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SWF 2011

SWF 2011 REVIEW: How much of yourself should you put in your travel memoir?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Guest post by Monique Germon

Claire Scobie gave a informative workshop yesterday at the State Libray of NSW, as part of The Sydney Writer's Festival workshop program. This sold out, day-long workshop was on the art of the travel memoir and how one goes about putting their travel experiences onto paper.

Claire shared with participants her intimate knowledge of this genre,speaking about her own experiences of exploration and how this led to the publication of her travel memoir, Last Seen in Lhasa. Topics were covered such as honing in on the unique elements within your particular story, the difference between narrative and emotional arcs, the several ways one can craft plot and the different genres within travel writing itself.

What should you reveal?
The most notable conversation began with that big question 'How much of yourself are you willing to put into the story?' This of course led the group into a thorough critique of Elizabeth Gilbert's best seller, Eat Pray Love. As always, the room was divided into two camps and we discussed the "how brave-ness" (or "oh god-ness") of the author's willingness to bare all as well as the question, was it a well written travel memoir anyway? I had a personal "a-ha" moment, as I privately battle with both camps inside of myself. I loved the book, I read it at home and then in the Himalayas when I really needed a familiar "friend" but most of my more intellectual mates despise it with a pride-filled passion and deep down I know that I would rather quote Robert Dessaix any old day.

Claire was asked by a workshop participant about her own choices concerning privacy whilst writing Last Seen in Lhasa, which is as much the story of Claire's intimate friendship with a Tibetan nun, as it is a tale of adventure. Her reply, "Of course the first thing I did was give Ani a new name. It's important to get permission from any potential characters in your story."

Allow readers to create and explore
Regardless, what I realised is that those who were critical of too much of the personal, too much 'I' in the travel memoir felt robbed of the freedom and joy that author's give readers, through an invitation to create and explore, which comes only from not being told too much. Certainly something to think about before we put pen to paper and share our personal adventures, as well as the ethical questions around sharing the lives of others, which was also a big topic and rightly so. Though I am sure that Ketut, the palm reader/medicine man from Eat Pray Love who prophesied Liz's journey, is probably quite okay with it all!

By Monique Germon


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