One of the best things about working on travel guides is putting together first editions. I’ve worked mostly on these and it’s a real pleasure to have all that space (say 50-80,000 words) to weigh up the best approach. Give me a blank page and I get excited, give me 500 pages and it’s deep joy; a bit perverse, but there you are.
The key relationship here is with the author. I really enjoy building and developing this relationship with writers. And I really value it. I’ve been lucky, and my job’s been made easy by working with a lot of decent ones.
At the end of the process, there’s nothing better than looking back at how the concept and initial ideas have taken shape and formed a print book, e-book or, increasingly, digital story for online/mobile/tablet etc.
There’s only one thing that competes with a first edition and that’s a major overhaul. This goes beyond a thorough update. It’s when you take a book, tear it apart and put it back together again. It’s an MOT, a structural audit and a deep dive into the state of a place and the content that covers it, all rolled into one. And it’s pretty satisfying. It often brings up more questions than answers, but again it’s a chance to work out what really matters to readers, and a chance to bang your head together with writers.
The last time I revised our England guide, one basic question I asked was, did we need so much information on gardens? I mean, people like gardens right? I get it. But do we need so many? Possibly scarred by day outings to English regional garden centres with my parents and elderly grandparents as a kid — serving as the closest “attraction” palatable to three generations — I think I harboured deep doubts. I remember a lot of scuffing my trainers and being told off for climbing in plant trolleys. The highlight was being rewarded with one and two pence pieces to slot and roll down the spirally, charity donation bins. But, it seems, my judgement was clouded and some research and discussion with our writers put me straight. People love gardens in the UK. Actually, I love them, too (especially if they have sprinklers to run through), I just get anxious in garden centres…
So, we still have plenty of gardens. Big ones, small ones, the long, outstretched ones, to run up and down, and the intricate, tangled up ones that you can get lost in. It’s no surprise to me that The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has announced the launch of a range of RHS Holidays with specialist escorted tours operator Collette Worldwide Holidays. This is flower power in action and I think they’re on to something here; it’s a niche strong enough to get those with green fingers reaching out to Italy, Spain, South Africa and China.
Nature and the seasons are what really strike you working on England; the shifts in the landscape and sense of renewal. It’s similar to working on travel guides themselves. Whether you’re out for the spring blossom in Kyoto, or hunting for red October in Ontario, you need to be there when the world turns.