Author Archive

‘Where the Wild Winds Are’: an invigorating blast of a book

My review of Nick Hunt’s Where the Wild Winds Are (Nicholas Brealey) appeared in the Review section of The Daily Telegraph yesterday. You can now read it on Deskbound Traveller.

Down to the frozen sea with Clare

Horatio Clare has been out on the water again. His last book for adults, Down to the Sea in Ships, a lyrical account of the tough trade of container shipping, was the 2015 Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year. For his next, Icebreaker: A Voyage Far North, he joins the crew of the Finnish icebreaker Otso in the Bay of Bothnia, between Finland and Sweden, as they open up lanes, tow merchant ships and dislodge them from the ice. The book is due to be published by Chatto & Windus on November 9; Clare will be talking about it at Stanfords, the travel bookshop, in London, on November 16.

Back ‘In Patagonia’

To mark the 40th anniversary of the appearance of In Patagonia, Vintage is to publish next month an edition that contains Bruce Chatwin’s original proposal for what he was then calling “O Patagonia”. It also has a letter from Chatwin to a colleague in London, in which he declares: “I’m working on something that could be marvellous, but I’ll have to do it in my own way.” His own way turned out to be a form in which, in the words of his biographer Nicholas Shakespeare, “He tells not a half-truth, but a truth-and-a-half.” 

The writer of the “NB” column in the current TLS says that the problem has dogged travel writers ever since:

The reader assumes that this is a true story; the writer sheepishly admits that it isn’t entirely. It was to cope with this sort of objection that the term “creative nonfiction” was born.

Letter from the American road

The purpose of the online magazine is to search “for the interface — the integration — among the built and natural environments that might be called the soul of place”. Since 2016, in a “Letter to America” series, it has  been presenting post-election responses from writers, artists, scientists and thinkers across the United States. In one of the latest, Dave Rintoul, a biology professor at Kansas State University, muses on what he saw and learned on a recent road trip.

Talking borders in ‘The Paris Review’

Kapka Kassabova’s Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe, which I have mentioned here a few times, was long-listed last week for the Baillie Gifford Prize (formerly the Samuel Johnson Prize) for non-fiction, worth £30,000 to the winner. Yesterday, Jeffery Gleaves, digital editor of The Paris Review, put online his interview with the author.

War in watercolours

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, a former architect who is now an award-winning correspondent for The Guardian, is writing a book about his life as a reporter, focusing on assignments in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. He makes sense of his experiences in those places not just with words and photographs but with sketches in pen and watercolours. “When you’re in a conflict zone,” he told his colleague Killian Fox in The Observer at the weekend, “drawing is amazingly therapeutic.”

Savagery and loveliness in ‘Inch Levels’

One of the strengths of Neil Hegarty’s debut novel, Inch Levels (Head of Zeus), a story of family secrets and the damage they can do, lies in its evocation of place — in this case the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal. The book, short-listed for the £15,000 Kerry Group Novel of the Year Award, is currently being explored by the book club of The Irish Times. In the paper today, Danielle McLaughlin, who knows the area well, writes on how Hegarty captures “the hint of savagery that exists alongside the loveliness”.

Back to Norman Maclean’s Montana

Noah Scot Snyder, grandson of Norman Maclean, at a spot on the Big Blackfoot River where the writer taught him to fish

There was a festival in Montana last weekend dedicated to the work of Norman Maclean, author of that miniature masterpiece A River Runs through It. Reading about the event brought back fond memories of the first “Maclean Footsteps” festival in 2015, which I mentioned earlier.

You can now read my piece about that on Deskbound Traveller.

The depths of summer snow

In a piece in the travel section of The Guardian on Saturday, the novelist Christopher Nicholson told how he has been captivated since boyhood by the Cairngorms, and touched briefly on the survival there in summer of snow. It’s a subject he explores at slightly greater length (159 pages) in his latest book, Among the Summer Snows (September Publishing); a book he began 10 years ago, abandoned when his wife fell ill and returned to after her death. “Snow,” he admits, “has no quantifiable value; if you hold a piece in your hands it soon tells you what it’s worth by turning to water and running away.” But for him, the survival of snow in summer, its rareness and improbability, has become a singular passion. The book chronicles walks on which he seeks it out under cliffs and crags, in clefts and corries, and ponders its meaning:

There are times when I imagine the snowbeds as shrines and chapels, scattered in the mountains, the relics of a disappearing religion, and there are other times when they fill me with ideas about beauty and death. Death robs life of meaning, beauty infuses life with meaning. Death and beauty are aspects of the polar divide: on the one side weight and matter and inertia, on the other light and spirit and the airy zones. Summer snow is a bridge that stretches across the divide.

It’s a book of close looking and close thinking, attentive not just to the snow but also to the plants and to the mosses and lichens forming mini-landscapes at the author’s feet as  he makes his way to the snowbeds. A glorious little book, beautifully produced, with the author’s photographs, by the independent imprint September Publishing. 

Blown away

Jan Morris was right. Nick Hunt’s Where the Wild Winds Are (Nicholas Brealey) which he launched last night, is an exuberant, invigorating blast of a book. I’ll say more in a review in print in the next week or so.