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Why I’m trying to give up taking the plane to work

I’ve written an article — which Telegraph Travel has decided is worth publishing — on why I’m trying to stop taking the plane to work. But I’m shamefully late in following the example of one Nicholas Crane, who’s been doing everything possible since the mid-1990s to avoid using aircraft. In a piece he wrote 13 years ago, he urged the rest of us to do likewise. “There isn’t any option,” he declared, “but to give up all non-essential flying.”

Hearing the music of Siberia

The Lost Pianos of Siberia (Transworld, £18.99), a debut in which Sophy Roberts explores “a world of snow, exile and music”, was reviewed in The Daily Telegraph at the weekend by Julian Evans. After a faltering start, he says, it’s a book in which Roberts “movingly demonstrates how a remote and limitless wilderness was transformed, for her, into the most intense, musical, intimately human space imaginable”. For links to other reviews, see the “Books in the Media” slot of The Bookseller.

Kassabova’s ‘To the Lake’ on Radio 4 this week

To the Lake (Granta, £14.99), in which Kapka Kassabova continues her sustained examination of the damaging legacies of fences on the ground and in the head, is Book of the Week on Radio 4 from today.

  Kassabova also contributes to Start the Week, in which Andrew Marr and his guests (the others are Dan Jackson, author of The Northumbrians, Emily Thomas, author of the forthcoming The Meaning of Travel: Philosophers Abroad, and the economist Colin Mayer) explore “community cohesion and love of home”.

The new, longer, Stanford Dolman short list

The short list for the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year has… lengthened. On December 10, there were six books on it. Now, according to a tweet posted this week by one of the judges, Benedict Allen, there are 10. Maybe the judges were unhappy with the list they were presented with by Stanfords, which, I’ve been told, uses “an academy of critics, booksellers and travel bloggers” when drawing up short lists for all its awards. Maybe the judges pointed out that the original short list included only one female writer.

  On December 10, the list was:

Last Days in Old Europe by Richard Bassett (Allen Lane)
Epic Continent by Nicholas Jubber (John Murray)
Underland by Robert Macfarlane (Hamish Hamilton)
The Bells of Old Tokyo by Anna Sherman (Picador)
On the Plain of Snakes by Paul Theroux (Hamish Hamilton)
Lotharingia by Simon Winder (Picador).

  The four additional titles are:

No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison by Behrouz Boochani (Picador)
Pravda Ha Ha: True Travels to the End of Europe by Rory MacLean (Bloomsbury)
Around the World in 80 Trains by Monisha Rajesh (Bloomsbury)
Mud and Stars: Travels in Russia with Pushkin and Other Geniuses of the Golden Age by Sara Wheeler (Jonathan Cape).

  The winner will be announced on February 26.

  The most striking addition is perhaps the book by Boochani, a Kurdish-Iranian refugee and journalist, which documents life in Australia’s offshore detention system and has won him numerous awards. It was written in phone texts sent out on WhatsApp over almost five years. 

  Is it a travel book? Well, the author certainly glided over frontiers in its composition, according to his translator, Omid Tofighian:

Boochani has created a book that resists classification. It overlaps with genres such as prison literature, philosophical fiction, clandestine philosophical literature, prison narratives, Australian dissident writing, Iranian political art, transnational literature, decolonial writing and the Kurdish literary tradition.

  The Stanford Dolman, formerly the Dolman prize, after the Rev William Dolman, a member of the Authors’ Club, who had been sponsoring it through the club since 2006, was rebranded in 2015. It is now part of a scheme run by the bookseller Stanfords and named after its founder: the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards.

  The Stanford Dolman is the only award that brings a cash prize. When Stanfords first got involved that was doubled to £5,000, but it’s now back to £2,500, funded generously out of his own pocket again this time round by Dolman. At the time of rebranding the Stanford Dolman was very much the centre-piece of the awards. In the past couple of years, though, the judging process has become truncated and the prize seems to have got a bit lost in the scheme as a whole. In the press release on short lists I was sent in December, trumpeting 57 books divided into nine categories (with a 10th category for articles by new writers), it wasn’t even mentioned until the seventh paragraph.

