We invited Jini Reddy to answer a few questions about her career as a travel writer. She is the author of Wild Times and Wanderland, which was shortlisted for the Wainwright Prize. She previously appeared on the Travel Writing World podcast. You can follow Jini Reddy and her work on her homepage, Twitter, and Instagram.
How did you first become interested in writing travel books?
Jini Reddy: I emigrated to Canada when I was young, and so I think the seeds were planted then. And I’d always wanted to write. In my 20s, I discovered Stanfords, the travel bookshop in London, and I think that cemented the idea. I was a travel journalist first though. Though these days I’d say I was cross-genre – sort of nature, travel, spirituality.
How did you manage to get your first travel book published?
My first, Wild Times was a hybrid guidebook/narrative (the kind literary writers can be quite snobbish about). I was having a drink with a fellow travel journalist, who happened to be the MD of a travel publishing company. I told him about some of the things I’d been up to, and he thought there could be a book in that – and that’s how the ball got rolling.
As for Wanderland, which is a quite personal narrative, it was seeded in a serendipitous way. I saw that a publisher from Bloomsbury had ‘liked’ one of my tweets, so I seized the opportunity and emailed him and asked if he fancied meeting for a coffee. He did, he asked me what I might like to write about and that’s how that one started. No being swept up by an agent off the bat, although I have a brilliant one now. I’m definitely a late-starter!
What is your writing process like, both on the road and at home? And how long does it take you to write a book?
It varies. I take notes on the road in whatever notebook I have to hand (I wish I could afford those waterproof ones. They are brilliant).
I try to pay attention to detail, that is what I can see, what my other senses are picking up, snippets of conversation etc. I find I can very easily recollect feelings and thoughts, so I don’t worry about noting those too much when on the road.
I take photos when I can too, as visual aids. I’ll write and re-write extensively. It’s really important for me that I do the labour so that the reader doesn’t have to. I always try to look at what I’ve written from a reader’s perspective.
I want what I write to be an ‘easy’ read, and that takes work. I don’t think people realise quite how much work. From commission to the draft I submitted, I think it took me around two years to write Wanderland.
What travel books or travel authors influence or inform your own work?
Such a wide range! As mentioned, when I was younger I would spend a lot of time in Stanfords. If I look at my shelves now, many of the books I bought back then really whet my appetite: Native Stranger by Eddy L. Harris, Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni, Ryszard Kapuściński’s The Shadow of The Sun, Robyn Davidson’s Tracks, Jason Elliot’s An Unexpected Light.
We’re starting to see the decolonisation of travel writing, so that’s encouraging. I want to see and read about the experiences of women who look like me! I loved Monisha Rajesh’s Around India in 80 Trains. I’ve just got hold of Faith Adiele’s Meeting Faith (Which I first read about recently in a Conde Nast Traveller piece on travel books by writers of colour).
I love a good story – storytelling is everything – and I really enjoyed Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and Rupert Isaacson’s The Horseboy. I just like what I like. I’ll read anything if it grabs me. I’m more middle-brow…
What advice would you give to someone interested in writing a travel book?
I’d say there needs to be a compelling reason for that book to be published, and that a destination isn’t a story.
What is so appealing about the travel book as a literary form?
It allows the reader to wander, to join the author on a journey. For those curious about the world, travel literature is a wonderful gift.
Why write about travel?
I travel because I inherently love going on a journey, and because, coming from a multicultural background, I definitely feel more at home in the wider world. So travel writing, or some broad version of it is a natural extension of that. It is a way of making sense of my experiences in the world, creating meaning from them. I’m interested in cultures beyond my own, I like making connections and friendships, and I especially like exploring our common humanity. I adore falling in love with vast wild, staggeringly beautiful landscapes. I don’t think I am a conventional travel writer though – Wanderland contained elements of travel memoir, spirituality, and nature writing. I think write about whatever inspires you, whatever you connect with, whether it be fiction or non-fiction.