Janice Booth, preliminary judge of the New Travel Writer of the Year competition, offers a few initial comments on the entries.
What a colourful batch of entries!
You've told us about your experiences in more than 40 different countries, featuring candles, cats, cheese, coffee, dawn, dogs, dolphins, drainage, food, frontiers, funerals, laundrettes, markets, monkeys, parrots, puppets, soup, tea, Turkish baths, vodka – and much more. You've travelled by air, boat, bus, car, cycle, train, taxi, ferry, matatu, rickshaw, dog-sled, mule, horse, elephant, donkey and on foot. And you've sent us examples of good (in some cases very good) and evocative travel writing, with some careful and inventive interpretations of this year's theme.
There were slightly fewer entries than last year and some entrants seemed to find the theme 'Lost in Translation' challenging. Indeed, a largish handful ignored it altogether, and sadly some of these were otherwise very good writers. Of course the theme is an integral part of the competition and many of you can be proud of the way you incorporated it in your entries, whether humorously, dramatically, reflectively or as a subtle (and sometimes touching) background. Some were based on straightforward linguistic misinterpretations, while others revealed how hard it can be for a visitor to grasp the deepest essence of a foreign country or culture. However much he or she tries to understand, some aspect remains 'lost'. By specifying a theme, we ensure that you are tailoring your entry for this particular competition, rather than just telling us the story you want to tell (and may possibly already have used in more-or-less the same form elsewhere). This helps the judges to assess your overall skill and ability as a writer.
Destinations don't need to be exotic; good writers can (and several of you did) create a good story from an event or encounter quite close to home, although – since this is a travel-writing competition – some element of travel does need to be included. A few entrants got so hooked on telling their story that they forgot to 'paint any pictures' that would bring it to life for us and help us to visualise the surroundings and people involved. It takes only a very few words to create a vivid image.
Fewer of you than last year – but still some – seemed not to have read the hints and guidelines on our website, as well as the winning entries from previous competitions. These really do help, for example by reminding you how important it is to grab the reader's attention with your opening paragraph and to round off the piece (and its theme) neatly at the end.
Until the very end, the judges have no idea who the entrants are; entries are judged anonymously throughout. We’ve now selected a longlist of 16 entries, and the final judging session (featuring several more judges) will take place in a fortnight’s time. At this session, we will settle upon our top three entrants, who will be invited to a special dinner in London in early February, at which the winner will be announced. For the judges, it's always absorbing and enjoyable work. Anyone who has reached the top 16 can be very pleased with themselves.
Thank you for entering. This year's standard is high enough to give the final judges a very tough task. Whoever wins will certainly deserve their prize.
(Preliminary judge and Bradt editor/author)
To view the longlist, please click here.