Talking with Jules Brown about Life, the Stars, and Heatwaves
One of the things I love when I’m not busy renovating houses or preserving our crops is to travel. In these uncertain times I don’t know when our next travelling adventure might be so I’ve done the next best thing – I have been chatting with Jules Brown, Rough Guide travel guide author and now the author of his own set of travel guides and travel memoirs. They are just the thing to curl up on the couch and dream of adventures to come.
LW: Jules, you have been a travel writer for (ahem) a good few years. Your first trip was in 1986 to Sweden, I recall. You always seem to put a good amount of yourself into your travel guides such as your Trust-Me Travel Montenegro… How does writing travel memoirs differ from writing travel guides?
“I think the best travel writing does take a memoir approach”
JB: I did my first Rough Guide trip (to Scandinavia) in 1986, published my first guide in 1988, you do the maths! I wrote over 50 editions of guides to 7 or 8 different destinations, from Sicily to Hong Kong.
I think the best travel writing does take a memoir approach, otherwise it’s just ‘10 great things to do in Paris’ sort of writing and that’s never been that interesting to me. I put myself in the travel books because I was there and, being a traveller of some experience, it seems to me that I do have something more insightful to say about places, even those I don’t know very well or am visiting for the first time. Often though, as we see, the insights are into my own character - the destination is often immaterial. I’m just as much an eejit in Yorkshire as I am in Hong Kong...
LW: I’m glad I didn’t say that Jules! Your first travel memoir is called Takoradi to the Stars (via Huddersfield). That is such a great title for a book…how did it come about?
JB: When I first looked at the collection of travel stories I had, they seemed to hinge on two things – being given a dream start as a traveller by being accidentally born in Africa, and then dreaming of escape while growing up in small-town Yorkshire. That gave me ‘Takoradi’ and ‘Huddersfield’, and two more unlikely towns in the same sentence you will never find. Add in the scattering of my dead father’s ashes to the stars, and I had all the right words for a title. Just not, as the great Eric Morecambe once said, necessarily in the right order. (Oh, and then a friend said that putting something in parentheses makes it even funnier…)
Jules enjoying a local brew
LW I’ll try that… (Sounds like you have been around a bit!) Is that funny? Oh well, onwards and upwards. How many countries have you visited? I did a quick check and was disappointed I've only managed 27 so far. Which country has been the most interesting to see?
“I’d have been to a bigger percentage of Europe only they went and split Yugoslavia into 7 or possibly 8, which didn’t help.”
JB I have an app on my phone which tells me I’ve been to 24% of the world’s countries and 63% of Europe and 59 countries in all - though it seems to count the Isle of Man as a separate country, so that worries me. I’d have been to a bigger percentage of Europe only they went and split Yugoslavia into 7 or possibly 8, which didn’t help. I’ve seen most of Southeast Asia, which is where I would choose to go back to in a heartbeat – Cambodia is the one I still have on my list - but I would say that I enjoyed New Zealand most. I lived there for about a year and still regret ever coming back…
LW Gain one, lose half a dozen! I loved New Zealand too. We almost didn’t get back from there this spring due to ‘you know what’ but I really want to return soon. You obviously having travelling in your blood and I really enjoy reading of your adventures. You always come across as a pretty cool traveller, but I gather that wasn’t the case when you crossed Europe by train last year… tell me about it.
“you ask yourself ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’”
JB I don’t think I was a cool traveller to start with! I still worry about things like missed connections and arriving late in a strange place. But the older you get, and the more you travel, you do begin to take things in your stride - you ask yourself ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ This stood me in good stead for last year’s adventure, visiting nine European cities in nine countries in nine days, all by train, during a truly incendiary heatwave. I really didn’t need the winter fleece I took ‘just in case’. The journey is covered in my new book, Not Cool: Europe by Train in a Heatwave.
Jules at the Berlin wall... in a heatwave!
LW That’s a great philosophy and I’m sure there are a few answers to ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ I’ve just read Not Cool (which was published on October 1st). It sounds like checking the weather forecast would have been useful on that occasion! But seriously, over the years you must have travelling down to a fine art. What would be your top tips for novice travellers? (Other than checking the 10 day weather forecast before setting off. J)
“good manners and a spirit of generosity”
JB: I don’t really have any useful practical tips, because I think everyone eventually finds their way with the best way to pack and what to take. But I have developed an alternative take on this, with my ’Six Things You Should Never Travel Without’ advice (https://julestoldme.com/2018/11/27/6-things-you-should-never-travel-without-and-they-dont-cost-a-penny/). I genuinely think that the best thing you can do is travel with patience, an open mind, a few words of the local language, a sense of curiosity, good manners and a spirit of generosity – that will get you further than a blow-up neck brace and a power-charger any day!
LW I think that is the most practical advice I’ve ever heard! I’ve certainly found that the more you try to ‘fit in’ in a new place the more people respond – wherever in the world you are! And I’m going to take a look at your top tips right now!
Jules cooling off with (another) drink!
I’ve enjoyed chatting to you Jules, and I’ve enjoyed reading about your many and varied adventures travelling. In fact I feel like I have travelled the world and the cosmos with you!
I believe you have four travel and memoir books out at the moment. Tell us a bit about them please. And my final question… I’m excited to know where is next for your travels?
JB It’s been great to trade travel stories with you! My first travel memoir is ‘Takoradi to the Stars (via Huddersfield)’, which is a collection of 35 travel stories that lift the lid on the life of a travel writer (that’s me, by the way!). There’s a shorter free version called ‘Travels From Heart and Home’ for anyone who’d like a taster of my work, and I’ve also recently published a new ebook guide to Montenegro, called Trust-Me Travel Montenegro - and with any luck that will be part of a growing series of indie travel guides to places that I love. Finally, my new travel memoir is Not Cool: Europe by Train in a Heatwave, which is the account of a long-distance journey I made through Europe in the summer of 2019 - which, if you remember, is when everything basically melted around us. Next up, pandemic permitting, will be a book I have planned on travelling to the north, south, east and westernmost parts of Europe by train – which should see me bumbling my way from northern Norway to southern Spain via eastern Finland and western Portugal. I’ll see you all on board!
The Bernina Express
You can buy Jules’ books by clicking the links below:
You can also visit Jules’ website
or connect with him Facebook: @JulesBrownWriter
Jules’ also has a blog where he shares his travels and ideas, and chats to other authors.
Do you like Memoirs?
Both Jules and I are members of We Love Memoirs facebook group. It is the friendliest group on facebook by far. If you love memoirs why not join us there for the chance to chat with authors, join in at parties, visit amazing places, have a laugh, and read great memoirs?
We will see you there!