How to make a million without going to Torquay
Friday 09 April 1999
So, can you tell me how I go about converting my summer holiday experiences into literature ?
It depends on what kind of literature you want to dabble in, whether light journalism or full-length books. If you are going to turn your summer hols into a travel article, you must remember to keep all your bills and leaflets, because travel editors always ask questions like "How much did it cost to eat at the super little restaurant you mentioned ?" and "What are the opening times of the Eiffel Tower?". If you're going to turn your holiday into a TV sitcom, take along a lot of disagreeable relatives and stay at unsuitable places, to give you ideas. If you want to turn your holiday into light-hearted reminiscences, don't have a wonderful time. Wonderful times don't make for funny articles. Was it not humorous writer Basil Boothroyd who, when asked how his summer holiday went, replied: "Awful. Nothing went wrong at all."?
Well, was it?
Yes, it was.
But I don't see how any of this is going to help me. Has anyone ever gone to stay at a rotten hotel and turned it into a sitcom?
Think of Fawlty Towers, which John Cleese wrote merely after staying in Torquay.
I don't really want to go to Torquay. Hasn't anyone ever gone to France on a cheapo-cheapo outing and then turned their summer holiday into a best-seller?
Yes. Robert Louis Stevenson with Travels with a Donkey. Holidays don't come cheaper than a few weeks on a donkey.
Mmm. But I bet you can't name anyone who spent a boring little holiday in England going to a boring conventional place doing boring conventional things and made a best-seller out of it.
Want to bet ?
How about Jerome K Jerome and Three Men in a Boat?
Damn. But hold on - Jerome didn't just relate what happened. He gingered it up with funny bits. He turned it into a sort of a novel.
Oh, grow up! I thought I made it clear yesterday that travel-writers turn everything into a novel, with themselves as heroes. No travel-writer ever sticks to the truth - they just use it as a starting point. If you wanted the truth, you'd buy a railway timetable.
The most interesting thing about a travel book is the writer, who always has to decide what sort of person he wants to be in the book. Jerome K Jerome decided to be a larky sort of a chap. Bill Bryson decided to be a friendly sort of a chap. Paul Theroux decided to be a bad-tempered sort of a chap. The central character is the author, not the country being described.
The most interesting thing about Queen Victoria's Highland Journals is the fact that they were written on her summer hols by the reigning monarch of Britain. Indeed, that is the only interesting thing about them.
So you've read them, have you?
No, but they are an interesting example of a best-seller that nobody reads. The same applies to all those books by TV travellers, written to go with the programme. Not to mention Peter Mayle.
I told you not to mention him.
Is Peter Mayle actually an interesting example of anything?
Yes. A Year in Provence was a rare example of a TV programme which was made to go with a book.
I didn't think the programme was much good. It certainly didn't tell you anything about France.
That's why it went so well with the book. Don't forget, by the way, that lots of people go on their holidays and use their experiences as the basis for real novels. Rumer Godden's Greengage Summer, for example. Arthur Ransome's Lake District stuff. John Mortimer's Tuscany-based novels.
Look. If all else fails, when you go on holiday, try writing some postcards home and try writing the truth! No one ever does that. They only write the sort of things that people at home expect to hear. Never the truth. Buy a big postcard, write the truth on it and don't send it. It's the start of your best-seller.
That's it ? That's all I get from your travel-writing master class? Write a big postcard!
What kind of master class is this, anyway?
The usual kind. The kind where the teacher shows off and the pupil learns nothing.
Thanks for nothing.
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