Writer Wednesdays – Miriam Murcutt
I first read ‘A Room with a Pew’ a few months ago and simply adored it! I usually try to review each book I read on Goodreads and after my review of ‘A Room with a Pew’ was out I received a message from one of its authors, Miriam Murcutt, asking me if I would accept an e-book copy of her and Richard Starks’ book ‘Greenland‘ for an honest review. Do I want to read another travel book by these awesome authors? YES!
And it was through correspondence with Miriam that I was inspired to start a new series, Writer Wednesdays, where I can introduce my readers to some amazing and inspiring travel writers. After interviewing Miriam I’m even more intrigued with the vastness of travel she has done, her openness and willingness to explore and was thrilled to learn she has done two of my 3 Dream Hikes. Learning more about Miriam Murcutt has only made me want to devour more of her travel adventures and hope you will too!
Writer Wednesdays would like to introduce you to Miriam Murcutt!
- Please tell us a little about yourself.
I have been involved in the publishing industry – magazines, newspapers, books – all of my life first in London, England, then in Toronto, Canada and, most recently, in the US, in Colorado. I graduated from a Scottish university with a degree in English, Sociology and – goodness knows how – Geology. Then I went to work as an editorial assistant for a publishing house in London. After a couple of years there I emigrated to Canada and worked as a writer on a magazine before moving into marketing on a couple of travel magazines. I used this experience to become co-owner of a publishing services company which operated in England, Canada and the United States. When this business was sold – in 1997 – I started to co-author books with Richard Starks. And, here we are, many years later with four books published and another on the way.
- How many countries have you visited?
I’ve been lucky enough to travel widely. In South and Central America, I’ve visited Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela (to research our book ‘Along the River that Flows Uphill – from the Orinoco to the Amazon’) and all of the Central American countries except El Salvador. As well, I have traveled a lot in Mexico, particularly when I was trying to improve my Spanish.
And, of course, I traveled throughout Canada when I lived there, and to escape the Canadian winters, I’ve sunbathed on the beaches of a few Caribbean islands – Jamaica, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, the Cayman Islands, and the Bahamas.
I have also visited the Himalayan regions a number of times – Tibet (to research our book, ‘Lost in Tibet’), Nepal (for some high-altitude trekking), and Ladakh in India where I joined a mountain climbing group and managed to stagger to the summit of Stok Kangri, a 20,000ft-plus peak. I’m proud of that one!
In Europe, I’ve visited Spain, both as a tourist and to research ‘A Room with a Pew – Sleeping our Way through Spain’s Ancient Monasteries’. I’ve also spent some happy times staying in gites in rural France in company with quite a few bottles of nice red wine; I’ve also hiked along the GR5, a long-distance trail that runs about 400 miles from Lake Geneva to Nice; I’ve hiked part of the Lycian Way in Turkey, and most of the Pilgrim’s Route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain; I’ve also walked across Corsica and much of the length of the Lofoten Islands in Norway; and like a lot of other people I’ve spent time in other European countries such as Germany, Holland, Italy, Greece and what used to be known as Yugoslavia.
I’ve traveled through some south-east Asian countries – Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia – and I’ve managed one trip to New Zealand and would love to go back there.
I haven’t traveled much in the Middle East just Egypt (Cairo and down the Nile to the Valley of the Kings) and a couple of weeks in Iran where the young people treated us like rock stars. They were just thrilled to have contact with the outside world, and lined up to have their photographs taken with us.
Most recently, I’ve been to Iceland and, of course, to Greenland, which resulted in our latest book ‘Greenland for $1.99’, which I co-wrote in 2013 with Richard Starks.
Now that I’m living in the US, I enjoy exploring the American West – Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, in particular – all states which, frankly, are hard to beat in terms of stunning scenery. Still on my places to visit are Australia, China and Africa, which I’m hoping to visit this year.
- What is your favorite place and why?
That’s a difficult – actually, impossible – question to answer. I love European countries for their history. I love America for its great outdoors. I love Tibet for its novel culture and its generous and hospitable people. I love Greenland for its desolate wilderness. And so on… Each one has a different appeal. If I had to settle on somewhere I would probably pick the Casiquiare River in Venezuela. That’s the river we traveled along when Richard Starks and I were researching our book, ‘Along the River that Flows Uphill’. It’s my favorite, not be because the Casiquiare was the most pleasant or most beautiful place I have ever visited (it’s not – there were mosquitoes, suspicious stares from Yanomami Indians, and even a brush with FARC guerillas), but because it is last place on Earth that I ever expected to find myself. It was a challenge, to say the least.
