Kate J Armstrong writes and edits books about travel, nature, and adventures of all kinds. As editor, she’s helped adventurers tell their stories in books like National Geographic’s Everest: Mountain Without Mercy and special editions like The World’s Most Beautiful Places. As writer, she’s explored the wonder of national parks in National Geographic’s Greatest Parks of the World.
How did you become a travel writer?
After I finished college, I found myself at a bit of a loose end. So when two of my old high school teachers convinced me to go backpacking by myself until my money ran out, it sounded like a good plan. I’d never been overseas, and I fell in love with it. Not just Europe, but the experience of travel: learning that there are an infinite number of ways to be and live in the world. Everywhere I went, I met people with such interesting stories. I wanted to document those stories; to find ways of making a reader feel like they’d been travelling, too, just by sitting down and reading them.
What’s one of the most exciting places you’ve been and written about?
Night diving on the Great Barrier Reef was one of the wilder experiences I’ve had, particularly because I’m intensely scared of sharks. Being down there was like stepping onto another planet: fish sleeping inside their own air bubbles, all glowing eyes and antennae, and the sharks circling like dancers above our heads. You don’t have to go somewhere exotic to have a revelatory travel experience: you just have to go somewhere that forces you out of your comfort zone. I’ve always enjoyed writing about my experiences in the wilderness because those are often the trips that do that for me.
What’s one key tip for writers looking to include an essence of place in their work?
As you think back on your experience, work hard to conjure up those things that made the place unique in your eyes. What details have lasted in your memory? What makes those details different from other places you’ve been? Then try to find the words to paint a picture of those elements, because they’re likely the ones your readers will be most interested in. The trick is to include enough detail to bring a place to life without bogging down your narrative. I find it helps to treat your setting like a character, because it is one – and it should feel like one.
Join Kate to learn about the craft of Travel Writing on 13 May, 10am-4pm at the NSW Writers’ Centre.