RUSTY TALK WITH LAURIE GOUGH
Melanie Chambers: What constitutes bad travel writing/ good travel writing?
Laurie Gough: A common mistake aspiring travel writers make is going on a trip and writing about it and assuming everyone will be interested in what you’ve written just because you’ve been to some place exotic. You have to assume the opposite: nobody is interested. It’s like showing someone your travel slides or making people read your day-by-day travel journal or blog. Simply writing what you did each day of your trip is not interesting. You have to tell a story. Oh, and clichés kill a travel story.
Good travel writing draws the reader in from the very first sentence. The story is especially interesting if there’s a quest, either internal or external of a combination of the two. If there’s internal struggle and reflection going on within the narrator, all the better. A good story leads the reader into the wonder and terror of the place, bringing that place alive with concrete original details. You want the reader to feel as if they’re there, with atmosphere all around them.
MC: How do you come up with story ideas? What draws you to a topic?
LG: Sometimes I don’t know what my story is until I’m half-way through a trip. Sometimes I don’t know until weeks after I get home and have time to reflect on my trip and come to see it more clearly. I start to see it as a story that could read like a novel with a story arc, full of the characters and plot twists. Usually you won’t know what your story is before your trip, even if you think you do. It’s really exhilarating though when an idea just hits you out of nowhere while you’re travelling and you know you have a story to write. You really start to live in the moment because you’re noticing details you might be writing about. Time slows down and your senses sharpen. You have to be much more aware than you would otherwise.
I’m drawn to the underbelly of a place, and to seeing how people interact with each other in different cultures. I’m also always interested in how much we’re defined by our culture. When I have a strong reaction about something in a different culture, I think, is this me or is this my culture? When we travel we come up against so many things that are difficult, but mainly we come up against ourselves. I’m interested in what happens at the point when two cultures meet. What do they take from each other?
MC: What is your routine for a perfect writing day?
LG: Before I had a baby, I’d stay up till 4 am writing. Now I have to write when I can. I guess my perfect writing day would mean being all alone in a cabin in the woods with no distractions and books all around me for inspiration. Oh, and dark chocolate nearby of course!
MC: What authors would you suggest --about five or more--new travel authors read?
LG: It’s funny. I read constantly but I don’t find myself reading a lot of travel books lately. I really like anything that evokes a strong sense of place and time. I also like books that make me laugh. I love the short stories of Lorrie Moore. She’s really quirky, and I love the memoir writer David Sedaris. I just read “Prisoner of Tehran by Marina Nemat which is excellent. Bill Bryson’s “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” really brings 1950s Iowa alive (who would have thought this could be interesting but it is!). I also like Alice Munro and Brian Doyle. An amazing book is “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell. It’s so important to feed your mind with good writing, if you want to write. Look what authors do and learn from them. Books are your best teachers.
MC: How did you get into travel writing?
LG: I travelled through much of my 20s and always kept travel journals. I never realized my travels would turn into books. I just liked writing in my journal because it felt good and I wanted to remember all the eccentric people I was meeting and strange circumstances I was forever encountering. But after living in Fiji and returning to Canada, I woke up one night in the middle of a snowstorm with a panicky feeling that my travels were evaporating. I got up immediately and started writing a story about Fiji. I spent the rest of the night writing that story and just kept going after that. Soon I realized I was writing a book. I also started my writing career before the internet really took off (travel blogs etc.) so I was lucky. Travel writing is a hard sell, but if you have a passion for both travelling and writing, it’s amazing to be able to put these two passions together. People are travelling more now than ever before and want to read travel writing as much as they ever did.
MC: What are you working on right now?
LG: I was recently in Bhutan, a country in the Himalayas, which measures its citizens Gross National Happiness. I’m writing an article called Pondering Happiness in Bhutan. It’s hard work but also exhilarating and fun.
Kiss the Sunset Pig, Penguin Canada, 2006
Penguin USA, 2006
Description from Laurie Gough's website:
In a beater car named Marcia, Gough reflects on a life spent traveling as she heads west across the USA towards her dreamland of California. Back in her early twenties, she lived in a cave on a beach in California and found purpose in life, listening to the waves in the moonlight. The trouble is, now she has lost that enthusiasm. As Gough makes her way across the country meeting a colorful variety of characters and heading towards that half-remembered cave, she recalls past adventures around the world-coming face to face with a ghostly crone on a Greek island; braving the jungles of Sumatra; paddling down the Yukon River; teaching native kids in Canada's sub-arctic; getting lost in Seoul, found in Thailand, and out of her head in Jamaica. As Gough closes in on the place of her dreams, she peels back the layers of cynicism that life builds around us, and finds that our old selves may still be inside us if only we bother to look.
