Today, Norm Goldman Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com is pleased to have as our guest, Cynthia Clampitt author of Waltzing Australia. Cynthia is a freelance writer, culinary historian, and world traveler who is here today to discuss her book as well as writing in general.
Good day Cynthia and thanks for participating in our interview.
What motivated you to travel to Australia and subsequently to write your book Waltzing Australia?
I had had a lifelong interest in Australia. My dad had Australian friends, and many of them had sent books over the years that I had read with great interest. But it wasn’t until I decided that I had to get out of the corporate world, to pursue a writing career, that Australia became something of an obsession. I knew I’d need to get far away—to really shake free of the whole career-track mindset, to challenge myself, and to remove the temptation to take a job offer—and Australia seemed like the perfect place. It was far away, but it was more—it was a place with a history of people starting over. And it had, for some reason, captured my imagination at a deep level. The more I read, the more I wanted to go.
As for writing the book, writing was the whole point of leaving the corporate world. That said, I don’t think I realized I’d be writing a book about Australia. I simply wrote every day about what I was doing, feeling, learning, experiencing, the people I met, the things I saw—and because I covered nearly 20,000 miles within Australia, I did and saw quite a bit. There was so much going on, internally and externally, that I filled several pages every day—regular lined notebook paper, all handwritten, every page filled on both sides. Every few weeks, I’d mail a stack of pages to my parents, so they’d know what I was doing and that I was okay.
When I got home after six months, I went to see my parents, and my mom handed me this bulging three-ring binder—all that I had written on my trip. I hadn’t realized that I’d been writing a book, but there it was. I just had to type it all over—and then begin the research to ensure that all facts were correct, and the editing, to make sure nothing was in the book that shouldn’t be in the book (cute kids on trains, conversations unrelated to anything I was doing, that sort of thing), and then, finally, the “happy ending.” Because, of course, as I was doing all this, I was also trying to build my career (had to pay the rent, even while working on the book), so it took several years—which was nice, because there was a happy ending by the time I finished the book; I was making my living as a writer.
So I guess you might say that the motivation for writing the book was a combination of justifying having made that initial “leap into the unknown” and a desire to share with people both my love affair with Australia and the idea that, if you’re willing to pay the price, you can make dreams come true.
As a traveler and fact/story-gatherer, what is your biggest challenge on the road?
Wonderful stories seem to be all around me, whether my own adventures or stories recounted by others. I just need to be open to them. However, getting accurate information when writing about something fact-based can be a challenge. I always try to allow time to visit museums and libraries, to double check things I’ve been told, because memories can be faulty, and a lot of legends and misinformation get reported as fact. I also buy books wherever I go, as backup—because you can’t always find as much detailed information back home as you can while you’re somewhere else.
What is your biggest reward as a travel writer?
I am by nature a story teller, and I get tremendous pleasure out of sharing with people the wonder of the world around us—the natural beauty, the history, the fascinating cultures, the delightful people. I feel it’s important to know history and what other people are like, both to add sparkle to life and to give perspective.
Not everyone will be able to travel—and not everyone knows how to do the level of research I do, finding the stories and the background, even at home. Because it’s not just about going somewhere, it’s about really soaking it up, really digging in. And then getting to share that is a real joy. We live in an amazing world.
What travel authors or books have influenced you?
It’s hard to say which books have influenced me, because I read everything, and I always have. I’ve been a voracious reader since childhood. In a way, I’d say all the books I’ve loved have influenced me.
Rather than reading a lot of travel books, I actually focus more on books that relate to what I love about travel—history, culture, food, language, art. Tales of people living in the places I wish to visit, from We of the Never-Never to Out of Africa, Seven Years in Tibet to The Pillars of Wisdom—and even fiction, such as Pearl Buck’s wonderful books set in China or Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career—have filled me with a love for what is “out there.”
That said, perhaps I might point to books my parents gave me when I was a child, books that awakened a passion for the exotic and wonderful: stories about children growing up in Bali, China, Hungary, France, Africa. Instead of a teddy bear, I had a koala and a panda. I wouldn’t call that a literary influence, but definitely an influence.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering going into travel writing?
I’d tell them to make sure they could write about a lot more than just travel. I don’t think more than a handful of people make it as fulltime travel writers. I also write about food, history, and language arts—all things that are tied up with travel, and which are definitely enriched by my travels, but which sell to different markets than just travel writing.
Other than that, I’d tell them to work really hard at being the best writers possible, because the competition is stiff. Edit and polish ruthlessly. Look up everything, so you never make a magazine look stupid because they printed a story full of errors. But that’s really true for any genre of writing.
What do you want your work to do? Amuse people? Provoke thinking?
