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The journey of a thousand miles starts from beneath your feet.
Tao te Ching, Verse 64
There is a similarity between historical writing and travel writing. Both are about journeys: one is a journey back in time, the other a journey of the present. Where the difference lies is in the style of the writing. Historical fiction is a lengthy prose style, historical non-fiction can be more documentary or essay. Travel writing is either journalism or the less formal style of creative non-fiction, a story-telling style where creative embellishments are allowed. I am both a historical and a travel writer. I write about my travels because of the historical fiction that I write.
The historical fiction writer in me was born when I was twelve years old. Our family traveled across Canada by train, a long journey from the gentle hills and maple forests of Ontario, across the wide expanse of sun-dried flat lands and yellow wheat fields of the Prairies, through the densely forested wilderness of the majestic Rocky Mountains to the lush green shores of the Pacific Ocean. My life was transformed on that journey. I imagined how it must have been to be a pioneer, and I became one of them, an explorer who forever after wanted to know what was over the next mountain.
I began to write about the pioneers’ lives. Everything I wrote came out of my imagination, sparked by that train trip across Canada. Later, encouraged by my father who was a Baptist minister, I began writing stories with a Biblical theme, set in the Holy Land and ancient Rome. At sixteen, I was introduced to a historical character who would have a profound influence on my future as a historical-fiction writer. The legendary life of Alexander the Great caught my interest. Before graduation, I had a written novel with an Alexander theme. Thus began my quest in search of Alexander that continues to this day.
My keen interest in Celtic and Greek history eventually took me to Europe. I wanted to see the places I was writing about and try to get in touch with the ‘spirits’ of my characters. When I graduated from high school I had worked in the editorial department of a newspaper, and had some journalism background so I used these skills to write about my travels. The first travel article I submitted was published. This gave me the incentive to launch a new ‘career’ as a travel writer which has led to me teaching classes in Travel Writing and Novel Writing.
My journey in Alexander’s footsteps has taken me around Greece and Asia Minor and I return there often for research trips, living there while I write. I have been privileged to research at libraries in Athens and have visited many sites, making contact with Classical scholars and archaeologists. While traveling for research I always look for angle for a travel article. While visiting the locations for my novel, I try to capture the essence of the countryside, use sensory details, and attempt to get in touch with the spirits of my characters. This helps place the reader at the scene, makes the characters more dimensional, and draws the arm-chair traveler into the scene.
To be a writer, you have to write. To be a travel writer, you have to travel. But to be a historical writer, you have to do both. Not only does it take imagination, but discipline, and a great deal of planning and research. Accuracy is important. Write about what you know. Spend some quite time to let the Muse speak, to absorb the essence of each place you visit as your recreate the world you are writing about.
Travel writing is easy because, unlike the novel, you are only writing a few pages. Writing a historical novel is a big commitment, a long journey that may take years to complete. But in order to write anything successfully, you must simply WRITE.
About the author: I am a historical fiction writer, travel journalist and playwright. I teach classes in Travel Writing, Novel and Creative Writing and Life Writing (Memoirs). I travel often, and live some of the time in Greece where I am close to Alexander’s spirit. You can see snippets of my work-in-progress Shadow of the Lion a story of the fall of Alexander the Great’s dynasty, on my writer’s blog, “Living the Writer’s Life” at http://wynnbexton.blogspot.com
You can see samples of my travel writing on my travel blog at http://travelthroughhistory.blogspot.com
I edit and publish a travel ezine Travel Thru History www.travelthruhistory.com
I wrote weekly for The Vancouver Guide www.planeteyetraveler.com/travel/north-america/vancouver 2009-2011
I write twice a month for www.EuropeUpClose.com as well as other freelancing