Welcome to EPISODE 17 of the Art In Fiction Podcast!
Do you love reading novels set in locations you hope to visit? Then you have to explore TripFiction (www.tripfiction.com).
In this episode, I interview Tina Hartas who developed TripFiction to provide readers with an easy way to find novels set in specific locations around the world. We talk about technology and marketing and our mutual love of books. And as you'll discover in this episode, TripFiction was the inspiration for Art In Fiction.
Press Play right now and be sure to check out TripFiction at www.tripfiction.com
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Hello and welcome to the Art In Fiction Podcast. My name is Carol Cram and in today’s episode I’m speaking with Tina Hartas, a fellow website developer and book lover. Tina developed TripFiction to provide readers with an easy way to find novels set in specific locations around the world. In fact, as I speak about in our interview, TripFiction was my inspiration for Art In Fiction!
You’ll find TripFiction at www.tripfiction.com. You can join the site to add new books to the database, write reviews for the books you read, receive the monthly newsletters, and take part in weekly giveaways. And if you’re listening to this episode before November 15, 2020, you can enter the first TripFiction Sense of Place Creative Writing Competition.
Welcome to the Art In Fiction Podcast, Tina.
Hi, it's lovely to be here.
I'm just thrilled to be able to talk to you today because as you know, TripFiction was the inspiration for Art In Fiction. I can't even remember when I stumbled across your website. I think I was uploading my own novel, The Towers of Tuscany, to it and I just thought, wow, what a fantastic idea, what you've done. I'd like to do the same thing in the arts.
So let's start off with you telling us a little bit about the origin of TripFiction.
Well, it goes back a long way because I always loved to travel and I've really enjoyed reading books that are set in the location to where I'm going. And, you know, that was fine for several years. And then we went to Vienna and I thought, oh, I'll just have a look and see what books are there and the only thing I could find was The Fig Eater, which I'd already read. And it was set at turn of the century, Weimar time period. And there was nothing else I could find. I thought, this is funny, took it with me again. It was very pleasant reading it there.
And just the idea of, some kind of idea was just coming to fruition. And then we had a family holiday, we flew to Bangkok and I was going through the local airport and I bought a book that was obviously set in Bangkok because it's called Bangkok Tattoo. And we went and settled in our hotel and we started reading and then I just suddenly realized that all the action that was happening in this book was actually going on about five floors down in the hotel.
And I thought, oh, this is amazing. So we'll trundle down and we went to have a look and it was just, it was lovely to actually sort of think that the characters were in these streets. I could visualize what they were doing. So it made my experience of being in Bangkok just that much more real. And then going back to my book, I thought, you know, this is like three, four, five, five-D, experience. It's lovely!
So after that, how did you then decide to launch this fantastic website?
Well, it just, it percolated a little bit more. And then maybe two or three years after that, I was sitting having a glass of wine with my husband and we thought, well, we're sort of coming towards retirement. We're not there yet, but wouldn't it be fun to do something like that. And we basically decided then and there, then we got a couple of friends. So, they were the children of friends who just graduated from university and they started us off with a small website and some small graphics and the rest is history.
Well for people who have not actually seen TripFiction yet, can you describe it for us? Like, what will I get when I go there?
Well, when you're going to the website, you come to the home page and that gives you all access to all the different paths. So, you could first of all search for a book by location, you can also search by genre. Most people come in, they choose their location. So if they're going to Venice, they'll put in "Venice" and then a list of all our Venice books comes up.
We then highlight and review various books that we choose or that we feel our readers would love to read. We also do various things, like, at the moment, we've just in fact launched our "Sense of Place" creative writing competition. So there's always a lot going on. There's a little sort of flash where we can actually highlight things that we want people to see. So it's really, it's all about books and it's a little bit about travel as well and combining the two.
I noticed that you are having your competition. I thought that's just fantastic. You know, well, you're several years ahead of Art In Fiction because you've been doing it for a lot longer, because that's something I want to do too. I thought, wow, it's fantastic. You're, you're sort of like my guru.
Ah, so sweet!
So what is your mission with TripFiction?
I think to keep building it so that we do become the authority for books and travel and travel by book. And we're certainly getting that. I mean, I've got 10,000 followers on Twitter, which is really great. And we really just enjoy the books. We enjoy meeting new people. You know, how else would I have met you otherwise?
Well, exactly, it is amazing, isn't it? I know, I've met so many people doing this.
I know, and I just think the social media, I mean, a lot of people are very down on social media, but for us it's just been nothing virtually other than positive. So, so that's been great—meeting people, finding new books. I think for me finding the books that you don't find in the booksellers necessarily, you can occasionally pick out just a gem and that's the delight.
