Tag Archives: travel writing

Travel Writing Workshops at Listowel Writers’ Week

Travel writing doesnt just occur in travel books. I’ve been given a book to read called  My Children Have Faces, by Carol Campbell, which is set in the Karoo desert in South Africa. I worked there as an election observer – the first democratic one – and the town I lived in was on the edge of the Karoo. I have one memory, among many, that stands out from that time. We were driving towards a polling station at about 4am and stopped to give a few young lads a lift. When they got in, the car was filled with the heady scent of woodsmoke: they were shepherds and had been guarding their flock throughout the night, keeping warm by their wood fire. It’s a microscopic image of life in South Africa at that time and  one which will stay with me forever.

During the workshops, we’ll focus on the different senses that help bring alive a memory. If you’ve already enrolled or are planning to do so ( http://www.writersweek.ie) maybe think about bringing along one memory you have that you can summon up courtesy of scent.

See you there?

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Listowel Travel Writing Workshops

Listowel: Travel Writing Workshops

There’s nothing like chatting to another travel writer to feel the feet itching to get out on the road. last week, I sat by a glowing log fire, going at it hammer and tongs with Dervla Murphy, she on the beer and myself on the hot whiskey. Turns out we’d both been in Cape Town on that memorable day when Nelson Mandela made his first speech in the new, democratic parliament. She’d been there writing a book (travel writers do it on the hoof) while I had been there as an international election observer. Two people, different stories.
It made me wonder – what is it that makes a travel book sparkle? Right now, I’d say it’s the people you meet on the way. It’s people who give life to a place and it’s the people who will endure.
My last book is about Syria, an unhappy place right now. But if there’s any ray of hope, it’s the one that says the people of Syria – wherever they are – who keep the flame burning because it’s they, the people of Syria, who walk through my book. They were the ones who invited me in for a cup of tea, who passed me from one hotel ( think family-run hostel) to the next, who fixed my bike and/or my lumpy mattress, who listened patiently to my basic Arabic…
So, for the travel writing workshops at Listowel Writers Week, among other things, we’ll be zooming in on overheard conversations, on what people wear, how they walk, the food we are offered and who cooks it. We’ll observe the differences between men and women in some cultures ( including Ireland) and how the travel writer fits themselves into these differing scenarios.
If you’ve already signed up for the workshops ( May 28,29,30) maybe write a few paras concentrating on this aspect of travel writing and email them to me by May 23rd. But no pressure.
But if you haven’t signed up, then it’s not too late. Give them a ring in Listowel on 00353(0)68 21071 or check out the website: http://www.writersweek.ie
Any which way, see you there…

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Travel and travel writing events. See you there?


What’s happenng?

March 05 1900

National Library of Ireland, Kildare St Dubln  http://www.nli.ie

“Adventurous Irish Women” including two pioneering women aviators


March 08  20:00 Liberty Hall, Dublin.

” Margery Kempe – a noisy, obstreperous woman”

March 10 19:30

Radley Primary School, Near Oxford. Radley History Club

Readings from The Blessings of a Good Thick Skirt including a love tryst in old Damascus

March 13 14:00

Rewley House, Oxford U3A

Readings from My Home is Your Home A Journey Round Syria

March 29  14:00

Chester Beatty Library, Dubln  http://www.cbl.ie

Mar Mousa, Nabk. In conjunction with award-winning film-maker.

May 03 14:30

Achill Island, Mayo. Heinrich Boll Memorial Weekend

Seminar: “The nuts and bolts of travel writing”


Reading: My Home is Your Home A Journey Round Syria

Full details http://www.heinrichboellcottage.com

May 29 – 31

Listowel Writers Week, Kerry.

3 half day workshops on travel and travel writing.  Please see http://www.writersweek.ie for details of workshops and how to enrol.

I’m at all of these and great if you can manage at least one of them. See you there?


  Please check out my website for more info: http://www.maryrussell.info


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Omagh, home of poets – and Ben Kiely.

It’s not hard to like the small town of Omagh. Tucked snugly into the valley of the Strule river, in the county of Tyrone, it is of manageable size.There’s the Court House, a few bridges over the river, the well-stocked Carlisle bookshop – and the marvellous Strule Arts Centre with a lecture theatre, conference rooms, a café, recording studio and, for free, a terrific overview of the river which, at this point, has a fish path created to aid the salmon as they make their mystical journey back up the river.


