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‘Outlandish’ walks in Europe

Having followed Patrick Leigh Fermor (Walking the Woods and the Water) and then four of Europe’s winds (Where the Wild Winds Are) across the continent, Nick Hunt takes us in Outlandish (John Murray, £16.99, May 27) through landscapes that shouldn’t be there: wildernesses that seem to belong to another part of the world. An extract from the new book went up yesterday on the website of The Guardian.

Ruth Gilligan wins Ondaatje Prize for ‘The Butchers’

The  Ondaatje Prize of the Royal Society of Literature, an annual award of £10,000 for a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry that best evokes “the spirit of a place”, went last night to Ruth Gilligan for The Butchers (Atlantic Books), which is set on the Irish border during the 1996 BSE crisis.

Lola, Baroness Young of Hornsey, the chair of the judges, said the book was “about a moment in time, in a particular place. It’s been described in many different terms: literary thriller, coming-of-age story, historical fiction, an account of superstition and the supernatural, but it doesn’t matter how it’s categorised – it’s a page-turning, rollercoaster of a read.”

The Butchers is Gilligan’s fifth novel. She published her debut, Forget, in 2006, at 18, and became the youngest ever person to top the Irish bestsellers list. After two more novels, she took an MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia — which has an extract from The Butchers on its New Writing website.

Khan and Sethi on bill for Destinations show

Speakers at Destinations, the holiday and travel show, over this weekend will include Taran Khan, winner of the Stanford Dolman prize for Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul, talking to the journalist Julia Wheeler, and Anita Sethi, author of I Belong Here, talking to Monisha Rajesh, author of Around the World in 80 Trains. For details of all talks — which will be streamed live and then available online until midnight on May 16 — and how to register, see the Destinations website.

New books on travel and place

Where can travel writing go in the 21st century? That’s a question addressed by the writer and academic Tim Hannigan in The Travel Writing Tribe, due out later this month (Hurst, £20). It’s a book in which he talks to illustrious members of that tribe — among them Dervla Murphy and Kapka Kassabova, Colin Thubron and Samanth Sumbramanian — and in which, his publisher says, he confronts some of the genre’s greatest controversies: “Is it ever okay for travel writers to make things up [a question I put recently to Paul Theroux], and just where does the frontier between fact and fiction lie? What actually is travel writing, and is it just a genre dominated by posh white men? What of travel writing’s queasy colonial connections?” It’s a book, the publisher  promises, that “compels readers and travellers of all kinds to think about travel writing in new ways”.

Here are a few more forthcoming books that touch, in one way or another, on travel and place (including one that’s wholly fiction)…

In Walking the Border (2014), Ian Crofton followed England’s northern edge, its frontier with Scotland. In Fringed with Mud and Pearls: An English Island Odyssey (Birlinn, May 20, £20), he turns to the country’s other edges and specifically to those parts that have become detached. His aim: to use some of the islands — including Lindisfarne and the Isle of Wight, Eel Pie Island and the Scillies — “as a range of lenses through which to view the motherland, in all its kaleidoscopic variety”.

For Alistair Moffat and John Lewis-Stempel, a single place will suffice as a subject — and for each of them, it’s a farm. In The Secret History of Here: A Year in the Valley  (Canongate, June 3, £15.99), Moffat tells the story of his own farm in the Scottish Borders, which he took on in 1994 but which stands on land that has been occupied since prehistoric times. Taking the form of a journal of the year, the book is “a walk through the centuries as much as the seasons”.

Lewis-Stempel (twice winner of the Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing) had long wanted to write “the life story of a farm”. He ruled out his own on the basis that it has sheep but no crops. Instead, he chose the one where his grandfather was manager and his mother grew up, in countryside where Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire run into one another. In Woodston: The Biography of an English Farm (July 1, Doubleday, £20), he takes us “from the creation of its DNA — the very soil in which it thrives — four billion years ago to AD 1950”. “And ‘biography’,” he says, “is the correct term, because farms live, have character, personality.”

Noir, whatever the vogue for Scandi crime series may suggest, isn’t exclusively Nordic. It can be African. Cassava Republic Press, having recently published the anthologies Nairobi Noir and Lagos Noir, is bringing out on May 20 Accra Noir, edited by Nana-Ama Danquah, a writer who was born in the Ghanaian capital  and raised in the US.  Accra, she says, is the perfect setting for noir fiction: a major metropolis where there’s poverty, desperation “and the inevitable result of a marriage between the two — crime”.

In Mercator, Nicholas Crane gave us the first biography published in English of “the man who mapped the planet”; in Latitude (Michael Joseph, May 27, £16.99), he tells the story of the world’s first international scientific expedition, a 10-year voyage to find the shape of the earth. Latitude “is a tale of bravery, betrayal and murder set amid the equatorial rainforests and snow-capped volcanoes of South America…With a narrative that reads like a script from a Hollywood adventure movie, [it] reminds us how science can change the world.”

I’ve mentioned The Passenger, an excellent place-based magazine, a couple of times here. The next issue focuses not on a country but a city. Contributors to The Passenger: Berlin (Europa Editions, June 10, £18.99) include the Dutch traveller Cees Nooteboom on his first visit to the reunified city, the Vietnamese-American Alisa Anh Kotmair on Berlin’s Little Vietnam, the architect and critic Thibaut de Ruyter on how the city “celebrates a past that it does not own”, and Julianne Löffler on the “most transgressive sex club”.