I certainly hope people find my book entertaining, as well as informative, but I also hope it’s inspiring. While the book is certainly primarily about Australia, it is also about starting over and pursuing a dream, working to make the dream come true and watching it take shape. It starts with me walking off the edge of my world, and ends with my having built a wonderful career that I really love—but with a few hundred pages of adventure and glorious scenery in between.
Of course, I hope all my writing is both entertaining and informative. I take great delight in sharing information and experiences with people—which is no doubt why I’m drawn to non-fiction writing.
Can you tell us how you found representation for your book? Did you pitch it to an agent, or query publishers who would most likely publish this type of book? Any rejections? Did you self-publish?
That is an interesting story. I can’t tell you how many wonderfully flattering letters I got from agents and publishers—all still telling me they thought there was no market for a book on Australia, or that they couldn’t afford to do the kind of job (maps, design) the book deserved. One agent said my writing was “like Annie Dillard at her best,” and another said the book was “a real page turner.” One publisher phoned to ask if they could keep the manuscript for a couple more weeks, as there were still people in the office who wanted to read it. But still, no one thought there was enough money in a book on Australia to make it worth their while.
Then Print on Demand emerged. Suddenly, a publisher didn’t have to print 10,000 copies of a book—in fact, they could print one. That was the break I needed.
What was the most difficult part of writing your book? As a follow up, if you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in Waltzing Australia?
I think the hardest part was just finding the time—or, rather, making the time. I had to work a lot of hours to rebuild my career. That included a couple of years of working retail evenings and weekends while working all day, every day, on the writing: travel, food, and human interest stories for local papers; geography and history lessons for educational publishers; queries and articles for magazines. It took a fair bit of discipline to set aside an hour or two every day to work on the book. But then, when I sat down at the keyboard and started to work, the time flew. I find an immense amount of pleasure in writing, especially on a project I loved as much as this book. Writing is hard work, but if it’s the right work for you, it’s a delight
As for changing the book, no—it’s pretty much exactly what I had hoped it would be. I loved the adventure and I love how the book turned out.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing Waltzing Australia?
How little most Americans knew about Australia. Steve Irwin and Crocodile Dundee have helped—at least no one asks me any more what language Australians speak. But people were amazed that I could spend six months on some little island (it’s actually almost the same size as the continental United States). I do slide shows from my various trips to Australia, and people are always stunned by the incredible variety (from rainforest to desert, cityscapes, vineyards, mountains) and beauty.
Do you feel that writers, regardless of genre owe something to readers, if not, why not, if so, why and what would that be?
I think writers owe readers the truth. That doesn’t mean everything has to be non-fiction, but it means admitting when you’re adding your own embellishments, making it clear when it is fiction. There has been a rash lately of books that are plagiarized or that turn out to be lies. Of course, being honest is not just something you owe your readers, but something you owe yourself. It will always hurt you in the long run if you cheat your readers.
Good research: If a book is non-fiction, check everything. Even if it’s fiction, make sure any real elements are accurate. A reader should be able to trust you.
And, of course, good editing: Make the work flow. Make sure your grammar is polished and your word choice is accurate. If you’re not sure how to polish a manuscript, get Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style and William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. Again, writers owe this to their readers, but also to themselves, because there is a lot of competition out there, and quality is one of the things that elevate a writer above the crowd.
How can readers find out more about you and your endeavors?
I have a blog that supports my book, with photos and additional information.
I also have a blog that combines food history, travels to other places besides Australia, and recipes gathered during my travels. http://worldsfare.wordpress.com
And if you want to simply know more about my writing career in general, there’s my website, though that is more for people looking to hire me. http://www.worldplate.com
What is next for Cynthia Clampitt and is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered?
I’m working on several projects. I want to do a sequel to Waltzing Australia—tentatively titled The Waltz Continues—about my several return trips to Australia. I’m also working on a book that combines food history with travel and culinary adventures. Of course, I’ve always got another trip planned. I’ve now been to nearly 40 countries on six continents, and have visited some of my favorites several times. I have a list of places I want to go, both in the U.S. and overseas—and, of course, I’m always hoping for another trip to Australia (I’ve been back three times since that first six-month adventure, but there are still things to see).
I’d also like to continue growing the magazine-writing side of my business. I’m a culinary historian, as well as a world traveler, and I have a lot of fascinating tales to tell in that arena, as well.
Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.
Click Here To Purchase Waltzing Australia Author: Cynthia ClampittISBN: 978-1-4196-6306-2 I never knew what exactly enticed my daughter when in her late teens she was determined to travel for six months to Australia exploring a country that is called “Down Under.” (If you are wondering why it is called "Down Under," it is because it is the only continent with a permanent population that is entirely below the equator and thus it has been given this name.) After all, wasn’t she...
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