It is my pleasure to welcome Bettina Hartas – aka Tina of TripFiction – to my blog today! TripFiction is an incredible resource for readers interested in books strong in setting. One of my favorite features of their website is being able to search their extensive database of fiction and non-fiction, by country!
On their blog they review books and interview authors, as well as feature articles about locations used in fiction or how a place inspired a story.
On a personal note, TripFiction was the first website to review my debut novel and they have been extremely supportive ever since. I am thrilled to feature them on my blog for a change!
So grab a cuppa and take a moment to learn more about the TripFiction gang and their favorite reads…
Welcome, Tina of TripFiction!
First of all, thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog. I am delighted to be here!
Can you tell us a bit about TripFiction and how it came to be?
There came a point seven or so years ago when I clocked that I have always searched out books – mainly novels, I guess – set in the destination to which I am headed. On one trip, I consciously picked up a novel at the airport, set in Bangkok, the city to which I was headed (it was Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett if you want to know!). And tadah! The action in the book was actually happening right below the hotel where I was staying. It was amazing to visualize the characters in situ, it felt like a really 3-D experience.
A couple of years after that I had an upcoming trip to Vienna and I could only find one book set there, which in fact I had already read. I just knew there must be more, but a quick trawl of the internet didn’t really throw up anything of interest. Thus the seeds for TripFiction were well and truly sown.
I love to read books that are strong on location because they can offer such an insight into the place and such a different and more personal perspective than a guidebook. Taking a guidebook and a novel can make a perfect combination.
I know TripFiction is a fan of Top Tips lists. What are your Top 3 Travel Destinations and which books would you recommend reading before visiting them?
That is quite a hard question!
1) Why don’t I start with a book that I have just read, set in Cuba? I have never been there myself, but I feel I have grown up with the news about the vagaries of the administration and human rights issues there. Posters of Che Guevara are iconic, and he and Fidel Castro have held such sway – often brutal – over the people on this island. The excellent and informative novel “Next Year in Havana” by Chanel Cleeton is a must read for anyone going to Cuba. It probes beneath the tourist façade and reveals a nation that has struggled for a couple of generations now, it is not didactic, it is really immersive and it is one of my top reads this year! The novel was picked for the Reese Witherspoon Book Club, which is how I came across it.
2) I guess my interest in India was sparked by reading the novel “Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts, which is set in Mumbai. It is a lengthy story that takes a little effort at the beginning but is well worth the trouble. When I did eventually get to India I just had to make a detour in Mumbai to Leopold Café, where the characters in the book hang out. Together with Alex Garland’s “The Beach” and “Eat Pray Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert, it is one of the go-to books for top literary wanderlust!
3) One of my favourite authors, discovered as we have been building the TripFiction website, is Lawrence Osborne. His stories are edgy and beautifully observed. I chose to read “The Forgiven” shortly after I returned from a trip to Morocco and it just brought back memories of my own trip (far removed from the very dark storyline, I have to say, but the details of the people, customs and landscape were perfectly rendered!). Last year one of my top reads was “Beautiful Animals”, again a tense storyline, which just transported me back to Hydra where it is set. You will also note that TF’s Andrew further down also picked this novel as one of his top reads, praise indeed for this author!
Other than reviews, how does TripFiction help readers discover new books?
Yes indeed, we write reviews on our blog and encourage readers to add books to the database (if we don’t already feature them) and add reviews, much like Amazon. We are pretty active on Social Media and we have regular giveaways, often sponsored by publishers and authors themselves, which we promote across all platforms.
We also love to find interesting articles that combine books and travel, and we try and highlight anything we feel would be of interest to our growing readership.
We also feature top books for a given location on a regular basis and the #TFBookClub is really popular. On a bi-monthly basis we read, the chosen book online, together with 20 or so readers who have been sent a copy. We have our selections in place until the end of this year but will be actively looking for new reads to kick off 2019! Give us a shout out if you want to sponsor a book club read!
Do you have a core group of reviewers or can anyone become a TripFiction reviewer? How many books does a typical reviewer read per month?
At the moment we do indeed have a core group of reviewers who write regularly for our blog. The thing we all have in common is the delight in finding new authors who perhaps don’t feature on the highlighted book tables in the bookshops. It can really blow you away when you find a terrific new author – and it is great to be able to promote their work to our readership. For many authors getting their work in front of readers is a huge – sometimes insurmountable – task and we are delighted to play our part.
We also have guest reviewers, who can often add a different dimension to the blog…. and variety is really important, of course!
