Welcome to the Travel Writing Corner! Each month, I publish interviews with accomplished travel writers and share their travel writing tips here. We’re coming to an end of this series, so I’m really excited to finally get the chance to feature the talented Annie Bennett, winner of the Spain Travel Writer of the Year. We recently met during a blog trip to the Pyrenees and Annie is a lovely character, it’s easy to see how she’s accomplished so much in this field. Specializing in Spain travel, Annie has written for many recognized publications including the Telegraph, The Guardian, Observer, The Times and Conde Nast Traveller.
1. How did you break into the world of travel writing?
I didn’t so much break into travel writing as slide into it – as a lot of people do. I started writing about cultural stuff when I was living in Madrid in the 1980s. In the 1990s, when I had moved back to London and was struggling a bit, a travel writer friend kindly recommended me to write the Blue Guide Madrid. Although I knew the city well, researching and writing that book was like doing another degree. While I was doing it, I pitched an idea on Madrid to the Independent – just by ringing up, completely cold – and to my amazement, they said yes! After I had done a few things for them, I tried sending some ideas to the Telegraph – again with no contacts – and started writing for them too. And I’ve just carried on really.
2. What were you doing before you became a travel writer?
I was a translator for a long time. I think I’d always wanted to write really, and that was a sort of sideways way of doing it. You can’t be a good translator without being able to write clearly; you are constantly analysing meanings and reinterpreting is as succinctly and natural as possible. I specialised in art criticism, so had to deal with some pretty impenetrable language and put it into readable English.
3. You specialise in writing about Spain – how did your love affair with Spain start?
I did a languages degree, in German and Spanish, specialising in translation. I’d lived in Cologne for a couple of years before that, so my German was much stronger. After graduating, I worked as a waitress to save some money, then took off to Madrid to improve my Spanish, try and get started as a translator and have fun – not necessarily in that order.
I was thinking of leaving after a couple of years, but then met a lot of the movers and shakers on the cultural scene and life became a lot more interesting, so it seemed daft to give it all up. Just as well, as shortly afterwards I happened to meet a magazine editor in London who asked me to write about what was happening in Madrid and the people I knew, and that’s how I got started.
4. What do you find most fulfilling, and challenging, about travel writing?
I love developing ideas and writing stories. I spend ages researching and rewriting. I also love the travelling itself, never knowing what’s going to happen next. Speaking Spanish and being able to talk to people properly is a really important part of what I do.
As I specialise in Spain, I’m always trying to write about unusual – and often unfashionable – places in the country, but the challenging thing is presenting them in a way that appeals to editors. I have become quite devious over the years!
5. Many guidebook and print writers are venturing into online journalism and new media, are you dipping your toes into this field and if yes, why?
Definitely. I’m really interested in how the media is changing. Nearly everything I write for print publications is also online, but the percentage of just online stuff is creeping up. My main outlet is the Telegraph, and I am currently writing a lot of content primarily for the website as their Spain expert, although quite a lot of that ends up in the paper too.
I love Twitter and have met a lot of other writers and people in the travel business through it. I’m learning all the time from what other people are doing. I think it’s a really creative and exciting time.
I have a blog, Mooching around Spain, but am just dabbling with it at the moment. I’ll be working on a few apps in the next few months too.
6. Do you think new media is reshaping the role of guidebooks and travel magazines in today’s world?
Absolutely. The instant, up-to-date information provided by apps and online content is making some sections of guidebooks redundant, but there is still a place for the more detailed approach of traditional media. People still like looking through travel magazines for inspiration, but the iPad is changing that too.
7. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Just do it. It’s certainly not impossible to get started, even if it takes a bit of persistence. Be original and concentrate on whatever you are really enthusiastic about – and make sure that energy and brightness shines out of your pitches and writing. Put a lot of time into researching ideas and devising pitches – you need to get your point across in a few lines. Although editors often say they are snowed under with pitches, most are usually desperate for strong ideas.
I’m lucky in that most things I write are revised, corrected and improved by subeditors. Bloggers don’t usually have that luxury, which can lead to sloppiness as regards factual accuracy, use of language and spelling. If you want to be a professional writer – by which I mean if you want someone to pay you – make sure your writing is a professional standard.
And then, be prepared to do a lot of boring sitting-at-the-desk stuff too! I churn out endless round-ups recommending hotels, restaurants, things to do etc., but that’s just part of making a living from travel writing these days.
8. As a travel writer, you travel for a living. What are some of your favorite places in the world (I know point out one favorite is too tough!)?
Of course a lot of my favourites are in Spain! I love Madrid, where I am based for several months a year. I go to the Alpujarras in Andalucia a lot, and just feel happy there. I’m a big fan of the north coast too. I don’t seem to have much time for travelling outside Spain at the moment, but have never been to South America, which is ridiculous!
About the Author
Annie Bennett is a travel writer specializing in Spain. She is a regular contributor to the Telegraph, and just starting as online Spain expert for them. She has also written for The Guardian and Observer, The Times, The Financial Times, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, The Independent and Independent on Sunday, Conde Nast Traveller, Elle, Red & Living Spain, among others. Books include National Geographic Traveler Madrid, Blue Guide Madrid & Blue Guide Barcelona. She was awarded the Spain Travel Writer of the Year in 2010.