Jennie Carr spoke to Muriel and found her a true silver traveller and an absolute delight. She’s based in Dublin and has been writing novels for a decade. Her warmth and lively spirit would make her a wonderful fellow traveller.
Have you always been a traveller? What factors are important in choosing where to visit?
My appetite for travel was whetted when, as a young girl, I was sent to a boarding school in France, a convent near Lille, for six months. We had half a day off each week, and I went exploring, and treated myself to sugar almonds and lovely cheeses!
Holidays for me need to have a bit of substance to them, just a beach resort wouldn’t do. I need history, culture and music – I love finding out about the local customs and people, the culture is what interests me. And the food! Thai food is amazing, and I really like French and Italian meals too.
Tell me about a recent trip you really enjoyed. What made this trip such a success?
I had a great trip to Croatia last year, the Adriatic was a revelation. There’s such variety there. I went on an escorted tour with Travel Department, which meant we were taken to the mountain top village of Groznjan with artisans, painters and potters, on a boat cruise along the stunning coastline and of course, the scenery is magnificent, the region is steeped in history too. The towns of Pula, Rovinj and Poreč are superb. One of the best things is the group you travel with – we’ve stayed in touch and even had a weekend away together since Croatia.
This was my third escorted tour. I’ve been on an opera tour to Italy to see Madame Butterfly at the Puccini Festival at Viareggio, where I met Puccini’s granddaughter – a real treat! I do love music and on a press trip to Verona, I actually sang Molly Malone in The Arena, not something many people have done. It’s an amazing setting for operas and concerts.
The joy of escorted tours is that all the hassle is taken out of travelling, which is a huge bonus for those who are new to a country or who are not seasoned travellers. The guides and tour managers take care of everything which is so valuable. And, of course, that makes this type of holiday perfect for those on their own, especially those who are newly single. A bond is created in the group through those shared experiences. Travel Department have impressed me by being very efficient; they’ve certainly done their homework!
I know your most recent book is set in Spain, what regions have you set it in? How do you go about deciding where to locate your novels?
The book is called A Degree of Truth: I wanted to set it in a University town, so I chose Trinity College Dublin and the University town of Alcalá de Henares near Madrid, which was the home of author Miguel de Cervantes who wrote Don Quixote. The town is historic and beautiful, which is what inspired me to write the novel. There is usually something that catches my imagination and gets the idea for a novel triggered. The Pink Pepper Tree for example is inspired by the pink blossom in Portugal, even though the book is set in Dublin.
My next book is partly based in Newport, Rhode Island, in the 1900s, the so-called Gilded Age, so it is a historical novel about the society of the time. The crème de la crème of New York society – on Mrs Astor’s Four Hundred List – would spend the summer here in ‘cottages’ which are more like mansions with upwards of thirty rooms. Of course, there was intrigue, drama and scandal which makes it an interesting time in which to set a novel. Fourteen of these cottages are still standing and belong to the local historical society. So I’ve been over to research there.
Your book The Captain’s Table certainly piqued my interest! The solo traveller characters do seem a fascinating bunch. Are they based on people you’ve met?
The Captain’s Table is actually based around a cruise I took as a single traveller, with Azamara. And indeed, I did base my characters on people I met, it was all great fun. We visited the Eastern Mediterranean – Israel, Cyprus, Turkey and Greece. Rather wonderfully, once the book was published, the ship’s captain docked in Dublin and I went to meet him.
You’ve written about Dublin, including a guidebook. What would you recommend seeing to first time visitors to your city?
Dublin is a UNESCO City of Literature, so fabulous for me. It’s compact, a walkable place, packed with interest: The Castle, Christchurch Cathedral, which is over a thousand years old, and the National Gallery. A recent, wonderful addition is the Museum of Literature, which is open in the evenings so those who work can visit too. There are musical and literary walking tours, as well as the Jamison and Guinness tours – it is Dublin after all!
I’d recommend taking the Dart (suburban train) to Howth on the coast. Pretty and charming, it’s just outside the city and has become a popular residential area for Irish celebrities.
I’m delighted to say that my guidebook to literary Dublin won a travel award.
What is your favourite destination? Somewhere you’d be happy to visit again and again?
I was absolutely stunned by Iguazu Falls in South America – what a spectacular feat of nature, it was incredible. I’d happily go there again.
I also love Austria in the summer, I’m not one for snow. I so enjoy the mountains, the scenery, the fact that people are proud of their national identity and wear their national costumes. They have great bierkellers and really know how to enjoy themselves.
I also really enjoyed the André Rieu concerts I’ve seen in Europe: he puts on fabulous classical shows and people flock to them.
If money was no problem, is there one place you’d like to visit?
It would have to be Vietnam and the Mekong delta, every picture I’ve seen shows it to be beautiful.
And finally, is there on thing you always take on your travels?
I always take a good novel or biography on my Kindle. So I have something to read when travelling.
Find out more about Muriel Bolger’s novels
Find out more about Travel Department’s escorted tours.
Silver Travel recommends Travel Department.