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Experience and Research: Writing Big Trails by Kathy Rogers

Writing.ie | Resources | Better Non-Fiction Guides | Researching Non-Fiction
Kathy Rogers 1

Kathy Rogers

When people ask me, have you walked all the trails in Big Trails: Great Britain and Ireland, the answer’s ‘no’. I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon and the Pennine Way, I’ve run marathons everywhere from Glencoe to Athens. Every time I go on holiday, my battered, often stinky, trail shoes are tied to my rucksack and I spend my spare time walking or running out in the Peak, or Lakes or Dales, and sometimes further afield. But I haven’t walked every one of the 6,000 kilometres of trail described in Big Trails: Great Britain & Ireland and Big Trails: Heart of Europe. I did suggest to the boss that I fastpack all the trails before beginning the books, but he seemed to think that I might be just another author procrastinating about putting pen to paper. So how did I go about writing a book about somewhere I’ve never been?

It’s important, as a writer, that you don’t underestimate your own experience and knowledge. Although I haven’t completed all the trails, there are very few trails in Big Trails: Great Britain & Ireland that I haven’t walked or run some part of. I’ve gasped in awe at the beauty of the Kerry coast; I’ve been drenched on day walks in the Wicklow mountains. Over the years, I think I have walked all of the Cleveland Way, the Dales Way and the Causeway Coast Way. I know and love the landscapes that these trails traverse, and I have experienced rainy days in the Chilterns, thick mist on the top of Helvellyn, and the staggering ups and downs of the Jurassic coast on a sticky summer’s run.

But there are places in Big Trails that I have never been. I have never visited the Isle of Man, although I had a trip planned for May to walk Raad Ny Foillan, the coastal route that features in Big Trails. But I have years of experience of planning and completing long-distance trails. I can look at a map, the terrain and photos of the route, and understand what the attractions and issues of a path are. I know what questions to ask. How busy is that road section? How narrow is that trail? Can you follow the path over the beach at high tide? And although I haven’t visited the Isle of Man, I know other walkers and runners who have. Vertebrate Publishing is staffed by people who love spending their spare time outdoors, who are only too keen to tell me about running the Beara peninsula, or walking on the beaches of Wales, or cycling across the South Downs. Talking to people is a great way to get a different perspective, even on subjects that you think you know really well.

At the heart of each Big Trails book is research. Each trail description represents hours of looking at maps, consulting books, visiting websites, reading local newspapers and evaluating the information that I find. Is it accurate? Is it relevant? Is it interesting? You have to become an expert on the data sources relevant to your writing, whether that be fiction, family history or long-distance trails.

Information is not all dry facts and figures, or written word. Google Earth can let you stand virtually on the trail and look around you. Google Maps offers geolocated photographs – you can enjoy views of the snowy peaks on the Tour du Matterhorn, Alta Via 1 or the Meraner Höhenweg from the warmth of your office. Hikers and runners enjoy photographing their time on the trail and many of them post their snaps online. These photographs let you do something that you can never do, even if you walk the trail yourself – understand what the trail is like at different times of year, in all weather conditions.

It’s important to understand why you are writing. I am writing to inform, but I’m also writing to inspire. I want plenty of facts about the routes, and I want to tell our readers what to expect if they hit the trail. I also want the little gems that will bring the trails to life: the Campden Wonder, the Cotswolds murder that never happened; Kush, the Isle of Man’s Red Panda escape artist; the Dursey Island cable car that used to carry cattle, swaying high above the sea. Writing Big Trails is primarily functional writing. But functional writing can still be interesting, can still be well-crafted, can still be descriptive and evocative. Fiction is not the only outlet for a writer’s creativity.

Here at Vertebrate Publishing we’ve got a great team of editors to tidy up my text, and correct my errors. In any book, it’s crucial to get things right. Every map, every route, every distance and elevation profile, every interesting fact in Big Trails has been checked and double-checked by me and then the editorial team. Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, if your text contains details that don’t ring true, you damage the trust between author and reader.

Big Trails: Great Britain & Ireland is packed full of useful information – about the best time to visit, how to get there, where to stay. But it is also intended to inspire: the trail descriptions are meant to intrigue you, to make you laugh or reflect, to encourage you to hit the trail. I have tried to find the best trails whether you’re interested in food, history, wildlife, geology or just beautiful views. I hope that each Big Trails book is something more than an encyclopaedia of Europe’s best trails. Big Trails: Great Britain & Ireland is a reminder – in these unprecedented times – that the very best adventures can sometimes be found on your doorstep.

(c) Kathy Rogers

About Big Trails: Great Britain & Ireland

Big Trails: Great Britain & Ireland is an inspirational guide to the most iconic, spectacular and popular long-distance trails in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Ireland.

The twenty-five featured routes take the reader across the best of the British Isles. From the South Downs Way in South-East England and up the country s spine along the Pennine Way, the book delves into the heart of Scotland on the West Highland Way, along the Causeway Coast Way on Northern Ireland s coast, and into southern Ireland on the Beara Way.

The book is designed to will inspire big adventures. Rather than being carried along the route, this guide provides everything you need to plan and explore further, including a general overview of the trails, specific technical information, overview mapping, key information and stunning photography. As well as this, each route specifies approximate timings devised using the Jones Ross formula, which allows for custom itineraries to be generated depending upon the speed of the user. Whether you re walking, trekking, fastpacking or running, let Big Trails: Great Britain & Ireland be your guide.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Kathy Rogers is a guidebook researcher at Vertebrate Publishing, an award-winning publisher in Sheffield that specialises in outdoors books. She researches and writes content for books and guidemaps about long-distance trails, such as the Tour du Mont Blanc and Hadrian’s Wall Path. Big Trails: Heart of Europe and Big Trails: Great Britain and Ireland are the first books in a series about Europe’s best hiking and running trails. A graduate of Sheffield Hallam’s MA in Writing, Kathy has long found that a challenging walk clears the head and offers a quiet space to think about writing. She is an enthusiastic, if unaccomplished, walker, fellrunner and cyclist and when not at her desk, is usually to be found knee-deep in bog in the Peak District.

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