Well, I agree that I find the same thing when I'm looking for books that are inspired by the arts. So how do you find your listings? Do you, like, search the net, word of mouth? How do you do that?
The first 5,000 books, we actually just trolled through the net and went to other websites. In fact there are quite a few websites out there that gave us the listings. There's Amazon, we just troll through. The newspapers have lists for every month or every week looking for them.
So we had to do it basic, basic, really enervating research at the beginning. And now a lot of people come and add their own books and help us. So we've got quite a community going, which is lovely.
I noticed that, yes. So how many books do you actually have on TripFiction now?
Well, we're actually on a mission to really build up the numbers of books. I think we've got over, it's like 14,000 books at the moment which feature 2000, in fact, 2,100 locations. So, but bearing in mind, we've been doing this for seven years and, there's an awful lot of dog's body admin, which takes up a lot of time.
Yeah, but you're enjoying it so that's the main thing.
And actually, one of my Pinterest pages I started off because I trained as an art historian. So I've always been interested. So I always look at your site and sort of think, wow, that's, that's all so wonderful. Particularly for art, for me picking up books. There's some wonderful books out there that really feature artists and over the history of the decades.
There are, there's, there's a surprising number actually, but I don't think we'll get to 10,000. There's not quite as many as there are for TripFiction.
I don't know, there are lots and lots of new ones coming out.
I do see new ones coming out all the time, which is amazing. And, you know, because we feature all the different arts. So I'm amazed at the things that people are inspired by. Because that's what inspires me. I think that's the, that's the similarity between what you've done and what I've done is that we looked at what we liked, you know, you love to travel and you like to read about where you travel.
I love the arts, et cetera, and then just developed this website and hoped that other people would like it too, which they do.
Which is lovely, isn't it? And I just sort of sometimes, thinking about the books maybe that you've written or about Michelangelo, when they're put into fiction, it brings them to life in a way that reading a textbook just doesn't.
No, it doesn't. I just love how so many authors can take these wonderful people and make these fantastic stories out of them. I mean, we've, we've got quite a few of them. So how do you sort of advertise and market TripFiction?
Like, what's your most successful platform?
Probably Twitter, because I probably feel most comfortable on Twitter. Instagram has proven to, we're getting into Instagram now, but you know, when you get all these influencers, it's really hard to understand what they're doing to get to these incredible numbers.
But we're moving along on Instagram, so that's good. But I think for me, Twitter is my most natural platform because I love the serendipitous nature of who you meet and suddenly you'll find an account. We also use Facebook and that's just changing into a new format, which is proving a little bit tricky. I can't run my page, the TripFiction page, off my own account. It keeps just stalling. And so I've written to them, but Facebook being Facebook, we wait for them to respond.
Yes. They call all the shots.
We also had a lucky break because I think with all the coronavirus around, people have decided we can't travel. What's the next best thing? Oh, let's pick up a book and so that has been, trickily quite helpful to us. You know, if I can say that. That's, that's been helpful.
Yes. It's interesting that for, for you, actually coronavirus has, has been a benefit, you know, in terms of getting people to read because yeah, we can't travel anymore. So, we still want to, so we'll go read about it. I don't know if people are reading more now. I kind of hope they are, but I, haven't noticed...
Articles are saying that people are picking up a lot more books and some people are actually choosing to read about, you know, pandemics. So I guess that falls into two counts. You either choose to do that or you really probably would steer clear. What would you do?
I was actually writing the sequel to The Towers of Tuscany just when the pandemic hit in March. And of course it's set in the 14th century, so there's plague. And at that point I went, I don't want to do it. I don't want to write about the plague when there's a real one going on. So I switched and I got Love Among the Recipes ready for publication because it was light and fluffy and Paris. And it was sort of, you know, everything that the world wasn't at the time. So it's interesting that people are actually wanting to read about the pandemic, or about, you know, sort of dystopian kind of things. I don't, not right now.
One book and it had the biggest, because I did a video review of it and it was set in London and it was about a pandemic, but it was written in 2005 and it was rejected by all the publishers because it was too real. But reading it now, honestly, he must have done his research. It was just so spot on and it was scary.
Yeah, wow. Who are the people behind TripFiction? Is it just you and your husband or have you got a team?
No, we have two other people. So we have Charlotte who is based in Berlin and she's our Instagram guru. Then we have Andrew down in London who is basically a travel writer. And he liked the idea of reading and books, traveled with my book concept. So in days before coronavirus, he often would attend some of the launches for books. Being down in the South, we're up in the North, and he would go to launches on our behalf. And he's kind of keeping the travel side really going and also helping with the admin.
