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British Expat Newsletter: April 2013

Hello, and welcome to those of you who have recently signed up.

In this issue

This month

Here’s our news about the latest additions to the BE website.

The big event of the month in the UK was undoubtedly the death of Margaret Thatcher. The government of the day saw cause to mark it with a funeral just short of a state funeral, and by recalling MPs for a formal tribute session of the House of Commons. Others decided to mark it by holding street parties and sending “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead” to No.2 in the charts. Dave reckoned they were both as bad as each other, and blogged about it: “Maggie – to mourn or to mock?

Our friend Nate who wrote in about Scottish landmarks used as film locations last month has sent us another article this month – this one’s about seven world cities with amazing café cultures. Have you been to any on his list?

Our latest Pic of the Week is of a rather bizarre street sign in Penang – a picture of the Sacred Heart Jesus advertising the, er, Lakshmi Video shop.

And the month’s Quick Quiz is all about the Netherlands, to mark the abdication of Queen Beatrix and inauguration of King Willem-Alexander.

Editorial: Travel and writing

It’s commonly said that travel broadens the mind. It’s even been said – by the Chinese, apparently – that to travel ten thousand miles is better than to read ten thousand books; presumably in the sense of amassing enriching and educative experiences.

But what impact does travel have on writing?

Quite a lot, Marco Polo would say. His accounts of his travels in the late 13th century and what he’d learnt about the world beyond his native Venice made him arguably the world’s first best-selling individual author. (If he can be said to be the author; how much credit belongs to his cellmate in a Genoese prison, Rustichello da Pisa, is still debated by scholars today.)

The common perception of Marco Polo’s stories is that they were largely made up. This isn’t helped by the fact that in Italian they very rapidly became known as Il Millione (“The Million”). Although it’s possible that the name started from his family’s use of the additional surname Emilione to distinguish themselves from other Venetian Polos, the more widely held view is that it reflects the number of lies his largely sceptical readers thought his stories contained.

Some even doubted whether he’d even been to China; for instance, there’s no mention whatsoever of the Great Wall. But these days it’s generally thought that his books are almost certainly first-hand accounts of his travels, though admittedly it’s hard to be absolutely sure because there are so many variations between the 150 or so copies that still exist – this was before the days of printing in Europe, and hand-copied books were prone to all sorts of errors creeping in.

Fast-forward 600 years, and you find very different approaches to writing about exotic places.

Rudyard Kipling and Joseph Conrad (to name but two) used their first-hand experience of far-flung places to give their stories a sense of the exotic – thereby obeying the first rule of fictional writing: “Write from what you know.”

Kipling was born in Bombay and used his extensive travel across the Indian Empire to write authoritatively about it. Conrad was born in Russian Poland, enlisted as an able-bodied seaman in the British Merchant Navy aged 21 and was enlisted for 19 years. However, he only spent about a decade on ships. Much of his time on land was spent in Africa, Asia and Australia.

South East Asia seems to have been a fertile ground for authors who decided to travel – or indeed travellers who decided to write. Several of the more prestigious hotels in the region name their suites after them: the Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Penang has a whole gallery of photographs of authors who stayed there; Bangkok’s Mandarin Oriental names suites after Somerset Maugham, Noël Coward and James Michener as well as Conrad; and the Raffles Hotel in Singapore trumps the Mandarin Oriental by adding Kipling and Pablo Neruda to the list.

But it isn’t always necessary to have travelled to places in order to be able to write about them. Jules Verne’s most famous book in the English-speaking world, Around the World in Eighty Days, was written just at the time when that speed of travel was becoming possible. Verne didn’t make the journey himself – but he did research his books painstakingly.

(On the other hand, if you’re writing for an ostensibly factual travel guide, your readers have a right to expect that your reports are based on first-hand experience. Lonely Planet’s claim that their reporters check “every listing in person, every time, every edition” just doesn’t seem to add up when we visit the places they recommend. When Kay met an LP reviewer in a major world metropolis in the early 2000s, he cheerfully admitted that he was only spending three days to update their guide for a city with a population of well over 12 million people. Scary.)

And of course sometimes it’s impossible to travel to the places you’re writing about; in which case the journey becomes one of the imagination. Some of Verne’s other novels, such as Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, are generally acclaimed as precursors of science fiction – a genre which calls on the reader to embark on a journey into worlds very different to our own.

Now if that doesn’t demand the broadening of the mind…!

(On a sad note, we were deeply sorry to hear the news of Iain Banks’s announcement that he has terminal cancer and doesn’t expect to survive the year. He’s an inspired and inspiring author who’s given us, many of our friends and countless others vast amounts of pleasure with the wealth of his imagination. His death will be a huge loss.)

Have you been inspired by any travel writers – maybe to the point of deciding to become an expat, or a travel writer, yourself? Why not tell us on our discussion forum?

WWWordsmith: Forging a living from online writing

Writing is a great portable career, especially in these days of global connections – whether you’re doing paid writing for someone else, or self-publishing on websites or through eBooks. BE editor Kay McMahon and freelance writer Theo Koukouvitis have plenty of experience of both. So if you’ve ever considered writing for a living, or even for a bit of side income, here’s a great guide on how to get started. After all, we’ve all got at least one book in us, haven’t we?
ErgoGuides: WWWordsmith

Cancer Research UK

Dave’s old University pal Anthony Mason is taking part in the Bupa Great Manchester Run on Sunday 26 May and is looking for sponsors – all proceeds to Cancer Research UK via JustGiving. And if you’re a UK taxpayer, then JustGiving will pass on the tax relief to Cancer Research UK too.
JustGiving: Anthony Mason

Write for British Expat

Would you like to write for British Expat? Sorry, we don’t pay for articles but if you have a website we’ll link to it in the author’s blurb below any of your articles we publish. We use all sorts of content as long as it’s useful and/or interesting to our readership.

Besides articles, we also publish quick trivia quizzes – five questions about any subject. So, if you’d like to write for us but don’t feel like producing a literary masterpiece, then why not try writing a quickie quiz about your city, country, or even your hobby? Please use our contact form to get in touch.

British Expat Amazon Shopping

Amazon don’t just do books, you know. We’ve teamed up with them to bring you the ultimate in online shopping – from a micro SD card to a garden shed! A great way to do your shopping online, especially if the shops aren’t up to much in your part of the world.
BE Amazon Shop: UK & EU | BE Amazon Shop: non-EU

And now for something completely different…

For a bit (actually, a lot) of Internet fun while waxing nostalgic about decent beer – and about the beauties of North Yorkshire, if you’re from that part of the world – why not visit the Black Sheep Brewery’s site?
Black Sheep Brewery

So there’s a round-up of all that’s been going on. Come on over and see for yourself! Don’t forget…
Visit the BE website and join in with our lively community!

Till next time…

Happy surfing!

Kay & Dave
Editor & Deputy Editor
British Expat – the definitive home for British expats

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