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Unbound

Deskbound Traveller is taking a break for 10 days or so while its editor escapes from the desk.

On the river with Radio 4

Busy clearing my desk for a trip to the Canadian Arctic, I forgot to mention in advance Radio 4’s series of 15-minute talks this week on the theme of “The River”. Then I heard a contribution at lunchtime from the Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie on being transported back to the Bronze Age on the Tay. The beauty of modern-day radio, of course, is that you can catch up online when it’s convenient using the BBC iPlayer. Four talks are already on the BBC site and the fifth, in which the wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson follows the North Tyne to the sea, will be broadcast tomorrow.

Again on rivers, there’s a lovely piece by Melisssa Harrison on Shreen Water, in Dorset, on the excellent Caught by the River website. There, too, I’m reminded of the Shorelines Literature Festival, coming up next month in the Port of Tilbury. Contributors will include Rachel Lichtenstein, whose Estuary: Out from London to the Sea is due out next month from Hamish Hamilton; Deborah Levy; Patrick Wright; and those two cargo-ship crew members Horatio Clare and Rose George.

Kathleeen Jamie, incidentally, was joint winner in 2013 of the Dolman Travel Book Award for Sightlines, an extract from which you can still read on Deskbound Traveller.

Thubron on his addiction to travel

In his new novel, Night of Fire, Colin Thubron writes of one of his characters, “Travel was his vice, his addiction, or else he was trying to escape something.” John Preston, in an interview published in The Daily Telegraph at the weekend, asked Thubron how true that was of himself. “Travel has always been a kind of addiction for me,” he answered, “but I’ve never thought of it as an escape… if anything, I think I’m confronting the world when I travel. For me, staying at home has much more to do with escape.”

Flânerie and the LRB

Lauren Elkin, whose book Flâneuse I mentioned recently, was  interviewed at the London Review Bookshop about flânerie and her own walking life by Brian Dillon, the writer and critic (and author of The Great Explosion, which was shortlisted for this year’s RSL Ondaatje Prize). You can listen to their conversation on an LRB podcast.

London’s heart of darkness

In the 1980s, working as a freelance sub-editor in Fleet Street, I did shifts everywhere from the sports desk at The Sun to the business desk at The Guardian. For a while, I worked a couple of nights a week from midnight till six in the morning on the weekend pages of The Daily Express. One morning there, just before we finished, the night production editor asked me where  I was heading afterwards. “Victoria,” I said. “Me too,” he answered. “I’ll give you a lift.”

I meant the railway station; he meant The Victoria — the all-night pub opposite Smithfield Market, a hostelry out of Hogarth. The pub, in common with several others in the area, had a sign saying that “anyone lawfully engaged on business in the market may drink here from the hours of 5 to 8 o’clock in the morning”. Market porters in blood-spattered overalls and bus conductors with bleary eyes sat down with a pint of beer in one hand and a heart attack on a plate — a fried full English breakfast — in the other. We sat among them for a few pints, and then I walked down Farringdon Road towards the tube station, homeward-bound, breathing beer, at a time when normal, sober folk were hurrying to work.

The Victoria’s gone, flattened as part of the Crossrail development, but I was reminded of it by a special “Night issue” of the review section in The Observer yesterday, commissioned to mark the start this week of a 24-hour tube service in London. Among articles in it was one from Matthew Beaumont, author of Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London. The oil lamps of the 17th century may have given way to floodlit streets, he writes, but “Our cities, like ourselves, can seem alien and unfamiliar at night. And if you listen to them attentively, as though through an echo sounder, you can hear the encompassing darkness transmit from its depths the noises and pulses of the capital’s pre-modern past.”

Into Alaska with Dave Eggers

In Dave Eggers’ new novel, Heroes of the Frontier, a mother flees a suburban Midwestern life and a partner she calls “an invertebrate” and lights out with her two children to Alaska, where she imagines everyone must be living “a plain-spoken and linear existence centered around work and trees and sky.” There’s an interview with Eggers in National Geographic, where he talks about the joys of road trips and of travelling without an itinerary. An extract from the book was published recently in the Review section of The Daily Telegraph.

Travel writing at September’s festivals

Writing on travel and places features strongly in September’s literary festivals.

Speakers at the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival (Sept 15-18; budlitfest.org.uk), in Devon, will include Jenny Balfour Paul, author of Deeper Than Indigo, her account of her travels in the footsteps of the Victorian explorer Thomas Machell; and Alexandra Harris, author of Weatherland: Writers and Artists Under English Skies, which was shortlisted for this year’s RSL Ondaatje Prize.

