s the phrase translated into English is, where do you belong? Where do you belong? I thought That’s interesting because you can belong in different places you can belong with your family, you can belong. That’s almost like a much more interesting question to ask a party than where, where are you from? So I’m going to ask you, Tim Hannigan. Where do you belong?
Tim Hannigan 39:14
Oh, that’s a great question. I belong somewhere, somewhere in the middle of the Celtic Sea. I think this is stuff I’m working on on my current project, which is about coral it’s a book about coral about the history in the culture of coral. And there’s a history of deep history I’m right back to the Neolithic of connection between Southern Ireland Wales Cornwall Brittany. That’s the core of it when the trade networks and going strong it wrapped up the whole of Ireland and Britain and stretched away down the coast of Spain and when it when they weren’t it, contracted to that core arc, but we sometimes now think of this as the Celtic fringe. So I belong. I belong somewhere along with those lands. weighs between Cornwall and Ireland.
The Travel Writing Tribe
James Taylor 40:03
Beautiful. Well, Tim Hannigan’s fantastic book, The travel writing tribe. We’re going to put a link Yes, people can go and get their copy of the book. Wonderful read. If people want to also learn about some of your other books, your your, your other writing and also learn about your research your academic side. Where’s the best place to go and kind of follow you about all of that.
Tim Hannigan 40:22
You can find me on Twitter. It’s Tim_Hannigan. That’s where I’m most active. There’s also a website which is just demanding and calm, very easy to find. If you Google Tim Hannigan travel writing, you’ll find me by one way or another one route or another.
James Taylor 40:38
Well, Tim, thank you so much for coming to the show today and sharing about your creative life. Thank you so much.
Tim Hannigan 40:43
Thank you. Thanks for having me.
James Taylor 40:45
You can subscribe to the super creativity podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts while you’re there. Leave us a review. I would appreciate it. I’m James Taylor, and you’ve been listening to the super creativity podcast.