Travel writing: 'Using the right words can set the imagination alight'

Something to declare

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The Independent Online

Does good writing matter? Is it worth going to the trouble to learn the skill when you have a good story to tell? After all, travellers are seldom lost for words, and you could argue that books which no one would claim are well written may still sell in their millions for their gripping or enticing narrative. But think of the books or articles that have transported you to another world through the power of words, or moved you to tears or laughter. Or changed you a little, shown you a side of yourself you hadn't been aware of. Then you know why we value good writing.

Talk to successful authors and many will say that they always knew they wanted to write. Those with talent who also love travel have it easy, but it is a craft that can be learned, just as, say, a skilled furniture-maker can develop from a childhood enthusiasm for hammering together some bits of wood. The journey is not the destination, it is the toil before the accomplishment.

As the world opens up to travellers, so does the desire to describe it; but, frustratingly, the increase in travel is coinciding with the decrease in opportunities for publication. That's why we are so lucky to have our 15-year association with this newspaper in running the Bradt Travel Guides/Independent on Sunday Travel Writing Competition.

It's hard to break into travel writing these days. Editors have a vast pool of writers to choose from, and will tend to go with the tried and trusted ones who they know will write articles appropriate to their readership. Our competition gives talented writers a chance to be noticed. And not just noticed, but published. And not just published, but commissioned to write a travel article.

The 2014 competition launches today, offering not only two prize holidays and places on travel-writing courses, but the chance to write a piece for The Independent on Sunday. There's no other competition like it.

This year is the 40th anniversary of the founding of Bradt Travel Guides, and so we chose the theme "Meeting the Challenge" for the competition. It's a reference to the new trails I blazed in South America all those years ago and the challenge I took on in starting a publishing company and developing a range of unique, award-winning guidebooks.

However, it could equally refer to the challenge of helping a new generation of writers to inspire their readers to travel adventurously, perceptively and humbly. We at Bradt believe that we pay more attention to good writing than do our competitors. Why? For the same reason that we run this annual travel-writing competition and our travel-writing workshop each autumn: we think it matters.

Just putting the right words on a page in the right order can set the imagination alight and make a place come vividly alive; it can stir the emotions and, perhaps, change lives. Not a bad aspiration!

Hilary Bradt is the founder of Bradt Travel Guides. To enter this year's travel writing competition, go to