We also like to encourage anyone to review on the website – it’s so easy. Reviews help build the website into a valuable resource for both actual and armchair travellers and authors REALLY value reviews as it gives them more exposure. So, please, do drop by the site and leave a review! Just a couple of lines will do!
From other interviews I have read, it sounds like TripFiction began as a passion project. I can imagine situations have occurred that you never expected would happen. Can you share any unexpected (hopefully pleasant) surprises along the way?
Ah, a perceptive question! Yes, I guess it did. We were sitting one evening over a glass of wine, discussing the possibility of setting up TripFiction… and voilà! By the time we had researched and added the first 5000 titles we realized we were only skimming the surface of potential books. That was such hard work! However, now our readers help us by flagging titles and that fundamental research element has become less onerous. The admin seems to grow incrementally as the site expands so there will come a time when we need to expand our team.
All that hard work is beginning to pay off, however! We now have 10,000 visitors to the site each month, so we must be doing something right. And we get some lovely feedback about what we are doing. Meeting new people on Social Media is a real boon and then meeting them in the flesh is a delightful aspect. There can be such generosity in the book community, we are so glad to be part of it. Add in travel and for us it makes the perfect combination!
One of the delights is receiving books that perhaps wouldn’t otherwise cross our radar and some publishers (and indeed authors) are incredibly creative about getting a blogger’s attention! (Chocolate always goes down well and what about that time an iced bun arrived with a bloodied finger stuck in it! Or a 1000 Swiss Franc note, such a shame it wasn’t real). Such fun and they always make us smile! I am not sure our postman is quite as enthusiastic about the book post as we are!
Can you tell us more about the rest of the TripFiction team – Andrew and Tony? Do they have favorite destinations or genres they prefer to read? Any recent recommended reads they wish to pass along?
Beneath the Same Heaven by Anne Marie Ruff – terrorist thriller with a real twist, set in California and the tribal lands of the Pakistan / Afghanistan border. An extremely well written and thought-provoking book.
The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting – a time shift novel across Norway, The Shetlands, and the Somme. A brilliant portrayal of three families as they progress their intertwined route from WWI to the present day. This will also be our #TFBookClub read September/October 2018.
The Emperor of Shoes by Spencer Wise – novel of the next generation’s views on how to run a Jewish shoe factory in Southern China making for the US market. A father versus son conflict, with lots of local politics thrown in. Highlights the plight of workers in far off lands producing for the Western world.
I tend to prefer contemporary literary fiction, often as much led by character as by plot. A strong sense of place is important, naturally, but that could really be anywhere.
Recent recommended reads:
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie – set in London & USA
Beautiful Animals by Lawrence Osborne – set in Hydra
All That Man Is by David Szalay – short stories set around Europe
How do authors go about adding their books to TripFiction?
We sometimes get a tentative “Add” from an author, who asks whether it is OK to add their own books. Go for it, we say. People will then come across their books when searching for the relevant location. And if they are minded, we ask that they add a review for any other book on the website and help it grow. After all it is in everyone’s interest to get the site really well used and the more interaction on the site, the higher we go up the Google rankings (it’s all about SEO apparently, that’s Tony’s department!).
I know you are an avid traveler, Tina. Where are you headed next and what are you reading to prepare?
We are off to Tanzania – it is a holiday that has been in the planning for many months as there are a couple of big birthdays involved! I will be taking The Baobab Beach Retreat by Kate Frost, which is largely set there and on Zanzibar. I will be in Berlin shortly thereafter and I am still searching for the novel to take with me (it will have to live up to books like “The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite” by Beatrice Colin and “One Clear Ice-Cold Morning at the Beginning of the 21st Century” by Roland Schimmelpfennig which is this year’s cult book of the city). A trip to the Isle of Wight Literary Festival in October means searching for books set on the island. Perhaps author Isabel Ashdown has something new in the pipeline!
What are your future plans for TripFiction?
We have many ideas… setting up TripFiction in other countries so the books selected are more tailored to that country. TripMovies perhaps – I remember going to see Vicky Cristina Barcelona before I went to Barcelona and it really got me in the mood for the trip! Gladiator for Rome is a good way to get a sense of life in the Colosseum (well, it was visually compelling, who knows how accurate it is). And of course Mamma Mia is a film to watch before heading off to Skopelos. Plenty to keep us busy!
Thanks for sharing more about TripFiction with us, as well as recommending so many intriguing reads, Tina, Andrew and Tony!