Hard class across Sumatra (Globe and Mail, May 20, 2006)
Love Under the Midnight Sun (National Post, June 3, 2006)
"Kiss the Sunset Pig is a wonderful read that captures the delightfully insane spontaneity of travel. (Gough) manages the perfect mixture of humor and poignancy with the frightening and bizarre, all lyrically told and at times, poetic. A gifted storyteller, she writes a book very difficult to put down."
"Reading this book is like spending a glorious weekend reminiscing with a funny, intelligent, and well-travelled friend. Her vivid descriptions of the highs and lows, the people she meets and the real lives she steps into, are at turns, gripping, witty, profound and inspiring. An enjoyable read."
Real Travel magazine (UK)
"Part memoir, part travelogue, Kiss the Sunset Pig is a lovely exploration into a person's search for a home. (Gough) has the ability to situate a reader in a foreign landscape with the kind of vivid description that makes it possible to feel the land under her feet and to smell the air she is breathing."
The Globe and Mail
"Gough has a gift for self-deprecatingly wry humour. Her retelling of her ride on the Indonesian 'Bus of Death, Debauchery and Discomfort' is a true gem."
Winnipeg Free Press
"No ordinary American travelogue, Kiss the Sunset Pig is an insightful, personal odyssey."
"Thought-provoking, bursting with life and gorgeous in its descriptions of far-flung destinations, Kiss the Sunset Pig is a transporting read to be enjoyed on planes, trains and kayaks. And if you've been there, done that and bought the semi-detached, curl up with this book on your living room sofa for one last adventure by proxy."
"Kiss the Sunset Pig is elegant, funny and poignant. I couldn't bear it to end."
Polly Evans, UK author of Fried Eggs with Chopsticks, and It's Not About the Tapas
"Through tales of awe, exasperation and much humour, Gough drives the reader home."
The Ottawa Citizen
"In Naxos Nights the author brilliantly contrives to engage the reader so forcefully, it becomes impossible to put the story aside at the finish. It's a tale to savor, to read and re-read."
From the judges of the 2006 Tom Howard/John H. Reid Short Story Contest (where Naxos Nights has won second prize in a nation-wide contest in the U.S.)
"Kiss the Sunset Pig is a not just a traveler's travel book. Whether you journey from the comfort of your armchair, or you're on-the-move with a knapsack, Sunset Pig will remind you why we travel, dream, and live. Unlike many writers who use travel as a meditation on home, Gough's travels are meditations on identity. This gives the book a mythical quality: The reader is drawn into Gough's inner journey, where her cumulative wisdom is revealed tantalizingly slowly through each travel segment, the way a waking mind pieces together a profound dream, bit by luscious bit. Like conversing with an old, dear friend, reading Kiss the Sunset Pig is inspiring and enlivening. With her uncompromising need to explore her world, Gough inspires the reader to live an authentic, full life, to expand with the universe, and find her way back home."
Woman's Post - See entire review here.
"Kiss the Sunset Pig - a frequently funny, sporadically profound account of Laurie Gough's drive west across America. Five out of five stars."
Traveller Magazine (UK)
"Gough is a fearless and inveterate solo traveller who thinks nothing of hitchhiking or grabbing a second-class bus to her destination, or throwing down her sleeping bag on the beach once she gets there..There are several refreshing things about this book but mostly, I liked Gough's down-to-earth, unhurried, unassuming tone and the way in which the stories simply unfold, as if you were listening to them while sitting around a campfire with a bottle of wine."
"Laurie Gough's writing is often intimate and always inviting. Even those who have never gravitated towards travel writing will be pleasantly surprised by the fresh and intriguing view of the world that Laurie Gough offers in Kiss the Sunset Pig."
Marcie McCauley, Author and Reviewer
"The way she writes about California is reason enough to pick up the book."
Sunset magazine (US)