I am absolutely thrilled to have the wonderful Bettina (Tina) Hartas Geary from TripFiction with me today.
TripFiction is a treasure trove of all things literary & travel related. Tina has developed a stunning platform that will appeal to all readers whether you are planning a trip or not!!
I was intrigued as to where the inspiration behind TripFiction came from, so Tina willingly obliged my curiosity and answered all my questions very honestly and with great openness.
I do so hope you enjoy!!
Tina, before we get into the nitty-gritty of the wonderful TripFiction, I’m hoping we can find out a little about you……
First off, you obviously have a major passion for travel. How did this develop and did you always have itchy feet?
I am part German so I used to spend the Summer Holidays with my family in Germany, just this side of the Wall that divided the two countries into East and West.
I had a plucky mother who would set off in the family car, me tethered to the passenger seat on a pillow, barely able to peak over the dashboard, and we would drive to Felixtowe. There we would board a freighter that would pitch and toss frenetically, and I would bring up the Scotch Egg I had eaten for supper (which probably partly accounts for why I became a vegetarian, but I digress).
We would then hurtle across continents as far as we could go, usually running low on fuel, whilst spotting the provenance of all the cars that we passed on the motorway. It’s an excellent game to play for young and old – you can tell where a car come from in Germany by the letters on the number plate – B is Berlin; HH stands for Hamburg; DÜ is Düsseldorf and so forth, which I think gave me a sense of movement and travel.
So that, I think, was the start of my love of travel, it piqued my curiosity about where people were going, and I loved the fact that you could go to a train station in Germany, hop on a train and end up in Italy… or the Netherlands… or Denmark.
Travel seemed to offer limitless possibilities.
From reading about you Tina, would I be correct in saying that you have great admiration, empathy and support for writers?
Have you ever considered sitting down and writing a novel about some of your own journeys or of any other subject?
I have always enjoyed reading books.
In fact I grew up with my best friend, whose mother was a writer, and she set her books in India (perhaps the seed was planted in very early years?). Her mum always seemed to beaver away in her study, and then when a book was published there would be a huge fanfare, signed copies… and then the process would repeat.
I had no real knowledge of the publishing industry up until recently but we have now begun to gather insight and experience through TripFiction.
I soon became aware of the hard slog for 90% of authors to get their books in front of an audience. There are many talented writers out there who deserve wider acclaim, so in a miniscule way we do what we can.
I think it was India Knight who succinctly highlighted the plight of authors for me – she wrote an article a few years ago describing that prior to the Man Booker Prize Longlist, most nominated authors had perhaps sold a couple of 100 copies. After the nomination, their careers took off.
Talent often isn’t enough; luck, money, and investment by the right people are all key.
Would I write my own book? It is a question that has regularly been posed by others.
Being a Gemini I think I like to butterfly and perhaps I don’t have the commitment to sit down and work on one piece for a good length of time. I love dipping in out, writing short pieces, engaging with the creative processes of others, but as for a book? At this moment it feels unlikely, but never say never!
Tony and yourself have a wonderful website http://www.tripfiction.com.
Where did the idea for setting up TripFiction come from?
I’m imagining over a cold glass of white overlooking some wonderful setting!!
The glass of wine came fairly late in the proceedings!!
I have always searched out novels that are set in the locale to which I am travelling, unconsciously it has to be said.
Then came a trip to Thailand when I happened to pick up a copy of Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett at the airport. (http://www.tripfiction.com/books/bangkok-tattoo/ )
As I was reading it by pool of the BelAire Hotel in Bangkok (on the 3rd floor) I discovered that I could hear the street noise from below, and that amazingly that book was set in the roads adjacent to that very same hotel. The hubbub on the streets and the words on the page mingled.
So I went to see for myself what the area was like (it did involve a trip to Soi Cowboy, but you will have to look that one up!!) and walking around brought the book to life in a way I could never have contemplated, I could imagine characters from the book behind the store fronts and imagine scenarios that has just played out in the novel. It proved to be a real surround-a-sound experience. And that is where the idea essentially started.
A couple of years later I searched in vain for a book set in Vienna (there are lots of books, as I now know – http://www.tripfiction.com/find-a-book/ ) and by then the seed of the ideas had germinated.
The “conversation” and the glass of wine came subsequently in Switzerland, and the rest is history.
