Return to Jordan

In January I expressed the hope of returning to the Middle East to resume my travel journalism after a few years where this took a back seat due to the uncertain political situation, and the (quite understandable) reluctance for editors to commission travel features about the region. Well, it looks like my hopes have been realised, and I will be returning very soon: to write about a new hiking trail that runs the length of Jordan for the Telegraph. It will be fantastic to hike once more in that amazing country, some 10 years after I first led walking trips there, and good to meet again some of the kindest people I’ve ever come across in my travels (including, I hope, some old friends…).

70 Red Dune, Wadi Rum

Hiking group in Wadi Rum, Jordan. Photo: Gail Simmons

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Oxford ‘expert’

For the past few years I’ve been the Telegraph’s ‘Destination Expert’ for my home city of Oxford. When I first wrote the guide in late 2011 I explored the city I’d been living in for the previous 25 years with new eyes, trying to see it as a tourist might. I fell in love with it all over again. Now, every year, I am asked to update that guide, and although the work isn’t the most interesting I do, I’m still proud to represent  the great city of Oxford on behalf of the Telegraph. Here’s my latest version.

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Plans for 2017

For the past few years, my travel journalism has taken a bit of a back seat. Events in the Middle East (my specialist region) have hugely curtailed tourism there and newspapers, quite understandably, don’t want to publish travel stories about the region. So, in 2012, I decided to take the opportunity presented by this hiatus to study for a PhD in Creative Writing, which I successfully completed in December 2016. If nothing else, this means  I get to wear a fetching red robe and a floppy, Tudor-style hat at my graduation in July.

My plans for 2017 include turning my PhD thesis into a travel book, whilst continuing with my creative writing teaching (at Cambridge and Bath Spa Universities). And, geopolitical events allowing, resuming my travel journalism once again.

As they say, watch this space…

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Memories of 1976

The Guardian asked for readers’ memories of the hottest summer on record. Here are mine.

1976, the hottest summer in living memory. Every afternoon in my parents’ Home Counties garden, my best friend and I slathered Hawaiian Tropic over every inch of our exposed flesh, hoping to sizzle like chipolatas. This dark, coconut-scented oil offered virtually no protection from the sun, only the means to fry even faster.

We’re supposed to be swotting for exams, but the books lie open on the ground and Radio One crackles from the transistor. We turn it down when my mother comes out from the kitchen bearing a jug of lemon squash, ice cubes clinking against the glass… [click here to read more]

Study for an MA in Travel Writing

I am currently teaching on one of the most interesting MA programmes in the country: Bath Spa University’s MA in Travel & Nature Writing, which is now accepting  applications for the next academic year. You can study both full-time (1 year) or part-time (2 years).

The MA is designed for writers seeking advanced skills in the growing field of creative non-fiction inspired by the natural world and contemporary travelling. The course focuses on writing from experience – about places, people and wildlife – to match the needs and opportunities offered by the travel and nature writing sectors. The aim is to help develop professional practice along with practical writing and editing skills, and to produce a diverse portfolio of work to help establish a career in this competitive but
exciting field.

You can find out more about the MA here, or please feel free to contact me directly.

PG Natures


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Gaziantep: Capital of Baklava

In October last year I went to Gaziantep, on the ancient Silk Road in south-eastern Turkey, to write about that sweet pastry beloved throughout the Middle East: baklava. Gaziantep is famed for its cuisine, and its baklava above all. There are some 500 baklava producers in the city – some of who have been established since the 1870s – and I met a few of them to find out why Gaziantep’s baklava is considered the best in the world. Follow the blue link above to read my story.

Some of Gaziantep's famed baklava makers. © Gail Simmons

Some of Gaziantep’s famed baklava makers.         © Gail Simmons

Learn to be a travel writer in Sicily

As well as writing about places, I also teach writing about places (see the ‘Academic & Tutoring’ tab on this website for details). Even better, I teach about writing about places in one of the most beautiful places I know: Sicily. So if you would like to come to Sicily, immerse yourself in its beauty and culture and learn how to put your experience into words that newspapers and magazines will want to publish, why not come on my travel-writing holiday? I look forward to seeing you!

Me, writing about Sicily in Sicly

Me, writing about Sicily in Sicly

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Jordan: Before Petra

In April I returned to one of my favourite countries, Jordan, to write a story about its amazing Neolithic archaeology. Although most people know Jordan for Petra (and perhaps also the Dead Sea and Wadi Rum), not many visitors know that Jordan has some of the most important Neolithic sites in the world. I went to discover some of these sites, which bear evidence of the very beginning of farming and communal living. This is my story.

Photo: George Azar

Photo: George Azar

Autumn in Oxford

I’ve lived in Oxford on and off (though much more on than off) for almost 30 years, and although I know it inside out, I’m always surprised by new discoveries. This is what makes this gorgeous little city so special to me. So when the Telegraph asked me to be their ‘”Oxford expert” I was happy to oblige. As well as writing a comprehensive guide, the gig also involves regular ’round-ups’ of the city. Here’s my latest.