New Travel Writer of the Year 2016 – preliminary comments

Janice Booth, preliminary judge of the New Travel Writer of the Year competition, offers a few initial comments on the entries.

Written by Janice Booth


Janice Booth, preliminary judge of the New Travel Writer of the Year competition, offers a few initial comments on the entries.

Things are hotting up at Competition HQ! The entries have been whittled down to a longlist of 26, which is now being read by the next group of judges. That longlist will be published on our website on Tuesday 17th January, so do watch this space.

I’ve been helping with the preliminary judging for more than a decade and have seen the quality improve steadily; entrants are paying far greater attention to the structure of their pieces now and using more imaginative language. This year the overall standard is extremely high, with some original and well-crafted entries. Anyone who got into around the top 50 (you will be told by email) can be very pleased with themselves. The final judges are going to have a really tough time deciding on the top three, who will be invited to a special dinner in London on the evening of 2 February. That’s when the overall prize winner will be announced.

This year’s entries have contained quite a bit of wildlife – bears, orang-utans, monkeys, otters, deer, tigers, elephants, snakes, cows and more – and have ranged over a wide variety of countries. They’ve been a real pleasure to read. Of course the destinations don’t need to be exotic; a good writer can (and many do) create a gripping and colourful piece from something much nearer to home. However, they do need to be appropriate to the theme, and a couple of dozen don’t focus enough on “a brief encounter”. Submitting a piece that you’ve written earlier for something else doesn’t generally work. Also it is such a waste of entrants’ time and effort when they don’t follow the rules! Three entries were disqualified because they contained the writer’s name, two because they were emailed several hours after the deadline, and two were well over the stipulated length.

As for those of you who came in at the back of the field – oh you are such a frustrating bunch! I can see your potential talent, and your enjoyment of travel, and the effort you’ve made; congratulations on all of those things, but there’s so much more you could do to help yourselves. Don’t waste your ability. Writing is a craft, and like all other crafts you need to study it and learn how to use your “tools”. For example, did you think carefully about your opening and closing paragraphs (many of you did), and about “painting the picture” rather than just “telling”? Did you double-check for typos, clichés, word repetitions, dodgy punctuation and spelling? Too many didn’t, and the extra care matters. The guidance on our website is helpful, as is reading the previous winning entries and any other examples of good current travel writing. Our next competition isn’t so far off and we do hope you’ll enter it. Over the years other entrants have gradually worked their way up from the bottom batch to being “highly commended” – why shouldn’t you do the same?

Good luck to everyone on the “long list” as the final judges (with considerable difficulty and a lot of discussion) work towards their decision. The standard is so high that I’ve no idea what the verdict will be, but of course I secretly hope the winning entry will be one of my personal favourites! In any case, it will certainly deserve the prize.

Janice Booth

(Preliminary judge and Bradt editor/author)

Don’t forget to check back on Tuesday 17th January to find out who has made it onto the longlist!