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Name: Tim Hannigan

PhD: English and Creative Writing

Thesis Title: Journeys in Search of Travel Writing: A Creative-Critical Interrogation of Travel Writing as a Genre

I completed my Midlands3Cities research in 2019. A book based on the project will be published by Hurst in 2021. I currently teach part-time at Athlone Institute of Technology in Ireland, and continue to work as a freelance travel writer. 


Thesis Description:

My project reflexively situates itself within the genre of travel writing.

The central work is a piece of creative practice, using the established “quest” format in which a travel writer embarks on a series of “journeys in search of” a particular people, place, historical figure or cultural artefact, and uses the resultant first-person travelogue to tell the story of that subject, and to reveal new information about it in the process. In this instance, however, the journeys will be in search of travel writing itself.

The point of departure for the project is a sense of conflict: how to square my ongoing professional practice as a travel writer and my pleasure as a reader of travel literature, with my discomfort with the genre’s ethical problems, namely its tendency to involve elements of fictionality in what are ostensibly “true” accounts – and which are typically read as such; travel writing’s persistent difficulty in allowing the travellee to speak for itself; and its role in an ongoing Orientalist discourse. These are all issues which have received considerable scholarly attention, but which have rarely, if ever, been directly addressed by practitioners.

It is crucial to the work’s aim that it should not reject the established traditional elements of travel writing for entirely experimental approaches. Optimism in the field of travel writing studies tends to focus on the possibilities of formal experimentation to overcome ethical problems – experimentation which typically sees it diverge from the traditional elements of the genre, and thus does little to test their ethical limits. But there is a disconnect here between the field of travel writing studies, and travel writing itself. Such experimentation remains a peripheral part of the genre, and the traditional form of travel writing, in which a first-person narrator, affecting a tone of authority, describes a journey and in doing so offers ostensibly “new” knowledge about a subject, remains tremendously appealing to both practitioners and readers of the genre. The proposed work is a piece of creative practice, intended to have a natural appeal to consumers of travel writing. The object, then, is to test the ability of the existing genre to critically examine itself and to address its ethical problems, rather than to reinvent travel writing.

The work’s “quest” comes in the form of a series of journeys to examine key moments in the history of travel writing, and key problems of the genre. The focus of each of these journeys is a meeting with a notable living travel writer, to discuss with them their own responses to the aforementioned ethical issues. There will also be a close consideration of the work of two deceased authors, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Bruce Chatwin, both seminal and highly influential travel writers whose work has been identified as particularly problematic in terms of its elements of fictionality.

The central challenge in this work is in ensuring that it remains fundamentally an exercise in creative writing, incorporating the usual features of travel writing and designed to be read and enjoyed by its  fans, for all that it is informed by issues more usually the subject of strictly scholarly research. It will aim to be both an effective piece of travel writing, and a critique from within the genre itself.This thesis interrogates ethical issues in contemporary travel writing, drawing its critical underpinning from the body of postcolonial scholarship on the genre which has emerged since the publication of Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978). The thesis focuses on representations of alterity and the travellee, and the issue of fictionalisation in notionally nonfictional texts. It is delivered as a first-person narrative, using the literary form of travel writing itself to discuss its findings. Scholarly research and creative practice are bound together in a single critical-creative text.

The central research presented here consists of a series of qualitative interviews with prominent travel writers and others associated with the genre: Philip Marsden, Nicholas Jubber, Colin Thubron, Nick Danziger, Robin Hanbury-Tenison, Patrick Barkham, Dervla Murphy, Rory MacLean, Sara Wheeler, Samanth Subramanian, William Dalrymple, Monisha Rajesh and Kapka Kassabova; the publisher Barnaby Rogerson, the scholar Carl Thompson and a group of readers of travel writing. There are also examinations of the archives of two canonical figures of twentieth-century British travel writing – Wilfred Thesiger and Patrick Leigh Fermor – with a focus on the layered production and resultant elements of fictionalisation in their major works; and a survey of nineteenth-century travel writing about Cornwall with a focus on questions of travellee reception.

The first-person narrative form of the thesis, meanwhile, allows for a self-reflexive approach, and an immediate testing of the generic limitations of travel writing in direct response to the issues raised in the interviews and archival studies. The aim is to investigate travel writing’s capacity for internal critique, and at the same time to foreground the subjective and transformative nature of scholarly research. 


