Interested in travel writing? Join me for a special workshop on April 10

While Ireland’s remote northwest corner may arguably be the gem of the Emerald Isle, being stuck here with a five-kilometre travel restriction during the wild, windy, wet months of winter has made me yearn to be on the road again.

As a travel writer used to new sights, smells and sounds, my forced stay-at-home lockdown has been even more difficult to handle.

Thankfully, that may soon end, with in-country travel probably permitted before June and international travel by mid-summer.

So, with Covid vaccines being distributed and the travel industry gearing up for business again, I thought it would be an enjoyable idea to share some of my experiences and host a special writing workshop for those interested in submitting their travel stories to newspapers and magazines. Or simply developing your own travel blogs.

Hungry for publicity but with little cash to pay for traditional advertising, hotels, museums, restaurants, airlines and tourism agencies will soon offer free ‘fam’ (or ‘familiarization’) visits to travel writers and bloggers. So there’s no better time to polish your writing skills and take advantage of them.

I’ve focused on travel writing for the past ten years and have been fortunate to enjoy ‘fam’ visits across Europe, the US and the Far East, to exotic countries as diverse as Iceland, Morocco and India. During that time, I’ve penned upwards of 500 stories, both short news pieces and longer color features, including those focusing on city and regional destinations, as well as hotel, restaurant and entertainment reviews. They’ve appeared in publications as different as The Irish Times, JustLuxeUpscale Living and Fodor’s travel books, as well as my own blog, World Itineraries.

Learning more about California’s spectacular forests from a regional manager of the ‘Save the Redwoods League.

Among my ‘Regional Destinations’ stories have been northern California and Jersey Island while ‘City Destinations’ have ranged from Washington DC to Montpellier in southern France to Ireland’s oldest city, Waterford.

Quirky features I’ve written have included a dreamlike stay among the mesmerising sand dunes of the Sahara Desert and a fascinating journey in the footsteps of Scotland’s most famous novelist, Robert-Louis Stevenson, author of ‘Treasure Island.’

Rome is awash with eye-popping art. Here is its Musei Capitolini, home to the Salon of Horatii and Curatii. 

Skills I learned working as a journalist for various newspapers in the US and Europe and later as foreign correspondent for The Times, London and The Daily Telegraph helped me develop new approaches to writing about places. What I learned is part of what I want to share during my workshop. 

Writing about a luxury spa on the coast of Gran Canaria a rustic Mediterranean island retreat or an elegant riad in the heart of ancient Fez has given me ample opportunity to tackle diverse subjects.

Crazy Horse cabaret in Paris combines brilliant choreography with a hint of cheekiness.

As for entertainment, I’ve written about such dazzling and spectacular cabarets as the famous Le Moulin Rouge and Crazy Horse in Paris and a dynamic salsa festival along Romania’s Black Sea coast, not to mention music and theatre venues from Boston to Barcelona.

My practical, two-hour travel writing workshop, which will take place on April 10, will focus on some of the following subjects.

Room with a View, Columba Hotel – Iona island off the west coast of Scotland offers much in the way of meditation.
  • Key elements of travel articles, from destination features to hotel, restaurant and entertainment reviews;
  • Starting a blog;
  • Effective strategies for research;
  • Writing winning pitches to editors;
  • Critiquing your own travel writing stories.

Come join us and learn the ‘write’ way to see the world. Join the Virtual Travel Writing Workshop.

And don’t forget to enter your travel story or memoir in this new competition, WAWA Love Competition, 1,000 euro prize money for 500 words.

Visiting Berlin Wall speaks volumes for free thinkers

It was as cold then as it is now, I recalled, thick coat and woolly hat keeping my body and soul together, even though the ‘Cold War’ had just melted away.

Exactly 27 years ago, swaying atop the Berlin Wall, a bottle of champagne in one hand, the other firmly clasping that of someone unknown to me but equally as carefree and excited, both of us wildly celebrating a supreme historic moment.

Sean Hillen speaking in Berlin, Berlin books

Reminiscing: Quiet now but thousands clambered on to it and over it 27 years ago, myself included.

There were tens of thousands of us, stumbling over rubble, banging on the solid concrete with anything we could lay our hands on, hammers, candlesticks, shovels, pitchforks, pieces of metal piping. You name it, we were using it, desperately trying to dislodge pieces to take home with us.

In some ways, it seemed to me we were doing so not just to have a hard-won souvenir to show to friends and family but also because we felt we were facing a frenzied race against time, that we feared men in uniforms, with rifles and growling, muzzled dogs, might suddenly come along and order us down, telling us it was a bad joke, that the powers that be had changed their minds, that the exhilarating glimpse of freedom was over.

Sean Hillen author, books by Sean Hillen

Checkpoint Charlie: Tourist attraction now but filled with drama when I first visited it in the mid-1980s during the Cold War.

We were all of the same thought: the wall had to come down and it had to come down now before someone powerful somewhere changed their mind. After all, it had gone up fast, so down it must come – equally as fast. And boy, were we ever doing a helluva demolition job. With a capital ‘D.’

That’s why it was a delight to be there again last week standing beside the few remaining remnants of the wall, much of it covered by colorful graffiti, reliving those exuberant moments from years before. And an even greater delight to be talking not only about my experiences as a foreign correspondent covering the dramatic fall of Communism, then rushing by train to Bucharest, to the Romanian revolution, but also about my first novel, ‘Pretty Ugly,’ which deals with many of the same universal themes, freedom of thought and action.

Gazing around me as I walked to the Berlin Book Nook bookstore in the Neukoelin district, the American sector after World War Two, I was astonished to see how much Berlin had changed. Changed? Transformed would be a better description. Bright lights, lively pubs and cafes, the conversational buzz of shoppers filling the streets. Open-air markets like the Gendarmenmarkt packed with people drinking gluhwein and chowing down on currywurst, and carolers singing sweetly about hope and love.

Author talks Berlin, Berlin book shops

Enjoying a chat at the Berlin Book Nook about literature, art, travel and the German capital’s ever-changing face.

The overriding sense of togetherness and positivity was a vivid reminder to me of that same collective sense of well-being I felt all those years ago along the crumbling wall, the grim edifice that symbolized the very opposite of all that is good in Mankind.

As for my author’s talk, when is it not thoroughly enjoyable to speak to book-lovers about books? Even more satisfying as I had earlier that very day visited ‘The Story of Berlin’ museum where a pile of books tossed randomly along the floor was a sad reminder of the tragic ‘burning of books’ episode instigated by Hitler and his racist Nazi cronies intent on destroying any semblance of free thinking.

Sean Hillen author in Berlin, Pretty Ugly a novel

Books underfoot at ‘The Story of Berlin’ museum symbolizing the despicable Nazi ‘burning of books’ episode in 1933.

Talking about the inspiring land and seascapes of Donegal’s ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ (no wonder the county recently topped the National Geographic Traveller magazine’s ‘Cool List 2017’) where much of the dramatic action in ‘Pretty Ugly’ takes place and about how my main characters, both in Ireland and America, strive for justice in face of overwhelming odds, I felt like I was staging my own private revenge against the Fuhrer and his violent mob of senseless bullies.

Pretty Ugly book, Irish writers

Pretty nice to see ‘Pretty Ugly’ on the shelves of a popular Berlin bookstore.

I hope you feel the same, especially at this time of year when we think more of family and friends and how fortunate we are compared to others much worse off.

Have a most contented winter holiday season. I very much look forward to hearing your feedback after reading my novel.

Here’s where you can order your copy of Pretty Ugly.