Matthew Lightfoot Showcase Interview
Self-Publisher’s Showcase: Today we are joined by Matthew Lightfoot, author of The Two Week Traveller and the upcoming Snap Shots. Welcome to the Showcase Lounge, Matthew. For any of our readers that haven’t come across your work previously, can you take a moment to tell us all a little about yourself?
Matthew Lightfoot: I’m 53 years old and based in Leeds in the north of England. I worked in Telecoms from leaving school, but travel and writing were my real passions. Due to work commitments, all my trips, to around 150 countries had been undertaken using my work holidays, hence the title of my first book, The Two Week Traveller. In 2020, I took voluntary redundancy from my job, with the aim of travelling, and writing, more. Unfortunately, Covid changed all that!
SPS: Your debut release was The Two Week Traveller. What made you decide to write the book?
ML: I’m one of those people that ‘things’ tend to happen to. When I returned to work from my far-flung adventures, I’d always be asked by incredulous colleagues ‘Go on then, what happened?’ because something usually did! ‘You should write a book’ was something I heard often, but I always thought there were writers out there with scarier, funnier, weirder and more unbelievable tales than mine. It took a colleague pointing out that none of them had done those things using only work holidays, to convince me that I had a story worth telling.
SPS: What could a reader expect when they picked up a copy?
ML: Two Week Traveller spans my whole travelling life from childhood exploration to teenage holidays and onto solo explorations of Asia and Africa, then independent travels with my partner Kirsty to countries all over the world. A number of reviewers have commented on the humorous tales such as accidentally cycling down an airport runway or being robbed at gunpoint by a stoned policeman, but I also want my readers to learn something about the countries I’ve visited, so the anecdotes also include interesting historical, cultural and geographical facts. I want to inspire people to travel themselves as well as amuse them!
SPS: Did you have a favourite destination you travelled to?
ML: I love all the South East Asian countries, especially away from the cities where the pace of life is slower, the people are friendly and the climate is mild. Perfect for relaxing. For a bit more adventure though, you need look no further than Africa. I spent two weeks exploring the voodoo culture of West Africa. I saw things there that I was unable to explain, and which changed my view of the world. I now believe that ancient cultures with teachings and traditions passed down orally through generations have retained knowledge that we have long forgotten in the developed world.
SPS: How easy did you find it balancing the travel information with the humour?
ML: Hemingway famously said ‘Write drunk, edit sober’, and I think that’s good advice. It’s important to read and re-read your work a day after you’ve produced it. Writing the humorous passages comes naturally to me, and it’s easy to get lost in the creative flow. The edit is where I may rein in the humour and ensure it’s balanced with enough factual information to be informative as well as amusing.
SPS: Are there any destinations you regretted going to?
ML: I don’t regret going anywhere. I always manage to find something of interest even in a disappointing location. I have, however, had cause to regret a lack of planning. I’d self-driven on a number of South African safari trips when we went to Chobe National Park in Botswana, and wrongly assumed the terrain would be similar to that which I’d experienced previously. I rented a car in Zambia to reduce costs, and the rental company also had no idea how tough Chobe would be. We were woefully unprepared and after a number of close shaves became stuck in deep sand in a remote area where other travellers had perished in previous years. I won’t spoil the story for anyone who reads the book, but needless to say we were very lucky to survive!
SPS: Have you received a favourite review of the book?
ML: Praise from fellow authors is always well received and the travel writer Tim Butcher, whose work I admire greatly, wrote me an excellent review. However, my favourite was from Dan Linstead, ex-editor of Wanderlust magazine, who took the time to write a fantastic summary. If I had to pick a paragraph to promote the book, I’d go for Dan’s words –” Frank, thoughtful and brimming with lust for life, this is one of the most downright enjoyable and, yes, interesting travel books I’ve read. Bill Bryson would approve.”
SPS: Your upcoming release, Snapshots, describes the writing of Two Week Traveller, using 30 years of travel snapshots to jog your memory. How easy a process did you find that to be?
ML: Very difficult in the end! The plan was to write Two Week Traveller during an eight-month career break, round-the-world trip covering New Zealand, the South Pacific, South East Asia, South America and a campervan trip around Europe, using a memory stick full of travel photos to fill in any gaps in my memory. Unfortunately, a (self-inflicted) technical glitch meant that my well-ordered filing system was lost and the photos appeared randomly, with no clue as to where they were taken. Although it meant I was unable to use the photos as I’d intended, I began to enjoy the stream of snapshots that appeared on my laptop, prompting me to recall the stories associated with the photos. Some I’d long forgotten, others I’d never be able to forget, and I realised those memories were worthy of a book of their own. That was how I got the idea for Snapshots.
SPS: What are you hoping to achieve with the release of Snapshots?
ML: As with the Two Week Traveller, I hope I can make my readers laugh, but also inform and inspire them to want to visit some of the -off-the-beaten-track locations covered in the book. With the world of travel locked-down due to Covid for most of the last year, I think it’s important for people to see some light at the end of the tunnel and begin to think about travelling again. Until we’re able to do that, I hope Snapshots puts a smile on people’s faces during what’s obviously a difficult time for everyone.