Omagh is the home of Benedict Kiely, prolific writer, joker and raconteur, whose memory is celebrated with the Ben Kiely Literary Weekend, held every year in September.

This year, the theme was travel with artist Eamon Coleman showing his work in Northern Ireland for the first time. Writers included Carol Drinkwater, Afric McGlinchey, Patricia Craig and Eoin Bourke with Paul Clements and Manchan Magan leading a discussion on travel and travel writing. My own contribution was on Sunday morning when I read from my book on Syria – and even found someone in the audience who spoke Arabic.

It was a great gathering of townspeople and others from further away such as Glenties and Portaferry – where, on a sailing jaunt, I was once left high and dry. Literally. That was the boat, by the way, not me.

Saturday afternoon, we were given an unexpected treat: a bus ride out into the hinterland of Omagh. Parked high up on Pigeon Top


, we had a stupendous view of the Sperrin mountains and, looking dead straight ahead westwards, Muckish and the volcanic cone of Errigal: Donegal – my soul home! (The graffiti comes free, by the way.)


   Then we side-tracked along a private road to the site of an old mass rock. This is our shepherd – Frank Sweeney.Image

Tucked into the hillside where no one could see them, the people used to come here in the penal days and now, once year, they still come to make their local pilgrimage. The place is Corradinna with the land made available by the two local people.


 Next up was Langfield Church in Drumquin and a lovely walk to the former rectory there along a secret, sunlit path.


Strule Arts Committee member Georgina Millar now owns the rectory and the cherry on the cake was a chance to hear her play the piano. A serene occasion.


 On the way back, we passed through Dromore where Ben Kiely’s parents met and where he was born before they moved to Omagh and from where he eventually moved to Dublin’s Donnybrook.

 But wait. I’ve forgotten something. Another deviation took us to the waterfall at Sloughan which, if you want to pretend to be a local, you pronounce Slavin.


It was here that the Black Bush was produced and where, with Frances Kiely and Ben’s old friend Stephen McKennaImage, we drank Ben’s health.

It must surely be something in the water – or the whiskey – for this area has produced many writers: Seamus Heaney is only a stone’s throw away in Derry, Flann O Brien is in nearby Strabane and the great John Montague is from just down the road in Garavaghy. Truly, Omagh is a special place.

The annual Ben Kiely Literary Festival is run by volunteers with the support of Omagh District Council. To find out more, email struleartscentre@omagh.gov.uk

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More about Lismore and Immrama

Grieving that I can’t be in Lismore this weekend, June 14thImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageore this year for the travel writing fest. Great line up including Paul Theroux. Here are a few images from last year when I was there courtesy of the Deise Link, Main speaker was Jan Morris along with Colin Thubron,Diana Gleadhill but it was the great people of Lismore who made it all so nmemorable. Have a marvellous time, y’all.Image

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There’s more to Lismore than you’d think

Lismore 1

In 2012, I was lucky to be invited to the great travel writing festival that is held in Lismore every year. Last year was the tenth anniversary so it was a celebratory year. While there, I visited St Carthage’s Cathedral. As always, when I visit a church, I check out the holy book to see what page is open for that day and this time,in Lismore,  I found the Gospel open at the page below. Who’d have  thought it?

                                             Lis more June 2012 014

And no, the rector (if that was his correct title) hadn’t chosen that page especially, he told me later. It had been pure chance. It’s this sort of serendipitous moment that makes a writer’s day. Or anyone’s day, for that matter.

Lismore is full of history and here’s another mention that resonates all the way from Ireland to Jerusalem and back again.

Lis more June 2012 010

 Henry ll was the father of Richard l who set off on a crusade, intent on wresting the great city of Jerusalem from the Kurdish warrior, Salahadin. He failed.

 Watch this space: I’ll be back with more great images of last year’s travel writing festival. And all the carry-on that makes Lismore such a great friendly place to visit.

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If travel writing is for you….

Two books worth looking at and better still buying:  portobello kitchen dec 2012 003My Home is Your Home A Journey Round Syria by Mary Russell

On the Map by Simon Garfield

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