Today, one of my fellow STA travel intern applicants @paddy_doyle wrote a blog entry asking the question, is travel literature inspiring? His assertion was that it might be better to 'jump before you look.' My answer then is, why not do both?
I studied Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. In the final year I had the opportunity to take the module I had waited two years for, Travel Writing. My tutor was travel writer Joe Roberts, who I have an enormous amount of respect for. He, for want of a better word, 'nurtured' my writing skill and helped it become what it is today. For that I am grateful.
The module involved both reading travel literature and writing it. I went on a trip to Tipi Valley with my friend Katie Monks and wrote it up when we returned.
I read books about travellers, such as Chatwin, 'discovering' countries, writers like Yiyun Li and Jan Morris bringing their homelands to life and writers like Hemingway drinking their way through fictionalised versions of their experiences, in places seemingly more exotic than England (often only as far as France or Spain).
I poured over Gerald Durrell's childhood in Crete and swam alongside the fisherman in Hemingway's sea.
My bookshelf is almost entirely crammed with travel literature.
So then, the only way to find out if travel literature is inspiring, is to read it. If you only read two travel related books (one of these is a very thin volume, I promise), read The Songlines, by Bruce Chatwin, in which he discovered that the Aboriginal Australians could sing every feature on the landscape of Australia, like a map made of song - and Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises, a novel by Ernest Hemingway about Bull fighting and bad love in Spain as experienced by a very lovable alcoholic.
I don't think that travel writers and novelists do the travelling for you. Rather, they compliment what you already know, if you've seen it. And if you haven't been to the places they describe, they bring life to them, usually romanticising them almost imploring you to go there.
How many of us wanted to go to Kefalonia after reading Captain Corelli's Mandolin? I know I did.