Fisherman, Phu Quoc, Vietnam

It may sound easy, but being a guidebook writer is no walk in the park. It's a never-ending road. You blend in with other travellers, but they’re on holiday; you are observing, asking questions, writing. Deadlines snap at your heels; you can’t just pull a sickie, you must keep moving. There are sunsets to die for but the three hotels along the beach are waiting to be checked out. The weather’s a fickle mistress: sunkissed days are balanced by lashing rain and sodden notebooks. Walking all day every day for six weeks at a stretch makes you seriously fit and sometimes you feel you could leg it around the world; at other times, you hit a wall. My companions: (old-school) notepads, pens, camera, iPhone, shoulder bag, energy and bags of curiosity.

But boy it takes you places. Snowed out for three days in a Wutaishan temple during a Shanxi storm, nosing into booming Shanghai at dawn on a ferry from Putuoshan, sizing up Richard Wilson’s mesmerising 20:50 in London’s Saatchi Gallery or going simply wide-eyed at the interior of St Giles Church, Cheadle.

After graduating with two degrees (History of Art from Leeds University, modern and classical Chinese from SOAS), I cut my guidebook-writing teeth on China. Being able to speak and read Chinese was crucial to getting under the skin of the nation. Writing about the UK may seem an entirely different ball-game, but the same rules apply: go everywhere with an open mind, prepare to be amazed by what you see and tell everyone about it. Oh, and pack an umbrella.


Wudangshan, Hubei Province, China

Modern Chinese translation of a Tang dynasty poem by Wang Wei

Stall browser, Portobello Rd, London


Children and giant wave, Albufeira, Portugal