Yes. Which there is a lot of it. I know, I have somebody helping me with that. Thank goodness. Otherwise I wouldn't have survived. When you, when you were starting your business, starting TripFiction, what was the most difficult aspect of starting a successful website?
That's a really good question. I think becoming confident on the computer and with a website and when you upgrade your website from one to the other, actually, informing the tech guys what it is you need and want because unless you give them a really good spec, they create something that actually might not fit your needs.
And I think being very specific and ordered, which I am not naturally, was one of the hardest tasks. In fact, Tony is very, very good at that because he's done a lot of that. You know, he put the spec out and I would then help him and getting to know social media. I mean, my goodness, I started from nothing and made quite a few mistakes as I went along. But it all, it seems to work okay now.
Yeah, I think it's incredible. So what do you think has made TripFiction successful?
I think a lot of it's word of mouth, as much as anything, I think, Twitter has helped. We couldn't have done this without social media. We also couldn't have done the whole concept because you know, computers and what they can do now, they couldn't do 10 years ago. So this is only something we can do relatively recently. And yeah. So I think those are the things that really kind of helped push us forward.
So what are some of your favorite places to read about?
I'd probably say the whole world. No. Well I think I certainly read Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. Um, that kind of gave me an interest in going to Mumbai. And we went to Mumbai four years ago and we've been back to India since then. And in fact, we were booked to go to India over this Christmas, but I think that won't be happening.
So that kind of gave me an interest for a country that I had very little sense of. And so I will read any books I can get hold of that's set in India because it's so, it's so different. There's such interesting mixed history there. There's always a lot of color. And so, India. I always love Europe, Berlin, Venice. Yeah, I'd love to go back to the States, but I guess that's going to be some time before that can happen.
I know, for people who love travel, this is very difficult, for sure.
So you're based, you're based in Vancouver, aren't you?
I live on a little island near Vancouver. We have to take a ferry.
That sounds idyllic.
It's actually a great place to be. Yes. Because I can go to the beach every day and we're perfectly safe out here because there's not a lot of people around and Canada's done very well with, with it. I mean, it's up and down, but, but we've more or less done quite well.
And do you feel you have good leadership?
Yes. Excellent. You have all genres on TripFiction. What's your favorite?
Probably just ordinary fiction fiction. I like a bit of historical fiction. I'll read, virtually read anything. I'm not really into sci fi, science fiction myself, but I just generally like a lot of fiction. So if I think about what I've got, I've got a lot of contemporary books on the go.
I'm looking forward to reading The Glass Kingdom by Lawrence Osborne. And he is supposed to be the Graham Greene of our present era. And I've really enjoyed everything he's written. It's quite dark, quite a dark author. So yeah, that's the next one I'm looking forward to reading and um, yeah, I'll give anything a go.
Yes, I feel the same way. I just, horror and science fiction are two that I don't like, but otherwise I do. And what I'm thinking about TripFiction, I mean, every novel is set somewhere, but sense of place must have to be a little bigger in order for you to choose it for TripFiction, I'm guessing, like, what, what are your criteria?
Yeah, I mean, we don't really have any criteria. But when you pick up a book and you've read it, you know if it has a good sense of place or not. Occasionally, publishers will send us books and you read it and it may be set in London, but it's only tentatively set there. And so I will still read it. I will still review it, but it kind of gets an, one grade in the location area because there's no location there, which doesn't affect the quality of the writing or anything.
But I have to say, I never now pick up a book that doesn't have some location and it's just, it's become a habit and I'm not sure I could pick up any other book now, which is maybe a bit depressing. I don't know.
Well, actually I'm finding the same thing. I'm like, oh, it doesn't have anything to do with the arts. Oh, I can't read it, which is not good.
It's, it's really hard. And because that sometimes makes it feel quite narrow sometimes, but you know, hey, life's too short. I'm quite happy doing what I'm doing, so.
Yeah. There's only so much time to read all of these amazing books.
Time for a short break!
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And now back to the show.
So tell me a little bit more about your competition that you are just launched for a creative writing competition for 'Sense of Place'.
We decided it was actually a good way to get people to really think about what sense of place means. and because we, we liked the idea of travel writing. There's been Andrew who has very much helped us kind of fashion that area of the website. And we thought it's a very good idea to maybe raise a bit of money. We're going to have to move to a bigger server next year and that's going to cost us quite a lot because we're so big, we can't share with anybody else anymore.
