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New memoir from Brian Jackman

I was in touch recently with the writer Brian Jackman, who, I discovered about 10 years ago, was a boy during the Second World War just down the road from where I’m living now, before being evacuated to a farm in Cornwall during the Blitz. He has long been writing for the Telegraph travel pages as a freelance (and before that was a Fleet Street messenger boy and then on the staff of The Sunday Times). Many years before he set eyes on the Maasai Mara, which he has described vividly in his books with the film-maker Jonathan Scott, The Big Cat Diary and The Marsh Lions, Brian had imagined it in the London suburb of Stoneleigh. In Nonsuch Park — named for a peerless but long-gone Tudor palace — he and his mates turned hawthorn hedges into African savannah, “made Robin Hood bows from young ash staves and built Apache dens among the cow parsley”. He remembers, too, seeing a Hurricane shoot down a Messerschmitt over his own street.

About a month ago I was scribbling about Nonsuch, and sent the copy to Brian to check something. I got an email back saying that he had just received proofs of his new memoir — West with the Light: My Life in Nature — in which Stoneleigh and Nonsuch figure large in the early pages. Later on, he’s in the real savannah: over the past 40 years or so, in his wanderings across sub-Saharan Africa, he reckons he has spent the best part of four years under canvas. As well as observing the beasts of the bush, he’s met characters including George and Joy Adamson and Richard Leakey.

The book is due to be published by Bradt in August. It’s not one I’ll be able to review as I know Brian too well, but I wanted to mention it here.

I first registered the byline “Brian Jackman” in the early 1980s, in typescript on the sub-editors’ desk of The Sunday Times, on the fifth floor of 200 Gray’s Inn Road, where I worked initially as a casual. On Saturday my colleagues and I subbed stories appearing in the early pages of the paper, which tended to be “hard” news in several senses of the word (though not necessarily as hard as in the front page from an old New York Post stuck to a partition that screened off the picture desk: “HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR”). On Fridays we worked mainly on foreign-desk stories and on softer pieces from other parts of the paper. Occasionally there would be something from Brian, either for the travel section, which sent him everywhere from the Falkland Islands to Everest Base Camp, or for the later pages of the news section, where he was among writers given space for the way they told a story as much as for the story itself. Dropping the copy on my desk, the then chief sub, John Wardroper, a lean and learned Canadian, would say: “Here’s a little treat for you: another lovely piece from Brian Jackman. Just tick it up.” In other words, breathe on it, but don’t edit it.

You can read more of Brian Jackman’s work, extracted from earlier books on Africa and Britain, here on Deskbound Traveller.

Nick Hunt on Travel Writing World

In the latest podcast on Jeremy Bassetti’s Travel Writing World, Nick Hunt talks about his new book, Outlandish, and the relationship between travel writing and nature writing.

What’s new in writing on travel and place

Work on my own lockdown project, and a coming move that will have me deskbound-by-the-sea, have left little time to update Deskbound Traveller recently, but I wanted briefly to mention a few things…

Nick Hunt’s Outlandish (see previous post), which is published today, has been reviewed in the Financial Times by William Atkins (winner himself of the Stanford Dolman prize for travel writing for The Immeasurable World) and in the Literary Review by Oliver Balch.

New books on my TBR pile include About Britain: A Journey of Seventy Years and 1,345 Miles by Tim Cole (Bloomsbury Continuum, £18.99, June 10). Armed with a series of “handbooks for the explorer”, written for the Festival of Britain in 1951, Cole — professor of social history at the University of Bristol — takes to the roads to see what has and hasn’t changed in the 70 years since their publication.

Tim Parks, that renowned English interpreter of Italian ways, went for a seriously long walk in 2019. He and his partner, Eleonora, followed in the footsteps of the Italian revolutionary Guiseppe Garibaldi, who, with his pregnant wife, Anita, and 4,000 volunteers, marched away from Rome in 1849 after the fall of the Roman republic that had briefly replaced papal rule. In The Hero’s Way (Harvill Secker, £20, June 3), Parks recounts a trek of 400 miles, and a trip back in time through 170 years.

The latest offering from Eland, curator of travel classics, is a new edition of Letters from Egypt: An Englishwoman on the Nile, 1862-69 by Lucie Duff Gordon (£12.99, June 10). The author, who contracted tuberculosis in the 1850s, went to Egypt — where her eldest daughter lived — to avoid the damp winters of England. Her letters to the husband and three children she left behind first appeared in 1865. “Her humane, open-minded voice,” the publisher says, “shines across the centuries… witty, life-affirming, joyous, self-deprecating, and utterly enchanted by her Arab neighbours.”

James Attlee is a writer who see creative possibilities where others see constraints. In Under the Rainbow, published early this month (And Other Stories, £11.99), he sets out from his home in Oxford after the first lockdown to record the voices of those making a brief escape from isolation. The book, his publisher says, is “a unique record of an extraordinary year and a tribute to creativity and resilience”.

Tom Chesshyre reckons he has totted up 40,000 miles on the rails for books in various parts of the world. In his latest, published last month, he takes Slow Trains Around Spain (Summersdale, £16.99).

Finally, I was reminded earlier this week by a tweet from Robert Macfarlane (who had been sent an early proof) that Colin Thubron’s latest travel book will be with us in the autumn. It’s  The Amur River: Between Russia and China (Chatto & Windus, £20, September 16).

‘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).

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