Calling all young travel writers: Get writing for chance to win a lighthouse adventure

Budding travel writers are encouraged to explore the north in an exciting new competition. Jenny Lee finds out more and gets some writing tips from children's author Gemma O'Neill

Budding young writers Hannah Carson, Anna Attwood, Oliver Poots, Mark Buchanan and James McCrum

CHILDREN and young people are being encouraged to share their adventurous travel tales for the chance to win exciting prizes and the title of Young Travel Writer 2018.

Those between the ages of six and 16 are invited to draw on their creative skills to share their adventures of 'How I explored Northern Ireland This Year'. Whether it's summer rock-pooling memories, scaling the Mournes, uncovering the history of an ancient castle or a yet undiscovered adventure that will be undertaken this half-term.

The Tourism NI competition will be split into five categories (P3-P4, P5-P7, Year 8 - 10 and GCSE) with prizes including a GoPro Hero 5 action camera and the overall young travel writer will win a weekend family break at Blackhead Lightkeeper's House, Whitehead.

The judging panel featuring a host of literary and travelling talent including Lonely Planet author Fionn Davenport, and writers Sheena Wilkinson and Glenn Patterson, who says "one of the keys to original writing is learning to look afresh".

Another judge, children's author and illustrator Gemma O'Neill, whose books include Oh Dear, Geoffrey! and Monty's Magnificent Mane, admits that the Northern Ireland landscape forms a huge inspiration for her work.

"All of our natural landscapes are pretty special here. Each has it's own story and presence. I enjoy going hiking most weekends. The fresh air usually revives and inspires me for the week ahead.

"My Causeway Coast roots are of huge inspiration in terms of the natural theme within my work as an author, but also in terms of mark making and colour in my work as an illustrator. My illustrations always influence my writing and vice versa. It's very much a simultaneous process.

She also encourages budding writers to keep their eyes, ears and pencils at the ready when they are travelling somewhere new. "Travelling and exploring further afield is also incredibly inspiring. It's always wonderful to learn about other cultures and places".

Gemma O'Neill's story-writing tips:

1. Inspiration can strike at any time, so I always carry a notebook or sketchbook to jot down ideas.

2. Brainstorming is always very useful for exploring ideas. Sometimes an entirely new idea can be born out of this process, which is always a lovely surprise.

3. It's nice to let a story come together organically but I find breaking it up into a beginning, middle and end can give me more of a focus.

4. I usually structure a story with basic bullet points before attempting to write a draft. It can then take a few more drafts to get it just right, but the bullet points save a lot of time.

5. I always find it really useful and enjoyable to carry out research into the subject matter. It often leads to discovering something new, which can really enrich an idea.

6. It's good to take breaks and plan rewards. I find I work quicker when I know I have something to look forward to and a little break usually resolves or refreshes a particular part of a story I'm unsure of.

7. Find what works for you. I personally find that writing early in the morning works best for me. It's a peaceful time of day, with fewer distractions.

:: Entries should be submitted to by November 5. For further information visit

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