Behind the scenes at Plus Ultra
You may have heard of a ‘Blog Hop’ that is currently making the rounds in our community. I was kindly nominated by one of my favourite bloggers, Madhu from The Urge To Wander, to take up the challenge and pass it on to one or two others. Thank you, Madhu, for thinking of me and the (overly) polite step of asking for permission beforehand!
For me it has been fascinating to take a look behind the scenes with other travel bloggers. Sometimes we forget how much work goes into each post and this is a timely reminder to appreciate and encourage those around us (admittedly I have not been very good at doing that the past few months).
What am I working on/writing?
I have recently come back from Bali, making it my eighth trip to Indonesia and the tenth with my long-time travel buddy Bama. Those who have been following my blog for some time will know that I have a great fondness for Indonesia – in fact I have plans of moving there permanently in the next few years! At the moment I am midway through sorting and choosing photos (always a long process) so they can go live on the blog in February. I have also been drafting a longer piece on the history of Singapore, looking at the origin myths and the city’s early days as a British colony, and will soon be publishing a photo essay from a weekend hike here in Hong Kong.
How does my work and writing differ from others of its genre?
Each travel blog, being infused with the personal touch of its writers and photographers, brings something different to the table. As a starting rule, I eschew generic, practical information for more immersive storytelling. This blog was never about bite-size ‘Top 10’ lists, travel tips or hotel reviews; at its heart Plus Ultra is a record of experiences – a sort of digital scrapbook – distilled into stories of places and people I meet on the road.
I have written about Tinus, a gifted swordsman from Sumba, Indonesia; a hard-hitting history lesson in East Timor, taught by the son of a former resistance commander; the joys and trials of climbing a shattered 3,700-metre volcano; and a forgotten island off the southeast coast of Taiwan, beautiful and raw yet tainted by nuclear waste.
Although photos are an important part of any travel blog, I’ve always felt that the writing should be able to stand up on its own. If we allow ourselves, we can strive to be as descriptive and entertaining as Paul Theroux, and as insightful and transporting as Pico Iyer. I must also credit Iain and Claire at Old World Wandering for being a major inspiration; they are the minds behind some of the best travel writing I’ve read on the Internet.
Why do I write what I do?
I think we all do it out of passion – which travel blogger doesn’t love telling the world about their trips? Personally, the blog is both a creative outlet for my writing and a valuable ‘memory bank’. 10, 20 years from now I will have forgotten many things, but I can still access them all with the click of a mouse. On another level, it’s partially driven by the idea of writing to inspire and inform, although I see that as less of a goal and more a natural byproduct of good storytelling.
How does my writing process work?
To be very honest, it happens in fits and starts. There are days when I struggle to write a single paragraph, and others when the flood of inspiration is so great I end up with 1,000 words. I don’t have a habit of blogging from the road – my worry is that it will take precious time away from the actual travel experience – although that may have to change when I embark on longer journeys.
I usually jot down extensive notes on trips (Bama can vouch for that) but they are often haphazard and look very different to blog posts in their final form. Some writers are excellent at journalling and their entries need only minimal editing before they press ‘Publish’. Evidently I am not one of those people!
Once back home, I also refer to photos and cues from the mind. Memory is a powerful tool and it is easy to recall the early morning light filtering into the undercroft of a local market, the fragrant smell of clove cigarettes, and the musical rain of Balinese gamelan.
One thing I try to do is write in a way that covers a wide range of sensory experiences. Photography is ideal for capturing light and mood, but being a purely visual medium, it has certain limitations. This is where the written word can compensate. How about describing the sensation of stepping on a beach where the grains of sand are rough like dried peppercorns? Or the intense sweetness in a glass of Indonesian teh manis at a roadside stall? These details can bring the story to life and put the reader firmly in your shoes.
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To take part in this ‘Behind The Scenes’ Blog Hop, I now nominate the following bloggers:
Alison and Don from Adventures in Wonderland
Jeff from Planet Bell
Wherever they go, Alison and Don have a knack for beautiful portraiture and getting up close and personal to the local people (and wildlife). They are an inspirational pair and proof that age need not be a barrier to long-term travel. I particularly enjoy the spiritual aspect they bring to their blog, and the recognition that travel is not just an outward journey but an inner one as well.
Apart from being a fabulous photographer, Jeff is one of the funniest travel bloggers I know. You have to check out his tongue-in-cheek cartoons drawn in MS Paint – they depict stories involving bear spray (Alaska) and scams (everywhere else). Last month I had the pleasure of meeting him and his wife Kristi when they stopped over in Hong Kong for a few days. Forgetting that both were wearing sandals, I took them on a speed walking tour for dim sum and two museums whose buildings were far more interesting than their contents. In a recent post on Planet Bell’s Facebook page, Jeff wrote that their feet still hurt (sorry guys).
Jeff, Alison and Don, there is no obligation to take part – I have really enjoyed your blogs and you can take this as a small gesture of my appreciation. To everyone else, thank you for reading! ◊