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Travel Inspiration from Valerie Biel

Travel has been the inspiration for Valerie Biel’s Circle of Nine series of young adult historical supsense. You can find out more about her on her website, www.valeriebiel.com, or by clicking on the Blackbirds page here, read her last post here, and buy her books here.

Travel tends to be the source of inspiration for many of the stories I write. For instance, the initial idea for my Circle of Nine series came from a visit to a stone circle in County Donegal, Ireland named Beltany, which became the subtitle to the first novel in that series. I’m often inspired by other more random and day-to-day things, too. (After all you can’t be traveling all the time, right?) But nothing seems to give me that push to write a story the way traveling does. 

Images of Ireland used by Valerie Biel as travel inspiration

As an avid traveler, you can imagine that the lack of travel during the height of the pandemic felt very strange. I looked back recently on my 2019 year in review and noted that I was away at writing-related events or vacationing for 50+ days that year. In 2020, we managed 14 before the world shut down. 2021 fared a bit better but still we put off a long-awaited, twice-postponed return trip to Ireland until this year.

My husband and I disagree whether this was either our 9th or 10th trip to Ireland. (Neither of us had the desire to do a deep search to win the battle over the number, but it is beneficial when your accountant allows you to write off your book research trips.) We do agree that we’ve spent time or at least driven through all 26 counties in the Republic of Ireland and the six in Northern Ireland. This trip itinerary was designed to fill in places we hadn’t been (or at least hadn’t spent enough time in) that also lined up with book research I needed to do. We had a lot of fun seeing new sites, meeting new people, and largely unplugging from technology. 

After arriving in Dublin, we drove straight across the country to Sligo . . . my husband honed his left-side driving skills immediately when our GPS inexplicably avoided the major highway. LOL The highlights of Sligo were the Glencar waterfall, the Carrowmore Megalithic Complex  (the largest and oldest collection of neolithic dolmens and stone circles in Ireland.) Book research! We also visited and climbed Knocknarea  where you can find the cairn with Queen Maeve’s tomb. (Also book research!) This was a fairly strenuous hike as the summit of this ‘hill’ is 1000+ feet above sea level.

We then crossed into County Mayo on our way to Achill Island. We’d never driven this way before and were so pleased we had decided to take one of the smaller roads. Gorgeous landscape and very little traffic as we wound our way through peat bogs. Achill Island is accessed by a bridge, so it’s easy to get there. It’s home to the tallest sea cliffs in Ireland, beautiful beaches, small fishing villages, and the westernmost pub in Europe. We had a lovely day exploring the coastline before continuing to Cong. 

Cong was more of a stopping off point as we made our way south toward Killarney, but we made the most it, enjoying the ruins of the Cong Abbey and the amazing meal at Pat Cohen’s pub. (Cong was the location of the filming of The Quiet Man movie starring Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne.)

We stayed in Killarney in the past, but we hadn’t fully explored the adjacent Killarney National Park. Now, Killarney is not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a bit touristy but we appreciate the wonderful hotels, restaurants, and shops. I highly recommend a visit to Muckross House & Farm inside the National Park as well as the Dunloe Gap for gorgeous scenery—which we saw via a jaunting horse cart. There are many hiking, biking, boating, and kayaking options here.

Images from travel inspiration from Ireland by Valerie Biel

The highlight of our trip was definitely our visit to Skellig Michael. As a UNESCO world heritage site, the quantity of visitors is strictly limited, and only certain boats are licensed to land there, weather permitting. And the term ‘land’ is not exactly correct – they sort of pull up as close as possible and as the waves toss the boat about, you make a jump onto wet concrete steps and grab for the chain mounted to the wall to hold yourself steady. This is a monastic settlement first built in the 6th century. (You might remember the scenes from Star Wars with Luke Skywalker/Mark Hammill that were filmed here.) There are 600 stone steps up to the monastic buildings, which were made of dry stacked stone—even without mortar they still stand today. The hike up is crazy hard – so many – many stairs. But the hike down is terrifying because you can’t help but focus on the drop offs so close to where you’re stepping. I stopped a bunch of times just to calm my nerves. This island and Little Skellig are home to large colonies of sea birds, including my favorite—puffins!

I’m so glad we finally got to go back—now I need to get moving on drafting the next book in my series. Perhaps, I’ll need a return trip to Ireland, just to make sure I get those details right.

Valerie Biel

Valerie Biel is the author of the award-winning Circle of Nine series (stories inspired by Celtic mythology and the stone circles of Ireland). Learn more about her on her website valeriebiel.com, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. John A Hoda
    John A Hoda

    I love the photos. They help for tax deductions when you can point to a photo and a scene in your book to the IRS auditor. You really can’t get a sense of place from Google. Unfortunately, I have to cobble lots of media for my next book. If you can travel to the setting for your novel, the trip gives you so many unexpected surprises. If your travel, sparks an idea for a book, even better.

