Laurie Gough is the author of “Kite Strings of the Southern Cross,” which won a silver medal for Foreword Magazine’s Best Travel Book of the Year, and was shortlisted for the Thomas Cook Travel Book of the Year award in the U.K. Gough has also written for Salon, Outpost, and the Toronto Globe and Mail. Her work appears in several travel anthologies, including “Travelers’ Tales: A Woman’s World,” The Adventure of Food,” and “Salon.com’s Wanderlust: Real-Life Tales of Adventure and Romance.” She divides her time between Ontario and northern California.
How did you get started traveling?
I started traveling as a kid when my parents took us on family camping trips every summer and we’d pull a trailer halfway across the continent. When I was 20 I went west to Alberta to work in a remote mountain lodge. One day I went skiing and needed a ride back to the lodge and when I realized there weren’t any buses, I stuck out my thumb to hitchhike. I was hooked on hitchhiking from them on, leaving the lodge a week later to hitch further west, then south to California. On that trip I became a traveler.
How did you get started writing?
I always loved creative writing as a kid and took several writing courses at university, where I also wrote for the student newspaper. When I traveled I kept journals. One cold night in my cabin in northern Ontario, after I’d returned from a particularly long trip overseas, I woke up shaken because I thought my travels were evaporating. I turned on the light and started to write a story at 3 a.m. That story turned out to be the first chapter in my book, although it was terrible in its original version — far too sappy. I learned to cut out the sap.
What do you consider your first “break” as a travel writer?
When the San Francisco publisher Travelers’ Tales told me theywanted to publish three of my travel stories in an anthology called, “A Woman’s World”. They ended up publishing two of them because of space constraints, but I was thrilled.
What is your biggest challenge on the road?
It depends where I am. Sometimes it’s to find toilet paper. Sometimes it’s how to deal with bed bugs (I recently had a nasty encounter with them at a hostel in Dublin). Other times it’s to remember to keep off the beaten track as much as possible. It’s easier to take the more heavily traveled path, but going out of my way always keeps things more interesting.
What is your biggest challenge in the writing process?
To force myself to sit there and do it no matter how much it hurts my brain to squeeze words and sentences into something half-way original.
What is your biggest challenge from a business standpoint?
The whole publishing process can be frustrating as hell! When you’re writing a book you think that’s the bad part and you fantasize that when it gets published, everything will be terrifically exciting. After it’s published, you look back and realize the best part really was in the exhilaration of writing, not in what follows. It’s one headache after the next once your book is out there for the world. Publishers don’t have money for promotion (this is the case with my Canadian publisher who even made me change the title of my book!). I’ve had two very different experiences publishing my book in two different countries. I’m Canadian so you’d think people would appreciate my book here, but it’s doing much better in the US and Europe, probably because the US publisher is excellent and has spent time promoting it, and also because they let me keep my original title.
Do you do other work to make ends meet?
I teach. I could never live off the salary I make right now as a writer, unless I were living in a cave and sneaking fruit off trees at night.
What travel authors or books might you recommend and/or have influenced you?
I love travel literature and wouldn’t know where to begin with a list of my favorites. Some travel writers I like are: Jack Kerouac, Bruce Chatwin, Dervla Murphy, G.I. Gurdjief, V.S. Naipaul. Bill Bryson is hilarious. I also get a lot of inspiration from other literature besides travel. I love Lorrie Moore, Rohinton Mistry, Barbara Kingslover, Don Delillo, Margaret Atwood, and Ann Marie MacDonald.
What advice and/or warnings would you give to someone who is considering going into travel writing?
Read as many books as you can. You can’t be a good writer unless you spend an equal amount of time reading good books. Take as many notes of the details of your travels as you can while things are still fresh in your mind. Write what fascinates and amuses you and don’t worry what others will think. We all have a unique way of perceiving the world. Never feel like you’re wasting your time when you’re traveling or writing. To me, those are the two most rewarding pleasures in life: taking in the world and its people, then creating something out of what you’ve experienced.
What is the biggest reward of life as a travel writer?
I’m not sure if it’s the happiness I get when I finish writing a story or if it’s when I get a letter or e-mail from a complete stranger who tells me how my writing has affected them.