Author Archive

Moor’s ‘On Trails’ wins US award

On Trails by Robert Moor, which I’ve recommended a few times, has been named joint winner in the “outdoor literature” category of the US National Outdoor Book Awards. You can read an extract on Deskbound Traveller.

With Alcock across the Atlantic

It’s just over 125 years since the birth of John Alcock (November 5), who would serve as a pilot in the Royal Naval Air Service during the First World War and win the Distinguished Service Cross.

After the war, he became a test pilot for Vickers and, with Arthur Brown, in 1919, made the first non-stop transatlantic flight. The latter feat is recalled in Colum McCann’s wonderful novel TransAtlantic. It’s one of several books with which I’d challenge Paul Theroux’s assertion that “there is not much to say about airplane journeys”.

On the move with Finn Murphy

“I want people to understand what a trucker’s life is really like out there on the big slab, and why manual work can be a worthy occupation.” So says Finn Murphy, whose book I mentioned a while ago. I’ve just found a promotional video for it on YouTube.

Into the winds again

The Spectator has two views this week of Nick Hunt’s Where the Wild Winds Are, which I found a daring and accomplished travel book. Hugh Thomson says “Hunt’s quest is bold but not always successful and the book occasionally languishes in the doldrums as he searches for the elusive winds”. However, Jan Morris (who reviewed the book earlier for the Literary Reviewincludes it as one of her two titles of the year, and acclaims it as “an example of the trend that has lately encouraged some particularly gifted writers to explore the profounder reaches of travel writing. Hunt’s contribution to the genre has at its epicentre not places at all but winds — five European zephyrs, whose characteristics, styles, legends, beauties and varied awfulnesses he exploits to compelling and entertaining effect.”

Barkham’s islands

Patrick Barkham’s Islander: A Journey Around Our Archipelago (Granta), which I mentioned a while back, has been reviewed in both The Guardian (for which he writes on nature) and — with more enthusiasm — in its sister paper The Observer, as well as in the Financial Times, The Spectator and The Scotsman.


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

The next Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year…

The last Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year was Interstate (Arcadia), Julian Sayarer’s portrait of the United States as he saw it while hitchhiking during the final days of the Obama administration. Which will be the next? That’s something not even the judges will know for a while: we met for the first time this week.
  The £5,000 Stanford Dolman prize, 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 — was rebranded in 2015 and is now the centrepiece of a scheme run by the bookseller Stanfords and named after its founder: the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards. This year, as last, the chair of the judging panel is the travel writer and biographer Sara Wheeler. Joining her are Helena Drysdale, Jason Goodwin, Victoria Mather, Mary Novakovich, Samantha Weinberg and yours truly.
  On Tuesday, at the National Liberal Club in Whitehall, base for the Authors’ Club, we met the literary journalist Suzi Feay, a member of the club’s committee, went through books that have been submitted to check they are eligible and called in a few more. Then we went home with our first batch of books to read. 
  Guidebooks aren’t eligible (though they may be for one of the other awards in the Edward Stanford scheme). Nor are novels, however powerfully they evoke a spirit of place (and there’s already an award for that in the RSL Ondaatje Prize). The Stanford Dolman is a prize for narrative travel writing. There is often some debate over what constitutes a travel book, but once it’s settled and we’ve decided to consider a book, Sara told us, our chief criterion in assessing a title, and weighing it against others, should be literary merit.
  We are due to confirm a short list by December 7, for announcement on January 10. The winner will be chosen by January 22, and the award ceremony is due to take place during the Stanfords Travel Writers’ Festival at the Destinations Show at Olympia, London, early in February.
  I can already think of a book or two from the past year that might be a contender for the prize, but we have all been asked to avoid mention in public of particular titles until we have arrived at a short list. I’m looking forward to hearing what my fellow judges think should be on that.

Back to North Korea

Only 5,000 people a year visit “the hermit kingdom” of North Korea. Among them has been the radio producer Sarah Jane Hall, who first went in 2004, when, she says, it was hard to imagine the political temperature could get any higher. Since then, of course, the leaders of the United States and North Korea have been threatening each other with nuclear weapons. In Archive on 4: Travels in North Korea, which was broadcast on Saturday evening and is now available on the BBC iPlayer, Hall asks: “Is it easier to go to war with a country we don’t understand?” She mingles her own experience of North Korea with those of recent visitors to the country, including tour leaders and their customers, a diplomat, a film-maker and the broadcaster Andy Kershaw. What did they see and do, and what did they learn?

Words on the wind

On a day when some parts of the British Isles are being swept by what the BBC calls “the remnants of Hurricane Ophelia”, that excellent website Caught by the River has published an extract from Nick Hunt’s Where the Wild Winds Are, which I reviewed recently.

‘A shock trip to North Korea’

Yoojin Grace Wuertz, in the TLS, reviews The Sun Tyrant: A Nightmare called North Korea, by JP Floru (Biteback).