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how to write a memoir

Travel Memoir – Hike in the Cotswolds, Part 2

dsc_0022That afternoon we explored the charming town and photographed its hand-hewn stone houses, some covered with climbing roses and others with thatched roofs perched like well-coifed wigs.  We ate the first of many pub dinners together that evening at the Eight Bells Inn, savoring fish and chips or bangers and mash.  Then we retired early to our private rooms at the 300-year-old Noel Arms Inn to rest up for our eight-day walk to Bath. 

The next morning, after a full English breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausages, kippers and dry toast, we left our bags in the hotel lobby for a taxi pickup, strapped on our little daypacks filled with water and rain gear, and headed across the street to the arched 18th century market hall that stands at the beginning of the Cotswold Way.   We posed for a photo there together and then started off down the street in high spirits.

At the edge of town, we found the first wooden trail marker with a distinctive acorn carved on its face.  A small arrow on the post, labeled “Cotswold Way” pointed toward a broad hill.  For the next eight days, we looked for those markers at every juncture where the way crossed a local footpath or road.   While the markers were well placed along the trail, sometimes they were swallowed by tall wild flowers, so we had to refer to the maps Andrew had given us to be sure of our route.

For the first five miles we walked together, three or four abreast, watching our steps as we passed through rich farmland dotted with sheep.  We stopped often to take photos of panoramic vistas and to listen to the insistent bleating of baby lambs.  Together, we learned how to scramble over stiles and negotiate “kissing-gates” one at a time to gain access to the trail that wove through walled private fields. 

Around noon we spotted the Broadway Tower, a five-story turreted structure that sat atop Beacon Hill.   Known as a “folly,” the medieval-looking tower was actually built as a viewing platform in the 18th century.  Two couples from our group decided to climb the tower to overlook the countryside and see historical museum inside.   The other four couples, stomachs grumbling, decided to skip the tower and push on to The Swan pub for lunch in the town of Broadway, which marked the half-way point of our 10-mile walk for that day.  After dining on salads or fish and chips, we carried on for five more miles to the pretty little town of Stanton, where we would spend the night. 

As we settled into our private room in the 17th century stone-block home that once served as Stanton’s post house, my husband’s cell phone rang. 

“We’re lost,” said a man with an American accent.

“Oh dear,” Tom said, recognizing Ron’s voice.  “What do you see around you?”

“There’s a long stone wall with an iron gate and a pasture full of sheep.  Any idea where we are?”

Ron’s plaintive wail became a running gag throughout the trip, as we strolled through countless walled pastures with sheep.  The tower climbers eventually made it to their B & B in Stanton and joined us for a superb dinner at the town’s Mount Inn, which is said to be a favorite dining spot of Paul McCartney and his daughter who lives nearby.  A pony-sized dog lay in the doorway like a rolled up rug, but the bill of fare offered a sophisticated menu of fresh haddock, sirloin steak and locally sourced vegetables.  Best of all, the English ales were cold.  After dinner some of us sat out on the restaurant’s hillside patio with a cold one and watched a sunset that turned the sky the color of amber stout. 

Read more of Kay’s travel memoir about a 70-mile walk through the Cotswolds in her next blog, January 1, 2017.

Write about People you Meet

DSC_0003People you meet while traveling make your experiences memorable. A conversation with a Frenchman at a Paris café or a Maasai dancer in Kenya will be the event you remember most from a trip. That conversation is the memory you will find yourself repeating to others when you return home.
So when you write about your travels, add those special person-to-person encounters to your account of what you saw and did. Take the time to make the people you met come alive again as you tell your story. Here are some techniques you can use:

  • Describe people physically
    What did the person you met look like? – Tall? Dark hair? Middle-aged? Wrinkles? Smile? Write down what your remember about the person’s demeanor and dress. How did the person move or talk? Rather than give a descriptive list of physical characteristics, describe the person in the context of telling the story.
  • Recreate the dialogue
    It’s OK to recreate a conversation even though you don’t remember the exact words, as long as you stick to the essence and intent of the words spoken. Write a dialogue of your conversation as you remember it, using quotation marks, going back and forth between the two of you.
  • Show how the interaction made you feel
    What did you learn about yourself from talking with this person? Did you feel a kinship even though you came from different backgrounds? Were there humorous misunderstandings due to language and cultural differences? Did you share a laugh?
    Here is an example from my travel memoir, of meeting a woman who became my friend, on my first trip to Easter Island:

A large woman made her way toward me through the crowd, her wavy black hair and pink- flowered, Tahitian-styled parieu flowing behind her. She had apparently spotted me as the foreign student who was to stay at her pension, with my blonde hair, UCLA tee shirt and blue jeans.

Ola, tu eras Kay? Habla Espanol?” The woman, (Lucia), wanted to know if I was Kay and if I spoke Spanish.

Si. Poquito,” I stammered, trying to recall the phrases I needed from my college Spanish I class.

Donde esta su equipaque?

Where is my luggage? I looked over at the bags lined up on the concrete floor of the small thatch-roofed airport. Mine wasn’t there, yet I had personally placed my tagged bag on the luggage conveyer belt in Tahiti.

Seeing the distress on my face, Lucia marched me over to Juan, the airport’s baggage handler, who happened to be her cousin. She pointed at the huge jet sitting alone on the runway and told Juan that I needed to check the baggage in the hold of the plane to make sure mine wasn’t still there. The plane was to leave for Santiago, Chile in less than an hour.

No, no,” Juan said, his eyes wide and hands gesturing in the air. “No es posible.

Si, si,” Lucia brushed past him and signaled me to come with her. I followed her pink dress across the runway to the tall metal stair-step ladder that still leaned against the open door of the baggage compartment in the bowels of the big plane.

