Inside Travel Writing: An interview with Christine Osborne

Christine Osborne is a travel writer and photographer who has become known for her expertise in religion. Her latest book Among Believers explores the world’s major religions.

Stuart Forster put questions to Christine, to find out more about her work and way of going about it.

What kind of travel related niche do you specialise in and what drew you to it?

During the 1970s and 1980s I focused on the Middle East and the developing Arab oil states. I received commissions for photographs of this area as well as for books. Years later I found that, quite by chance, I had concentrated on Muslim countries. I have written and illustrated articles (and books) on 30 Muslim majority nations from Malaysia to Morocco.

In the 1990s I began specialising in religious photography to fill a gap in the market.

Christine on the cover of Travels with My Hat.

Christine on the cover of Travels with My Hat.

Which piece of writing are you most proud of and why?

In 1970 as a young travel writer, I received the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) award for a series of articles on South East Asian nations.  My memoir Travels with My Hat: A lifetime on the Road has good reviews on Amazon.

What do you enjoy most about travel writing?

I most enjoy weaving words and photographs as a package.

Do you have a favourite destination?

I love the outer islands of Tahiti, especially the Tuamotus, the Red Sea littoral and the Swahili coast of Africa.

Bags of trochus shells e in Suakin, a port of Sudan © Christine Osborne.

Christine has enjoyed bags of photo opportunities while travelling. Bags of trochus shells in Suakin, Sudan. Photo © Christine Osborne.

What would be a typical working day for you, if there is such a thing?

I am a morning writer. When engaged I don’t eat lunch as a full stomach makes you drowsy. I drink loads of cups of tea and stop at precisely 5pm for a G&T and the evening news.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?

Hemingway is reported to have said: never sit down to write without knowing what to put on the blank page. If I am having difficulty, I go over it in my head last thing before falling asleep. Frequently my brain solves the problem in the night and I awake, able to jump the hurdle.

Shaivite pilgrims worship Nandi, the bull god, avatar of Lord Shiva, at the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, India. Photo © Christine Osborne.

Shaivite pilgrims worship Nandi, the bull god, avatar of Lord Shiva, at the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, India. Photo © Christine Osborne.

What tip or tips would you offer to anyone entering the industry?

Specialise.

Which writers inspire you and why?

I cannot say I was inspired by any writer. But writers I admire are Ryszard Kapuściński, Tim Mackintosh-Smith, Kevin Rushby, Alan Moorehead, Bruce Chatwin and Ernest Hemingway.

What do you aspire to achieve as a writer?

Holidays are hugely precious for people who only get one stab at them a year. Therefore I have always done my utmost to provide the best advice. Sometimes this has meant travelling miles out of the way to inspect an hotel or whatever. My readers will never know what sweat went into some of the places I visited (think Yemen and the United Arab Emirates).

It’s a tough industry, what do you see as it’s biggest challenges?

Most editors have their cliques and while you may have a good story, it is difficult to break into their sacred circle. I used to write regularly for the Daily Telegraph travel pages. When the editor changed, I could not get a look in. Many travel writers would agree that it is difficult to get an editor’s attention if he is unfamiliar with your work.

What about its opportunities?

I suppose one has to say travel. But what I call “real travel”. Not the PR junket where one is wined and dined along with other journos and shown whatever it is their client wants you to write about.

Are there a destination you are particularly keen to visit and write about?

I have been to Yemen, but I never got down to the Hadhramaut coast now in the grip of AQIP (al-Qaida of the Arabian Peninsula).  I would like to visit the Okavango delta and to do some tiger fishing in Zambia.

Do you have a website where people can find out more about you?

My website, www.travelswithmyhat.com.

Smiling slum dwellers in Kolkata, Bengal. Photo © Christine Osborne.

Smiling slum dwellers in Kolkata, Bengal. Photo © Christine Osborne.

If you weren’t a travel writer what would you like to be?

A veterinary doctor.

 

To see more of Christine’s work, get hold of an electronic copy of Among Believers, a book featuring world religions, customs, sacred foods and rites of passage. The book contains 365 colour photographs.

One Comment

  1. Holly White says:

    I have just ordered a book. Thank you.

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