Friday, 19 September 2008

#19 - Turn trivia into a story

Or how to make money from useless pub quiz knowledge.

Soaking up seemingly useless trivia
I am one of those people that has a tendency to soak up seemingly useless trivia. I may be hopeless at DIY, completely unable to identify a brand of car and terminally feeble in the kitchen, but ask me to list capital cities or unique endings of football team names and I’m in my element.
In short, I am the sort of person that’s quite useful to have on your pub quiz team.

Nuggets of information
So how does this fit in with being a travel writer? Well, there comes a point where that useless trivia isn’t so useless after all. Those little nuggets of silly information can come in quite useful. Let’s face it, if you found it interesting enough to remember it, then surely some other people will too.

First World War and Compiegne
I’ve got many a story from this approach. On the very basic level, the fact is almost the story in itself. A classic example is in Compiegne, France. In a woodland clearing, there is restored replica of the railway carriage in which Germany surrendered in the First World War and France surrendered in the Second World War.
There’s also a small museum attached. To me, this is a fascinating tale, and a couple of editors clearly agreed.

World’s smallest divided landmass
Similarly, the Caribbean Island of St Martin/ Sint Maarten is the world’s smallest divided landmass. Check out both the French and Dutch side, compare them, and it’s an easy sell purely because it is such a geographical oddity.
In a similar vein there’s Nicosia (or Lefkosia) in Cyprus – the world’s only divided capital city.

Liechtenstein’s Royal Winery
Then there are other things where a bit of lateral thinking is required. When in Liechtenstein, I visited a winery. Not particularly interesting, you may think. But when you know it’s the Royal Winery, then there’s a story.
When you discover that it’s the only winery in the entire country, it’s even better. And if you know that Liechtenstein just happens to be the world’s smallest wine producing nation, it’s pure gold.

Alcohol per capita
But my favourite example of turning trivia into a story is with Luxembourg. Did you know that Luxembourg consumes more alcohol per capita than any other nation in the world? At face value, that’s a mildly interesting bit of trivia.
More importantly, it’s one that doesn’t half go against the country’s dull, sober image. The tip about looking for the opposite of a country’s reputation applies again here, but this was even better.

Discount rates and non-permanent population
Surely if they drink that much alcohol, there’s one hell of a party going on somewhere? I tried to find that party when I went there, investigated the best pubs and bars, and discovered what was distorting the statistics.
It turns out that the French, Germans and Belgians are nipping over the border to buy alcohol at discount rates, and the large non-citizen and non-permanent resident population skews the boozing-per-capita numbers.

Turn information into articles
That turned into a fascinating story that I managed to sell twice, barely changing a word. The point is, though, that many of us have such snippets of information in our head that can be turned into articles. Either that or we read them somewhere. They’re worth using – and not just in a pub quiz context.


Larry Bleiberg said...

So that's what I've been doing all these years! Somehow it makes my career feel ... trivial.

Great tips -- keep them coming.

David said...

Thanks Larry - much appreciated.