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On The Table Read, “The Best Book Reader Magazine in the UK“, author Sue Birley discusses her new book release, Travels With A Brompton, and her love of traveling.

JJ Barnes editor of The Table Read online creativity, arts and entertainment magazine

Written by JJ Barnes

I interviewed author Sue Birley about her book of travel stories, Travels With A Brompton, what inspired her to write, and the work that went into it.

Tell me a bit about who you are.  

My name is Sue Birley and I recently started my 8th decade! I was born and brought up in the Lake District and now I live in Wanborough, a village near Swindon. In July my husband David and I will have been there 39 years.

I’ve done various things – nursing, piano teaching, opera singing, a degree at Oxford and an MA at Reading (I started uni at the age of 43). For 5 years I worked on a PhD about English and French politics and although I didn’t complete it, researching and writing it were all grist to the Travels with a Brompton book mill.

Sue Birley, Travels With A Brompton on The Table Read
Sue Birley

When did you first WANT to write a book?

I’m not sure I did, although a PhD is about 100,000 words, and many of them are turned into books. The idea of turning my holiday diaries into a book came from a friend who was publishing at the time.

Reading Never Goes Out of Style

When did you take a step to start writing?

I must have done a fair bit of writing during my nursing training at St Thomas’s hospital, which was very academic. But during my Geography degree, which I started in 1993, I’d be writing one or two long essays a week, all by hand, can you imagine? And there were really long essays and a dissertation to be done for finals. So it went on during my MA. I think by then we were typing the essays (I learned to touch type in my 20s – one of the most useful things I ever did) and indeed computing was part of my Oxford course but we still had to sit handwritten exams!

How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release? 

Difficult to quantify but I suppose we can say from 2005, which is when my booklet about a local charity was published and my publisher friend read it, and a chapter made up from my diaries. I then started writing in earnest but could only do so much at a time because we needed to go on more holidays to write more diaries! So we can probably say 17 years!

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What made you want to write Travels With A Brompton? What were your biggest challenges with writing it?

I can’t say the writing was a challenge at all. I love writing and as long as I know what I’m writing about, it flows easily (thank heaven for computers!). Mind you, it hasn’t always been the case – one reason I gave up the PhD was a patch of writer’s block. There were also other problems and as soon as I gave up, the block went away…

What was your research process for Travels With A Brompton?

Our holidays are known as ‘research trips’. Every chapter is based on a holiday taken. So that’s the primary research. I use the Michelin Green Guides for the local information, maps to check where we’ve been, and the good old internet. My husband is considered to have a hopeless memory but he can remember things about the holidays!

How did you plan the structure of Travels With A Brompton?

Every bit of writing should have an introduction and a conclusion, and the bit in between. I wrote a chapter about every trip taken, trying to make them roughly the same length, and stopped when I had enough words. I now have material left over for…see the question below.

Travels With A Brompton by Sue Birley on The Table Read
Travels With A Brompton

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Travels With A Brompton need?

Yes, Cranthorpe Millner assigned me an editor. I don’t think it needed too much but there is nothing like a new pair of eyes. I have done some editing and proofreading myself. David says I’m very pedantic which I take as a compliment, though I’m not sure it’s meant as one!

The #1 Writing Tool

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?

Mmm, tricky one. I suppose the classic reply is ‘don’t’! I don’t think I’d say that but it would depend on who it was. Some people write very badly – I have read self-published books that drive me potty in that way. If it was a friend, I’d offer to read some.

Perhaps the best advice would be to make a plan, have some structure to work round. And if it were someone allergic to social media, as I am, I’d warn them they’d have to sign up.

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

I am definitely going to write another but whether I submit it for publishing is another matter. I have further French chapters to use (the book finishes in 2013) and in 1980 we travelled back from Malawi, hopping to Kenya and the Seychelles (where bikes came with the B&B), then to Israel and then Greece, where we bought bikes and cycled much of the way home. Title: More Travels with a Brompton and Coming Home from Africa – or something.

And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

Yes, I am, or certainly will be when I hold a real copy in my hand. It looks beautiful because of the cover design by my niece Becky Ripley who also drew the maps inside. How much effort was it? As I say, the writing was easy enough and I do think I have to thank the first Covid lockdown for giving me the time when I’d normally be doing something else, such as orchestral concerts. I was able to do continuous work on the book. Then I expected to have to expend lots of effort in finding a publisher and although I have a few rejections to my name (think Penguin and JK Rowling!), when I really got down to it and started at A, and C for Cranthorpe Millner beckoned cheerily, I can’t say that was much effort either. I was prepared to self-publish but it has been thrilling to work with a real publisher. They’re all so nice, too!

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