    1. Valerie Biel
      Valerie Biel

      Hi John, Ha! Yes, the photos definitely help prove I was there for novel work. With the quality of video and resources via the internet you can definitely get a feel for a place enough to make it a setting in a book. I’ve done that, too. But traveling so much more fun than sitting at a computer screen! 🙂

  2. Sherrill Joseph
    Sherrill Joseph

    Valerie, your inspirational travelog and photos took me back to the Emerald Isle. I could hear Bing Crosby singing “How Can I Buy Killarney?”! Travel certainly inspires and enriches writing. My 2013 trip to Hawai’i led to my detectives’ fourth mystery on O’ahu. Thanks for your delightful post.

    1. Valerie Biel
      Valerie Biel

      Hi Sherrill,
      Hawaii is so gorgeous. I hope to get back there one day, although not sure it will ever be a book setting for me . . . but perhaps it should be. hmmmmmm. – Val

  3. Avatar
    Laurie Buchanan

    Valerie —love, Love, LOVE your photographs! And the 600-step climb sounds like your calves and thighs would burn by the time you reach the top!

    1. Valerie Biel
      Valerie Biel

      It was my quads on the way up – calves on the way down. LOL There was a family that was on our boat on the way there that had 3 very energetic pre-teen boys who were flying up those steps. I offered to the mom to step aside at the next wider spot, to let them go, and she kind of shook her head at me with her eyes really wide. “No, we’re good!” Her boys were making her nervous, so my slower pace at least served a purpose. It was just a stunning place. I can’t recommend a trip there enough if anyone has the chance.

  4. Margaret Mizushima
    Margaret Mizushima

    Valerie, I love this post! Thanks so much for including all the photos. Your travel inspirations are inspirational to me too! Sounds like my kind of research. And sounds like a wonderful trip!

    1. Valerie Biel
      Valerie Biel

      I am definitely one of those people who do really want to see your travel photos, so I’m glad to share some of these amazing places. We took our time on this trip and were able to talk with people more at the various places we visited. That ALWAYS makes for a more interesting trip. The guys who run the boats that take you to Skellig Michael, for instance, were talking about how rough they had it because the site was closed for all of 2020 and then had a late opening or half season of 2021. They were just starting to get back on good financial footing at the time of our visit. We were home for about a week when we learned of a rock fall on the island which then necessitated a three-week closing for clean up and safety inspections. All I could think of was these folks just trying to earn their living.

  5. Christine DeSmet
    Christine DeSmet

    I love it that you’re sharing your trips with us! The 600 steps wouldn’t be for me, but I can imagine a great suspense manuscript where I’d want to use them. A chase scene on them would certainly cause some terror. Thanks for your post! Good luck with your next book. Your writing is so rich and now I can see why.

    1. Valerie Biel
      Valerie Biel

      Ooh, yes. That would be terrifying! Once the tours are done or the day, it’s a very lonely place (I would imagine.) It’s funny this island has two light houses, a modern one and an older one. The new one doesn’t require constant monitoring but the old one required a lighthouse keeper, who would live there with his family for long periods of time without any boats landing. Hard to imagine the isolation. Even the UNESCO world heritage guides have a 15-day on/6 day off schedule. There’s some minimal overnight accommodation for people doing repairs or researching (mostly bird research.) It’s a perfect place for a mystery!

  6. Sheila Lowe
    Sheila Lowe

    The best way to write off travel is to write about the travel–even if it’s not a travelogue. I did go to Egypt when I wrote Dead Letters, but I did go to England and Gibraltar, and even Tucson. If we do our job well, our readers feels as if they went with us.

    1. Valerie Biel
      Valerie Biel

      I love that so much — being an armchair traveler along with other writers!

  7. joyribar
    joyribar

    Your post brings back memories of our too short Ireland trip in 2016. But most of all, you have inspired me to find somewhere I want to go and make a book out of it. I think Frankie Champagne has an ancestry journey in her plans… Thank you for sharing your experiences and some wonderful photos.

    1. Valerie Biel
      Valerie Biel

      Frankie definitely needs to go on an ancestry journey!! That’d be super fun!

  8. Sharon Lynn
    Sharon Lynn

    Wonderful post that makes me want to buy a ticket to Ireland tomorrow! But, since I can’t, thank you for taking me there. Gorgeous photos. And yes, please, get started on that next novel!!!

    1. Valerie Biel
      Valerie Biel

      Yes, I know. I need to write that thing that’s been rattling around in my head. I have notes — I have a rough, rough outline. I swear!

  9. Tracey Phillips
    Tracey Phillips

    Love!! this post, Val. Like Sharon, I’d like to buy a ticket to Ireland tomorrow! And Skellig Michael!! Stunning! I can certainly see how those exotic locations make it into your books! They make an impression!!

    1. Valerie Biel
      Valerie Biel

      Let’s ALL go to Ireland — Blackbird field trip. 🙂 I think we’d have a blast.

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