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‘The Amur River’ on Radio 4

Colin Thubron’s The Amur River (see below) is Book of the Week on Radio 4 from this morning.

Hanbury-Tenison on space, Survival and the lessons of Covid-19

Yesterday’s interview in the Hard Talk slot from BBC News is well worth a listen. The explorer Robin Hanbury-Tenison talks to Stephen Sackur about space exploration (“a complete waste of time”), the work of Survival International, the lessons of Covid-19… and why we should stop flying long-haul.

Thubron on the Amur — and ageing

Colin Thubron (see earlier post) talks about the Amur River, and the impact of age on his travels and his writing, in an interview on Jeremy Bassetti’s Travel Writing World.

Win a copy of Pamela Petro’s ‘The Long Field’

Pamela Petro’s The Long Field (which I recommended recently) is out today — and you can read an extract here on Deskbound Traveller. Thanks to the publisher, Little Toller, I have five copies to give away. To be in with a chance of winning one, just retweet my mention of the book from either @kerraway or @deskboundtravel.

Terms and conditions
Entrants must retweet a mention of the prize on Twitter from @kerraway or @deskboundtravel by midnight on September 22. Each winner, who must be resident in the United Kingdom or Ireland, will receive one copy of the book. Winners will be selected at random and notified by September 29. Unsuccessful entrants will not be contacted.

Thubron and the power of great travel writing

It was Thubron weekend in the British press. The travel section of The Guardian had an extract from Colin Thubron’s latest book, The Amur River (Chatto & Windus, £20), for which, in his 80th year, he made an ambitious journey along the waterway that divides China and Russia. The author talked to Christina Lamb of The Sunday Times (“I’ve never accepted I am old. I always thought that if the mind is willing and you are enthusiastic enough the body will fall into line.”). And the book won glowing reviews from Sara Wheeler, in The Spectator,  and William Dalrymple, in The Daily Telegraph. The two saw it in much the same light. Wheeler concluded: “They say travel writing is dead, but it isn’t. Here is a writer at the top of his game, one from whom those toiling on the lower slopes have much to learn. Thubron, having seen and reflected, has distilled his observations into a volume that will outlive Cassandras, post-Soviet gangsters and every smuggler who ever stacked a raft.” For Dalrymple, The Amur River was “not just a literary triumph in itself, it is also a demonstration of the continued power of great travel writing… One can only hope that this epic journey is not Thubron’s last.”

Wainwright prizes go to Rebanks and Sheldrake

The Wainwright Prize for UK nature writing was awarded last night to James Rebanks for English Pastoral, a history of family, loss and the land over three generations on a Lake District farm. The prize for writing on global conservation went to Merlin Sheldrake for Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures. The judges also commended Thin Places by Kerri ní Dochartaigh, in the nature prize, and Fathoms by Rebecca Giggs, in the conservation category.

Field and hill, river and sea: new books on travel and place

The best way to meet a writer (though it’s increasingly hard to arrange in our hyperlinked age) is on the page. That way, your judgement about the work won’t be influenced by anything you’ve heard or read about the person behind it. So it was that I first encountered Pamela Petro, whose Sitting Up with the Dead came to me like an early and very welcome Christmas present in 2001. I’ve since been lucky enough to commission Pamela, I’ve been to Welsh Patagonia with her Travels in an Old Tongue in my bag, and I now count her as a friend. That would make it difficult, if not impossible, for me to review her work, but I can say here that her latest book, The Long Field (Little Toller, £20, September 14), is both a wonderfully absorbing meditation on the meaning of home and place, and a love letter to Wales.

Christopher Somerville is another writer I got to know in the same way: first in vigorous prose, then in cheery person. I’d been enjoying his company on the “Walk of the Month” in Telegraph Travel, as a reader and, later, an editor, long before I sat down to have a chat with him. He, too, would be tricky for me to review, but I want to mention his latest book, which arrived in the post this morning. In The View from the Hill (Haus Publishing,  £16.99, September 20), he makes the most of the idleness enforced by the pandemic to look back on 40 years of wandering in Britain. He offers “An account of walking the landscape… in every corner of these islands, the wildlife, the people, the shapes and colours of weather and hills, and the changing nature of the British countryside over the working lifetime of one walker.”

