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.

Beachy Books Author Interview – Thingamanose Author/Illustrator Lynne Hudson

Beachy Books publisher, Philip Bell, interviewed his recently signed author/illustrator Lynne Hudson on their newly rebranded traditional imprint, about her longer children’s book called Thingamanose, her writing process and how she got into illustrating.

Bold text (Philip), plain text (Lynne)…

Do you write full time?

I work part time at a hospital to bring in money while I work on my writing and drawing.

How did you get into writing and illustrating?

Well, I was actually applying for a job and I had to write a cover letter, and I just sat down writing these cover letters and I just really enjoyed it. (At this point, Lynne’s cat, Tiger enters the room and she shoos it out! -Ed) So, I thought I would have a go at writing a story, because I never really thought that I could write anything before. I just sat down and started writing things. I think the first things I wrote were pretty rubbish then I started writing things that were ok, so I sent them off to the Literary Consultancy for them to edit for me and they gave me a lot or really positive feedback. Things went from there really. The first book I had published was called Sniff by Hogs Back Books and then they asked me to illustrate one of their other books called Big Dog and Squiz. I’ve just been plodding on from then.

How long have you been writing and illustrating for?

I’ve have been writing for about 10 years, but I have been doing the illustrations for quite a long time. I trained as a Potter at Bath Academy of Art and when I left there, I taught night classes for a few years, but it wasn’t really me. But my pots were very plain pots that were covered in illustrations, and I realised that that was the part I really liked — the design and decoration on the pots. And then I cut out making the pots and concentrated on illustration.

I noticed when you sent your first submission, I really loved your illustrative, cartoon style. Is that something you are particularly into, or was it something that just came out and became your style?

I think it has basically been my style, but I did do a correspondence course with the College of Cartoon Art, that was over about a year, the professional cartoonist Dave Fellows, who was the chap that mentored me, sort of pushed me in the way or children’s illustration as he said that it was the best thing for my style of drawing. Sadly, he passed away in 2003, but I fondly remember he especially liked my caricatures of soap characters like Dot Cotton [see below].

So, what would you say is the difference between an artist that can do one set scene, and an illustrator of a children’s book? What skills do you think are needed for children’s book illustration and even comics?

I think probably, I observe people and go around and have a little sketch book and go into town sometimes or other places and sketch people. I think you get a feel for how people are really, and their character.

I saw Shirley Hughes on the BBC 4 documentary What Do Artists Do All Day? Have you seen that? She sits in playgrounds observing people and drawing in her sketch book – actually, maybe that sounds a bit weird… *laughs*

*laughs* That’s basically what I do!

I see so much movement in your illustrations. It’s crazy really, it’s only a static image but yet there’s so much movement in it. I always like that kind of feeling. I think people are quite fascinated by the process and think it’s magic.

Yeah, *laughs* there is quite a lot of imagination goes in it, but I am also a bit of a people watcher.

So, does what inspires you to write and draw? What is your muse?

I think things just seem to jump into my head really. For this story, I was just walking into town one day and a phrase just popped into my head. Something about a girl called Rose, picking her nose. I just started writing it down and it became ‘Don’t Pick Your Nose Rose!’ (which was the original name of the story when Lynne submitted it to Beachy Books – Ed). I didn’t really know where it was going to go at first, it just kind of evolved as I sat down at the computer and wrote and built up the idea.

Rose is quite a feisty heroine in the Thingamanose story. What’s the inspiration behind her?

I think it’s probably me, actually.  *laughs* I have always been a bit of a nose picker! *laughs*

I was afraid to ask if you picked your nose! *laughs*

Yeah, quite a lot of my old school friends have commented about that! 

Going back to my inspiration from Rose, I think that she also came from having quite strict parents, who just kind of dismiss things you say, things like that. At work, quite a lot of the doctors are very dismissive and that really gets my back up. They don’t believe what you’re saying half the time.

So, are saying that your writing process is quite cathartic? *laughs*

*laughs* Just a bit, sometimes. I’m quite rebellious as well, like Rose! 

So, from Rose picking her nose… how did Thingamanose pop into your head? *laughs*

I think it’s probably just something that just popped into my head literally. I think it was just something that happened when I was sat down writing. I kind of go into my own subconscious; in my head it’s a video and I write down the film in my head. It’s like dreaming or daydreaming really. You are sat there writing but you are daydreaming at the same time and all these weird things just come out!

*laughs* I love it. That’s great! So, obviously when I read your story it was very funny. So, what do you enjoy about humorous writing? Is that your default writing style, you go for something funny?

I suppose so. I sometimes think it’s quite serious really, but I’m quite happy people think it’s funny. I think it’s just the way I am really.

So, do you mean Thingamanose is more of a serious story than a humorous one?

I can’t really put my finger on what it is. I think that a lot of people are laugh when they read it, but I think I’s quite serious *laughs*

*laughs* Erm, that’s quite interesting to hear that.

When I had it [the early draft] edited, the comments said it was quite revolting at some points! *laughs*

So, the early drafts were edited by the literacy consultancy?

Yeah, I sent that off last year for them to do it, but it’s obviously now changed quite a bit since then editing with Beachy Books.

And talking of Beachy Books, why did you decide to send your story to us?

They [The Literary Consultancy] did say it was a longer picture book and they weren’t sure what kind of genre it would fit into, because it sort of sits between a picture book and a chapter book. I used to get this quarterly magazine called Carousel and I noticed they were advertising some books and it mentioned that it filled the gap between the picture book and chapter book market, so I went on the computer and looked if they were taking any submissions and they weren’t, so after some research on the computer I came across your blog post [] about longer picture books and I emailed you and sent you off a manuscript, just by chance really.

I remember writing that blog it was quite a long time ago now and it was inspired by my frustration of how my daughter, who used to really like picture books, would end up feeling as if she could not read them, as they were associated with a much younger audience. She is a teenager now but still appreciates picture books, but at school she would be teased by other children for choosing to read a picture book when they were reading longer story books with little or no illustrations, which she wasn’t really inspired by in the same way. I also remember that feeling as a child of how wonderful picture books and comics were compared to books full of text. I love them now of course, all books.

Thingamanose is written in rhyme. Is that a writing style you enjoy?

Yeah, I think it comes a bit more naturally to me than prose, but it takes a lot longer to write. I just feel more comfortable with rhyme.

Do you have a favourite children’s book?

My favourite is Dr Seuss. You can probably see that from what I write. I love the Lorax with its environmental message. From childhood, I used to really love the Miffy books, the style and the simplicity.

Have you got any inspiring advice for budding writers or illustrators?

My advice is just to try it. Don’t think, ‘Oh, I’m not a writer…’. You never know until you try! It was when I enjoyed it, trying and trying and keeping at it. It was how I developed my own style and got better and better. With drawing, it’s the same really. Just pick up the pencil and have a go. My grandma was a painter and I used to sit next to her as a little kid. She used to give me old envelopes and a biro and I used to just sit there doodling all the time.

Is there a message in Thingamanose?

The story is just about parents listening to their children and not dismissing what they say. If they’ve got problems or a niggle then listen to them, don’t brush them off. The frustration of people in power just not listening to the small people.

Thank you Lynne Hudson!

Philip Bell would like to thank Lynne Hudson for her time in the interview. If you like the sound of Lynne’s writing and want to see her ilustrations, you can read more about the book, take a peek inside and buy a copy to support the author and publisher here: Thingamanose.