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Edinburgh’s ‘Outriders’ from the Americas

Travel writing features strongly on the bill for the Edinburgh International Book Festival (August 12-28). Earlier this year the organisers sent five Scottish writers across the Americas, each one travelling with a local writer, to “interrogate the socio-political landscape” of the region. These “Outriders” — including Matthew Tallack (author of Sixty Degrees North), who travelled from Fargo to Tennessee with the Boston-based novelist Jennifer Haigh — will be reporting in a series of events on what they saw and heard.

Other speakers include Garrett Carr, author of The Rule of the Land, about walking the Irish border; Julian Sayarer, whose story of hitch-hiking across the United States, Interstate, was the last Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year; and Madeleine Bunting, whose Love of Country, on her journeys through the Hebrides, has been short-listed for this year’s Wainwright Prize for nature/travel writing focused on the United Kingdom.

André Naffis-Sahely — who was born in Venice to an Iranian father and an Italian mother but grew up in Abu Dhabi —  will be introducing his debut poetry collection The Promised Land (Penguin), which tells of itinerant lives in “disposable cities”.


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

‘Golden Hill’ is Book at Bedtime this week

Francis Spufford’s Golden Hill (see previous post), which last week won the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize for a book “evoking the spirit of a place” — in this case 18th-century Manhattan — is the Book at Bedtime this week on Radio 4, starting at 10.45pm tonight.

RSL Ondaatje Prize winner to be named tonight

The winner of the 2017 RSL Ondaatje Prize, a £10,000 award for a book “evoking the spirit of a place”, is due to be announced tonight. On Telegraph Travel, you can read extracts I’ve chosen from the six books short-listed.


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

RSL Ondaatje short list for 2017

The short list for the 2017 RSL Ondaatje Prize was announced today. See bit.ly/2p3qe8L.

Short list due tomorrow for RSL Ondaatje Prize

The short list for the £10,000 RSL Ondaatje Prize, for “a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry evoking the spirit of a place”, is due to be announced tomorrow.

The judges for this year’s prize are Alexandra Harris (short-listed last year for Weatherland), Henry Hitchings and Mimi Khalvati.  The winner will be announced at a dinner at the Travellers’ Club in London on May 8.

Last year’s winner (mentioned a few times recently on Deskbound Traveller) was Peter Pomerantsev for Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible, a portrait of Putin’s Russia.

Competition winner

Congratulations to June Louise Laurenson, who wins the Deskbound Traveller competition for all six books short-listed for last year’s RSL Ondaatje Prize; they will be going in the post to her today. And thanks again to the Royal Society of Literature for offering the books.

The short list for this year’s RSL Ondaatje Prize will be announced next Wednesday (April 26) and the winner will be named on May 8. For more about the prize, see the RSL’s website.

Great advice for travel (and other) writers

I’ll do anything to avoid writing. In fact, in between the first sentence I keyed in here (which is not the one you’ve just read) and the one that follows, I went downstairs to pick up post that didn’t need to be opened because I already knew what was inside. Right now, I’m thinking of going down again to put the kettle on for another cuppa even though the mug on the desk is still warm from the last one. I’d sooner attend to my tax return or attempt to understand my pension than get down a first draft of anything I might later want people to read. The first draft, for me, is blood frae stane. It’s the editing I like: the tweaking of paragraphs, sentences and phrases to get the right words in something approaching the right order (if not quite, as in poetry, the best words in the best order), and then the chiselling and chipping and polishing, and finally the reading in my head or aloud, until I’ve got something I can live with.

I’m one of a generation of journalists raised on Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language”, in the course of which he declares:

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

Great advice to follow — but only once you’ve done the first draft. Before that, I let myself be guided by the American writer Ann Lamott (in her excellent Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life):

Start by getting something — anything — down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft — you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft — you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.

So what, you might be thinking, has this got to do with travel writing? Well, my favourite piece of advice on writing — any kind of writing — was given by the late, great publisher Jock Murray to the travel writer Stanley Stewart. It’s advice that will prove useful when you’re at the stage of the dental draft. What Jock said was: “Cut, and an echo of what you have cut will remain.”


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