Supervisors and Institution(s): 

Dr Corinne Fowler, University of Leicester

Dr Harry Whitehead, University of Leicester

Dr Sharon Ouditt, Nottingham Trent University 



Scholarly publications

  • ‘Travel Journalism’ in Specialist Journalism, Routledge 2012
  • 'Beyond

    Selected creative/trade publications

    • Murder in the Hindu Kush: George Hayward and the Great Game, The History Press, 2011 (shortlisted for the Boardman Tasker Prize)
    • Raffles and the British Invasion of Java, Monsoon Books, 2012 (winner of the John Brooks Award)
    • A Brief History of Indonesia, Tuttle Publishing, 2015
    • A Brief History of Bali (Introduction and Epilogue), Tuttle Publishing, 2016
    • A Geek in Indonesia, Tuttle Publishing, 2018  
    • On the Border’ in Cornish Short Stories, The History Press,2018
    • Journey Through Indonesia, Tuttle Publishing, 2019 

    Other published creative work includes short fiction in Kabar, The Jakarta Post, Storgy; The Parabola Project; nonfiction essays published in The Clearing; book reviews for the Asian Review of Books; and travel journalism. 


    Scholarly publications

    Refereed journal articles

    • ‘Beyond control: Orientalist tensions and the history of the “upas tree” myth' in myth’ in The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 2018
    • 'Interview with Patrick Barkham' in Studies in Travel Writing, 2018
    • Gale Researcher Guide for: The Travel Writing of V. S. Pritchett, Gale 2018
    • 'Counting ‘Counting up the Lies: A Selfself-Reflexive Investigation reflexive investigation of Craft craft and Fictionalization fictionalization in a Modern Travel Book' in modern travel book’ in Journeys, 2018 
    • 'Interview with Nick Danziger' in Studies in Travel Writing, 2018 
    • '"A ‘“A Hideous and a Wicked Country"Country”: Cornwall under the Travel Writer’s Gazetravel writer’s gaze, and Receiving Travelers’ Texts receiving travellers’ texts as a "Travelee-Reader"' in “travellee-reader”’ in Terrae Incognitae, 2019
    • 'Interview with Samanth Subramanian' in ‘A Voice in the Wilderness: James Rebanks’ The Shepherd’s Life as a “travellee polemic”’ in Studies in Travel Writing, 2019'Lone 2020
    • ‘“Collateral Damage in the War on Travel Writing”: Recovering reader responses to contemporary travel literature’ in SIC Journal, 2020


    Chapters in edited collections

    • ‘Travel Journalism’ in Specialist Journalism, Routledge, 2012
    • ‘Lone Enraptured Males, Healing Females and the Othering of the British Countryside in the "New Nature Writing"' “New Nature Writing”’ in Encounters with Difference, The Vernon Press 2020'Robert Macfarlane' , 2019
    • ‘Robert Macfarlane’ in The Handbook of British Travel Writing, De Gruyter, 2020 (in press)
    • 'Beaten ‘Beaten Tracks: belatedness and anti-tourism in guidebooks' guidebooks’ in The Routledge Companion to Media and Tourism, Routledge, 2020 (in press)

    Select Trade publications

    • Murder in the Hindu Kush: George Hayward and the Great Game, The History Press 2011 (shortlisted for the Boardman-Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature)
    • Raffles and the British Invasion of Java, Monsoon Books 2012 (winner of the John Brooks Award)
    • A Brief History of Indonesia: Sultans, Spices, and Tsunamis, Tuttle Publishing 2015
    • A Brief History of Bali (Introduction and Epilogue), Tuttle Publishing 2016
    • A Geek in Indonesia, Tuttle Publishing 2018  
    • Journey Through Indonesia, Tuttle Publishing 2018 

    Other published work includes numerous guidebooks, book reviews in the Asian Review of Books,  the travel journalism module coursebook for the Open School of Journalism, and a large body of magazine and newspaper travel journalism, as well as short fiction published in The Parabola ProjectStorgyKabar, The Jakarta Post and Cornish Short Stories: A Collection of Contemporary Cornish Writing (2018).

    Conference papers

    • 'Foreign ‘“Falling Back on a Text”: Biographers in the foreign country of Raffles’ life’ in Revisiting Raffles, ACM Press, 2020 (in press)


    Other scholarly publications

    • ‘Interview with Patrick Barkham’ in Studies in Travel Writing, 2018
    • Gale Researcher Guide for The Travel Writing of V. S. Pritchett, Gale 2018
    • ‘Interview with Nick Danziger’ in Studies in Travel Writing, 2018 
    • ‘Interview with Samanth Subramanian’ in Studies in Travel Writing, 2019


