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5×15 on travel and exploration

5×15, which I’ve mentioned here recently, has a session in London next month focusing on travel and exploration. The speakers are Andrew Solomon, author of Far & Away, reviewed yesterday in The Observer; the Turkish novelist Elif Shafak, whose The Architect’s Apprentice, set in 16th-century Istanbul, was shortlisted for last year’s RSL Ondaatje Prize for a book evoking the spirit of a place; Robert Twigger, author most recently of what he calls a “polymathic ‘biography’ of Everest”, which follows his torrent of river tales in Red Nile; Madeleine Bunting, whose Love of Country: A Hebridean Journey, is due out from Granta on October 13; and Sarah Marquis, a Swiss adventurer whose feats have included a three-year walk from Siberia to Australia, recounted in Wild by Nature. The session is on October 12 at the Emmanuel Centre, SW1.

Wigtown hosts the wanderers

If work weren’t taking me elsewhere, I know where I’d be going at the end of next week: to the Wigtown Book Festival in Scotland (Sept 23-Oct 2). Travel writing features prominently on a tremendous programme.

Speakers will include Alastair McIntosh, author of Poacher’s Pilgrimage, about a journey the length of Lewis and Harris; Cal Flyn, author of Thicker Than Water, the story of her ancestor, Angus McMillan, who was both a frontiersman in Australia and a killer of indigenous people; Jason Lewis, the first person to navigate the world by human power, who will be talking about To the Brink, the final part of his Expedition trilogy; Charlotte McDonald-Gibson, who in Cast Away tells the individual stories of refugees trying to start a new life in Europe; Amy Liptrot, author of The Outrun, a memoir of Orkney that won this year’s Wainwright Prize; Rory Stewart, who in The Marches will tell about walking the land between Scotland and England with his father; Madeleine Bunting, whose Love of Country: A Hebridean Journey, is due out next month; Edward Wilson-Lee, author of Shakespeare in Swahililand; Mark Beaumont (The Man Who Cycled the World), talking about his latest book, Africa Solo, recounting his 41 days in the saddle from Cairo to Cape Town; and Malachy Tallack, who is following his critically acclaimed 60 Degrees North with The Un-Discovered Islands, about 24 islands once believed to be real but no longer on the map.

On Heaney’s home ground

The Seamus Heaney HomePlace, a new centre in Bellaghy, County Derry, that will celebrate the life and work of the poet, is due to open at the end of this month. Helen Mark went to the village for Radio 4’s Open Country programme to hear how plans are proceeding. The priest, Father Dolan, says that Heaney has made the local landscape “sacred and immortal”; the teacher who first took Heaney’s work into the classroom says the poet has helped children value what they took for granted. Even those with little interest in poetry know that the legacy of “Famous Seamus” could be good for business.

Not too good, I hope. I’m reminded of a fine piece Fionnuala McHugh wrote a couple of years ago for Telegraph Travel, in which she observed: “Heaney tours are currently at that happy stage where people are still tickled by visitors. May that never change.”

Conjuring Thomas Machell, forgotten explorer

I’ve mentioned before Deeper than Indigo, Jenny Balfour Paul’s account of travels inspired by a Victorian adventurer, Thomas Machell, with whom she shares a love of India, a career in indigo (she is one of the world’s leading experts) and a passion for journal writing. The author will be speaking on Tuesday in Tiverton, Devon, as part of a series of events organised by the South-West regional committee of the Royal Geographical Society.

15 minutes — x 5 — on the Thames

As the name suggests, 5×15 arranges evenings in which five speakers are each given 15 minutes. Its offering next week at Trinity Buoy Wharf, in London, is devoted to the Thames. On the bill will be the Korean-American artist Ik-Joong Kang, on “Floating Dreams”; London’s best-known psychogeographer, Iain Sinclair, on “River of No Return”; the sculptor Richard Wilson, creator of Slipstream at Heathrow’s Terminal 2, on harnessing the creativity of the river; the playwright (and founder of The Midnight Run) Inua Ellams, on “water stories”; Orlando Seale, front man of The Swell (which Serena Davies of The Daily Telegraph says is “Like Arcade Fire with better lyrics”); and Rachel Lichtenstein, author of Estuary: Out from London to the Sea (see previous post), talking about the people of the Thames. Looks like a great bill.


Deskbound Traveller is taking a break 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.”