Delve into the captivating realm where Irish football teams and global exploration intertwine. In this interview, we sit down with Jonny Blair, a remarkable author whose books bridge the gap between sports and travel, unveiling a world of inspiration and adventure. Join us as we uncover the stories behind his distinctive perspective on both these passions.
Your books tell stories about football and traveling. What inspired you to write about these two seemingly distinct subjects?
“I need a job so I wanna be a paperback writer” – The Beatles.
Football and traveling have been my two main loves since I was about 6 years old, although, in those days, it was mostly football and writing, as I didn’t travel much until I was an adult. My Dad played football for years, and I used to watch him play most weeks when I was a kid. I started playing football myself in the 1980s, but realised quickly I was better at studying teams and facts and being a supporter and groundhopper of football rather than a footballer.
Football also inspired my travelling journeys because my home country, Northern Ireland qualified for the first two World Cups after I was born – we were at Espana 82 and Mexico 86 World Cups. For the 1986 World Cup I had the Panini Sticker album and before that, my parents had bought me a World Atlas and a map of the world. I was fascinated looking at all the World Cup teams in 1986 – Iraq, Canada, South Korea, Uruguay, Brazil, Scotland, etc. and I checked them all on the maps and had a dream to visit some of them. I never ever thought I could have visited all the 1986 World Cup teams in my life, but by 2017, I had done it.
In the meantime, I created a travel blog called Don’t Stop Living in 2007, and it now has over 5,000 blog posts on it. I have also written 10 books and over 1000 poems now. So far, I have released 2 of them as e-Books and 5 of them as printed books. I have also contributed to 4 other books, 2 in the football niche and 2 in the travel niche. My printed books are the Backpacking Centurion series, I Went To Gdańsk With Somebody, and Champian Stewartnova. I’m always writing and have a short story almost finished now, too, provisionally titled “Coconut Town”.
Could you share a memorable experience from your travels that significantly influenced you and changed you as an individual? How did it impact your writing?
“Everyday is a winding road” – Sheryl Crow.
There are so many but the biggest influences were sadly all linked to girls and falling in love. They had the biggest influence, and as a result, I started writing poetry, sombre words, and getting into depression. That sparked off a lot of travel inspiration, and I still have books parked on the back burner related to those girls and those days. One day, they will see the light of day.
“Searching the seven seas for love” – Noel Gallagher.
Aside from girls, some of the extreme hiking and adventure stories hold huge memorable experiences to build on. Of note, I hiked up Cuverville Island in Antarctica, and that was truly a golden dream. The views from the top of Cuverville were incredible. I also hiked to the top of Mount Kinabalu in Borneo, which was a challenge but well worth it for the terrain and views all around from the top. Later, I hiked Tajamulco, the highest peak in Central America, and loved it.
Writing about sports and travel requires a keen eye for detail and the ability to capture the essence of a place or a match. What’s your creative process like when you’re crafting your stories?
“They haven’t written the guidebook yet, a set of rules that really fit” – Mark Morriss.
Creativity is ongoing, and everything can be an inspiration. A bottle of water in a bin, a dog at a bus stop, a screamager from 25 yards in a pre-season friendly, an angry lad in a bar. I never stop writing. Anyone who said they had “writer’s block” is either a liar or they are not a writer. No real writer will ever have “writer’s block” or stop writing. I write anywhere, everywhere, and all the time, whether it’s on a bus, waiting on a bus, at home, in a bar, at a concert, over dinner, or while sightseeing. We are always getting inspiration from the world around us and writing it down. The inspiration can come from other people around us, or the scenery or it falls from an empty sky.
How do you ensure that your writing resonates with readers who might not be familiar with either the football scene or the destinations you explore?
“I’ve seen all the disciples and all the wannabes. No-one wants to be themselves these days” – Jon Bon Jovi.
I add things beyond just football and travel. If it’s a football match, I focus on things away from the actual sport. The hums from the crowd, the weather, the tension, the drama, the unusual stories and events, the chaos inside and outside the stadium, the moment of life. For example, Queen Elizabeth II died in September 2022, and the football reports in the coming weeks represented the mood of the nation and the aftermath of her death. There is always much, much more to write about than the boring mundane action on the pitch, which might have been a dour, drab, boring 0-0 match.
With travel, I also go beyond boring days backpacking museums and sightseeing. I’ll visit countries nobody has heard of, museums that are not on Google, and restaurants with no Facebook Page. Somebody has to go deeper than following the boring majority of simpletons. Nobody wants to read about the top 5 cafes in Paris or how to whackpack strip clubs in Bangkok. I fell asleep reading the article titles. Rope them in and let them read.
If they still don’t read it, I’ll just write more and more. I’ll die writing with a pen. Be yourself. 90% of people follow blogs because it is different from the others – different style, personality, etc.
Juggling between writing and traveling must have its challenges. How do you find a balance between experiencing a location fully and documenting it for your readers?
“There must be more to life than stereotypes” – Damon Albarn.
I only write what I personally find interesting and what I see for myself. If readers like it, they’ll read and follow. If they don’t, I’m not bothered. I don’t need them in my life. I see what I want and write about it, hoping that at least one person might read it and get something positive out of it, and that’s enough.
What advice would you give to those who are interested in exploring unconventional topics through their writing and travels?
“Tomorrow is too late” – MSP.
Don’t be interested in it, or explore it – DO IT. And do it now. Going outside the box, off the beaten track, and off the wheaten craic is the way to do it. Be unique and sell yourself. People will appreciate you for it. And even if they don’t, find a decent bed for a night’s rest, get your pen out first thing the next morning, and write a best seller. It’s easy to write.