Author Interview with travel writer Julie Watson

An interview with our travel writer Julie Watson about her collection of travel writing published by Beachy Books called Travel Takeaways: Around the World in Forty Tales published 3rd April 2023.

What was the inspiration behind writing Travel Takeaways?

It began with some particularly memorable past travel experiences that have stayed with me over the years in the form of vivid mental flashbacks and special impressions of places or personal encounters. The desire to hold onto those treasured moments that I ‘took away’ from my travels inspired me to retell each of them in the form of a short story or vignette in which I try to distil all the different elements of that particular travel experience.

Many of the tales involve seeing a rare plant or witnessing some wildlife event. Where did that urge come from do you think as it seems to influence what you write about?

I’ve always had an interest in the natural world, probably dating back to an early childhood fascination with the caterpillars I saw munching away on my father’s cabbage patch! Later, while living in Italy I developed an interest in the different species of wild orchid that I found growing in Mediterranean countries particularly around archaeological sites, where the chalky soil is to their liking. Back in the UK I went on to write and edit the newsletter of a local wildlife association in the city where I lived and worked. So it’s been an enduring interest in my life and one that has often been a theme of many of my travels—although not exclusively.

When did you first start writing with a view to publication? What inspired it all?

Before I retired, I had published academic papers relating to my professional specialism. That required a different style of writing to creative nonfiction, of course. I did dabble in writing fiction when I was much younger but rarely completed anything. As my interest in natural history developed, I had several articles published in wildlife magazines, so I was always engaged in some kind of writing. Then the idea of writing up my travel memoirs as a collection of snapshot stories with an immersive flavour came to me soon after retiring. I wanted to create hard copy of my travel memories primarily for my own pleasure. The members of a local writing group I joined encouraged me to go further and publish them for a wider audience to enjoy.

What travel writers have inspired you?

A book called Contact! by Jan Morris, which was a collection of micro literary snapshots from her own travel experiences, planted the seed of the idea for Travel Takeaways. Long before that Bruce Chatwin’s book, Songlines, also fascinated me enough to read twice. I am a great admirer of all of the writings of the late Dervla Murphy, a very intrepid female traveller. I should also mention Colin Thubron, William Dalrymple and more recently, there are emerging travel writers I enjoy such as Kapka Kassabova.

Do you still have the urge to travel as you once did?

I still have the urge to travel but it’s not necessarily driven by the same level of stamina, nor perhaps is the urge quite as strong as before! Interestingly, from what I see elsewhere in the travel genre, I think the pandemic has shifted the focus away from travelling to far-flung places to a more introspective curiosity about what is unfamiliar and interesting in our own backyard. So, it doesn’t matter whether it is near or far. Travel is largely about searching for new experiences but in the process, we explore our own identities through the mirror that travel, or the unfamiliar world we encounter, holds back on ourselves. I think travel can help us to discover how we manage out of our comfort zone and understand a bit more about who we really are.

What positive takeaway will readers get from reading your tales?

I would like readers to feel that they are there with me in the narrative present as I retell the stories, soaking up the atmosphere, immersed in the place, culture or personal encounter, and experiencing what I experienced. To this end, I am trying to recreate an evocative reading experience from which I hope the reader can take away an interesting and thought-provoking armchair travel experience too.

What are you working on next?

I adopted a rescue cat at the start of the pandemic—she came with a fair amount of emotional baggage, a strong will, and a name that reflected her volatile character—’Marmite’. The next book is about our life together as I learned about cat psychology and tried to develop some cat counselling skills, and she learned to manage an inept but well-meaning human companion. It’s a light-hearted and humorous book that should appeal to and resonate with any cat lovers out there.

What events are you doing to promote your book and where can readers hear you speaking about it?

I have an exclusive book signing event at Waterstones in Newport, Isle of Wight between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday 1st Apri 2023. Following the official launch of Travel Takeaways on 3rd April, I have several talks lined up for various interest groups on the Island. I’m also co-presenting with a fellow writer at the Cowes Fringe Festival (26th to 28th May) on the path to publication with book readings and an exploration of the different ways to approach writing. I am active on Twitter and Linkedin and publish occasional guest blog posts here and there.

What is your favourite place where you live on the Isle of Wight? Does it inspire your writing?

I don’t have one favourite place on the Isle of Wight but places that offer wildlife interest are high on my agenda. I enjoy wandering around some of the Island’s cemeteries especially those with a light touch management system in place—those are the ones full of spring flowers, including wild orchids, as well as insect life, birds and small mammals. East Cowes cemetery is one example. I also enjoy a slow paddle in my kayak along the creeks of the western Yar, again for the wildlife it offers. The island’s natural environment inspires me indirectly with lots of ideas. I have only published one article specifically about the island. It was called ‘A Garden for All Seasons’ and appeared in an issue of the English Heritage Volunteers Magazine.

Thank you Julie Watson. For more information and to buy a copy of Julie’s new travel writing collection see the book page here — Travel Takeaways: Around the World in Forty Tales

Interview conducted in March 2023.