You say on your site that TripFiction ‘was created to make it easy to match a location with a book and help you select the literature that is most pertinent and relevant to your trip in a way that has not been practical before.’
What do you mean by that and how is it achieved?
I guess most of us know that Donna Leon and Venice are synonymous, or Stieg Larson and Stockholm go hand-in-hand
(you can tour the locations in the book: http://www.visitsweden.com/sweden/Regions–Cities/Stockholm/Culture-in-Stockholm/The-Millennium-Tour/ )
and Elena Ferrante’s books evoke Naples in a way that is unique.
A novel sets a place in context and is a wonderful adjunct to a Guide Book.
Now, through TripFiction, you can find new reading material, set in over 1400 world locations, all in one place.
In the early days we undertook the initial research and uploaded around 5000 titles to the site over the first couple of years (THAT was a hard slog, I can tell you!) and now it is gradually moving more into the hands of the site followers who can add books and reviews.
Now it is no secret that I am a HUGE fan of TripFiction. The layout of the website is very attractive and has the all important ‘ease-of-use’ factor. It must be very hard work to maintain it at such a level.
Where do you find the time to be so proactive and where do all your ideas come from?
Thank you so much, it is great to hear about the support we are getting!
We started off with a couple of friends, who had web and graphic design skills and they got us off the ground. It was wonderful to be able to see ideas that started around the kitchen table unfolding and becoming real.
As the site grew, we knew we had to find a dedicated company to see us into the next phase, and after talking things through with a couple of prospective partners, we settled on Urban River (http://www.urbanriver.com) based in the North East who took our basic site and helped us move into something bigger and even more user friendly.
At the moment we are consolidating, building the database, working on the Search Engine Optimisation to spread the word. Then, when we have sufficient hits – in other words visitors to the site – (and we are almost there) we can think about tasteful advertising in order to monetise.
But we want to avoid the “in-your-face” kind of adverts that personally put me off many sites and make me click on the “X” to close the page!
Tina, you seem to have a great handle on Social Media Marketing. Recently you wrote a great post entitled ‘Things I wished I had known when I first started the TF book blog’
Why did you decide to write this post?
Thank you. It has been a tremendous learning curve and I am still climbing that Social Media hill!
I wrote that post–and a couple of others–because it is really hard to jump in at the deep end, virtually blind, and have to feel your way through the protocols and ways of doing things. It’s scary. I made mistakes. I blundered about. And I am still learning.
I have also written a post titled “Why authors need to engage with Twitter and Social Media” (http://www.tripfiction.com/authors-on-social-media/) because we are just one tiny cog in the publishing wheel, we play a minute part in getting an author’s book in front of an audience.
We are happy to do that. But imagine the frustration when an author hasn’t constructed their own social media platform or their personal ‘wherewithal’ to get stuck into promoting their own work. No presence, not even a website. Or, publishers/publicists, who still – in this day and age – don’t really have a real social media presence. How on earth are they going to get that book out there?
It can be supremely frustrating for all involved. It is therefore tempting to largely (but not wholly) only support authors who are going to play their part.
Finally Tina, what can we expect down the line from TripFiction? Have you any new exciting developments in the pipeline?
I guess one day we have an eye on TripMovies because watching a movie, set in your chosen destination, is a great way to get a feel for a place. But for now, we are building, consolidating and focused on bringing people to the site and getting as much interaction as we can.
Getting to know our followers is important too and we have met some wonderful people along the way! There is a huge amount of admin work going on the behind the scenes – we often work well into the evenings – and for me personally it is quite an art to juggle all that with my part time day job as a couple counsellor and psychosexual therapist.
And keeping up with the reading too!
So, maybe I can take the liberty and invite everyone out there to come and help us build the site into a fabulous resource for both actual and armchair travellers: come and add books that are strong on location and add reviews to the site (and of course every review, whether on TripFiction, Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes and Nobel, etc helps an author move forward in the very difficult world of publishing).
Thank you, Mairead for inviting me to your blog, it has been an absolute pleasure and I have very much enjoyed answering your questions!’
Thank you too Tina!!
I think you will agree such interesting answers and all so fascinating as well. I truly enjoyed reading them and I hope you did too.
Don’t forget to check out all the wonderful resources at http://www.tripfiction.com You will find everything you need to satisfy your literary wanderlust, whether it’s to organise a journey or to go on one from the comfort of your armchair.
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