For the past few years, my travel journalism has taken a bit of a back seat. Events in the Middle East (my specialist region) have hugely curtailed tourism there and newspapers, quite understandably, don’t want to publish travel stories about the region. So, in 2012, I decided to take the opportunity presented by this hiatus to study for a PhD in Creative Writing, which I successfully completed in December 2016. If nothing else, this means I get to wear a fetching red robe and a floppy, Tudor-style hat at my graduation in July.
My plans for 2017 include turning my PhD thesis into a travel book, whilst continuing with my creative writing teaching (at Cambridge and Bath Spa Universities). And, geopolitical events allowing, resuming my travel journalism once again.
As they say, watch this space…
The Guardian asked for readers’ memories of the hottest summer on record. Here are mine.
1976, the hottest summer in living memory. Every afternoon in my parents’ Home Counties garden, my best friend and I slathered Hawaiian Tropic over every inch of our exposed flesh, hoping to sizzle like chipolatas. This dark, coconut-scented oil offered virtually no protection from the sun, only the means to fry even faster.
We’re supposed to be swotting for exams, but the books lie open on the ground and Radio One crackles from the transistor. We turn it down when my mother comes out from the kitchen bearing a jug of lemon squash, ice cubes clinking against the glass… [click here to read more]
I am currently teaching on one of the most interesting MA programmes in the country: Bath Spa University’s MA in Travel & Nature Writing, which is now accepting applications for the next academic year. You can study both full-time (1 year) or part-time (2 years).
The MA is designed for writers seeking advanced skills in the growing field of creative non-fiction inspired by the natural world and contemporary travelling. The course focuses on writing from experience – about places, people and wildlife – to match the needs and opportunities offered by the travel and nature writing sectors. The aim is to help develop professional practice along with practical writing and editing skills, and to produce a diverse portfolio of work to help establish a career in this competitive but
You can find out more about the MA here, or please feel free to contact me directly.
Do you have a passion for travel and words? Would you like to learn the skills and concepts needed to turn your travel experiences into publishable features for newspapers and magazines? If so, there are still a few places left on my online travel writing course at Cambridge University, starting 26 October 2016.
Contact me, or Cambridge University directly, for further details.
In October last year I went to Gaziantep, on the ancient Silk Road in south-eastern Turkey, to write about that sweet pastry beloved throughout the Middle East: baklava. Gaziantep is famed for its cuisine, and its baklava above all. There are some 500 baklava producers in the city – some of who have been established since the 1870s – and I met a few of them to find out why Gaziantep’s baklava is considered the best in the world. Follow the blue link above to read my story.
Some of Gaziantep’s famed baklava makers. © Gail Simmons
As well as writing about places, I also teach writing about places (see the ‘Academic & Tutoring’ tab on this website for details). Even better, I teach about writing about places in one of the most beautiful places I know: Sicily. So if you would like to come to Sicily, immerse yourself in its beauty and culture and learn how to put your experience into words that newspapers and magazines will want to publish, why not come on my travel-writing holiday? I look forward to seeing you!
Me, writing about Sicily in Sicly
In April I returned to one of my favourite countries, Jordan, to write a story about its amazing Neolithic archaeology. Although most people know Jordan for Petra (and perhaps also the Dead Sea and Wadi Rum), not many visitors know that Jordan has some of the most important Neolithic sites in the world. I went to discover some of these sites, which bear evidence of the very beginning of farming and communal living. This is my story.
Photo: George Azar