Literary Tourism: Turning fiction into a fascinating travel guide
Fiction can provide deeper and more personal perspectives on travel than any guidebook, says Pól Ó Conghaile.
Talk about books and travel, and traditional guides spring to mind.
But travelling with a novel, scouting out the haunts of an author, or finding real-life locations where fictitious events took place can also be a thrilling inspiration for a trip... and a deeply personal one at that.
Think of Joyce’s Dublin, Lorca’s Grenada or García Márquez’s Cartegena. Our travel pages feature several literary destinations this week, but really, any book or author with a powerful sense of place will do.
I’ve felt that tingle in touristy places like Wordsworth’s Lake District, Hemmingway’s Madrid and New York’s Chelsea Hotel, but I’ve also felt it at smaller sites like Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence in Istanbul (pictured below, en.masumiyetmuzesi.org), or Sweny’s Chemist in Dublin (also below, sweny.ie).
Sweny’s featured in Ulysses, and remains a terrific time capsule — thanks to a team of volunteers who read from Joyce at lunchtimes.
Of course, cultural tourism can also be crass. We all know the ‘literary’ mugs and tea towels, the boozy bias towards dead (and mostly male) writers, the stereotypes that reduce rather than expand our knowledge.
But when literary landscapes are tastefully interpreted, rather than turned into theme parks, the effect can be amazing.
A good work of fiction offers perspectives you’ll never find in a guidebook; it ties the richly individual act of reading to actual places in surprisingly emotional ways.
Ireland is a world-class example. Think of Yeats Country, Patrick Kavanagh’s Monaghan, or the new Seamus Heaney HomePlace in Bellaghy, Co. Derry.
The only tool required for your next trip is imagination.
Literary travel websites
Literary tourism can sound like an elitist niche, but once you open the lid, all sorts of possibilities spill out. Take a look at literarytraveler.com, for instance — run by a couple who met while studying English in Boston. Recent articles range from Harry Potter in Universal Studios to Virginia Woolf in Sussex.
Closer to home, travel writer Muriel Bolger has a guide to Ireland’s literary landscapes on Ireland’s Blue Book website (irelands-blue-book.ie), while you can read more from author Michelle Jackson on her books and travels at michellejackson.ie.
Read more literary tourism: