Travel for a Living: Rose Baring Is a Founding Partner of Sickle Moon Books, Which Specialises in Dusting off the Hidden Gems of Travel Publishing and Giving Them a New Lease of Life. Jo Sargent Talks to Her about Globetrotting and Her Passion for Travel Literature
Sargent, Jo, Geographical
When did you discover your passion for travel writing and how did you get started?
I became intrigued by foreign places when I starred to learn French as a child. I was taken to France by my parents and loved the sound of the language and the idea that these other worlds existed, and needed to be understood on all sorts of levels Bur it wasn't until I travelled on my own, after university, with a backpack and an around the world ticket, that I realised the value of travel literature.
What led to you becoming a publisher of travel literature?
My first job as a travel writer was writing a guide book to Tunisia in 1989 with my partner. We were there for five months and got to know the place physically extremely well, bur it was only through a combination of Tunisian friends and travel literature that we began to appreciate the culture. My partner (now my husband) and I continued to write guidebooks and travel journalism well into the early years of our first daughter's life, bur when a second child came along, we realised we could no longer juggle the children and work in quite the same way. So we did what we'd long wanted to do and started a company in order to bring back to life the most illuminating books we had found on the dusty shelves of second-hand book stores during the course of our research. I feel passionately that on this shrinking globe, it's vital that we all have an appreciation of each other's culture, in order to avoid knee-jerk and fearful reactions.
Who do you consider to be the giants of travel writing?
At the apex lies Norman Lewis, a number of whose books we've been privileged enough to publish. Sadly he died last year, although A Tomb in Seville has been published posthumously. Of those still writing, I've enjoyed a number of Colin Thubron's books immensely, and William Dalrymple's journalism from India is nonpareil. Some of Eric Newby's early work such as Lave and War in the Appenines, was both incredibly funny and well informed. It sounds rather puritanical, but there is such a danger in British travel writing to laugh at foreigners that I tend to be very wary of funny books. But the paths of all these writers were opened up by the people I really admire, who ventured into an unknown world with no idea of what they were likely to find--people such as Richard Burlon and Mungo Park whose accounts are still fantastically fresh because they had no preconceived ideas.
Having worked on guidebooks, what are the best tips you could offer to fellow travellers?
I think it's very important not to be too in the thrall of your guidebook. Remember that there is only a tiny amount you can fit between the covers of a book, and the rest of the country is just waiting for you to discover on your own At some point in every trip, leave the guidebook at the bottom of your bag and have a look ar a map. …