This week I'd like to welcome Nancy O'Hare author of Dust in My Pack, traveling tales from around the world. Share with us a little about yourself.
I grew up on an acreage in western Canada. I remember feeling excited when my dad returned from his work trips abroad, I wanted to hear all about the far-off places he had visited. One time he brought a wooden hand drill from Kuwait, it was used to make dhow boats. Another time, he returned from the Arctic with handcrafted snowshoes with a leather mesh base. My mom had also worked abroad in Bermuda before she got married. So, my parents influenced my interest to explore the world. I eventually became a Chartered Accountant and targeted international roles. My first transfer abroad was to Australia. Thereafter, I had some short-term projects in Ecuador and Qatar and then moved abroad to work in Oman, Switzerland and, most recently, Nigeria. I combined my interest in the local culture with new perspectives that I gained along the way to try to build well functioning and respectful teams.
More recently, I craved more control over my time. I wanted to create something that I felt passionate about, something that left a positive mark from my efforts. So, I quit my job. My husband and I went travelling. We studied Spanish in Guatemala and spent five months practicing our new language skills through Central America and Cuba. Then I started to write.
CAMBODIA — TEMPLE OF PREAH VIHEAR
Synopsis: Escape the crowds at Siem Reap to discover Khmer architecture in solitude, loftily balanced upon a cliff in the isolated Dangrek Mountains.
Most useful item to pack: Small local currency for snacks and tips.
For further travel information: For further information on the site, refer to cambodia.org/Preah_Vihear/?history=A+Khmer+Heritage.
Due to ongoing and fluid military activity, be sure to look into the current security situation before heading out. Check with your hotel, recent travellers’ experiences and your home country’s security travel advisories.
As fans of Indiana Jones and obscure adventures, we struck gold with the opportunity to visit the eleventh-century Khmer Prasat Preah Vihear (“Temple of Preah Vihear”). This reputed masterpiece of Khmer architecture lies on a jungle-covered ridge of disputed land along the Cambodian–Thai border. Cambodia and Thailand have been squabbling over ownership of this precious land for ages. When we visited in 2010, the situation was relatively calm. However, we checked in advance with many sources as to the security of the site, including the Government of Canada’s Travel Advice and Advisories, recent visitors’ blog posts, comments on TripAdvisor.com and local advice from staff at our hotel in Siem Reap.
The temple itself is at the crux of the conflict. Its stone walkways have seen frequent skirmishes between the two countries’ militaries. Even a ruling by the International Court of Justice in 1962 that favoured Cambodia did not settle the issue. Instead it has continued to percolate over the years. In 2008, UNESCO recognized the Temple of Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site. They allotted this prestige to Cambodia, which twisted an already searing thorn in Thailand’s ego. In 2015, the International Court of Justice ruling was revisited, and once again the court confirmed that Cambodia’s sovereign claim to the lands was indeed valid. The judgement reiterated Thailand’s responsibility to remove its military from the area.
The temple’s remote location merely increased its allure to us. We were enticed by the obscureness of this isolated work of art, compared to Angkor Wat’s easily accessible esplanades. The territory had received its first paved road only within the last ten years. This distant frontier was shrouded in heavy greenery that draped across the entire Dangrek Mountain range. Calling these sandstone slabs “mountains” might have been a stretch, as the highest peak was less than 2,500 metres. I would argue that a rolling miscellany of bluffs and lowlands would be a more apt description. From the air, it would have appeared as if the land had been taken over by an overzealous broccoli farmer. At ground level, these florets transformed into plump, full-grown trees with leaves spreading in a circle as if trying to nuzzle up against the neighbouring trees.
Our first challenge was getting to the site. The Lonely Planet guidebook described the roads as a muddy slog, especially in the rainy season when we were there. Public transport seemed a poor option to take to such a remote area, given the questionable connections during the wet season. Instead, we hired a car and driver for two days. Our driver had been in the army, based at the Preah Vihear station, so he knew the route well. The temple could be visited as a long day trip from Siem Reap. However, we wanted to stop at the ruins of Koh Ker and Beng Mealea on our return journey. These spectacular sites were part of the Angkor Wat complex, but they lay far from the main centre. They provided the perfect stopoff point for our return route.
We set off early in the morning, leaving the mayhem of central Siem Reap to turn into a quickly fading memory. Country folks pedalled earnestly to get to work in the city. The bikes were simple, single-shift contraptions built for function over comfort or speed. After an hour of driving, the city’s congestion dissolved. The remainder of the drive passed by rice fields immersed in water. Most of the intermittent stilted houses were hubs of activity; women hung laundry and old men lounged in hammocks while pigs and chickens rummaged in the dirt. Along the roadside, ladies walked with lengthy bamboo rods balanced across their shoulders. Typically, a basket of food or some essential merchandise hung from each end of the pole. Other people worked in the fields, shin deep in water and muck. Their backs must have ached with all the bending, day after day.
As we neared our destination, a dusty, formerly white pickup truck roared alongside our vehicle. It was crowded with local men, all yelling and motioning for our driver to pull his car to the side of the road. This was not the welcome we had anticipated. ...
DUST IN MY PACK
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Nancy when you pick up a book which do you prefer, print or ebooks?
When reading travel guide books or when travelling in general, I prefer ebooks. I like being able to tap inconspicuously into my guidebook to check a map or re-read its explanations at a site from a smartphone. I feel far less like an obvious “tourist” than if I had to lug out a thick guidebook, which tends to attract touts and scam artists. My luggage also likes the weightlessness of ebooks - as do my shoulders!
However, when I read at home I prefer a paperback. The pages offer a nice break on my eyes from looking at a computer screen. I also find it more relaxing to sit down with a coffee and a physical book, it somehow feels more genuine.
For someone who has traveled so much I am curious to see how you answer the next question. If you could travel anywhere in the world where would you go and why?
Greenland for trekking
Ethiopia for trekking, food and culture
Uruguay for language, culture and wine
Bolivia for the salt fields and trekking
Zanzibar for architecture, culture and history
I better stop, as I have a long list!
Don't worry. That's great! I might try some of those, although Greenland might be a little too cold for my taste. Currently, what are you working on?
I am wrapping up a four-month trip from the Baltics to Brunei. Adventures and stories from this trip will feature in my second book, which I am keen to start writing once I am back home. The most physically challenging piece was a seventeen-day trek through Bhutan’s Himalayan mountains. The Snowman Trek is considered the hardest trek in the world and only fifty percent of people finish it.
Beyond trekking, I aim to share stories from diverse regions such as Myanmar and Lithuania. I feel like there is so much fear and isolation searing global society at the moment, that people need to hear about people and places from a different perspective. My writing delves into experiences from Buddhist, Islamic and just plain interesting places from around our world. The more I travel, the more I am convinced that we are all more similar than different, just trying to care for our families and live a good life. I want to do my part in sharing this mindset and breaking down preconceptions of an “us” versus “them” mentality.
I'll leave the trekking to you. I consider myself in fairly good shape but after my last trip to Utah, I need to figure out how to adjust to the altitude. It did me in. How did you decide on what to title each book?
Dust in My Pack came to me in the middle of the night. On this particular night, I could not stop thinking about my book. I had drafted a third of it. Sleep evaded me. Then the title “Dust in My Pack” shot into my head and it resonated. I travel with a backpack but am not the stereotypical twenty-something backpacker - in fact, I am in my forties. “Dust” can mean the basic grit and grime of travelling to distant places or the weathered memories that have accumulated like piles of dust in my mind.
It's a great title! Nancy most authors struggle with promoting their book, so I am always looking for some new advice that maybe not all of us have thought of. How do you promote your books? Any tips you can share?
This is a constant challenge. The Goodreads author program and its groups have offered great suggestions for low-cost and free organizations that promote indie authors‘ books. There are also a few Facebook groups that have been a fantastic source of insight, in particular Writers of Non-Fiction and Travel by Book. They have helped with ad hoc questions and specific marketing ideas.
I agree, I found great groups on facebook and goodreads. Nancy, who designed the artwork for your cover? Or did you design it yourself?
Bright Wing Books designed my cover and the eBook interior. They are a small company based in Nelson, BC, Canada and were an absolute pleasure to work with. I felt like we were a true partnership in creating my book’s look.
My husband and I had spent a few nights from 11:00 pm to 3:00 am to shoot my silhouette with the Milky Way and the northern lights. The Bright Wing team used these photographs plus came up with their own ideas for cover options. They listened to my feedback from the initial drafts and created a second batch. One option in particular stood out. I was enraptured by it, this was the look I had wanted.
The final cover conveyed my intent for the book. It captured the travel theme, a search for new destinations and covered the entire world with its outline of the continents in the sky. Plus, it used my husband’s photography that I loved and he had worked so hard to shoot.
It's a great feeling when your designer can capture the idea you envisioned. What brought about the idea for your book?
It came about slowly. I tried to write abut other topics tied closer to my former career, but the writing did not flow. Finally, I decided to write about what has always motivated me, travel. Even when I first decided to specialize in accounting, my decision was partially based on the knowledge that every company in every country needs accountants. I hoped my credentials would open doors to be able to travel and work internationally. It is now nearly twenty years since I earned my designation and I have lived on five continents and worked across six. My husband and I have also taken a number of multi-month trips, including a one-year around-the-world journey which also fed into my stories.
I started by outlining my most memorable trips. From there, I tried to find a pattern different from other travel narratives. Chapter themes, travel advice, packing tips and honest experiential narratives developed. Dust in My Pack slowly emerged!
I think being passionate about what you write about can make all the difference. What advice would you give someone who is considering publishing? Should they consider traditional or self-publishing?
I would offer the typical MBA response, “it depends”. For someone like me as a new unknown author with a career background outside the literary world, it seemed futile to even attempt the traditional publishing route. What publisher would be interested in a former finance professional’s view as an independent traveller? For people with existing credibility or a presence in the public eye, then the traditional publishing route may fit.
I think self-publishing is well suited to people who work best independently, without much supervision and have a vision of what they want to create. This was the case for me. I like having control over my time, my deliverables and decisions. I was motivated to get my first book written, edited and published before my current trip - so I did not need a publisher to slow down the process or to prod me to meet their schedule. That said, I am new and unknown as an author so my biggest challenge is building an awareness that my book even exists. A publisher would have presumably helped with that challenge.
So, it depends on the author’s situation, goals and background whether a traditional publishing route or self-publishing option best suits them.
Find out more about Nancy O'Hare at the links below. Happy Reading!!
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