Alice Albinia won the Dolman prize for travel writing in 2009 with her magnificent debut, Empires of the Indus, in which she followed the river upstream on the ground and back in time in the library. Having since published a couple of much-praised novels (Leela’s Book and Cwen), she returns to travel with The Britannias: An Island Quest (Allen Lane, £30, October 19).
She has spent the past seven years travelling around Britain’s islands (once known — Pliny wrote — by the collective term Britanniae), from Neolithic Orkney to modern-day Thanet. The resulting book, her publisher says, overturns established truths about Britain while paying homage to the islands’ beauty, independence and suppressed or forgotten histories. “An ancient… mythology of islands ruled by women runs like a secret, hidden river through the literature of this land — from Roman colonial-era reports to early Welsh poetry, Renaissance drama to Restoration utopias — transcending and subverting the most male-fixated of ages. The Britannias looks far back into the past for direction and solace, while searching for new meaning about women’s status in the body politic.”
Albinia will be talking to the nature writer and novelist Melissa Harrison at Daunt Books in Marylebone, London, on November 2.