David Eimer: Author Profile

by Travel Writing World
David Eimer

David Eimer stops by Travel Writing World to answer a few questions about his career as a writer. He is the author of The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China and A Savage Dreamland: Journeys in Burma.

How did you first become interested in writing travel books?

I started reading travel literature as a teenager, when I began travelling solo. After university, I became a journalist and ended up as a foreign correspondent, first in Beijing and then in Bangkok. It was while I was living in China that I started to think seriously about writing a travel book. 

At that time–the mid-2000s–books about China tended to be about the country’s economic ascent and how that was impacting Chinese society. They were very focused on Beijing, Shanghai and the eastern–more developed–areas of China. I was interested in the most remote regions, in the far west and southwest especially, and the ethnic minorities who live there. That inspired my first book, The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China.

How did you manage to get your first travel book published?

I had an agent in London, so I wrote a proposal for The Emperor Far Away, revised it with the agent’s help and then it did the rounds of the publishers. Bloomsbury bought it for the UK and the US. 

Looking back, I was both privileged and lucky. It was easier to sell travel books in 2010. I think it’s a tougher market for travel writing now.

What is your writing process like, both on the road and at home? And how long does it take you to write a book inclusive of the research, travel, writing, and editing phases?

I take a huge amount of notes when I am on the road. Photos are really useful for bringing back the visual memories when you’re actually writing the book. I prefer writing in the morning, but it doesn’t matter where I am. The two books I have written each took four years from start to finish. That sounds like a long time, but I have to juggle my own projects with more mundane writing and editing gigs.

What books or authors influence or inform your own work?

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts and Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar made a big impression on me as a teenager. Years later, W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn and Iain Sinclair’s Lights Out for the Territory were equally inspiring. 

Contemporary travel writers I like include John Gimlette, Kapka Kassabova, Robert Macfarlane and Rory Maclean. Norman Lewis was a great writer. I’m also a fan of Bruce Chatwin and Ryszard Kapuscinski. The Asiatics by Frederic Prokosch is a unique, amazing novel that is all about the experience of travelling.

What advice would you give to someone interested in writing a travel book?

Read a lot, there’s no substitute for that. Ideally, live in the country you want to write about. Failing that, do your research and learn a bit of the language. Consider what the point of your book is. If you’re only recording a journey, that can grow old for the reader (and author) quite quickly.

What is so appealing about the travel book as a literary form?

There’s a lot of freedom in travel writing because it traverses so many genres. You can approach your subject from any number of different creative angles, but you’re also writing about a place at a particular moment so, in a loose sense, you’re a historian.  

Why write about travel?

Why not? 

David Eimer stops by Travel Writing World to answer a few questions about his career as a writer. He is the author of The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China and A Savage Dreamland: Journeys in Burma.

If you enjoyed this interview with David Eimer, you might enjoy our author profiles section for more behind-the-scenes interviews with authors of travel books.

Last Updated on 17 July 2021 by Travel Writing World

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