  Books that would have been strong contenders for the Stanford Dolman in earlier years — when judges chose their own short list — are now ending up on a short list for one of the other awards. Last year, for example, Skybound by Rebecca Loncraine and The Crossway by Guy Stagg were in travel memoir of the year; Kings of the Yukon by Adam Weymouth was under adventure travel. This year, The Summer Isles by Philip Marsden is short-listed as a travel memoir (as, initially, was Sara Wheeler’s Mud and Stars); Outpost by Dan Richards is in adventure travel. I’ve not read Last Days in Old Europe, but most of the reviews I’ve seen suggest it’s a memoir, so one might ask why it isn’t in the memoir category.

  One might also ask why there is a category for “fiction with a sense of place”. There is already a well-established prize for books “evoking the spirit of a place”: the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize, which embraces non-fiction and poetry as well as novels and is worth £10,000.

  I’ve long been a customer of Stanfords, and I’m a huge admirer of what the company does to promote travel writing, but I do think that 57 books (61 now, at least?) in nine categories is overdoing it. Time to dwell more on the Dolman.

Taking an ‘Inventory’ of Derry

Inventory, a remarkable memoir by Darran Anderson of life in Derry at the tail-end of the Troubles, is published today (Chatto & Windus, £16.99). The Irish Times has an interview with the author by Seámas O’Reilly, whose own Derry memoir, Did Ye Hear Mammy Died?, is due to be published in April. In a podcast, Anderson talks to Martin Doyle about the writing that’s inspired his own, the work of Lyra McKee, the legacy of the Troubles, and his luck in having parents who “refused to hate”.

The word’s out on ‘Outpost’

A review I wrote some time ago appeared in The Daily Telegraph at the weekend, as if it had been sent by hand from some far-flung place, got lost along the way and finally surfaced. Maybe that was appropriate, for the review was of Outpost by Dan Richards (Canongate), a sprightly tour of staging posts — from the bothy to the writer’s retreat and the fire lookout tower — and the thresholds they mark, both on the ground and in the head. It’s online on the Telegraph site, and you can also find it here on Deskbound Traveller.

Dee and Co at Daunt Books Festival

Daunt Books not only runs great shops, most of them in London; it’s also a publisher and has its own annual festival. The line-up for the next festival, on March 19 and 20 at its Marylebone branch, includes Tim Dee, talking about his latest book, Greenery, in which he seeks to travel with the spring and its migratory birds, north from South Africa to Britain; Simon Loftus, author of Puligny-Montrachet: Journal of a Village in Burgundy (which Daunt republished last year); and Paul Wood, author of London is a Forest and London’s Street Trees, who will be leading a walk on the second day. Also on the bill are writers including Sebastian Barry, Colum McCann, Olivia Laing, Caroline Criado Perez and Max Porter.

‘Surfacing’ on Radio 4

I didn’t have time to mention it here before it started, but Book of the Week on Radio 4 is Kathleen Jamie’s deeply layered Surfacing (Sort Of Books), which was one of my books of 2019. Jamie and another poet, Denise Riley, were guests recently on an episode of Ian McMillan’s The Verb on Radio 3, musing on the writing of “deep time”; you can still hear that on the BBC website.

  On February 14, incidentally, McMillan will be interviewing Jan Morris, who “looks back over a career in writing that has spanned seven decades and explains what it is that keeps her returning to her writing desk every day at the age of 91”. A second volume of Morris’s diaries, Thinking Again, is due to be published by Faber in March.

To Israel and Palestine, San Francisco and Liverpool

Since I compiled my roundup of books on travel and place to look out for in 2020, I’ve been alerted to a few more… 

  Julian Sayarer won the Stanford Dolman prize in 2017 for Interstate, his account of hitchhiking across the United States towards the end of the Obama administration. Ten years after breaking a world record for cycling around the world, he returns to two wheels on the roads of Israel and occupied Palestine for Fifty Miles Wide, which Arcadia will publish in April. It’s a book, he says, that had its beginning in a conversation he had with an author from Israel, whom he had told that the bicycle seemed to bring out the best in people. She told him he should ride one through Israel and Palestine.

  The publisher says his route “weaves from the ancient hills of Galilee, along the blockaded walls of the Gaza Strip and down to the Bedouin villages of the Naqab Desert. He speaks with Palestinian hip-hop artists who wonder if music can change their world, Israelis hoping that kibbutz life can, and Palestinian cycling clubs determined to keep on riding despite the army checkpoints and settlers that bar their way.”

