Gemma Thompson, took the bold step of publishing an anthology of travellers’ tales called A Girls Guide to Travelling Alone. I’d very much like to know how you managed to do this. Where did the idea come from?
On previous backpacking trips, I had always packed books which were written about the area that I was exploring (I took Bill Bryson’s ‘Down Under’ with me to Australia). I loved the idea of having someone else’s experiences as a companion on the road. I found that most of these travel narratives were written by men, and would have loved a female perspective.
How long was it between the idea, starting to collect the stories and the launch (this month)?
About two and a half years! I attended a Travel Writing workshop in Bloomsbury, held by Dea Birkett and Rory MacLean in May 2012. Shortly afterwards, I moved to New York for a brief period which was quite a busy time, so the book was receiving less and less of my time. However I picked it up in the new year and the submissions started to come in more frequently (although I did have to move the deadline a couple of times).
Are you a writer / publisher / avid reader? What is your background? What is your day job?
My background is graphic design – which came in handy when creating the branding and layout for the book. I am not a professional writer but with a lot of helpful feedback from people in the know (such as Dea) I did contribute a piece to the anthology. I would love to write more, and now appreciate the number of edits and the value of a good editor!
How did you find the tales?
A lot of our submissions came in via social media. I noticed that many existing anthologies were made up purely of professional writers, but I wanted to hear from both professional and amateur writers. All travellers have a tale to tell. I connected with one of our Twitter followers, a writer at mashable.com – who has an audience of millions. A tweet chat that was co-hosted with them was great for generating publicity. I also did a talk at the Women’s Institute in South London, where I met a lady from Arvon. Creating more and more connections like this brought in more great submissions.
Were your submissions in ‘clean’ and free of typos.
Most of them were clean (bar one of two exceptions). Some submissions weren’t quite appropriate, so the selection process was pretty tough.
Did any need editing?
All of them. As I don’t have a background in publishing, I used a professional editor (who also happens to be a good friend, so we can be brutally honest with one another). Even though some submissions are excerpts from books already published, she was absolutely vital and made sure that there was consistency throughout, and we decided on the running order together, over hours and hours and many cups of tea and biscuits! I couldn’t have done it without her.
Did you make any suggestions to clarify or expand or trim any stories?
Yes. Sometimes there were some queries that we needed answering from the writers. Or we asked them to elaborate on something specific. All of the writers were very helpful and open to edits.
Was the order of the stories important to you?
Absolutely. Sarah Greaney (the editor) and I decided on the running order once the chosen pieces were finished. We wanted a real mix in the running order.
Did you reject many?
Yes. We had to be strict too. I’d say barely one third of submissions were chosen in the final edit.
Which is your favourite?
That’s such a tough question. Can I have two? Ashley Macnie’s ‘Rediscovering me’ is particularly close to my heart as I love the vulnerability and honesty of it. On a lighter note, Amy Baker’s ‘The worst three days of my life’ always makes me laugh. Who doesn’t love a bit of Schadenfreude?
Do you travel alone – or aspire to?
Most of my longer trips have been as a solo traveller. I find it easier and more freeing. You have no one to please but yourself, and are more susceptible to unique encounters with locals than if you were en masse.
Which is your tale?
I wrote ‘The Hurricane’ about my experiences in NYC during Hurricane Sandy.
What was your worst travel experience?
Luckily I have never been mugged or attacked, however in the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile, a girl was sexually assaulted in the next room to mine. I had no idea it had happened until the following morning. She was only young, about 20. We were told not to bother with the police as they would turn a blind eye. The hostel’s owner (and the man’s girlfriend) was mortified. Most of the guests moved immediately to another hostel the following morning. The girl who was attacked fell ill for
the next few days, so a small group of us took care of her. A few days later it was Easter so we shared a dodgy box of red wine and a rotisserie chicken to celebrate. We even found some chocolate to exchange (although it was pretty dire and tasted like cardboard!).
Do you expect to make any money out of this project?
Not really. I don't think anyone goes into travel writing to make money. The main aim is to give more women the confidence to get out there on their own. Even if it encourages just one woman to seek her own adventures, it will have all been worth it.
Do you think you might compile another collection?
I’d love to! I’ll be interested in any feedback about this first volume to see what readers might be looking for in a second edition.
Where are you travelling to next?
I have an ever growing list! Iceland is appealing at the moment, plus I’d love to explore Canada (I’m ashamed to say that I have never been... yet). I visited Italy for the first time a few months ago and fell in love with the food and architecture, so that will also need further exploration in the not too distant future.
And finally it is great to see yo have now launched a website to support the book: http://www.girlsthattravel.com. Congratulations on this too, and here's hoping you gather lots more travellers tales through this.