Saturday, November 19, 2011

Author Guest Post: Irene Woodbury

First of all, I have to apologize for my lack of posts lately. I was hit with a wicked cold and was super busy at work - neither of which let me have time or the brain capacity to write anything worth reading! Now, onto the fun!

Irene Woodbury is currently on tour through Chick Lit Plus Blog Tours and while I have not read A Slot Machine Ate My Midlife Crisis (yet!) but I'm so happy to have a guest post for all of you to read by the lovely author herself. When I was checking out her website I was intrigued by the travel writing that she's done so this guest post explains a little bit about that. A big thank you to Irene for writing this for Books Etc. I hope you all enjoy it!

“Our long-awaited month in London was about to become the vacation from Hell!”
That was the lead of my first travel story, and truer words were never written.  It was November 2000.  My husband and I were on vacation in London.  It was cold, and it wouldn’t stop raining.  We didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything.  The apartment we’d rented was in a quiet residential area that made us feel lost and out of it.  What to do?
My husband, who had a long career at Time Magazine as a reporter, had always wanted me to write travel stories.  I wasn’t interested.  As a full-time student in the 1990s, I spent the semesters writing papers.  I didn’t want to write anything other than a postcard on vacation.  But I was no longer a student, and we were both getting bored and cranky, and it was getting even colder, and it wouldn’t stop raining. 

One day my husband came up with a plan:  He would write a travel story, and I would help him.  Famous last words.  I soon took over, and, before I knew it, I had 40 pages on London walking tours.  I wouldn’t stop!  I absolutely loved it.  I wrote a rough draft on the plane ride back to Denver, and typed it on my computer the next day.  A few weeks later, the Los Angeles Times agreed to print it.    The 30-some pages I turned in ran as 6, but I didn’t care.  I was ecstatic!  My husband was happy.  It was the beginning of my travel writing career.
My next story also took place in London.  With my husband’s assistance, I did a long piece on the food halls of major department stores like Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Fortnum & Mason, Marks and Spencer, and Selfridges.  Talk about work!  We were on the Tube all day, going back and forth from one to the other, interviewing managers, checking out the prices of marmite and biscuits, trying out cheese plates, having tea, analyzing the d├ęcor and uniforms the cashiers wore.   Seven days a week, we were in the food halls, gathering details on prune cake made by nuns in Spain, wild mushrooms from Italy, bread and pastries trucked in from Paris, pork and beef from the English countryside, salmon from Scotland.   I took notes and wrote.  My husband did the photos.   The Los Angeles Times ran that one too--a full page story!  I was thrilled, and the readers loved it.
I did many London stories over five years.  Another favorite was the Bridget Jones tour.  We were in London when the movie made from Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, came out. I bought a copy of the book, got my pen, and stayed up all night marking the locations in the book. The next morning, I had a list, and out the door we ran!
There was her apartment on Bedale Street above the Globe Tavern in Borough Market, the Serpentine Gallery where Daniel Cleaver and Mark Darcy brawled over her, the boutiques she shopped in on Oxford Street.   We even had an authentic English breakfast at Debenham’s department store, where Bridget liked to munch her beans, toast and pork sausages.
Our tour also included stops at the elegant Claridges Hotel, where Bridget and Mark attended the wedding reception of her friend, Jude, and the dignified Guildhall, where Bridget endured the double humiliations of a make-up blunder and an undergarment malfunction during a formal reception.  Her date, the proper Mark Darcy, is embarrassed by her appearance and her inappropriate behavior, of course.
I loved this story.  It ran in the Toronto Star.  The final sentences were:  “No other tour has made us feel so comfortable in this complex city.  Thanks Bridge!”  To this day, I second that emotion.
Just one more London story, then I’ll move on!  I’d always wanted to have formal tea at the best hotels in London, so we did this as a story.  We had long, leisurely teas at the Lanesborough, Savoy, Ritz, Basil Street, and Dukes hotels.  The average price was $40 to $50.  What a wonderful time it was!  As we sipped our tea and munched scones, pastries, and finger sandwiches, I snuck in notes, (sometimes we told people what we were doing , more often we didn’t) and my husband discreetly snapped photos.   A well dressed Ritz security person finally told us:  “One more photo, and you’ll be asked to leave.”  Needless to say, we put the camera away. 

This was a terrific experience.  The story ran in the L.A. Times—and, by the way, the Lanesborough was the best of the lot for food, service, atmosphere, and attitude.
I’ll tell you about one Paris story—my favorite in that incredible city.  On the plane ride from Denver, I said to my husband:  “I wonder what it would be like to shop for second-hand clothes in Paris?”  I lived to regret that comment because every day when we woke up in the apartment we’d rented, he would ask:  “When are you going to do that story on used clothing stores?”
To tell you the truth, I didn’t even know how they referred to these places in French.  We finally found out from the American guy we’d rented the apartment from.  Then we looked them up in the phone book, got our Metro guide, and figured out how to get to these “depot ventes.”
This was another incredible fantasy trip.  You would not believe the clothes and accessories in these stores!  Yves Saint Laurent suits, Chanel handbags, Versace boots, Prada leather jackets, Dior dresses, Balenciaga skirts.  It was incredible.  We covered five or six stores all over the city, but we only had space for four in the story.  The shop-owners were fairly cooperative, but I kept a low profile and behaved respectfully and discreetly.  My husband took photos, but, once again, discreetly.   They knew they’d get publicity from the story—if it got published--so they went along with it.  But they wouldn’t put up with any nonsense!  It was the experience of a lifetime to trek through those stores and check out the extraordinary offerings for both men and women.  
If you’re going to Paris anytime soon, the four stores in the article were Reciproque in the 16th arrondissement, Depot Vente du 17eme (17th arrondissement), Misentroc on the Left Bank, and Alternatives in the Marais.  The prices are in every range.  The story ran in the Dallas Morning News and The London Daily Telegraph.   It will always be one of my favorites.
I won’t go into detail on other stories I’ve done, but I covered a literary walking tour in Dublin; the Royal Botanical Garden in Madrid; a crocodile preserve near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, an indigenous Indian village in Mexico; the spas of Las Vegas, Elvis-related entertainment shows in Las Vegas, chocolate-themed specialty shops and cafes on the Strip, and backstage theatre tours in London.  I like variety.
Thanks for the opportunity to look back on some of the happiest days of my life. (There were a few downsides. It was an expensive pastime. I worked 7 days a week and didn’t have a computer with me. We never knew if the stories would sell or not, and when they did, we didn’t make much money.) I’m looking forward to getting out there again with my notebook, pad—and husband--one of these days. 

1 comment:

Thanks for stopping by Books Etc.!