Ariba,” she said to me, pointing the way up the stairs.

I knew that the next plane from Tahiti wouldn’t arrive for one more week and I thought about going without my clothes and toiletries for that long on an isolated island with a few tourist shops. I looked at Lucia, her legs planted wide and arms pointing up to the plane. Her certainty gave me courage. I took a deep breath and bounded up the stairs, two at a time, aware that Juan was on my heels, protesting in a frantic voice…

Kay Sanger is the author of several travel guidebooks and most recently, Easter Island: The Essential Guide, published by The Easter Island Foundation. Find it on Amazon or at

Write a Travel Memoir with the Techniques of a Novelist

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For 25 years I wrote freelance travel articles for newspapers and magazines, as well as six guidebooks. Most of these writings told readers where to stay, how to negotiate the cities and what to see and do. However, I learned over the years that the best accounts of travel are written using techniques that novelists use to engage readers.

Bestselling authors write about more than what characters saw or did. They find a story in the activities that encourages the reader to stay on the page to see what happens next. Novelists use techniques such as painting scenes and creating tension to make the story real and exciting for a reader. You can do this too, as you write a memoir about your travels, by taking yourself back to that time on your trip when you were filled with anticipation and uncertainty.

In my next few blogs I will explore several ways to write about your experiences using good story telling techniques. Two of those techniques follow.


  1. Tell a good story with a beginning, middle and end. Your readers will keep reading if you write a story with scenes that have action and an arc of discovery that reaches a satisfying conclusion. Here is an example of a story I wrote about hiking 70 miles on the Cotswold Way in England with 12 friends. It began like this:

In Chipping Campden on that first morning, after a full English breakfast of eggs, bacon, kippers and dry toast, we left our suitcases in the hotel lobby for a taxi pickup and strapped on small daypacks filled with water and snacks. We posed for a photo together beneath a sign marking the start of the Cotswold Way and then we headed off down the cobble-stone street in high spirits. The sun warmed us from a clear blue sky above while a cool breeze encouraged us to keep on our jackets.

At the edge of town, we found the first trail marker, a wooden post with a distinctive acorn carved on its face. A small arrow on the post pointed toward a broad hill. We could see the path inching up through green fields and disappearing into a forest of tall trees. All we had to do was put one foot in front of the other and head up that trail.

For the first five miles, we walked together, three or four abreast, watching our steps as we passed through rich farmland dotted with sheep. We stopped often to take photos of the sweeping vistas and to listen to the insistent bleating of baby lambs. The beginning of our 70-mile walk seemed so calm. We couldn’t imagine what awaited us farther along the trail as the weather turned and we got lost.

  1. Use the novel writer’s technique of adding tension and suspense. Make it an interesting read, with a cast of characters, including yourself, that are placed in a tenuous situation, as we often are when traveling. The following example is from a story I wrote about being caught in Hurricane Iwa when I went to Hawaii with my young children in 1982.

I was waiting with our kids at the Western Airlines ticket counter at LAX on a gray day in November, 1982, when I heard the news.

“Did you hear that a hurricane is supposed to hit Oahu this afternoon?” asked a tall, earnest man in line in front of me.

No, I hadn’t heard anything about it, and neither had the other would-be passengers around us.

“What’s a hurricane?” asked my six-year-old son, Ted.

“Well, it’s a storm with a lot of wind,” I replied, trying to sound breezy myself.

When we reached the counter, I asked the ticket agent if she had heard about the hurricane.

“They haven’t given us any information about it,” she replied. “So I don’t think it’s anything to worry about. The flight’s still scheduled to leave at 2 p.m.”

Once aboard the plane, the Polynesian music and stewardesses dressed in mumus lulled us into believing that we were heading for a pleasant vacation in paradise. We settled back to enjoy the trip.

With about 90 minutes left in the flight, the pilot announced we should return to our seats and put on our seatbelts for the remainder of the trip. He predicted we were going to experience a “bit of turbulence.” He never mentioned the “H” word as the plane began to shimmy and bounce…


The next time you write about your travel experiences, try these suggestions and have fun with it. In my next blog (April 1), I will provide more suggestions to make your travel memoirs sizzle.


picAs we continue through this year of writing about our families, I hope you have been inspired to write some insightful and entertaining stories about your parents. In this blog space, I have reviewed books written about mothers and fathers and have suggested a number of ways for you to approach writing about them.

Now it’s time to move on – to the subject of grandparents. Writing their stories may be more difficult than writing about your parents. Fewer and fewer of us have lived near our grandparents or seen them on a regular basis. Sadly, by the time we are truly interested in their lives, they may already have passed on.

Mom – Twenty Questions to help you Write Her Story

FullSizeRenderBefore you write about your mother, you need to do some research. One of the best ways to find out more about her is to ask some targeted questions – ones that require a thoughtful answer, not just “yes” or “no.” If your mother is still alive and able to respond to your questions, you are very lucky indeed. Create a list of questions and find some time to sit down with her. Ask each question, then listen and don’t interrupt. You can take notes and/or record her answers with audio or video. Show her you are interested, and she may be willing to talk on and on.

Travel Memoirs: Create Memory Books with Stories and Photos

My husband and I recently returned from a trip to London and Paris with our 11-year-old granddaughter. We decided to take her while she still might want to travel with us old folks and before the company of friends, especially boys, would be more preferable. Our intention was to introduce her to a world of art, history and ideas and to expose her to the notion that there is much to learn about and appreciate beyond the Denver suburb where she lives. The key to our success would be to create a lasting memory, which I will discuss at the end of this blog.

We decided to spend five days in London and five days in Paris, with a ride between the two cities via the Chunnel on the Eurostar Train. I planned an ambitious schedule packed with (more…)