We're just really looking forward to seeing what people are going to write. Because I think the sense of place is, is quite, it's quite tricky to write, to get it really right. And but it's, it's fun. And you know, if you've got somewhere that you really, really love, putting that into words must be incredibly a lovely thing to do.
And it must be fiction, I presume, like a story.
Well, yeah, it could be, or it could be a memoir. It's really anything, any writing where location is strong, where the setting is strong. I mean, I've worked for Stanfords and I've been a judge on their travel writing awards, Fiction, With a Sense of Place. And they would always select six books that we judge. And then there's always one winner.
And, you know, it's just been lovely reading books that are particularly strong on location. So, you know, I guess we looked at what they did every year because they had travel writing awards and we thought, well, you know, we can do something perhaps not on the large scale that they can, but you know, we can do our own thing and get people inspired.
Yes, yes, no. I was really excited to see that, I thought what a fantastic idea. And so I wish you well with that. I'm a little tempted of actually writing something, but we'll see.
You could do one down the line for the arts. I mean, I think that would be just so wonderful.
Well, it's, it's definitely on my list. So that's why I got a real kick out of it when I saw that you were doing, I said, oh, they're way ahead of me. But yes, I would love to do that to have a competition about writing about the arts, because you know, so many people do it and there's so many amazing things that are being written. But yeah, one thing at a time I just started the podcast. So...
I think it's really hard because you have to learn to edit, you have to work out what works and it's taken me about a year to work out how to do YouTube and get it to a level where I sort of think that's good enough for the moment until I get some more professional input. There's a lot of learning.
A lot of learning, which is good. I think, I think we're at a fairly similar period in our lives, age wise, in that, you have to keep learning, you have to keep going forward. You can't just, there's no such thing as retirement, I think.
No. And just testing yourself as well. It's taking on something new. So I was thinking when I was, when you kindly invited me onto the podcast, oh, you know, that's something we really should look at. I thought, I have not got enough hours in the day to, to actually research and try and work out how to do it.
I wanted to ask you now about your YouTube interviews. Because that's not something I could even contemplate right now, but tell me about it. What are you doing with that?
Well, basically I will do to screen some reviews, so that's fine. In fact, I met a guy at the Apple shop and went on one of their half-hour training courses. And I think, I think they offered me three. And by the end of that we'd worked out how to edit and how to put it in the various bits and be a bit creative, put a bit of music in.
And I thought, well, that, that was a really great basis. And I thought how great these guys are. You pay a lot for their equipment, but they actually give you a lot of support. And I thought that was a really good shout-out to them that they support the people who have bought their products. And so that was my basic learning. And then of course, I fiddled on, lost a tape I've made or lost a video I've made and you learn as you go along.
So, it's been a big learning curve. I have to say. It's not easy.
No, it's not easy, but I think it does keep you young. So on your YouTube one, you are interviewing other authors on it.
We started to interview other authors, so the last one I did was Gill Paul, and we had a great chat about her new book which is coming out, which in England is called The Second Marriage. And it's basically about Jackie Kennedy and Maria Callas. And it's a great read, by the way.
Yeah, so we did a joint interview on the Zoom and then we had that unfortunate thing where it comes up and says, Ah, you're breaking up, and it then jams. And so then I really had to be on my metal and start working out how to edit, which we did, took me forever. But otherwise I generally just do reviews of books that I've read that I think are good and would like to push out there.
So why did you choose to do them on YouTube?
I think I'm quite a visual person and I like the visual things and it just seemed to be, once we got through social media on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, et cetera, and Pinterest, it just seemed to be the next thing to try and do, I guess. And it's an obvious one, YouTube, a lot of people use YouTube, and I've seen other authors and book bloggers use it. And I thought, well, maybe that's something I need to embark on.
Well, maybe I should be thinking about that in the future. Oh, no, something else. Actually. It's interesting because last night I started uploading the Art In Fiction Podcast to YouTube because I heard that you should have your podcasts on YouTube as well, even though it's only audio. Every day, there's something new to learn.
It all moves on so quickly and it's so hard to keep up with it and work out the next big thing that you need to do. It's, it's very challenging, I would say.
So what is in the future for you? I mean, you've got the YouTube, you've got your new competition. What else are you thinking about?
Well, we've actually started off offering giveaways, and we've got a great Venetian giveaway coming up at the end of September which is Murano glass and some, some lovely bits in that giveaway, but generally we tend to offer books every Sunday evening for people to enter the competition. It helps publishers and authors promote their books and, you know, they use our platform, which means we then get visitors.
