Jan Bowman

Entry # 104 – WRITERS TALK – Cynthia Venables, Travel Writer & Lecturer – Part 1

Cynthia Venables,  Describes Her Travels & Writing

Background Notes:
Cynthia Venables is a Canadian Teacher, Writer, Travel Lecturer who has taught art and art history in Ontario, Canada for over 30 years, most recently for the Continuing Studies Programmes at the University of Toronto, Sir Wilfred Laurier University and Third Age Learning in Kitchener-Waterloo. Cynthia travels the world extensively,  researching and taking photographs, to create art and cultural history lectures which enhance travel itinerary experiences for cruise lines, such as Princess Cruises. Her lectures and photographs awaken the eye and tickle the imagination. When she is not traveling the world by land or sea, Cynthia lives in beautiful Stratford, Ontario, Canada.

Jan:     Cynthia, thank you for taking time from your busy schedule for our interview. Your lecture series that you write and present in the Scholarship@Sea program for Princess Cruise Lines are among the most interesting lectures I’ve ever experienced, and certainly the best I’ve encountered in my own travels.  What led you to explore this career option? 

Cynthia:     Thanks Jan! I have spent a lifetime reading, experiencing, talking and teaching art and art history, something I’ve always found intriguing. I have been very lucky. I was the department head of an art and art history department at two secondary schools in the province of Ontario for thirty years at a time when we had a five-year-programme. On looking back, this was ~lucky~ Grade Thirteen. Unique and enriched courses were offered and there was enough money to make it an elite public education. There were really very few private schools. There was no need. As teachers we had the time to concentrate on developing an interest in our subject, which was a wonderful experience. Many of my students went on to art and art history careers. 
When I retired (to what I call – freedom 54) I had two very nice part-time job offers. One was with a travel agency creating and leading art history related tours to Europe. The other was creating and teaching art history interest courses for the Continuing Studies Department at the University of Toronto. These courses were for adults, six weeks in length with NO marking or evaluation.  After reading endless exams and essays for so many years, I couldn’t bring myself to get the red pen out yet again. And with this job I didn’t have to. Wonderful!

Over the next five years I created and taught art history courses every fall and winter in snowy Toronto, and then I led groups to Europe in the spring and summer. As it turned out, I love teaching adults. They are like my best adolescent students, smart, engaged, and always interesting, but now I had a class full of them. I was in heaven. I began to get offers for teaching adults nearer to where I live in Stratford Ontario, first at the University Women’s Club, and then at classes affiliated with two universities in Waterloo Ontario. 

Many of my students became interested in the art tours I offered and joined me in Europe. But this was all on dry land. 
Jan:     So how did you learn about writing and giving lectures on cruise ships? 
Cynthia:     In 2008 my dear Dad, who loves cruising treated my daughter and me to a cruise extravaganza. We accompanied my parents from New York to Rome on one cruise ship, then we got off and flew to London Heathrow, then we jumped in a taxi.  (Although my parents didn’t jump, they are a bit too old). 
Next we boarded the Queen Mary in Southampton and sailed back to New York City. As a first time cruiser I was worried I would hate it.  After all this involved two Trans-Atlantic crossings back-to-back. But I thought, ‘Oh well, Dad was paying for it so I would be a saint and indulge him.’ After a day out to sea, headed in the general direction of Bermuda, my daughter (now thirty) and I looked at each other and mouthed simultaneously, “We love this!  Quelle surprise!” Once we realized this was heaven, we tried to do it all.
One day after having a busy morning of touring the kitchen, line dancing and then lunch I decided I could fit in a lecture just before high tea. I sat down in the large theatre, the lights went out and I began to hear about the terrible machinations of the Medici Family. Half-way through, it occurred to me this was exactly what I was doing in my lectures on dry land, but this lecture was being given in a much more appealing environment. The people who came to the lectures were the same as those who signed up for Adult Education at the University of Toronto. 
In fact, I met a few who recognized me from having taken courses in Toronto. What were they doing so far away from home? They were travelling, learning and having fun, of course. I mentioned the idea of lecturing on ships to my father, who didn’t stop pestering me until I applied, by snail mail. Three months passed. Then the phone rang, an American number, click-click, perhaps – a robbo call? I was about to hang up when a voice from a great distance speaks,   “Hello, I am Robert Smolkin from Princess Cruises. I got your package.”  Then the adventure began.

Jan:     What background did you bring to writing and preparing your lecture materials?

Cynthia:     I had a great formal art history and history education at McMaster University. I have taught many, many course, created many, many lectures on a range of art history topics, so this gives me confidence to speak with a bit of authority. I love reading history and art history, so as I move in a new direction, I like doing the research and putting the information forward in an understandable way. It is a challenge not unlike a picture puzzle.

Jan:      You combine wonderful visuals, carefully researched topics, and humor to connect with your audiences. You do a lot of your own photographs that you use in your presentations and I must say, they are excellent.    How do you prepare your materials for a given cruise?  What materials are essential to a successful lecture?


Cynthia:     Creating art history lectures is my addiction. This addiction has been fed by the little silver box sitting on my lap, my computer. Usually, I don’t like gadgets and I wasn’t a fan of all the new technology. I was forced to give up my slide projector and thousands of slides before I started lecturing on the ships. After upgrading from a seven-year old Acer to a Macbook, I find that making the lectures, has become much more like an obsession, more like a hobby, than work. I now have a MacAir as well with Keynote, Iphoto and Apperture Apps, all of which makes it almost very stress free.

Since I had to go digital in 2008 (I have two very nice new cameras: a Nikon D60 and a Panasonic snapandshot), I have taken 80,000 photos, yet another addiction. 
I try to weave my own photos into the lectures as often as I can.  Also there are great art history websites for good quality images. I try to let the pictures tell a lot of the story with a little bit of text and then my comments. I try not to repeat the text that is already on the screen. The Keynote App (like Power Point) allows me to have notes on my screen, but I seldom use them as I have a good memory that usually is triggered by the image. I like the lecture to move quickly, and I try to have the image change almost every minute or two. Keeps the audience from falling asleep. 

Cynthia Venables’ – Favorite Quote –
         “Wheresoever you go, 
go with all your heart.”
– -Confucius –

See Part Two of Our Interview with Cynthia Venables 

Next Tuesday, October 30, 2012 – after 4:30 PM EST

for more information about her travels contact 

Please contact Cynthia Venables  519- 2720577 cynthiavenables@hotmail.com for more information and Jane Blowes for information and booking at Blowes Travel and Cruise Centres Inc., 28 Wellington Street, Stratford,Ontario N5A 2L2
Phone: 519-271-5710 Toll Free: 1-800-461-8500 Email:


Jan Bowman’s work has appeared in Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, Broadkill Review, Trajectory, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes, and others. She won the 2011 Roanoke Review Prize for Fiction. Her stories have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best American Short Stories and a story was a finalist in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest. She is working on two collections of short stories and currently shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection. She has nonfiction work pending publication in Spring 2013 Issues of Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers.   Learn more at:
Website – www.janbowmanwriter.com
Blogsite – http://janbowmanwriter.blogspot.com