A tour of literary Dublin – Zafigo.com, February 18 2019

Flick through the pages of Dublin’s history and you’ll discover that from Ireland’s capital, many literary greats have risen. Wander the winding city streets and check out some of the spots that served as an inspiration or were later inspired by their work. Who knows, you might even get some writing ideas of your own!

Literary landmarks

Most visitors to Dublin find themselves in the grounds of the historic Trinity College at some point, but did you know that several famous Irish authors once walked its paths? Bram Stoker (Dracula), Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels), Oscar Wilde (The Importance of Being Earnest), and Samuel Beckett (Waiting for Godot) are just some of the university’s famous alumni. Additionally, the Trinity library, particularly The Long Room, is worth a visit for any book fanatic.

On penning his iconic novel, Ulysses, James Joyce said, “I want to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city suddenly disappeared from the Earth it could be reconstructed out of my book.” Indeed, the author did draw great inspiration from the city. One iconic landmark is Davy Byrne’s Pub, which was frequented by Joyce himself, and also his Ulysses character Leopold Bloom. You can still visit for a pint and some lunch today.

Away from the city centre on Dublin’s south coast is a Martello tower known as the James Joyce Tower. This beautiful building served as the opening location in Ulysses and is now home to the James Joyce Museum.

The old and ornate St Patrick’s Cathedral is worth a visit for Swift fans. It’s the resting place of the author and also houses an impressive collection of memorabilia.

However, not all literary landmarks are as obvious. Monaghan-born poet Patrick Kavanagh’s Lines Written on A Seat on the Grand Canal was inspired by the city’s Grand Canal. His statue can be found on a bench gazing across the water. Keep an eye out for some of the other literary statues dotted around town.

Wining and dining

There’s nothing like some food and drinks to get those creative juices flowing; and the writers of Dublin past were well aware of this. In addition to the aforementioned Davy Byrne’s Pub, McDaid’s is worth paying a visit. This classic traditional pub was once frequented by many famous writers, including Brendan Behan (Borstal Boy) and Austin Clarke (Pilgrimage). Toners Pub can claim WB Yeats (The Lake Isle of Innisfree) and Bram Stoker as some of its former clients, while The Palace Bar was frequented by Irish journalists for decades.

A Dublin Literary Pub crawl will take you to all of the watering holes frequented by famous writers over a fun-filled afternoon. The stunning and ornate Bewley’s Café on Grafton Street is also a must-visit. Open since 1927, the iconic café has welcomed many authors over the years. Works of Irish writers past and present are brought to life in their regular lunchtime theatre experiences.

Museum hopping

Dublin is brimming with museums, many of which pay tribute to its rich literary history. Your first stop should be the Dublin Writer’s Museum. Situated in a stunning 18th century mansion in Parnell Square, it celebrates the lives and works of Dublin’s most prominent literary figures over the past 300 years. Learn more about WB Yeats, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw (Pygmalion) and many more by perusing through their books, letters, and other memorabilia. The museum also holds regular exhibitions and lunchtime readings.

The National Library is a must see for Yeats fans as it’s home to an exhibition on the life of the famous poet. Diaries, letters, and photographs are aplenty in this inspiring audio-visual exhibition. While in the library, be sure to climb the ornate staircase and check out the reading room.

If you want to learn more about James Joyce, but don’t have the time to leave the city, the James Joyce Centre also gives a wonderful insight into the life and works of this great author. In addition, if learning about famous authors leaves you craving for books, the Chester Beatty Library and Marshes Library (the oldest public library in Ireland) should certainly be factored in to the itinerary.

Living legends

The flame of Dublin’s literary legacy burns as strong in modern times as ever. Many world-renowned authors, poets, and playwrights once did or still do call the city home, including the late Maeve Binchy (Circle of Friends), Roddy Doyle (The Snapper), Sebastian Barry (A Long Long Way), and John Boyne (The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas). So, for anyone that aspires to follow in their footsteps, there’s always plenty going on around the city.

Head over to the Dublin Writer’s Centre that hosts various talks and courses led by successful writers, all aimed at budding and experienced writers alike. Writers’ groups are also aplenty, and you’re sure to find one to suit you with a quick search on Meetup.

If you fancy picking up a souvenir or simply browsing through a few novels, dedicate a few hours to The Winding Stair bookshop. This beautiful store is brimming with second-hand and new books, with a café to chill in afterwards.

To truly immerse yourself in Dublin’s modern day literary scene, look no further than its festivals. The Dublin Book Festival (November) has it all, from poetry to short story workshops, and everything in between. This year’s events included Notes from the Margins – a discussion on the importance of a plurality of voices in contemporary poetry – some inspirational talks by the country’s emerging authors, literary walking tours, and much more. The Mountains to the Sea Festival (March), the International Literature Festival (May), and the Bloomsday Festival (June) are also worth adding to the calendar.

