The Covid-19 pandemic has put an end to foreign travel for most of us, but that doesn’t mean we need to stop exploring and discovering what lies beyond our borders. After all, what better way to travel the world than by book? Today we speak to Tina Hartas, co-founder of book reviews website TripFiction: your starting point for a reading tour of the globe!
Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp: Who’s behind the site and how did it come about?
Tina Hartas: I teamed up with Tony Geary and we are the originators of TripFiction. We now have a team of 4 in total working on different elements. I have always loved to travel when I can and I realised about 15 years ago that at some level I always sought out novels for my trips that were set in the destination. In the early days, I was planning a trip to Vienna and I trawled the internet for books set in Vienna. The only book clearly I could find set in the city was The Fig Eater by Jody Shields, which is a great read set at the turn of the 20th Century. But I had already read it! However, the seed for http://www.tripfiction.com was planted and it took another 5 years to set about creating the site.
RAK: We’re pleased to see you now have a range of novels for Vienna, including The Tobacconist by the magnificent Robert Seethaler, translated from German by Charlotte Collins. How important is a sense of place in fiction? And what’s your favourite example of a book that really exudes the atmosphere of a place?
TH: For us, doing what we do, it’s enormously important because it is our raison d’être. It is a wonderful way to get under the skin of location and experience it through the eyes of an author. Each author has a very different take on a place they know and there can be some fabulous learning that you just won’t find in a guide book. I think I would probably choose some old favourites, titles that spurred on the creation of the website:
- Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts is so atmospheric about Bombay, so much so that the city went on my must visit list and I went there 4 years ago and visited Cafe Leopold where the characters in the book often meet up. Now that was a 4-d experience, imagining the characters from the book (although now it is frequented by literary tourists who are equally keen to experience the Cafe Leopold vibe!)
- The Beach by Alex Garland has stuck with me since I read it. What a cloying and dark atmosphere and it’s wonderful on location (although of course it is quite a threatening sense of place!)
- Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (Kyoto)
- I am one of the judges on the Stanford Travel Writing Awards, Fiction, With A Sense of Place, and so I would love to give a shout out to the winner 2020 “Little Faith” by Nickolas Butler (Wisconsin), which is a shoe-in for any reader who mourned the ending of “Where The Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens (North Carolina)
- Sisters of Berlin by Juliet Conlin was the book I read at home, when I was supposed to be in Berlin (trip cancelled due to the coronavirus). It helped dampen my yearning to travel!
RAK: What’s your favourite place you’ve visited and have you found a novel that does it justice?
TH: On a trip to Bangkok, I happened to pick up a copy of Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett and as I was sitting by the pool 13 floors up in the hotel, I realised that all the action in the book was taking place in the street below our actual hotel. Now that was an amazing and serendipitous experience. It made the book (a thriller) more vivid and made me look more carefully at what was going on at street level, imagining the characters I had just left behind in the book. Shantaram for Mumbai certainly does the city justice. And whilst in India I also enjoyed the works of Abir Mukherjee, which are set more in the Raj era but offered a wonderful perspective on the rise of Ghandi… a sort of echoes of footsteps past.
RAK: What’s your favourite novel from a place you haven’t been to yet? And where would you like to visit – either in real life or via a book?
TH: I think Tibet and the Himalayas are calling… there are some great titles set there. So, one day, hopefully… once we can travel again.
I think I would now read more Tim Winton on a visit to Australia. Cloudstreet is often cited as the novel of Australia and I think it would be amazing to read a book like that whilst in the country.
I have enjoyed a lot of Icelandic Noir thrillers recently, so I guess that would be a destination, with novel in hand, that would certainly appeal!
RAK: Did you have any favourite books in translation as a child? Were you aware of books coming from other places? If not as a child, when did you become interested in reading as means of teleportation?
TH: I grew up in the UK, bilingual in English and German, so I read a lot of German children’s books, as well as English language books, to keep both cultures vibrant. I tried to replicate the experince with my own children (brought up in the UK) so that they too could be aware of part of their heritage and culture. For me the German books that have stuck are by Wilhelm Busch, such as Max and Mortiz.
RAK: We spotted some translated children’s classics on your site, such as Emil and the Detectives. Do you have categories for children’s and young adult books on TripFiction?
TH: We do indeed cover Children / YA / Coming of Age and as and when we find books in those genres that are strong on location, we certainly do include them. And also readers have been suggesting titles and adding them to the database. So it is certainly a growing area for us. These genres are becoming more popular and we are focussing our resources on tracking down more titles to add.
RAK: How can book lovers get involved in TripFiction? Do you welcome contributions from new reviewers?
TH: We have all kinds of ways that readers can get involved. We ask them to join because that helps build SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) which means the bigger we are, the better reach we have when we promote authors and events (like World Kid Lit Month). People can add their reviews (Yes, please!) and if they find a book that is strong on location (and, we don’t already feature it), then they can add that and help build the database.
We are also promoting a regular weekly giveaway, to help get the word out there for those taking part. We have a regular monthly Newsletter for subscribers and welcome all kinds of chat about books and travel. We researched the first 5000 titles on the site, which was quite a task and the number of books has trebled thanks to the help of the reading community! All the information you need is at www.tripfiction.com and do join us on Social Media, we always love to connect!
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Tina Hartas studied German and History of Art at University and then went on to complete an M.A. in Fine Art Conservation. She then went on to train as a couple and psychosexual therapist. She has always loved travel and reading, and combining the two with TripFiction has been a very satisfying task.