Speakers at the Sevenoaks Literary Festival, in Kent (Sept 23-Oct 7; http://sevlitfest.com), will include Edward Wilson-Lee, author of Shakespeare in Swahililand, and Michael Smith, author of Shackleton: By Endurance We Conquer.

Speakers at the Henley Literary Festival (Sept 24-Oct 2; http://henleyliteraryfestival.co.uk), in Oxfordshire, will include William Thomson, author of The Book of Tides, based on his journey round the British coastline in a camper van with his young family; Tristan Gooley, author of How to Read Water: Clues, Signs & Patterns from Puddles to the Sea; Dan Richards, author of Climbing Days, inspired by the feats of his pioneering great-great-aunt Dorothy Pilley; and John Gimlette, author of Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka.

Speakers at the Wimbledon Book Festival (Sept 29-Oct 9; wimbledonbookfest.org) will include the explorer Ranulph Fiennes; Peter Frankopan, author of The Silk Roads: A New History of the World; the journalist and travel writer Diana Darke, author of My House in Damascus: An Inside View of the Syrian Crisis; and Simon Bradley, author of The Railways: Nation, Network & People.

Speakers at the Marlborough Literature Festival (Sept 30-Oct 2; www.marlboroughlitfest.org), in Wiltshire, will include Ben Rawlence, author of City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp, and Anna Pavord, author of Landskipping: Painters, Ploughmen and Places.

Thubron, travelling novelist

In an interview with Erica Wagner in The Observer recently, Colin Thubron remarked that people who liked his novels were “indifferent to the travel books, and the people who love the travel books don’t even know I’m a novelist”. I did know he was a novelist, and a much-praised one, but though I’ve got half a dozen of his travel books on the shelves behind my desk I’ve never ready any of the novels. Maybe it’s time I caught up.

His latest, the eighth, Night of Fire, weaves together the stories of six tenants of a seaside boarding house that’s been turned into flats. Reviewing it in The Times last weekend, Melissa Katsoulis noted that Thubron’s novels and travelogues “do not seem to spring from disparate parts of the imagination but rather enjoy a symbiotic relationship that, as he matures [he’s 77], results in increasingly fascinating work”.

Thubron himself, writing a piece for The Guardian — in the travel section — revealed that his only venture to sub-Saharan Africa had been made while he was researching the novel. It was to Malawi, to a refugee camp. “I had planned to spend a week here, but this voyeurism disturbed me, and I managed only three days. I could never have understood the detail and feel of the camp — its brutally cramped quarters, its heart-breaking permanence — from reading or the internet. Mentally and emotionally, it was vital to be there.”

Flânerie and the female

Flânerie, the urban wandering that leads sometimes to observation, philosophy and writing, is a pursuit usually associated with men. But there have been, and are, flâneuses as well as flâneurs. Book of the Week on Radio 4 from tomorrow morning is Flâneuse: Women Walk the City (Chatto & Windus) by Lauren Elkin. First she describes her own strolls along the pavements of Paris and New York; later in the week she follows in the footsteps of Virginia Woolf, Sophie Calle and George Sand. Elkin introduced her book with a piece last weekend for The Guardian.

The producer of the Radio 4 adaptation, by the way, is Duncan Minshull, a keen walker himself and editor of the lovely anthology While Wandering: A Walking Companion published a couple of years ago by Vintage. Between “Setting off” and “Final steps”, it takes in contributions from some 200 writers, ranging from Jane Austen to Redmond O’Hanlon, touches on subjects from practicalities to companions, and tramps between mountain and metropolis. And it’s not too heavy for the backpack.

Amy Liptrot wins Wainwright Prize for ‘The Outrun’

I’m delighted to hear that Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun (Canongate) has won the Wainwright Prize — partly because it’s a wonderful book and partly because it’s a bold choice by the judges. It’s hardly a conventional work, whether you consider it as nature writing or as travel. It’s powerfully evocative of Orkney, “where land is often just a thin division between sky and water”, but it’s also a memoir of addiction and recovery, and of the role played in the latter by nature and by the writing of the book itself.

When it was first published, I mentioned it only briefly on my monthly books spread for Telegraph Travel, because I had heard that the books section had already commissioned a review. Canongate is due to publish it this month in paperback, and I thoroughly recommend it.

The Wainwright Prize, worth £5,000 to the winner, is for nature and travel writing focused on Britain, and is run by the publisher Frances Lincoln in association with the National Trust. The idea is to celebrate the legacy of the walker and writer Alfred Wainwright — whose guides to the Lakeland fells are published by Frances Lincoln — and to reflect “his core values of inspiring people to explore the outdoors, whilst engendering a love of landscape and respect for nature”.