After Will Buckingham lost his partner to cancer, he realised that by opening up his house to guests he could see a path through his grief; he found himself immersed in a long and rich tradition of meeting strangers. In Hello, Stranger: How to Welcome the World  (Granta, July, £16.99), he draws on his life as a traveller, and weaves together philosophy, literature, history and anthropology, to offer what his publisher says is “a powerful antidote to our increasingly atomised world, and the past year of isolation we’ve all experienced”.

And here are a few books that have been published recently that I’ve not had time to mention before…

In 1954, the Australian writers Charmian Clift and George Johnston, with their two small children, left grey, post-war London for  Greece. In Mermaid Singing, Clift tells of their first year on the sponge-fishing island of Kalymnos; in Peel Me A Lotus she writes from Hydra, where they stayed for almost a decade, becoming the centre of  an informal bohemian community that later included Leonard Cohen. Each of the two reissued titles (Muswell Press, £8.99 each) has an introduction by Polly Samson, whose most recent novel, A Theatre for Dreamers, featured Clift as a central character.

Hilary Bradt, co-founder of the company that’s now Bradt Guides, had been pony-mad as a child, but it wasn’t until 1984, when she was in her early forties, that she realised her ambition to do a long-distance ride. In A Connemara Journey (Bradt Guides, £12.99),  her thousand-mile trip through western Ireland on two different ponies, originally published as Connemara Mollie in 2012 and Dingle Peggy in 2013, is covered in one book.

Paul Theroux on fiction, travel and the post-pandemic future

I interviewed Paul Theroux for The Daily Telegraph last month to talk about his new novel, travel and travel writing. You can now read a longer version of that interview here on Deskbound Traveller.

‘I Belong Here’ out today

I see from Twitter that today is publication day for I Belong Here by Anita Sethi (Bloomsbury). It’s a book in which, after being racially abused on a train, the author journeys through the landscapes of the North of England, aiming to transform “what began as ugly experience of hate and exclusion into one of hope and beauty”.

An extract appeared earlier this month in The Observer, and the book was reviewed last weekend in The Guardian by Fiona Sturges, who described it as “a heartfelt examination of identity, place and belonging” and a memoir “of rare power”.

On this day…

There never was such delicious weather… and there is an English cuckoo talking English — at least, he is trying, but he evidently left England as a cadet, with his education incomplete, for he cannot get further than cuck — and there is a blackbird singing. We pass our lives in gardening. We ride down into the valleys, and make the Syces [servants] dig up wild tulips and lilies, and they are grown so eager about it, that they dash up the hill the instant they see a promising-looking plant, and dig it up with the best possible effect, except that they invariably cut off the bulb. It certainly is very pleasant to be in a pretty place, with a nice climate. Not that I would not set off this instant and go dâk* all over the hot plains, and through the hot wind, if I were told I might sail home the instant I arrived at Calcutta; but as nobody makes me that offer, I can wait here better than anywhere else — like meat, we keep better here.

Emily Eden, Journal, 1838

*A Hindi name for a transport system at the time carrying mail and passengers.

Emily Eden (1797-1869), an English novelist who travelled to India with her brother, the 1st Earl of Auckland, when he was governor-general there, wrote a series of letters to her sister, later published in two volumes as Up the Country: Letters Written to her Sister from the Upper Provinces of India (Richard Bentley, 1866).

Short list for Ondaatje Prize

The short list was announced yesterday for the Ondaatje Prize of the Royal Society of Literature, an annual award of £10,000 for a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry “evoking the spirit of a place”.

The six books are:

The Butchers by Ruth Gilligan (Atlantic Books)
This Lovely City by Louise Hare (HQ)
Box Hill by Adam Mars-Jones (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
Magnolia, 木蘭 by Nina Mingya Powles (Nine Arches Press)
English Pastoral by James Rebanks (Allen Lane)
Square Haunting by Francesca Wade (Faber & Faber).

This year’s judges are Lola, Baroness Young of Hornsey (Chair), Helen Mort and Adam Rutherford. The winner will be announced on May 11.

Paul Theroux on fiction, travel and the post-pandemic future

Paul Theroux turned 80 this month, but he’s still behaving like a writer keen to make a name for himself. Last Train to Zona Verde, which he published in 2013, may have been, as the subtitle has it, his “ultimate African safari”, but it wasn’t his last travel book. Since then, he has driven through the southern US for Deep South and through Mexico for On the Plain of Snakes; in between, he delivered an essay collection, Figures in a Landscape, on people and places.  

  His latest book, Under the Wave at Waimea, is his 56th. It’s a work of fiction about a man who has done some travelling himself, but who never reads: Joe Sharkey, a big-wave surfer on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, who is struggling to come to terms with the dimming of fame and the advance of age. 

  Driving back drunk one night to his home on the north shore, Joe kills a homeless man on a bicycle near Waimea, and his own life takes a turn for the worse. Then his new girlfriend, Olive, an English nurse, intervenes. She makes Joe confront what he’s done and help her establish the dead man’s identity. In the process, Joe pulls himself together and gets back on his board.

  Under the Wave at Waimea is about the joys of surfing (“a rush, a feeling, a dance”), about living a lie, and about the unseen life of Hawaii. This week I talked to its author about fiction, travel and the post-pandemic future. An edited version of the interview is now up on the Telegraph website (where you’ll have to register to read it) and will be in print in the travel section of The Daily Telegraph tomorrow.

More praise for ‘Islands of Abandonment’

An email I got today tells me that Cal Flyn’s Islands of Abandonment, which I have heartily recommended, has been reviewed recently in the Literary Review, where Will Wiles said it was “a fresh, provocative and valuable book”.

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