SPS: What would you say makes a great travel writer?
ML: Bill Bryson once observed that a basic error with travel writing was assuming people were interested in your exploits – in fact, you should assume the opposite, especially as an unknown author. People will pick up your book for a variety of reasons- maybe they’re attracted to the cover or are interested in the location you’ve covered, but it’s unlikely they’re interested in you. A good travel writer keeps the reader engaged and interested beyond the initial ‘hook’. By the time they reach the final page, the reader should know more about the country you’ve written about, perhaps have an urge to see it for themselves, and also have developed an affinity for their ‘travel guide’ i.e the author.
SPS: What are your perfect writing conditions, and how often do you write?
ML: I wrote the Two Week Traveller while ‘on the road’ in locations around the world. Eg Rattling in a bunk on a Thai train, bouncing along a Bolivian mountain road on a cramped chicken bus, lounging on a Fijian beach. Most of Snapshots was written at my desk at home during lockdown. I found the latter much more difficult. Although writing on the road can be uncomfortable and filled with distractions, I find that helps to get the creative juices flowing. Cafes and bars were locked-down for most of the period I was writing Snapshots, so I was literally confined to my home, and I found that quite difficult. Hopefully, I’ll be able to revert to road-writing for my next book!
SPS: Can you put your finger on the moment where you decided that you wanted to publish your work?
ML: Yes, it was an office night out and a colleague called Becky came up with the ‘you should write a book comment’. She had travelled extensively herself before focusing on her career. Mentally, she’d resigned herself to years of boring package tours until she heard my Two Week Traveller tales. That I’d managed to visit the places I had, and had the experiences I described, changed her view and inspired her. She convinced me that no one else had written a travel book covering multiple countries all visited in two-week time slots. ‘Maybe she has a point’…I thought.
SPS: What would you say, if anything, best differentiates you from other authors?
ML: I’m a storyteller. I’m at my happiest recounting a tale in a crowded pub with a drink in my hand. I hope to replicate that in my writing style. Most travel books describe a lengthy journey in a single location. My two books cover multiple locations and stories, and common feedback is that the shorter chapters are perfect either for ‘snacking’ i.e reading a few pages on the bus, or for settling down and ploughing through a few different stories and countries. Just like in that pub conversation, readers will have different levels of interest. Some will flit in and out, half-listening, while others will want to immerse themselves fully in the detail, learn something about a place and experience the tale as if they were there. I hope my writing style caters to both types of reader.
SPS: What’s next on the self-publishing horizon for yourself?
ML: My plan when I left full-time employment was to travel and write more. Unfortunately, the unprecedented events of the last year have prevented that. I can’t wait to get back travelling again and hopefully that will happen soon. I have a few ideas for future trips which could be turned into a book so watch this space!
SPS: Was the Self-/Indie-Published route always your preferred route for your work?
ML: I considered trying to find a publisher but was aware that my work would be likely to be heavily edited, with chapters changed and deleted. When I wrote Two Week Traveller, I was unsure whether that would be my only book. If it was to be, I wanted it to be MY story, not someone else’s view of what that should be. For me to be happy with the book, and satisfied that it told my story was far more important to me than commercial success.
SPS: Has the experience so far been all that you thought it would be?
ML: I had no real expectations of the process. If anything, I guess, I was surprised at how easy it was to self-publish via Amazon KDP. Their support is generally very good- they always seem to respond quickly to queries which is important. I’ve also made good use of the freelancing site Fiverr. I have a guy on there who has designed both my covers, and he’s excellent. The toughest part is self-promoting your books. I mostly use Twitter but see few other self-published travel writers on there. It seems that most travellers now focus on blogging rather than publishing, which makes me wonder where the next Paul Theroux or Bill Bryson will come from in future years.
SPS: If you could give one piece of advice for someone looking to get into writing, what would it be?
ML: Write about what you know. If self-publishing, use the resources available for the ‘heavy lifting’ .ie. if grammar and spelling aren’t your strong point, pay an editor. If you aren’t a photoshop wizard, get someone who is, to design your cover. Fiverr is a great place for outsourced resources.
SPS: Before we bring this interview to a close, it’s your chance to name-drop. Anyone who you feel is deserving of more recognition at present or someone whose writing you have recently enjoyed? Now is your chance to spread the word…
ML: Most of the travel writers who inspired me seem to have moved onto other things and are no longer producing new work -Toby Green, Kevin Rushby, Richard Grant all seem dormant at present. As I mentioned above, I see few other self-published travel writers producing new work now -Mark Walters and Adam Fletcher are a couple of exceptions.
SPS: Thank you for joining us today, Matthew, and all the best for the future.
ML: It was a pleasure. Thanks for having me.
SPS: For more information on Matthew and his work, please do visit: