ANTONIA WINDSOR in the Spotlight
When and why did you join the Guild?
I'd known about the Guild for some time but didn't join until 2010. I'd spent several years combining journalism with an acting career, for which I spent hundreds of pounds each year in subscriptions for Spotlight, casting directories etc and I realised it was about time I took steps to promote my journalism in the same way. As a freelance it is also important to have opportunities to network with colleagues.
What are you working on at the moment? Any future plans?
I have recently had a very big assignment in from the Travel Channel in the US to create a London hub for their website. This means I can stay at home for a few months and re-engage with my adopted city (I have been here 14 years now). I have to deliver a feature every three days, so I'm going to try to avoid making travel plans until the autumn. As far as future plans go, I feel it is time to work on a book, perhaps the story of my husband, who was a contemporary dancer in Zimbabwe before he was paralysed in a car accident and taught himself to walk again (although still with difficulty), perhaps as an allegory for Zimbabwe itself.
What's your earliest memory of travel?
I grew up in Jersey in the Channel Islands, so my childhood was one long holiday. In summer, we would follow the sun round the island, starting off in Gorey in the east and ending up on St Ouen's bay in the west, watching the surfers and eating fish and chips out of paper as the sun went down. As a child, the sea was my warder; I spent hours staring out at it and imagining what wonders lay in the distant lands beyond. We had our first family holiday “abroad” when I was seven and we went to Tunisia. I got lost when we'd gone out one evening and managed to find my own way back to the hotel. I suppose from then I knew I could cope alone in a foreign country.
Which is the place you haven't been to yet but would most like to visit?
Gosh, there is so much of the world I haven’t visited. I am actually quite poorly travelled for a travel writer. There are whole continents I haven’t ventured to, including South America, Australia and most of Asia. But at the moment top of my list is Jamaica, as I’m married to a black Zimbabwean who is a huge reggae fan and I have promised to take him.
Where would you never want to go again?
A particular hotel in Budapest that unsettled me so much I had to do a midnight runner …
How did you get involved in travel writing?
I was working at the Guardian on the now defunct Editor section and a colleague asked me if I’d like to go to South Africa and write a piece for a supplement he was working on for the paper. Then a year or so later a British Pakastani friend of mine set up a travel company and asked if I’d like to go out with him on one of his first trips. I pitched it to what was then Guardian Unlimited and they said yes. I suppose after that I worked out what it was all about.
Most memorable hotel?
I was on a press trip to Florence with a journalist friend of mine who lives in Madrid and I was looking for a place to review so we could extend our trip by a night. The timing was just right to gatecrash the first press visit to a place called the Hotel Il Salviatino, an old villa just outside the city. It was truly superb and has become the benchmark by which I judge every other hotel.
Everyone gets it wrong sometimes, so what's the biggest travel blunder you've ever made?
I was inter-railing around Europe on my own when I was 19 and had overstayed in Amsterdam and my ticket had run out before I had made it back to the ferry in Calais. I didn't have enough money to pay for the full bus journey and the driver was not amused by my attempt to trade Belgian chocolates. So I got on and thought “I know, I'll pretend I'm asleep and 'wake up' in Calais and just jump off.” So I put my head in my hands and intermittently peeped at the road signs through the window. It was a while before I realised that the signposts saying Calais were now pointing in the other direction, and we had actually gone into Calais and were making our way back to Belgium. I jumped off in a panic in the middle of nowhere and after a half-hearted attempt to hitch hike, I phoned my mum from a pay phone from the middle of a roundabout, not even sure any more which direction I was meant to be going in. She suggested that perhaps I try to see if my cash card would work in the ATM. Those were still the days of traveller's cheques and I was enthralled to see crisp francs shuffled into my hand. It was a good job, because I had missed my ferry crossing and had to pay for a new one.
Which travel destination has taken you most by surprise and why?
I went to Malawi to work as a performer with an arts organisation and I came back with a husband. The place had a deep affect on me, more than I could ever have imagined. Yes I fell in love, but I also wanted to help just one person out of abject poverty.
If you had one tip to share with other travel writers what would it be?
Always try to learn hello, how are you and thank you in the local language. This is always appreciated, particularly in developing countries where they may be resentful of tourists.
A favourite travel book to pass the journey?
I always read about places before I visit, I think it is the responsibility of a travel writer to do thorough research and be properly informed about a place, then I choose a novel set in the place to read when I am in situ. I was pleased to recently discover a book called “Reading on Location”, which helps with this, but a website and a community would be best with recommendations for each country in the world. Does anyone fancy doing this with me?