Places Archive

Travel writing at September’s festivals

Events featuring writing on travel and place over the next couple of months include the following:

Cardiff Book Festival (September 7-9), where Angus Roxburgh and Trevor Fishlock, who have reported from Moscow for, respectively, the BBC and The Daily Telegraph, discuss modern Russia and “the good, the bad and the ugly side of being a foreign correspondent”. With Wales celebrating its coastline in 2018 with a “Year of the Sea”, Ifor ap Glyn, the National Poet, joins Dafydd Elis Thomas, the Culture Minister, and Lleucu Siencyn, chief executive of Literature Wales, to discuss what words and waves mean to the nation.

Wigtown Book Festival (September 21-30), where Aida Edemariam will tell how she immersed herself in the landscape of Ethiopia to write The Wife’s Tale, a biography of her grandmother, Yetemegnu, who was born in the northern city of Gondar and died five years ago aged nearly 100; Damian Le Bas tells of his journey through Gypsy Britain for The Stopping Places; Guy Stagg recalls his 10-month pilgrimage from Canterbury to Jerusalem, recounted in The Crossway; Nicholas Blincoe talks about the small but historic place he called home for 20 years, and whose history he has written in Bethlehem: Biography of a Town; Cameron McNeish, “who embodies Scotland’s love affair with the outdoors”, talks about a life in the mountains as recalled in There’s Always the Hills; and Tristan Gooley, “the Natural Navigator”, introduces his latest book, Wild Signs and Star Paths.

Marlborough Literature Festival (September 27-30), where Tim Dee will be talking about Ground Work: Writings on Places and People; Lois Pryce, author of Revolutionary Ride, will recall her adventures on a motorbike in Iran; and Aida Edemariam (see above) will be talking about The Wife’s Tale.

Ilkley Literature Festival (September 28-October 14), where William Atkins reports on his journeys in desert places for The Immeasurable World; Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin introduce their primer on a new geological age: The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene; Paul Scraton (born in Lancashire but based in Berlin) reports on his journeys along the German Baltic coast for Ghosts on the Shore; Joshua Jelly-Schapiro talks about his book Island People: The Caribbean and the World; and Richard Morris argues that Yorkshire, as the subtitle of his new book has it, is “England’s Greatest County”.

Deserts, and what the mind makes of them

My review of The Immeasurable World (Faber & Faber), in which William Atkins explores deserts and what the human mind has made of them, appeared in the print edition of The Daily Telegraph today. You can read it here on Deskbound Traveller.

Atkins swaps the damp for the dry

For his first book, The Moor, which was short-listed for the 2015 Thwaites Wainwright Prize, William Atkins travelled along the wet backbone of England. For his latest, The Immeasurable World  (Faber), he heads into deserts — including the Sonoran, between Mexico and the United States, where the Trump administration has been following its “zero-tolerance” policy against undocumented migrants. There he spent time both with a group that is helping migrants and with a border patrol officer.

  Atkins was on Start the Week  with Andrew Marr on Radio 4 on Monday, and he will be speaking at the Wealden Literary Festival, in Biddenden, Kent, on June 30.  You can read a brief (600 words or so) extract from his new book on the website of one of my favourite London bookshops, Foyles, and a longer piece he wrote, while working on the book, on the website of Granta magazine.

Travelling the world in Edinburgh

It’s a while since I’ve been to Edinburgh. This year’s bill for the Book Festival (August 11-27), which is now online, is making me think I should be booking for the duration. Writing on travel and place is particularly well represented. Tickets will be on sale from June 26.

  Rory MacLean will be talking about In North Korea, a book with which he and the photographer Nick Danziger aim “to catch a glimpse of life away from the performance, as it is lived in the world’s most secretive nation, at a turning point in its history”.

  Richard Lloyd Parry will discuss Ghosts of the Tsunami, his account, told through the stories of survivors, of the 2011 earthquake in north-east Japan (a book that recently won him the £20,000 Rathbones Folio Prize).

  Tim Dee (author of The Running Sky and Four Fields), will talk about Ground Work, the collection he has edited of writing on connections between place and people.

  Rose George (author of Deep Sea and Foreign Going), Maya Jasanoff (author of The Dawn Watch, about Joseph Conrad and globalisation) and the Brazilian philosopher Djamila Ribeiro, a major figure in the Afro-Brazilian women’s rights movement, will discuss the seas as a space for trading.

   James Campbell of the TLS and Rosemary Goring, literary editor of The Herald, will consider the city of bedsits, bachelors and bombed-out buildings that is “Muriel Spark’s London”.

  Graham Robb will talk about The Debatable Land, a territory that once lay between Scotland and England but belonged to neither.

  Alastair McIntosh (author of Poacher’s Pilgrimage, a journey through the Outer Hebrides) will compare notes with Guy Stagg (author of The Crossway, about a walk from Canterbury to Jerusalem, due to be published by Picador on June 14).

  Suzy Hansen (who writes for The New York Times Magazine from Turkey and is author of  Notes on a Foreign Country) and Sarah Rainsford (witness for the BBC to the end of Cuba’s Castro era and author of Our Woman in Havana) will offer “portraits of countries that American influence can barely reach and… discuss the issue of America’s place on the global stage”.

  Ian Buruma, editor of The New York Review of Books, will discuss his memoir of 1970s Japan, A Tokyo Romance.

  Abir Mukherjee, Sandip Roy, Nalini Paul and Sampurna Chattarji will mark 70 years of Indian independence by mapping the connections, ancient and contemporary, between Scotland and India.

  Bruno Maçães, who was Portugal’s Europe Minister from 2013 to 2015, will present The Dawn of Eurasia, which “weaves together history, diplomacy and vivid reports of a six-month journey from Baku to Samarkand, Vladivostok to Beijing… in an effort to persuade us that our future lies in developing a supercontinent called Eurasia”.

  The Canadian-born artist and poet JR Carpenter and the Catalan writer Alicia Kopf will discuss polar explorations. The former’s collection An Ocean of Static “is generated from ship logs and code language”; the latter has written a hybrid novel, Brother in Ice, “from research notes, a fictionalised diary and a travelogue of polar exploration”.

  Claudio Magris (author of Danube and, most recently, a collection of essays, Journeying) and Francis Spufford (whose novel Golden Hill won last year’s RSL Ondaatje Prize and whose latest work is True Stories & Other Essays), will talk on the theme that “Life is a journey”.

Woods, reservoirs and radio

Publishers had to submit entries by the end of last week for the £5,000 Wainwright Prize, which is named after the great fell walker and is for the best book of travel, nature or outdoors writing focused on the United Kingdom. I’m assuming Doubleday has entered the latest from the writer and farmer John Lewis-Stempel, The Wood, which came out earlier this month and in which he records the natural daily life and historical times of a wood in Herefordshire. Or perhaps it has entered Lewis-Stempel’s The Secret Life of the Owl, which came out last October. Or maybe it has entered both. That wouldn’t be a first. Lewis-Stempel is prolific as well as talented. Having won the Wainwright Prize in 2015 for Meadowland, he not only took it again in 2017 with Where Poppies Blow (a study of the relationship between soldiers and nature in the First World War) but also had a second book on the short list: The Running Hare. The Wood is currently Book of the Week on Radio 4.

  Also starting on Radio 4 tonight, in the Book at Bedtime slot, is Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13.