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Interview by Lori Appling in Bethany Beach, DE:LA:

Before we get started why don’t you tell us a little about yourself? BRIAN: I’m a native-born Australian and I’ve always had the wanderlust. For most of my adult life, I’ve lived, worked and traveled in every state in Australia. My wife and I have also traveled extensively throughout southeast Asia and the Pacific. Jobs? I’ve had a few! In fact, you name it and I’ve probably had a crack at it. To name a few, a stint in the Air Force, radar technician, contract cleaner, fiberglass canoe constructor, earth scraper driver… even “drowned” a four wheel drive, while fording the Jardine River, in the remote wilds of northern Queensland. I have a solid background in advertising, marketing and promotions and have worked in a number of top advertising agencies. Nearly 20 years ago, I was one of the pioneers of desktop publishing in Australia and I’ve been doing that ever since. LA: What attracted you to Travel Writing? BRIAN: We’d been living in Darwin, the steamy hot capital of Australia’s Northern Territory for 15 sweaty years. It was time to move on, and we thought seriously about living somewhere overseas. While researching the possibilities, I stumbled across Escape from America magazine on the Internet, which made mention of International Living… the travel and lifestyle flagship of Agora Publishing. I followed the link and discovered an incredible treasure trove of information. Then I noticed that there was very little mention of Australia in International Living, but they encouraged readers to write “postcards” and articles for possible publication and payment. I started sending in short (200 words or so) “postcards” about Darwin and Australia in general, then followed up with more on some southeast Asian destinations. Some were published, but most weren’t. So I figured I needed some professional guidance… it’s incredibly hard to judge your own writing objectively. It was about then that I stumbled over the Ultimate Travel Writer’s Course on the IL website and signed up. LA: You recently wrote me and said that you’ve had some success getting published overseas. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and how you got started? BRIAN: To clarify, I should state that I haven’t cracked the big time… the top-shelf glossies like Conde Nast or Travel + Leisure… yet. But I haven’t given up and since applying the writing fundamentals from the Ultimate Travel Writer’s Course, I have had dozens of postcards and four feature articles published in IL. Plus several in e-zines such as Australian Homepage and The Traveler (I think Tom, the American editor, quite likes my laconic Aussie sense of humor). Because of the tyranny of distance, I always approach editors via email and keep my pitch short and to the point. These are busy people and simply will not spend ages rummaging through tons of coal on the off chance that a diamond may be lurking therein! My email title is always either “Writer’s Query” or “Story Idea”. That way, the editor knows exactly what I’m about immediately. And whether it’s a rejection or an acceptance, I nearly always get a reply, so I know that at least somebody has seen it. My story ideas can pop out of anywhere. Nowadays whenever I read, watch TV or just travel around, I see things with totally different eyes. I’m always looking for ideas. Before I approach an editor, I do two things. I beg, borrow, steal (or even buy) a copy of the publication, and if they have a website, I go there looking for writer’s guidelines. LA: You also mentioned that you now write a local column for tourism ventures in Australia. How did you land this assignment? BRIAN: Two years ago we escaped from Darwin to a small town on the central Queensland coast, called Yeppoon. Funny name (origin unknown) for a sun-drenched piece of paradise, with balmy days, cool nights with diamond bright stars you can almost reach out and touch and a totally laid back lifestyle. Queensland’s fourth largest city, Rockhampton, is only about half an hour’s drive away. Yeppoon is just being discovered by the rest of Australia and slowly being developed as the next tourism “hotspot”. I figured that if I couldn’t stop the development, I might as well join it. So I wrote a feature article on the lifestyle and the incredibly affordable housing here. IL published it; I showed the article to the local Tourist Bureau and floated the idea of a regular newspaper column about local tourism ventures. But with a difference… a behind-the-scenes look at the people and the way the operation evolved from just a dream to reality. They loved it and gave me the contact details for the editor of the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin. I asked him if I could send him an outline of the idea — he agreed, liked it and suggested I write a couple of samples and a schedule of proposed articles, which I did. After several months of to-ing and fro-ing, it’s now up-and-running as a Saturday feature. A number of times I nearly gave up when I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. But I learnt something of immense value… patience. This is normally quite foreign to my nature. The editor recently sent me an email congratulating me on my quiet persistence without aggression. LA: In your email you credited your success to Great Escape Publishing’s written travel writer program. What specifically do you think helped you so much? BRIAN: Some people need to work in a highly structured manner… not me. I’m a binge writer. When the mood takes me I can belt out thousands of words per day. Some days I don’t write anything. I treat the course as a handbook, dipping into any part, whenever I need to. It contains all the fundamentals for good expressive writing and debunks all the school-essay rules which stifle readability. A “good read” sells itself to editors. That’s what helped me the most. LA: What advice would you give to new students who haven’t yet had an article published? BRIAN: In real estate it’s location, location, location. In writing it’s persistence, persistence, persistence. But don’t confuse persistence with pest-ilence. As I’ve said before, editors are very busy people. Hundreds of manuscripts land in their office each week. If they don’t respond in a day or a week or a month, don’t hassle them. A case in point. I’ve sent several items to Islands magazine, including a short quirky postcard about Australia’s toilet map… a searchable directory on the Internet showing the location of every free public toilet in the country. It’s sponsored by the National Incontinence Management Committee (stop laughing, I’m serious!!). Time went by and I heard nothing. After four months I got an email thanking me for my submission and yes, they’d like to buy it. It should be appearing in an issue this year. Start small, look in your own backyard for items of interest. Write about things you know or have experienced. Find small publications that encourage freelancers. Even if they can’t pay, do it anyway. It’s all good practice and you’ll get “clips” and usually your by-line published. And learn how to deal with rejection. The most frustrating thing I find is the lack of feedback, apart from the standard “doesn’t suit our needs at this time”. But I can understand it. They just don’t have the time to spoon feed every novice freelancer who darkens their desktop. Just accept that you got it wrong; move on and try again. WARNING: DON’T GET CAUGHT USING THESE CLICHÉS A Quick Tip by Freelance Writer, John Forde in Paris, France A Brit named John Lister did a study. He asked 5,000 people from 70 different countries to name the clichés they hated more than any other. According to the study, “at the end of the day,” was at the top of the list. Followed by “at this moment in time,” the use of “like” in conversation, and “with all due respect.” Now — with all due respect — at this moment in time and even at the end of the day, I’m not really, like, bothered by these as much as Mr. Lister. But his point is well taken. Clichés are lazy thinking. Once, they sounded smart. Now they’re just weak substitutes for real ideas. And readers (or listeners) are not fooled. Here are some of the other words and phrases Lister listed as dangerous: “24/7,” “absolutely,” “ballpark figure,” “bear with me,” “between a rock and a hard place,” “I hear what you’re saying,” “in terms of,” and “it’s not brain surgery,” and “it’s not rocket science.” (On those last two, I prefer “It’s not rocket surgery” myself… but HATE it when people tack on the word “myself.”) Why such study into clichés? It’s all part of Lister’s “Plain English Campaign,” founded in 1979 to simplify the way people write and speak. Make your life and your message simpler by mastering the art of Plain Speak. [Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]

 

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