Guest Post and GIVEAWAY: Time Traveler Tours: A Phoenix Rises

Phew! This past month teaching creative writing in Barcelona has been intense. The program wrapped up yesterday, the end of an exhilarating, exhausting, and amazing ride. I was inspired by imaginative students, learned my way around a vibrant city, made new friends, reignited my love of Spanish language, doubted myself then grew in confidence: Wow. I am really doing this!

I hope to share more soon, but there’s a lot to process. In the meantime, I’m happy to have a special guest on the blog today. I’ve known Sarah Towle mainly online the past couple of years and “watched” as she developed a new app designed to bring French history to life for young people. I got the chance to catch up with her in person at the Paris Writers’ Workshop, where I was a presenter right before I left for Spain. (Did I tell y’all about that? So many exciting things this summer!)

Sarah is here to tell us more about her journey and to offer FREE DOWNLOADS of her app to three lucky winners. Thanks, Sarah!

Time Traveler Tours: A Phoenix Rises

Sarah Towle of Time Traveler Tours

Mine was an (im)perfect beginning in every sense of the word. On the one hand, it was Paris. With its iconic sites, belle vie and bonne cuisine, not to mention limitless opportunities to access history and culture, what was not to like? On the other hand, the French authorities made themselves perfectly clear: As the trailing spouse, I would be forbidden to seek work in my profession. In fact, I would not be allowed to work at all.

My reaction? They’ve got to be kidding!

I refused to believe they were serious. This was the globalized 21st century. I had 25 years experience, much of it international. I had impressive degrees, having studied and worked at major universities around the world, and great recommendations. And I’d been brought up to believe that with a positive outlook, some good old-fashioned ingenuity, and as much perspiration as necessary, anything was possible. I was certain that, given time, I’d be able to make the right connections and find my way around, under, over, or through their laws.

But I was wrong. French bureaucracy is a truly formidable foe. In the end, it wore me down. It turned me prematurely gray. I gave up, threw in the towel, raised a white flag, but I would not surrender in defeat.

If I was going to work, I would just have to start over.

It never occurred to me to blog. Instead, I took the more traditional route. I decided to write a book. I would combine all my experience, passions, knowledge, and skill as a language teacher, expat, mother, historian, and world traveler to write a new generation of travel guide for the next generation of traveler.

It would be a mash up of the Horrible Histories and The Lonely Planet, a kind of American Girl Series, but for historic destinations and targeted to a slightly older crowd.

Called Time Traveler Tours, each chapter would be a voyage to a different era – starting with the history of Paris – in the company of a narrator/tour guide whose actions helped shape their time. In addition to a cool story, readers/users would be compelled forward on a custom itinerary thanks to treasure hunts, games, and puzzles related to the sites visited along the way.

I took my axe into the woodshed and honed it for next three years, coming out only for the guided tours and monument and museum visits necessary to my research. In 2009 I emerged ready to take on the world, a proposal and three sample chapters in hand. But this time it was the economic crisis that forced a change in my hopes and plans.

Editors loved the concept and extolled the execution, but declined, always regretfully, to take the project on. It was too risky in a rapidly shrinking industry with an increasingly unclear future road map.

One top editor, however, insisted that I publish it myself, and offered me editorial support. That’s all I needed to stand back up again. But I decided to test it first.

I produced one chapter, the hardest one, into an A5 book. I figured if I could make the French Revolution interesting and accessible to my audience – youth (12+) and their adult traveling companions – then I could do anything. I sent it out into the world with 48 13- and 14-year-olds. And this is what they said:

We loved the character’s voice. We loved the concept of learning history through story. And we really enjoyed the interactive activities and games. But we didn’t like having to stop and read at each new itinerary point. That was too much like school. To be honest, Sarah, we think your project would make a much better app.

Out of the mouths of babes.

So, two years ago in 2010, with my brand new iPhone in hand, I returned to the wood shed. I learned how to make a wire frame and a spec doc. I learned how to record and edit audio. I learned all about image rights and how to obtain them. I discovered such things as UI (user interface) and UX (user experience) and X-Code and Objective C. I learned how to talk to technical people and I assembled a team on a shoestring, including a programmer, graphic artist, editor, and translator all of whom threw their support and belief behind the project.

One year ago exactly, we launched our prototype, English-only version of Beware Mme la Guillotine, A Revolutionary Tour of Paris. It was an Apple New & Noteworthy App right out off the starting block. It then went on to become a Top 10 2011 App, alongside Academy Award-winning, The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore and other incredible projects.

In January 2012, we re-launched the app in its fully bilingual, French-English, iteration. And Last week it was named one of ten finalists in the World Youth & Student Travel Conference 2012 App Yap Contest.

Out of proverbial ashes, a phoenix can rise. But, it sometimes needs help to spread wings and fly. We’d appreciate your support. Please click this link and vote: Time Traveler Tours.

If you’re really excited about the project, and we hope you are, you can vote for us everyday for the entire month of August. Thanks!

Join the celebration – Win a free download

Answer ONE of the following questions in the comments below and win a free download of Beware Mme la Guillotine, A Revolutionary Tour of Paris. Hint: all answers can be found here: (If you know more than one answer leave it for someone else – you only need one correct answer to win! Three winners will be randomly selected from all those who have correctly answered a question by Friday, August 3).

• Who did Charlotte kill on July 13, 1793 and where?
• What weapon did Charlotte use to kill him and where did she buy it?
• What was the French name of the victim’s journal and where was it printed?

Good luck!


12 Responses to “Guest Post and GIVEAWAY: Time Traveler Tours: A Phoenix Rises”

  1. 2 Chris Colyer August 1, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Marat in his bath.


  2. 3 Liene August 1, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    A knife bought at the Palais-Royale!


  3. 4 Amy Kortuem August 1, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    What an awesome account of molding skills to meet the circumstance and era. Thanks for sharing!

    And I can’t wait to hear all about your Barcelona teaching experiences, Sion. Sounds like you had a great adventure.


  4. 6 Malcolm Taylor August 1, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    Marat, in his bath,


  5. 7 Aude August 2, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    What an amazing project! Paris is one of the most historically rich cities — finding a way to get teenagers interested in it with this app is simply brilliant. I hope you’ll create many many more tours. Good luck!


  6. 9 Jeanne August 3, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    Jean-Paul Marat in his bathtub! Great app!


  7. 10 Sweet Freak August 9, 2012 at 3:13 am

    Bravo, Sarah!

    Can’t wait to hear about your Spanish and teaching adventures, Sion! xo


  8. 12 pretemoiparis August 11, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Sarah… What an inspiring story! I don’t have an iphone (I’m on Android) so I’m not entering the contest but I wanted to say how mucj I appreciate you telling this story from your life! It is truly amazing.


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paris (im)perfect?

Sion Dayson is paris (im)perfect. Writer, dreamer, I moved to France on – no exaggerating – a romantic whim. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong (and very right!) with such a (non)plan. These are the (im)perfect stories that result.

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