Robert Martineau: Author Profile

by Travel Writing World
Robert Martineau

Robert Martineau stops by Travel Writing World to answer a few questions about his career as a writer. He is the author of Waypoints: A Journey on Foot (Penguin Random House 2021).


How did you first become interested in writing travel books?

I didn’t set out to write a travel book, but filled notebooks along the way of my journey (a 6 month walk in West Africa, through Ghana, Togo and Benin). I left my job for that journey, as I wasn’t in a good place, and thought a long walk could help me. The process of writing the book came a couple of years later, after I’d come home, when I began thinking more about the impact that walk had had on my life. 

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

It’s daunting in ways to get a book published. I had lots of rejections from agents when I sent in my early drafts. I reworked what would become Waypoints (my first book) and resent it to a couple of agents, and then had positive responses. I was lucky the agents I shared it with read it (I just emailed them cold) and most of all to find Chris at Aitken, who’s a fantastic agent and champion of the book. 

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?

On the road, I wrote each night, often as there was nothing else to do, if I was camping: I’d have a head torch, a tent, a notebook and pen, no other distractions. Each day I’d write notes. I filled perhaps 5-6 notebooks, which I posted home intermittently from the road. 

Writing after, it took me a long time to mould them into something I was happy with and to build a story from them. There’s a writer I love called Basil Bunting, who wrote poems rooted in Northumberland and the Pennines. He spoke about writing as being like stone sculpting: he believed you have to chisel away endlessly to find the rawest form. In ways I write this way: crossing out more and more words with each draft. 

What travel books or travel authors influence or inform your own work?

Too many to name, but some of my favourite writers are Colin Thubron, Erling Kagge, Sophy Roberts, Teju Cole (not strictly travel, but I feel that he writes as a walker), Bruce Chatwin, Rebecca Solnit. Probably my favourite travel book, if you can call it that, is The Rings of Saturn, by W.G. Sebald. 

I was also influenced by many of the writers of journeys that are touched on in Waypoints, the book of my West Africa walk: Isabelle Eberhardt, who travelled across the Sahara a century ago, at times disguised as a man; Richard Byrd, who spent five months camped out in the Antarctic winter in the 1930s; Olaudah Equiano, who was kidnapped from his home in what is now Nigeria, and sold into slavery, but bought his freedom and became a key abolitionist in Britain in the struggle against transatlantic slavery. 

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

Read as much as you can, and, although I didn’t have this for my book, have a very clear idea of what you want to write (ie a proposal) before you do your trip. 

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

I think it’s interesting what is possible with a travel book: it allows connections between so many ideas: place, history, personal journey and so on. I find it exciting thinking about the ways those can brought together, with the thread of the journey giving them structure, to tell new stories in surprising ways. 

Why write about travel?

Writers have always written about travel. Roaming or wandering have been such central parts of human experience for so long, I think there will always be new stories to tell. 


Robert Martineau stops by Travel Writing World to answer a few questions about his career as a writer. He is the author of Waypoints: A Journey on Foot (Penguin Random House 2021).

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

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