Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed travel writer Nick Hunt about his life, his career, and what inspired him to write his new book, Outlandish.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I am a travel writer and long-distance walker, the author of three travel books – Outlandish, Where the Wild Winds Are and Walking the Woods and the Water – as well as a work of ‘gonzo ornithology’, The Parakeeting of London. I also work as editor and co-director of the Dark Mountain Project. I live in Bristol, UK.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
It’s something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember. When I was six years old I was making stapled-together books, and I’ve just carried on since then.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I became more serious about writing – for better or for worse – in my early twenties, discovering ways to turn some of the travelling I was doing into articles for magazines and websites. But I was also writing lots of short stories, most of which ended up in various issues of Dark Mountain.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
About four years from when I first had the idea in 2010 to doing the actual travelling (an eight-month walk from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul) to the published book being released by Nicholas Brealey in 2014.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
About three years, including travelling.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Outlandish?
A fascination with the landscapes, cultures, histories and mythologies of Europe, and deep concern with climate change and travelling in an age of ecological crisis.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Outlandish?
The book is about four landscapes in very different parts of Europe, so my biggest creative and structural challenge was finding ways to link the four parts together. Then there was the emotional challenge of writing about the rapid and terrifying changes to our climate and its ecosystems. One chapter of the book involved trying to survive in a canyon in Europe’s only desert in the middle of a heat-wave, so that was pretty challenging on the physical level”
What was your research process for Outlandish?
As with my other books, I prefer to travel without too much research to weigh me down, and then do the research when I get home, drawing on threads I discovered on my journey and filling in the gaps. I think too much research initially can have an inhibiting effect, or prevent me from encountering the world as it is (and not how I expect it to be).
How did you plan the structure of Outlandish?
The four journeys of the book (the Scottish Cairngorm Mountains, the Bialowieze Forest in Poland and Belarus, the Tabernas Desert in Spain and Hungary’s Hortobagy steppes) gave me a very solid structure from the start, so each chapter covers one of those journeys.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Outlandish need?
My editor was Joe Zigmond at John Murray Press, and he helped the evolution of the book enormously.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?
It’s hard to give general advice because every writer is different, and it takes trial and error to find the process that works for you. But if you’re writing a travel book – just get out into the world, have some interesting experiences, and then try telling the stories of your travels on the page. That’s a simple enough place to start.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I have a novel that’s being considered by publishers at the moment, so I’m really hoping that sees publication soon – it’s completely different to any of my other books, and has been such so enjoyable to write. I’ll also have another travel book in the pipeline before long.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Yes, and yes. Writing books is hard, painstaking work, but I’m very pleased with what I’ve published so far and thankful that I’ve been given the opportunity to keep doing what I love.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Outlandish: Walking Europe’s Unlikely Landscapes (2021)
The Parakeeting of London: Adventures in Gonzo Ornithology (2019)
Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to Provence (2017)
Walking the Woods and the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn (2014)
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