Painting Places

Painting Places

Set to speak at the Club this month, writer Ray Bartlett talks travel guides, bringing destinations to life and local hospitality in Tanzania.

Forget Facebook updates, blogging or calling home. Good travel writing requires disconnection, according to acclaimed writer Paul Theroux.

“Be bold, be truthful and leave everything behind,” he once told Wanderlust magazine. “Take a leap in the dark is the best advice I can give. Things will happen.”

Fellow Cape Cod resident and writer Ray Bartlett would probably agree. Having penned numerous contributions to Lonely Planet and Insight Guide travel books, as well as two novels (Sunsets of Tulum and Celadon) and a Japan memoir, he will discuss the challenge of depicting places in fiction and offer tips to budding travel writers at this month’s Meet the Author event.

INTOUCH: What makes good travel writing?

Bartlett: I think good travel writing, be it travel fiction or a guidebook, gives you an inside look at what a place really is beyond the brochures and advertisements. Whether I’m writing fiction or guidebooks, I always look for honesty in what I tell, so that when someone visits, they look around and nod and go, “Yes, I know this. Ray brought me here.”

INTOUCH: What do you look for in a place when writing a guide?

Bartlett: I’m going where many other writers have been, checking not so much to find vast uncharted regions, but to find the new gems that have sprung up since the preceding edition. Not all cities are going to be Paris, not all museums will be the Louvre, but there’s something fun, fascinating, quirky or unique just about anywhere, something people who live there are proud of. I want to find that and make sure readers can, too.

INTOUCH: What have been the highlights of your travels?

Bartlett: Without question, the incredible people. The kindnesses, the helpfulness, the aid, the knowledge and the openness are what make each country glow. It may sound odd, but my car breaking down in Tanzania, near the border of Zambia, was a perfect example. I was in the middle of nowhere, yet the first person who passed called friends. In 10 minutes, I had a truck full of people working on my car. They fixed it with a coat hanger and we limped to a nearby village, where a welder fixed it with a machine he’d made by hand. The total bill was $18. They just wanted to help someone who needed assistance. And I think those kindnesses are the essence of what it means to be human.

INTOUCH: What’s the secret to creating an authentic sense of place in a novel?

Bartlett: Honesty. The challenge is to be ruthlessly honest about describing a place, yet at the same time to paint new images in people’s imaginations. With characters, you can paint them with what they say, what they do. With a place, you really have to vividly remember aspects of being there and bring them to life in the reader’s mind.

Words: Nick Jones

Meet the Author: Ray Bartlett
February 20 | 7–8pm