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

A biker girl’s guide to Iran

Lois Pryce’s Revolutionary Ride (Nicholas Brealey), a memoir of her 3,000-mile motorcycle trip through Iran, was published too late for consideration for the “adventure travel” category in the new Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards. Judging by Iona McLaren’s review for The Daily Telegraph, however, it could be a contender next year.

Putin’s Russia

If you haven’t already read it, there’s no better time than now to catch up with Peter Pomerantsev’s brilliant portrait of Putin’s Russia, Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible (Faber & Faber), which won last year’s RSL Ondaatje Prize for a book “evoking the spirit of a place”. Pomerantsev, who worked in television in Russia, was  told by producers: “The news is the incense by which we bless Putin’s actions.” Judging by his behaviour the other day — no, every day — the president-elect of the United States is expecting the same benediction from journalists there.

Booker winners on short list for new Stanfords prize

Two novels by former winners of the Man Booker Prize are in the running for a new award, for fiction with a sense of place, organised by the bookseller Stanfords. The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel (who won the Booker in 2002 for Life of Pi) and The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes (Booker winner in 2011 for The Sense of an Ending) have been short-listed for Fiction Book of the Year in the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards, named after the company’s founder. Short lists for awards for books in various other byways of travel (food, adventure, illustrated books and children’s travel books) are announced by Stanfords today.

The Man Booker is worth £50,000 to the winner, and £2,500 to each of the six authors short-listed. Stanfords’ purse falls a bit short of that, and the only cash in the awards scheme goes to the writer of the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year. Formerly the Dolman prize — after the Rev William Dolman, a member of the Authors’ Club, who had been sponsoring it through the club since 2006 — it was rebranded in 2015 and its value doubled to £5,000. The short list for that will be published on January 17 at a party to introduce the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards at the National Liberal Club in London. The winners of all categories will be announced on February 2 during the Stanfords Travel Writers Festival at the Destinations show at Olympia, London.

Raban not quite at rest

I thought it was a while since we’d heard from Jonathan Raban — his last book, Driving Home, appeared in Britain in 2010 and I hadn’t seen any journalism from him lately — but I had no idea he had had a stroke in 2011 until I saw an interview with him by Andrew Dickson in the review section of The Guardian at the weekend. I was sad to learn that. Raban has long been one of my favourite writers, and I came to admire the man as well as the work after he went out of his way to introduce me to his adopted city of Seattle when I was there for The Daily Telegraph.

The stroke has done irreparable damage to the right side of his body and put him in a wheelchair, but his thinking, says Dickson, is “as restless and ambulatory as ever” and he’s now searching for a way to write about the experience; to “braid [it] with the other skeins of his life”.

During the interview, there’s mention of Jan Morris, who, in common with Raban, bridles at the description “travel writer” (her argument — an odd one to me — being that she doesn’t write about journeys). Another thing they share is a fondness for Eothen, a book about the Middle East written by Alexander Kinglake, an Old Etonian, in the 1830s. In Ariel, his recently published literary life of Morris, Derek Johns says it is Eothen, above all other books, that “she considers the inspiration for her lifelong career of writing about places”. Raban singled it out, too, when I asked him to contribute to a series, “Companion Volume”, in which writers chose their favourite travel book. (Morris, who, I think, added her contribution later and was perhaps trying to avoid repetition, went for Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey.)

9°C and deep in ‘Snow’

The temperature at the moment is 9°C where I am, in Epsom, Surrey, but I’m deep in Snow (Little Toller), a lovely little book by Marcus Sedgwick — who grew up in Kent but now lives in the French Alps — about the science, art and literature of snow, and about the way in which crystals of ice can transform the mundane into the magical. Snow was Book of the Week on Radio 4 last week, read by Jonathan Firth, and can still be heard on the BBC iPlayer.

Snow is one of the latest offerings from Little Toller, an independent publisher based in Dorset and dedicated to the best in nature writing. Another of its recent titles — which I’ve only had time to dip into but I’m sure I’m going to enjoy — is Arboreal, an anthology of new writing from woodlands across the British Isles, published in memory of the ecologist Oliver Rackham and with royalties going to the charity Common Ground. Dipping into it at random, I read a tremendous contribution by Paul Evans about winter trees as seen from the 7.46 from Shrewsbury to Crewe. It’s the kind of piece that makes you feel, on the one hand, that your own powers of observation are extremely limited and, on the other, that you should spend less time in 2017 jabbing at the keys of a mobile and more time looking out train windows.

The ultimate white Christmas

If you want to see how travel has changed, look to Antarctica, says Peter Hughes. A century ago, it was populated by a handful of men who had taken four months to get there and then struggled to survive. Today it’s one of the world’s bucket-list tourist destinations, drawing almost 40,000 visitors a year. He went there, in the run-up to last Christmas, for Telegraph Travel

Judging the Stanford Dolman prize

The names of the judges who will help Sara Wheeler to choose the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year (see previous post) have been announced. They are:

Benedict Allen, writer, explorer and adventurer; Helena Attlee, writer, academic and gardens expert (whose The Land Where Lemons Grow was shortlisted for the Dolman prize in 2015); Nic Bottomley, co-founder and owner of Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, in Bath, twice named Independent Bookshop of the Year; Matthew Fort, food writer and critic; Jason Goodwin, historian and author; Katie Hickman, novelist, travel writer and historian; Jeremy Seal, writer, broadcaster and expert on Turkey (whose Meander: East to West Along a Turkish River, was shortlisted for the prize in 2013); Amy Sohanpaul, editor of Traveller magazine and guidebook writer; and Rukhsana Yasmin, freelance editor and a BooksellerRising Star” in 2014.

Travel books of the year

Looking for a Christmas present for a travelling reader? You might find something suitable in the roundup I’ve written for The Daily Telegraph on some of my favourite books of 2016. There are more suggestions, from Liesl Schillinger, in The New York Times Book Review.

Stanford Dolman judges have 65 books to whittle down

The judges for the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year award, led by the writer Sara Wheeler, have about 65 books to consider with a view to drawing up a short list by January 10.

The prize, named for the Rev William Dolman, a member of the Authors’ Club, who had been sponsoring it through the club since 2006, was rebranded last year and its value doubled to £5,000. It is now the centre piece of a new scheme run by Stanfords bookshop, the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards, which has prizes in 10 categories: for books in various byways of travel (fiction, food, children’s travel books) and for new and career contributions to travel writing. Submissions close today for a prize for blog of the year, and on January 2 for the Bradt Travel Guides New Travel Writer of the Year award. The winners of all the prizes, including the Stanford Dolman award, will be announced on February 2 at the Stanfords Travel Writers Festival at the Destinations show in London.