Category Archives: Writing

Why do you write?

“Why do you write?”

I ask the question aloud. I just don’t understand.

“What is your motivation?”

The text is cut and pasted from elsewhere, the photographs belong to somebody else. None of it is theirs, so where is the satisfaction?

I understand why copywriters ‘borrow’ information/experiences from others. They’re earning from doing so, for themselves and the companies they write for. And I have the utmost respect for copywriters who are able to sit at a desk, research places and create something which comes across as insightful, original and real.

There aren’t many of those about though.

But bloggers? People writing for themselves and their ‘followers’, that I don’t understand. How can they feel good about palming off something that isn’t theirs?

There is another group of writers I don’t quite understand. Those who use their own words but don’t make any attempt to say anything new. I’m not suggesting I come up with something original every time I put pen to paper. I wish. But I strive to have a different voice, to say something that belongs to me and me alone, to observe from a slightly different angle. It is never, ever good enough.

So when I start to read a travel blog about a location which could have been cut and pasted straight from Wikipedia, I want to ask the author ‘what was your purpose in writing this? You must know it could equally well have been written by a copywriter sitting in a room a thousand miles away.’

They are writing as an obligation. Possibly to maintain a sham of a façade they have created in order to… well, travel in the cases I’m specifically thinking about.

But there is no joy, curiosity, emotion of any kind in what they write. It is not a calling, not an addiction where if you’re prevented for any length of time from banging away at the keyboard trying to create something, you get twitchy.

Their work has me staring, bemused, at a screen of bland nothingness wondering time and time again.

Why do you write?

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Not White Enough to be Scottish

“Whit dae ye mean am no white enough tae be Scottish?”

“Yer no white enough to play a Scottish freedom fighter, simple as.”

“But ah am Scottish, ah’ve been Scottish since ah wis born.”

“Well, yer no peelie-wally enough. That’s aw there is tae it.”

“It’s probably the tan, ah’ve just had a fortnight in Lanzarote. Ah’ll be white as a bottle of milk again before ye know it.”

The casting director wavered.

“Show us yer arse.”

“Whit?”

“Did ye sunbathe in the scud?”

“Naw.”

“Then show us yer arse.”

Ah, I could see where he was going. I flashed a chunk of cheek.

“Naw, yer still no white enough, there’s a touch of olive tone there. Wis yer maw Italian?”

“Naw, but ma granpa wis fae Sicily; came over as a POW during the war.”

“Well, whitever the reason, yer no white enough to be in this movie, ye’ll stand oot like a sore thumb.”

“This isnae fair. It’s awright for Idris Elba tae be James Bond but ah cannae play a Scot in ‘Freedom – the Willie Wallace Story’ when ah am one.”

“James Bond is fictional, it disnae matter who plays him.”

“Yer wrong there, he might be fictional, but he’s got a back story. His da wis Scottish and his maw wis fae Switzerland.”

“So?”

“They’re no exactly known for their thriving black populations. The chances of a wee Idris popping oot isnae very likely. If ye ignore the back story, yer no showing any respect for the source material. It’s just no right if yer a lover of literature. What’s more, if there are any missions in Eastern Europe they cannea really send Idris undercover can they? He wudna get very far before he wis spotted.”

“Ye never know, they made Sean Connery Japanese in You Only Live Twice. Trying tae pass Idris off as a Russian isnae any different.”

“Aye, good point… but he couldnae go on a mission tae America.”

“And why’s that?”

“He’d never make it oot of JFK before the American polis gunned him doon.”

“Right, ah’ve had enough of yer nonsense. Get oot,” the casting director pointed towards the door.

There was nothing more tae be said.

Now I know how that Zoe Saldana feels.

How to Pitch a Travel Piece to A British Tabloid

After years of sending probes into the darkest reaches of my brain to try to come up with original angles for travel articles, the penny has finally dropped and I’ve come up with a guaranteed way to perk up the interest of travel editors working on the British tabloids.

This is the pitch for any popular hot weather holiday destination.

The article will focus on what I did on my family holiday. That won’t actually be a lot as I’ll mostly spend it lounging around the pool drinking, eating and enjoying the glorious weather. I might venture out to the nearest purpose built resort which I’ll big up and say it’s sort of quaint with an authentic feel even though it’s nothing of the sort. But, hey, nobody ever notices that and it gives people licence to tell friends back home they had an authentic travel experience when all they did was sit in a Brit bar drinking sangria and singing along to an Adele sound-alike.

Almost all of the piece will be about the hotel (as I’ll rarely be leaving it), although I will throw in some inaccurate references to other nearby locations and maybe take a few cheap shots at stereotypes, everyone loves those even when they’re long past their sell by date.

Oh, and don’t expect me to do any research about where I’m staying (I am on holiday after all) apart from maybe asking the local tour rep, who’s been in the job two months, for their insightful input.

That’s it. Sound as though it’s a winner?

It should do because that seems to be the formula applied to a lot of the tabloid travel articles about the place I live that come up in my Google alerts.

Political Platitudes For Sale

Just watched the West Wing episode (again) where Josh Lyman makes the mistake of going online to debate with ‘ordinary people’ who don’t really understand what they’re writing about. It was a timely reminder about the perils (and waste of time) when it comes to leaving comments on threads of those who are a bit dodgy (in a number of ways) and aren’t interested in facts.

There’s a shop somewhere selling political platitudes. A place where people can buy off the shelf phrases.
“Can I help you sir?”
“Yes I don’t like the look of that scruffy bugger. I’m not sure what he stands for or what party he’s in but he’s not nice and neat like Mr Cameron or that other smart little fellow from a few years back… Adolf somebody.”
“Ah yes, I know exactly what you want. We’re doing a deal, you can have ‘left wing nutter’, ‘socialist dinosaur’ and ‘unelectable joke’ all for the price of one.”
“Sounds good to me. And I won’t sound stupid? Nobody will spot I haven’t actually read anything more than a headline if I put these on my facebook page?”
“I wouldn’t worry about that sir, none of our tens of thousands of other customers do.”

Incidentally  VP John Hoynes is the worst alcoholic in history.

Evolution of Travel Writing

Anyone who still thinks in terms of one camp ‘v’ the other when it comes to travel writing is missing the point.

Travel writers who point a finger at travel bloggers as being jumped up, amateur pretenders to the throne are guilty of not waking up to the fact travel writing has evolved.

Travel bloggers who crow ‘print is dead’ are equally blinkered and betray a naivety regarding the business of travel blogging/writing.

Writing about travel now involves a whole range of mediums – both online and print. This is the evolution of the business.

For anyone who actually thinks the continued rise in online ‘publications’ at the expense of printed ones will leave established travel writers trudging the streets with obsolete and metaphorical typewriters under their arms, here’s a little anecdote from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

I once worked for the Dept. of Employment in the UK. A regular comment thrown our way when people didn’t like the ‘rules’ was: ‘If everyone was in work, you’d be out of a job.’

If everyone spouting that line stopped to think about it for a second, they’d realise I really wouldn’t.

So, even if all travel writing were to move online…

A Lament for Generation Y

How lucky my parents were,
To huddle under iron beds,
Whilst the sky filled with planes,
And bombs rained down on neighbours and friends.

How lucky we were,
To stand arm in arm,
Fighting for pride and livelihood,
As a she devil pummelled our communities.

How lucky were both our generations,
Having to fight for what we believed.
Knowing the keys to the kingdom,
Would never be handed to us on a plate.

How lucky we were.