(First published on Zafigo.com on February 18 2019. Available online at: https://zafigo.com/stories/zafigo-stories/a-tour-of-literary-dublin-ireland/)

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5 ways to build your own writer’s retreat – Zafigo.com, November 5 2017

They say that everyone has a book in them. Unfortunately for most of us, it’s not always easy to find a conducive environment to put pen to paper and begin telling our story. While writers’ retreats have been established worldwide to give budding wordsmiths the time and space they require, most of them come with a high price tag. Why not create your own retreat, at your budget? Here are five tips to get you started.

Escape to nature

If you’re like me, spending time amidst nature is enough to cure even the most severe writer’s block, leading to a welcome surge of writing inspiration. There’s just something about the fruity chortling of birds and gentle rush of the wind that encourages me to pick up the pen again. Thankfully, nature is everywhere and comes at no cost.

In Asia, we’re lucky to have dozens of stunning national parks at our doorstep. Find yourself basic accommodation in or beside one of these natural treasures and check in for a few days or weeks at a time. You’re sure to have little distraction from your creative endeavours. I stayed in a quiet hut at the edge of Thailand’s Khao Sok National Park and found it to be the perfect location for reading, writing and developing ideas. As a bonus, all of my meals were provided for. I highly recommend finding a place that offers similar packages as it means you can devote less time to chopping vegetables and more time to writing.

Where you can go: National parks in Asia that serve as potential writing havens are Taman Negara in Malaysia, Kirirom National Park in Cambodia and Nakai-Nam Theun National Biodiversity Conservation Area in Laos.

During my upcoming travels through Vietnam, I personally hope to get some writing done in the mountainous region of Da Lat as well as stunning Ninh Binh in the north. For those who are easily distracted, or just prefer the sounds of the sea, perhaps it’s best to flee to an island. Koh Kood in Thailand is a winner for me, while Koh Rong Sanloem in Cambodia, the islands in Komodo National Park in Indonesia and Japan’s Yakushima island should be on any writer’s (and traveller’s!) bucket list.

Squad goals

Some people require a bit of a push and titbits of advice to get their creative juices flowing, and that’s why writing retreats have become so popular. If you find yourself in that bracket but can’t afford to fork out for an organised retreat, don’t despair! There are plenty of ways to get the support you need at little to no extra cost.

Most larger towns and cities have writing clubs that see novice and seasoned writers come together regularly to share their work and gain feedback. Why not book a cheap stay in a city you’re keen to see and hook up with one of these groups while there? A few days or weeks on your self-moulded writers retreat is sure to leave you feeling equally refreshed and inspired.

Check out: Hanoi Writer’s Collective and Hoi An Writers Group, Vietnam; MYWriters Penang, Malaysia; Chiang Mai Writers, Thailand and The Singapore Writer’s Group are among such active groups.

The word on festivals

Literary festivals usually offer both free and affordable events and workshops, and are also great opportunities to rub shoulders with established writers. Asia hosts approximately 60 literary festivals annually so you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to picking a destination and activities.

Make your way to: Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (25-29 October 2017), Singapore Writers Festival (3-12 November 2017), Hong Kong International Literary Festival (3-12 November 2017), George Town Literary Festival (24-26 November 2017), and Jaipur International Literature Festival (January 2018).

Walk in the footsteps of the greats

Asian cities have served as both the birthplace and the inspiration for some extremely successful authors. If you’re a budding writer, there are many Asian cities worth a visit. Who knows what inspiration you might glean!

Where to go: Tokyo has a rich literary heritage, with dozens of bookstores and libraries, along with museums dedicated to the writers that have roamed its streets. It was once home to Matsuo Basho, the founder of the haiku, and a museum in his memory sits there today. Though hailing from Kyoto, author of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle Haruki Murakami lived and based many of his books on Tokyo. There’s even a walking tour in his honour. Controversial author Yukio Mishima (Confessions of a Mask) was born here, as was crime novelist Hideo Yokoyama, whose novel Six Four famously sold a million copies in just six days.

The colourful and bustling city of Mumbai has served as the backdrop for many famous books, including Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo’s multi award-winning book Beyond the Beautiful Forevers. Salmon Rushdie’s Booker Prize-winning Midnight’s Children, which focuses on India’s transition from colonialism to independence, also used his native city of Mumbai as its stage. The critically-acclaimed Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts was also based in Mumbai and is said to be inspired by real events.

Dozens of authors, including Jungle Book creator Rudyard Kipling and prolific Marathi writer PL Deshpande (Vyakti Ani Valli), were born in the city. If you fancy reading any of these for inspiration, head to Mumbai’s Book Street where you are sure to find something among the heaving stalls.

Check your backyard

After months of seeking out a destination where I can peacefully write and form new ideas, I found the park beside my current home in Da Nang to be the perfect spot. Though it had been right under my nose for months, I never considered it a place to find writing inspiration. Don’t underestimate the destinations on your doorstep.

Try these spots: Take a walk around your neighbourhood, try writing at various places and see how you feel. It could be that park around the corner, the nondescript coffee shop you always walk past without a second glance, the public library, the 24-hour coin operated laundry… any of these might be where your story begins. I urge you to grab pen and paper when you pay a visit!

(First published on Zafigo.com on November 5 2017. Available online at: http://zafigo.com/stories/zafigo-stories/build-your-own-writers-retreat/)