St Tola goat’s cheese and organic leaves with a tomato, basil and vodka jelly…roast hake on a risotto of pearl barley with a truffle salsa. For a story about eating and drinking stops along Ireland’s river Shannon, the Purple Onion gastro-pub in Tarmonbarry is definitely worth including.
There’s more than food to feast on, too. A gallery showcasing works by Irish artists is an unusual find in a pub. As the village has moorings for vacation cabin cruisers, I can see this being a good story for a boating magazine.
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When it comes to travel writing, think local. Unlike outside writers, you’re the expert on your own area. Having insider knowledge is often the easiest way to break into publications. (I go into this in more detail on the upcoming Get Paid to Travel as a Travel Writer Teleconference. You can listen in—it’s free.)
I should take my own advice more often. Although it’s only about 30 miles from my home, it’s 16 years since I visited Tarmonbarry. As I’m about to start writing an article on Shannon villages, my memories needed refreshing. (Just because a place was charming years ago, doesn’t mean it’s the same today.)
On the surface, Tarmonbarry is a typical riverside village where visitors don’t need to look far for a fishing tackle shop. That sparked another idea. Many Shannon communities hold fishing competitions. Why don’t I get a rod and enter one? I probably wouldn’t win any prizes, but I’m sure I could sell a humorous story to a fishing magazine.
Facts-and-figures research is obviously important, but there’s other research you can do to make your stories sparkle. (Something else you’ll learn on the free teleconference.)
Literature and history are a travel writer’s gold-mine. I often go digging to find what Victorian and earlier writers wrote about a locality. I then usually link the quote to how a place has changed—or not.
“A good puzzle would be to cross Dublin without passing a pub.” So says Leopold Bloom in James Joyce’s classic novel, Ulysses. I haven’t used it yet, but it’s a wonderful opener for a story about Dublin pubs.
Any writer can use quotes to color a story. But for in-depth research, local writers are often better placed. I said Tarmonbarry was a typical Shannon-side village “on the surface”. Great stories often lurk below the surface.
Travel Writing: Think outside the box
Although Ireland is often called the Land of Saints and Scholars, few writers get beyond recounting the story of St Patrick. To me, that’s a waste of some cracking good material.
St Barry, Tarmonbarry’s patron saint, is shamefully neglected. According to legend, he crossed the river Shannon in a stone boat and slew a water monster. If travel writers don’t relate the story, visitors will miss the hidden-in-backroads churchyard where the miraculous stone boat is kept.
At a nearby “holy well” dedicated to St Barry, there’s the remains of a monastic Dark House. An old belief that sleeping at sacred places could cure the mentally afflicted persisted until at least the early 19th century in rural Ireland. At St Barry’s Dark House, they were enclosed for three days and three nights.
As I have a passion for history, mythology and curiosities, I swoon over these kind of esoteric tales. The last time I visited Tarmonbarry it was for an article on Ireland’s holy wells and their associated legends and cures. I sold versions to both The World and I and World of Hibernia.
But the well wasn’t dry yet—I got a check from a less familiar source, too. When researching markets for your stories, think beyond travel publications. Who else might be interested?
My published credits include National Driller: “The No.1 publication among professionals in the drilling and water supply industries”. Somehow I doubt that the editor had ever received a story on Ireland’s holy wells before. I imagine it stood out from the usual submissions about fuel pumps and wastewater solutions.
Use your insider knowledge. Research the less obvious. Find a new angle. This will help to catch an editor’s eye and will make your stories stand out, too.
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