I’ve met the German journalist Jens Mühling only on the page. In 2014, I reviewed his wonderful debut, A Journey into Russia, which was later short-listed for the Stanford Dolman prize. He followed that with Black Earth, about Ukraine, a country “at the crossroads of Europe and Asia and the centre of countless conflicts of opinion”. His latest book (published, in common with Christopher Somerville’s, by Haus) is Troubled Water: A Journey Around the Black Sea (£16.99, October 18). It comes with endorsements from Neal Ascherson, Erika Fatland (author of Sovietistan) and Andrew Eames, whose own books include Blue River, Black Sea. “It is impossible,” Eames says, “not to admire the way that Mühling skims effortlessly around what must be one of the most fractious coastal circumferences in the world… creating a 360-degree picture assembled from a jigsaw puzzle of humanity.” (Incidentally, you can read extracts from both A Journey into Russia and Black Earth here on Deskbound Traveller.)

Having been borne along by both Michael Jacobs (The Robber of Memories) and Wade Davis (Magdalena: River of Dreams) on Colombia’s great waterway, I’m looking forward to seeing what a much younger writer makes of it. Jordan Salama, who spotted a roundup I’d written of books on travel and place published in the first half of this year, asked his publisher to send me a copy of his debut, Every Day the River Changes (Catapult, US$26, November 16). As I’ve recently moved house and am behind with my reading, I haven’t had time to start it yet, but I see the book has endorsements from both John McPhee (“This is a born journalist”) and Pico Iyer (“This engaging, intrepid debut promises many more wonders to come”).

Among recently published books I’ve not had time to mention before is the BBC correspondent Paul Kenyon’s Children of the Night: The Strange and Epic Story of Modern Romania (Head of Zeus, £25). His publisher says it’s “a personal discovery of this extraordinary country, bringing together… Kenyon’s eye for the private vices and kleptocratic tendencies of despots with a heartfelt exploration of the fate of one Romanian family in particular”. For more about it, see reviews in the Literary Review and The Spectator.

Travel and place at Cheltenham Festival

Writing on travel and place features strongly on a tremendous bill for the Cheltenham Literature Festival, which is scheduled to run from October 8 to 17.  Speakers will include Colin Thubron (left), whose new book The Amur River: Between Russia and China, is due to be published on September 16. Tim Hannigan, who interviewed Thubron and many other travel writers for The Travel Writing Tribe, will also be contributing. He and Georgina Lawton, author of Black Girls Take World: The Travel Bible for Black Women with Boundless Wanderlust, will discuss with Jenny Coad, deputy travel editor at The Times and The Sunday Times, where travel writing can go in the 21st century.

Anita Sethi, author of I Belong Here, the British Bangladeshi birder and activist Mya-Rose Craig (We Have A Dream) and Lucy McRobert (365 Days Wild) will explore “why rural Britain remains predominantly a white landscape, the ways in which we all connect with nature, and what we can do to create a truly inclusive countryside”.

In a session billed as “Thinking on your feet”, Annabel Abbs (author of Windswept: Walking in the footsteps of remarkable women) and Matthew Beaumont (The Walker: On Losing and Finding Yourself in the Modern City) trace the footsteps of walking writers from Dickens and Woolf to Shepherd and Strayed. The session is chaired by the adventurer Phoebe Smith (who will also be interviewing Anne Strathie about her new biography of Herbert Ponting, photographer on Scott’s expedition to the Antarctic).

Gail Muller will talk about her 2,200-mile trek along the Appalachian Trail for Unlost — one she embarked on at 41, having been told she would be wheelchair-bound by the age of 40.

Susan Owens, author of Spirit of Place, will talk about how the British landscape has been framed and reimagined by successive generations of artists and writers.

October sees the launch of a new three-year theme for the festival: Read the World. The idea is that “A greater range of international writing will be profiled, offering an incisive guide to key issues on the global stage.” Ann Morgan, campaigning blogger and author of Reading the World, will be “literary explorer in residence”, with a brief to help expand reading habits and introduce the festival audience to new writers.

Short lists for Wainwright Prizes

The short lists were announced this week for the Wainwright Prize for UK Nature Writing and the Wainwright Prize for Writing on Global Conservation; you can find both on the organisers’ website. The winners will be announced on September 7.

Away with words

Until a week ago, when I flew to Cyprus for a family wedding, I hadn’t been on a train or a boat, let alone a plane, for a long time. But I’ve still been travelling — thanks to the transporting power of words on paper. If you’re in need of a virtual escape, or something to read on a real one, you might find it among some of this year’s best new books on travel and place, which I covered in a roundup last weekend for Telegraph Travel.

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