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Re-reading Leigh Fermor

In a piece just released from the archive of Slightly Foxed magazine, Tim Mackintosh-Smith tells how he was “lost, thrilled and intoxicated” on first reading Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Roumeli, a book in which, via “disjointed jaunts around the mainland interspersed with mini-cruises in the glittering archipelago of Leigh Fermor’s mind, we get to know a lot about Greece”. 

  You can still hear a Slightly Foxed podcast from last summer exploring the life and literary legacy of Leigh Fermor (1915-2011). It brings together his biographer, Artemis Cooper, and Nick Hunt, who, for his debut, Walking the Woods and the Water, retraced what Leigh Fermor called his “great trudge” of the 1930s from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul.

Hannigan on ‘Travel Writing World’ podcast

The latest interviewee on Jeremy Bassetti’s Travel Writing World podcast is Tim Hannigan, talking about The Granite Kingdom, a book in which he explores his homeland of Cornwall and how our view of the county has been shaped by writers, artists and other visitors.

Remembering Dervla Murphy, ‘Ireland’s travel laureate’

Dervla Murphy died a year ago yesterday. Her friend Ethel Crowley marked the anniversary with a lovely tribute in The Irish Times to “Ireland’s travel laureate”.

Anaxagorou wins Ondaatje Prize for poems on migration

The Ondaatje Prize of the Royal Society of Literature (RSL), an annual award of £10,000 for an outstanding work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry that best evokes “the spirit of a place”, was awarded last night to the poet Anthony Anaxagorou for Heritage Aesthetics, a collection that draws on his family’s history of migration between Cyprus and the United Kingdom.

  Samira Ahmed, chair of the judges, said: “Anthony’s poetry is beautiful, but does not sugarcoat. The arsenic of historical imperial arrogance permeates the Britain he explores in his writing. And the joy of this collection comes from his strength, knowledge, maturity, but also from deeply felt love.”

  Anaxagorou said he had a vision for the book of “trying to bring Cyprus and the UK together. Cyprus has always been very peripheral when it comes to colonial history — it was only made independent in 1960, very late on within Britain’s project to decolonialise (although there are two British Army bases still there). I hope by having the book seen in this way it will bring more readers to Cyprus and to the UK.”

Adventures from the past

A book by a surveyor who became a spy and one by the brother of the creator of James Bond will be published later this month by Eland, custodian of travel classics

  Lewen Weldon, a fluent Arabic speaker, was mapping the desert of Egypt when the First World War broke out. He was recruited by the British government to run a network of spies from a steam yacht on to the Syrian coast behind Turkish lines. Hard Lying, his “vivid tale of adventure”, Eland says, “becomes eyewitness history as we encounter Armenians escaping the massacres, passionate Arab nationalists, resolute Turkish soldiers and a heroic network of Jewish volunteers”.

  In Brazilian Adventure (first published in 1933), Peter Fleming, journalist, travel writer and brother of Ian, tells how he was prompted by an advertisement in the agony column of The Times to set off on the trail of Colonel Percy Fawcett, a British explorer who had vanished in Amazonia. The journey, which begins in a spirit of can-do frivolity, slowly darkens into something very personal and deeply testing, for which, Fleming says, “Rider Haggard might have written the the plot and Conrad designed the scenery”. (Fawcett was the subject recently of a brief but transporting little book by the neurologist A J Lees, Brazil That Never Was.)

  I’m not in the habit here of linking to the publications of oil companies, but there was a lovely tribute to Eland, and the part it has played in travel writing over the past 40 years, by Matthew Teller in the May/June issue of AramcoWorld.

Last book from Lopez out this week

Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World, a last essay collection from Barry Lopez, who died in 2020, is out in the UK this week. You can read a brief extract on the website of the publisher, Notting Hill Editions.

McCarron on ‘Travel Writing World’

Leon McCarron, whose Wounded Tigris was published earlier this month, talks to Jeremy Bassetti in the latest Travel Writing World podcast. Reviewing the book in The Sunday Times on April 16, Justin Marozzi said it was “by turns hard-hitting, urgent, gently lyrical and self-deprecating, a bittersweet pleasure”.

Theroux on the rails

In the “Notes from an author” slot in this month’s National Geographic Traveller (UK), Paul Theroux looks back on his first travel book, written half a century ago: The Great Railway Bazaar. On his journey through Asia, he writes:

I was often inconvenienced, sometimes threatened, now and then harassed for bribes, occasionally laid up with food poisoning — all of this vivid detail for my narrative. Most of all I was homesick, not the right mood for a traveller or a fit subject for a travel book; so I never mentioned it. On the contrary, I wrote about my trip as a spirited jaunt, and converted its loneliness into something self-mocking and jolly.

  His follow-up, The Old Patagonian Express, for which he travelled the length of North and South America, has just been released in a new edition by the Folio Society. On its British publication in 1979, that book was serialised in The Sunday Telegraph, and reviewed in the same paper by Colin Thubron. He welcomed it with these words: “A new type of travel book has arrived. Its ancestors are not H V Morton or Lawrence Durrell, but Mark Twain and Alexander Kinglake, and its author, most typically, attempts less to immerse himself in a foreign culture than to submit to chance experiences and insights as he moves along his (usually harassed) way.” David Holloway, reviewing Theroux for The Daily Telegraph, argued that “it would be quite wrong to call The Old Patagonian Express a travel book. Even more than his earlier success, The Great Railway Bazaar, it is a travelling book.”

Booker winner on Ondaatje Prize long list

Last year’s Booker Prize winner — The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, a satire set amid the civil war in Sri Lanka by Shehan Karunatilaka — is among five novels long-listed yesterday for the Ondaatje Prize of the Royal Society of Literature, an annual award of £10,000 for a book that best evokes “the spirit of a place”. Also on the list are two volumes of poetry; a memoir; and a study of how “remote politics” in Britain has robbed ordinary people of power.

  The judges for this year’s prize are Samira Ahmed, Roger Robinson and Joelle Taylor. The short list will be announced on April 24 and the winner on May 10.

  The nine books on the long list are: 

Heritage Aesthetics by Anthony Anaxagorou (Granta Poetry)
All Down Darkness Wide by Seán Hewitt (Vintage)
The Half-life of Snails by Philippa Holloway (Parthian Books)
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka (Sort of Books)
Scary Monsters by Michelle de Kretser (Allen & Unwin)
England’s Green by Zaffar Kunial (Faber & Faber)
The Social Distance Between Us by Darren McGarvey (Ebury Press)
Black Butterflies by Priscilla Morris (Duckworth)
A Sin of Omission by Marguerite Poland (EnvelopeBooks).

Barbara Demick on North Korea

Earlier this month, the short list was announced for the “Winner of Winners” award, drawn from the previous 24 winners of the annual Baillie Gifford Prize for non-fiction. Among the six titles is Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea, in which Barbara Demick — who was based as a journalist in South Korea — talks to  defectors about love, family life and the terrible cost of the 1990s famine. Demick told Tom Sutcliffe in Front Row on Radio 4 yesterday that the book was “a work of obsession and frustration”.

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