- If you could describe your method of travel in one word, what would it be?
- What is your most memorable travel moment?
In December 2000, walking in a grey dawn-mist around the Jokhang temple in Lhasa, Tibet, shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims who were mumbling chants, fingering prayer beads, and prostrating themselves on the ground as they circumnavigated this, their most holy, shrine.
- What is your dream destination?
I don’t really have one, but it would be a place that I haven’t yet visited. Some of the ‘stans’ in Central Asia look very interesting and they are still slightly off the map.
- How has travel changed you?
I think that I am more interested in more things than I would have been had I not traveled. Certainly, if something happens in a country you have visited you are interested. More so, say, than you would be if that country were just an outline on a map. Also, I hope travel has made me more tolerant of differences in opinions and lifestyles.
- As a writer do you feel you see the world and approach travel differently than if you didn’t write?
Certainly you approach travel differently when you write. When you are traveling to research and write a book, it’s definitely work. You travel more slowly, you make sure that you thoroughly understand everything you see and experience so that you are in a position to describe and/or explain it to future readers of your books. You have to write as you go along, to capture moments that would be lost if you waited until the end of your journey to write them up. You have a notebook and pen in your hand all of the time. You also seek people out to talk to, rather than simply talking to those you happen to bump into along the way.
As for seeing the world differently, I think everyone sees the world from a different point of view – from their own perspective. Luckily, not all of them choose to write about it.
- How long did it take for your first book to come to fruition? (From concept, writing to published)
‘Lost in Tibet’ is the first book that Richard Starks and I co-wrote (he had written four other books prior to that one). It tells the true story of five, young American airmen who were stranded in Tibet in 1943 during the Second World War, and it tells of the political problems that their arrival in Lhasa caused, and how they had to make an escape over the frozen Tibetan plateau in mid-winter to get back to their air base in India. It’s basically a true-life adventure story set against the political and cultural backdrop of pre-Chinese Tibet.
We first came across the story in 1999, traveled to Tibet in 2000 to research the route the airmen took on their escape from Tibet, then spent the better part of three years researching and writing all of the other aspects of the airmen’s story. The book was first published by The Lyons Press in hardback in 2004.
When we started writing the book we estimated that it would take us 18 months to complete. Obviously, we were way off. As we researched the story, we found that it unfolded in unexpected ways and we had to keep following where the trail led us until, like putting together a jig-saw, we had the whole picture.
- Do you have any new books on the horizon?
Yes we do. Richard Starks and I are co-writing another book – our fifth. We both enjoy writing as a team and as we seem to be able to make this co-operative effort work, we’re moving ahead with a new manuscript.
- Do you have any upcoming trips? If so, to where?
Yes. We’ve booked a trip in the spring to Germany, Austria and Hungary. Part of this will be cycling along the banks of the Danube River from Passau in Austria via Vienna to Budapest in Hungary. This trip is strictly a holiday – although we did say that about our Greenland trip, too, but that country proved to be so intriguing that we felt compelled to write about it.
- What is your ‘must have’ travel accessory?
I am embarrassed to admit – with a nod to vanity – that my ‘must have’ is a small travel hairdryer. Although, in my defense, I would like to say that it has come in very useful not just for drying hair but also for drying underwear and socks.
- What is your favorite travel book?
‘Ghosts of Spain – travels through a country’s hidden past’ by Giles Tremlett. It’s a non-fiction book about how the history of Spain is reflected in the Spain we know today. Particularly worth reading are the parts about the shadow still cast in Spain by the Spanish Civil War.
A fun read but with loads of insights is ‘Cuba Diaries – An American Housewife in Havana’ by Isadora Tattlin.
- What is your favorite travel quote?
One worth mentioning is from Mark Twain’s ‘The Innocent Abroad’, which starts,
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness…”
Thanks to Miriam Murcutt for the inspiration to start this new series Writer Wednesdays and to her and Richard Starks for the great photos!
To learn more visit http://www.starksmurcutt.com/