  David Reynolds — who was one of the founders of Bloomsbury Publishing — is another writer who has spent time on the move in the US. In Slow Road to Brownsville (2015), he drove the length of Highway 83, “the Main Street of the Great Plains”. In Slow Road to San Francisco (Muswell Press, June), he travels through small-town America, from Ocean City, Maryland, all the way to the west coast. “As he moseys from east to west,” his publisher says, he “meets Trump’s countrymen and women… They talk about everything from slavery and Indian reservations to Butch Cassidy and Marilyn Monroe. Everyone has something to say about Trump, whether they love him or hate him.”

  Jeff Young, a writer whose television credits include EastEnders, Holby City and Casualty, has long been fascinated with Liverpool, its history and how that intersects with his own life. In Ghost Town (Little Toller, late February) he journeys through the city and away from it, creating new ways of mapping his home town, “layering memory, history, photography and more”.


Following Chekhov to the ‘end of the world’

Why did Anton Chekhov travel in 1890 to Sahkalin Island, at the “end of the world”, where Russia was sending 20,000 prisoners a year? In seeking to answer that question, William Atkins (winner of the Stanford Dolman prize for The Immeasurable World) spent part of spring last year on Sakhalin. His haunting piece for Granta magazine, which went online in November, can be read for the moment without charge. On Twitter, Atkins is also recommending an “excellent” New Yorker essay by Akhil Sharma (from 2015) on Chekhov’s Sakhalin book.

Spanish vet named Travel Photographer of the Year

‘I was attracted to the look and beauty of this young shepherd,’ says the photographer of this image made in Fada N’gourma, Burkina Faso. © KATY GÓMEZ CATALINA/TPOTY.COM

Katy Gómez Catalina, a veterinarian from Úbeda, in Spain, was last night named Travel Photographer of the Year for 2019 for a portfolio of eight black-and-white images ranging in subject from the Batwa people of Uganda to the esplanade of the Louvre in Paris. She is only the second woman to be overall winner in the 17-year history of the awards. 


  There was female success too in the Young Travel Photographer of the Year category. That was won by 11-year-old Indigo Larmour — who is Irish but was born in Abu Dhabi — with a portfolio depicting hands at work in India. Her caption to this image (right) says: “Chai is always part of any journey in India… So of course we had to have some on the streets of Kolkata.”

  Both winners, appropriately, were on the road making more images when the prizes were presented at a ceremony in London. Gómez, who is self-taught, says on her website that photography has become “an inseparable travel companion, to the point that my perception of the worlds I visit goes through the eye of the camera. It is then with those images that I can construct the story of my journey in the same way that a writer does it with his diary.”

  Chris Coe, who with his wife Karen founded the awards, said that Indigo was a photographer who showed real potential; she was already capable of very interesting compositions and had the ability to capture moments.

  Another category winner, of the TAPSA (Timothy Allen Scholarship Award) for Travel Documentaries, was “a very jet-lagged” Kiran Ridley, a Paris-based British photographer, who had flown in from Australia, where he had been covering the bushfires. He won for a portfolio of images of the demonstrations in Hong Kong, which began as a protest against proposed changes to extradition law and have morphed into broader demonstrations against the Hong Kong and Chinese governments.

  The award was started five years ago by Timothy Allen, who himself was Travel Photographer of the Year in 2013. Allen said Ridley’s photographs were “sensational”. The documentaries category had been included in the TPOTY competition, he said, because “a lot of us are starting to realise that travel photography isn’t what it used to be. It’s not shooting pictures of the Taj Mahal any more; it’s documentary photography. And I hope that more and more people are going to be entering this style of photography, because the lines between travel and documentary now are blurred beyond recognition. Kiran’s work is a classic example of that.”

  More than 20,000 images were submitted for the 2019 awards by professional and amateur photographers from 144 countries. The winners can be viewed on the Travel Photographer of the Year website and will go on display from April 7 to May 12 in Coal Drops Yard, King’s Cross, a new location for TPOTY’s London exhibition.

Police arrest pro-democracy protestors during a march in Hong Kong. © KIRAN RIDLEY/TPOTY.COM

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