The short list was announced tonight for the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year. The six titles on it are:
The Immeasurable World: Journeys in Desert Places by William Atkins (Faber & Faber)
The Rhine: Following Europe’s Greatest River from Amsterdam to the Alps by Ben Coates (Nicholas Brealey)
The Stopping Places by Damian Le Bas (Chatto & Windus)
Ottoman Odyssey by Alev Scott (Riverrun, Quercus)
Dancing Bears: True Stories about Longing for the Old Days by Witold Szablowski (Text Publishing)
Lights in the Distance: Exile and Refuge at the Borders of Europe by Daniel Trilling (Picador, Pan Macmillan).
The prize, 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 the centre-piece of a scheme run in association with the club by the bookseller Stanfords — a friend to generations of travellers and travel writers — and named after its founder: the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards.
Prize money had been doubled to £5,000 when Stanfords got involved, but half of that was still provided by the generous Dolman. I understand that he felt he could not longer make that commitment, and Stanfords, in these uncertain times, has decided that this year’s prize will be £2,500. The amount will be “reconsidered for the 2020 awards and beyond”.
Judging has also been curtailed. In the past, judges arrived at a short list over several meetings; this year they have been presented with one by Stanfords, which, I was told, had consulted reviewers and booksellers. The winner will be announced on February 28.
The awards scheme as a whole embraces travel-related books in various categories, from cookery to children’s travel via fiction with a sense of place (though one might argue that books in that bracket are already better promoted by the £10,000 RSL Ondaatje Prize). The Stanford Dolman is the only award that comes with a cash prize.
Some of my own favourites from the past year pop up in categories: Skybound by Rebecca Loncraine and The Crossway by Guy Stagg in travel memoir of the year; Kings of the Yukon by Adam Weymouth under adventure travel; and The Writer’s Map edited by Huw Lewis-Jones under photography/illustrated book.
The judges for the scheme as a whole include Benedict Allen, the explorer; Horatio Clare (who won the Stanford Dolman prize in 2015); Michelle Jana Chan, travel editor of Vanity Fair; and Phoebe Smith, editor-at-large of Wanderlust magazine.