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‘Spirit of place’: the RSL Ondaatje Prize short list

The short list for the 2018 RSL Ondaatje Prize was made public while I was away. On the website of Telegraph Travel, you can read extracts I’ve chosen from the six books.


Deskbound Traveller is taking a break while its editor escapes from the desk.

RSL Ondaatje Prize short list out on Wednesday

The short list for the 2018 RSL Ondaatje Prize for “a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry evoking the spirit of a place” is due to be published on Wednesday morning. All I can say at this stage is that it’s a strong list, with contenders representing all three genres. Watch out for more news on Wednesday. I’ve chosen extracts from the six books for Telegraph Travel, and they should be appearing either this coming weekend or the following one.

A space cadet exploring planet Earth

I’m surprised a British publisher hasn’t yet snapped up Kate Harris’s debut, Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road. It drew a lot of praise on its publication (by Knopf) in her native Canada and is due to appear in the United States in August (Dey St/HarperCollins). Translations have also been agreed for France, Germany, the Netherlands and Taiwan.

  The author kindly sent me a copy after I mentioned the book in February. I’ve been busy with reviewing and doing background reading for a forthcoming trip, so I’ve had time to read only the first 60-or-so pages, but those have been enough to convince me that she’s more than worthy of the endorsements she’s had from Colin Thubron, Barry Lopez and Pico Iyer. She’s not only a restless spirit but a well-read and reflective one. So far, it’s one of the most impressive travel debuts I’ve read in a long time. As I said earlier, she had initially planned to be an astronaut; I’m glad she decided instead that there was enough to explore on planet Earth.

Getting a lift from the land: my review of ‘Ground Work’

My review of the wonderful new anthology Ground Work: Writings on Places and People (Jonathan Cape, £16.99), edited by Tim Dee, appeared in print in the Review section of The Daily Telegraph today. It’s not on the Telegraph website, but you can read it now on Deskbound Traveller.

On the Irish border

Several times on Deskbound Traveller and elsewhere I’ve recommended The Rule of the Land (Faber & Faber), Garrett Carr’s timely account of a walk along the Irish border, which my fellow judges and I short-listed for Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year. In the Review section of The Guardian at the weekend, the Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole had a few more suggestions for readers keen to get to grips with a frontier that’s facing an uncertain future.

Back with Matthiessen in the mountains

It’s 40 years since Peter Matthiessen published The Snow Leopard, his celebrated account of a “journey of the heart” to a Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas. In a piece yesterday for The Observer, Tim Adams reported on what the book has meant both to readers and to Matthiessen’s son, Alex, who has a walk-on part in its pages.

RSL Ondaatje Prize short list due next week

The Ondaatje Prize of the Royal Society of Literature isn’t one of the world’s biggest literary prizes — £10,000 as against £50,000 for the Man Booker and €100,000 for the International Dublin Literary Award — but it’s always of keen interest to Deskbound Traveller, as it’s awarded for “a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry evoking the spirit of a place”. The short list for the 2018 prize is due to be published next week (April 18); the winner will be announced on May 14. Watch this space for more news.


Deskbound Traveller is taking a break while its editor escapes from the desk.

Travel and nature at Hay Festival

The programme was announced today for the Hay Festival 2018 (May 24-June 3). Speakers will include William Atkins, whose book on deserts, The Immeasurable World, is due to be published in June by Faber & Faber; Patrick Barkham, author of Islander; Horatio Clare, who will be reporting on his adventures in Finland while researching Icebreaker: A Voyage Far North; Tristan Gooley, the “Natural Navigator”, introducing his latest guide, Wild Signs and Star Paths; Ursula Martin, who hit the road while recovering from cancer to write One Woman Walks Wales; and Jasper Winn, whose Waterways: A Thousand Miles Along Britain’s Canals, is due to be published by Profile Books in June. Also on the bill are Tim Dee, whose absorbing new anthology, Ground Work, I mentioned recently, and Mark Cocker, whose latest book, Our Place: Can We Save Britain’s Wildlife Before It Is Too Late?, is due out next month. According to the publisher, Jonathan Cape, Cocker “explores in intimate detail six special places that embody the history of conservation or whose fortunes allow us to understand why our landscape looks as it does today”.

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