    Conference and seminar papers

    • ‘Divergent Streams: truth and narrative’, River Tourism: The Pedagogy and Practice of Place Writing, Plymouth University 2015
    • ‘Foreign country: the othering of the British countryside in "the “the New Nature Writing"'Writing”’, Landscapes of Power, University of Nottingham 2017
    • 'Travel ‘Travel writing on the creative-critical frontier: criticising practice, actioning criticism'criticism’, Borders and Crossings, Aberystwyth University 2017
    • 'Lone ‘Lone enraptured males, healing women, and the othering of rural Britain in "the “the New Nature Writing"Writing”’, Encounters with Difference, Freie Universität Berlin 2017
    • 'A ‘A voice in the wilderness: James Rebanks' The Shepherd's Life as  as a travellee polemic'polemic’, Lands Furrows and Sorrows in Anglophone Countries,University  University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès 2018'"A Jaurès 2018
    • ‘“A barren and naked country"country”: Cornwall under the travel writer’s gaze, and receiving travellers’ texts as a travellee-reader'reader’, Traversing Land, Sea & Sky, University of Bristol 2018
    • '"A ‘“A Hideous and a Wicked Country"Country”: receiving travel writers’ representations of western Cornwall'Cornwall’, Orientations, University of Nottingham 2018
    • '"Collateral ‘“Collateral Damage in the War on Travel Writing"Writing”: Recovering reader responses to contemporary travel writing'writing’, Borders & Crossings, Juraj Dobrila University of , Pula, 2018
    • ‘Home and Away: rhetorical elsewheres, travellee polemics, and the “new nature writing” as travel writing’, Land Lines, University of Leeds, 2019'Beaten
    • ‘The Other Singapores and the History of a Myth’, Asian Civilisations Museum Lecture Series, Singapore, 2019
    • ‘Beaten tracks: belatedness and anti-tourism in guidebooks'guidebooks’, Borders and Crossings, University of Leicester, 2019
    • ‘Reading at the Edges: Travellee polemics and the New Nature Writing’, NUI Galway Irish Studies Seminar Series, 2019
    • 'Flying Pigs and Other True Stories: signals of fictionalisation as an ethical gesture in contemporary travel writing', Touring Travel Writing, Nova FCSH Lisbon, 2019

    Other Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:


    • Various public and media events around launches of books; talks and writing workshops at literary festivals; media contributions including BBC Radio 4 and Radio Australia.


    • Designed and wrote Travel Journalism module for the Open School of Journalism
    • Contributed to Channel NewsAsia documentary ‘Raffles Revealed’
    • Various public and media engagements in Southeast Asia around the launch of A Brief History of Indonesia
    • Chaired events at Penzance Literary Festival
    • Led writing workshops at Penzance Literary Festival and Looe Literary Festival


    • Contributed to BBC Radio 3 documentary ‘1816: The Year Without Summer’
    • Contributed to Channel NewsAsia documentary ‘Inventing Southeast Asia’
    • Chaired events at Penzance Literary Festival
    • Became a Trustee of the Penzance Literary Festival
    • Revised essay ‘The Travel Writing of V.S. Pritchett’ for Gale Researcher programme


    • Blogged on creative-critical travel writing for Journey Place Narrative study group at Plymouth University
    • Contributed a piece of new writing to the Centre for Travel Writing Studies exhibition during Global Week at NTU
    • "Travel Writing on the Creative-Critical Frontier" lunchtime lecture at Leicester Adult Education College 
    • Appeared as a panelist for a discussion of travel writing as part of NTU's Re:Vision events programme at Broadway Cinema, Nottingham
    • Delivered a paper on nature writing as travel writing at the Landscapes of Power symposium at UoN
    • Chaired events at Penzance Literary Festival
    • School visits and panel events in Bali and Jakarta


    • Talks at Leicester Travel Talks and the Globetrotters Club London
    • Events around the publication of the Cornish Short Stories anthology
    • Chaired events at Penzance Literary Festival
    • Co-organised the 'Unidentifiable Literary Objects' symposium at Nottingham Trent University


    • Convened and co-organised the 2019 edition of the Borders and Crossings conference at the University of Leicester
    • Guest lectures at Nottingham Trent University and Nanyang Technological University 
    • Public lecture at the Asian Civilisations University, Singapore on Raffles
    • Workshops on narrative history with public and staff at the Asian Civilisations Museum
    • Lectures and Workshops at schools in Jakarta
    • Filmed expert commentary for Singapore's Bicentennial office social media videos
    • Events around the publication of the Cornish Short Stories anthology
    • Chaired events at Penzance Literary Festival
    • Presented a paper, ‘Reading at the Edges: Travellee Polemics and the New Nature Writing’, at NUI Galway's Irish Studies Seminar series


    • Member of the judging panel for the 2020 Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards debut award
    • Co-convened seminar 'Writing on the move: The conditions of writing during / about travel' for the 2020 ESSE conference, Lyon.

    Other Research Interests:

    • British nature writing
    • History of Southeast Asia
    • The 1811-15 British Interregnum in Java
    • Media discourses on “terrorism”
    • Cornwall; literary and media representations of Cornwall; Cornish identities
    • Creative writing practice and pedagogy