So everybody's kind of happy and we're now booked out till the beginning of January with our giveaways, so that that's nice. And it's just being creative. I think the way you stay ahead of the game is finding new creative ways to get the message out there. And I think people have found that without having any face to face meetings, people have had to be much more creative on Zoom. Book launches have had to be on Zoom, and you just have to keep being creative and, and that's quite tiring and, and a big challenge.
I'm going to have to launch mine virtually and I'm thinking, wow, that's going to be new, but anyway, well, we'll try. So any other advice you would have for someone who was interested in books and wanted to start a book website like you have?
I think, if we look back on what we did, we actually had the sons of friends started off. I think I would go straight to some tech guys who, because they were both at university, they got us started. And then we had to rebuild quite a lot of new things as we suddenly grew big.
So it's probably worth starting out, if you're not confident doing it yourself, with the tech guys right at the beginning. And it's probably not as expensive as you think it's going to be. So you need a vision of where you want to be. Very often you'll go off, you'll go on the side roads to get to where you want to be. But that's all part of the learning process. Don't be frightened, go for it, because these days, I think you've really got to go for stuff that you feel passionate about.
So I think passion is the most important thing. If you love it, as I said earlier, other people probably love it as well. And I think more and more, and especially in this world, we need the connection because now we don't have the personal connections as much as we did. So, and of course, obviously you love books as I love books.
And I think books are a real good way of people connecting. Because I think the one big thing we found is that Tony and I often would read the same book and then we'd often chat about what we thought. Now we cannot afford, we don't have the time to read the same book. We have to read individual books. So that's a little bit of a downside for us.
So you both read and review the books then.
Yeah. In fact, we've got about five reviewers. Well, that's including Tony and myself, but so we've got another three reviewers who actually review the books for us and they're very happy to do it. And so we've got a very diverse cross section of people reviewing, which is just lovely because everybody has a slightly different take, a slightly different way of writing. And that's worked really well.
Yes, yes. That's something I want to think about is getting more reviewers to help because yeah, you can only read so many books. I've found lately I'm getting into audio books. Aren't they wonderful?
They're wonderful. I love it because I go for maybe a five, six mile walk every couple of days. And I plug myself into my audio book and away I go and I, it's like, I'm doing something, I'm looking around, but I'm also listening to something that's really keeping me entertained.
It's the ultimate multi-tasker, yes, I know, I've, I'm really excited by it. I go for walks and listen to that, or even just doing housework, which I don't do a lot of, but if I was, it's a great way to you know, just to keep doing stuff, but also listening. Yeah. I'm a huge fan of audio books and driving too.
Hoovering, yes. Oh, I love that. I used to live in England, so I love hearing that.
What would you call it?
I used to live not far from you. I lived in Durham for a year.
Well, that is 40 minutes from us.
Yes. You're near Newcastle.
Yeah. Yeah. We're on the Tyne Valley. So, quite rural and yes, I know Durham well.
Yes. I had my trip all planned. I was going there this summer.
Well, we would have met up, but maybe next year.
Next year. I hope so. Yeah, well we're still trying to decide if we should book for next year or not. My husband's an artist and he had shows in Europe this summer and we had to cancel those, but, I don't know. Nobody knows.
No, it's just, I mean, once the vaccine comes, I think people will be able to move on. Hopefully.
So thanks so much, Tina, for chatting with me about TripFiction, this has just been fascinating. You are my inspiration.
Oh, thank you so much. It's been an absolute pleasure and I look at your site and I think I wish we'd done that. We could do that. We could do that. So I think it's just lovely to have someone else in a slightly different field, making their own way.
And we should definitely keep cross-checking because if we make advances in one area, you know, we can share how we did that with you and vice versa.
Every time I go to your site and went, oh, I don't do that. That's, they got a book club. That's cool. And so it's, it's great. Yeah. I've just loved that, I don't feel the sites are competition. They are complimentary.
It's a lovely overlap, which I think is great synergy and it's all about the books and some great books out there.
There are some great books. Well, thank you so much.
It's been lovely. Thank you very much for having me.
I've been speaking with Tina Hartas, the creator of TripFiction, an awesome website where you can find novels set in locations around the world. Find TripFiction at www.tripfiction.com. If you’re listening to this episode before November 15, 2020, you can enter the first TripFiction "Sense of Place" Creative Writing Competition.
Be sure to check the show notes for the link to receive a $20 Amazon gift card when you sign up for a paid plan on Buzzsprout.
Visit Art In Fiction at www.artinfiction.com, please follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and don't forget to leave the Art In Fiction Podcast a positive review or rating wherever you get your podcasts.
Thanks so much for listening.