Author Archive

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”.

New books on travel and place

Tom Chesshyre is perhaps best known for his journeys on the rails (Slow Trains to Venice; Slow Trains Around Spain), but he’s a walker, too, and has followed the Thames From Source to Sea. In his latest book, Lost in the Lakes (Summersdale, £16.99, April 13), he’s on foot again, making a “big wobbly circle” through the Lake District, focusing on the 16 principal bodies of water rather than the “Wainwright” peaks. The idea “is to show a new way around the Lakes that suits the casual rambler”.

  A link in an email from Reaktion Books about titles coming in autumn has directed me to some books due a little earlier than that. In The Stopping Places, which was short-listed in 2019 for the Stanford Dolman prize, Damian Le Bas journeyed through Gypsy Britain as it is today. In Travellers Through Time (Reaktion Books, £20, April 24), Jeremy Harte, secretary of the Romany and Traveller Family History Society, offers “the first real history of the Romany people, from the inside”. He “portrays the hardships of the travelling life, the skills of woodland crafts, the colourful artistic traditions, the mysteries of a lost language and the flamboyant displays of weddings and funerals, which are all still present in this secretive culture”.

  In Astray (Reaktion Books, £16, May 1), Eluned Summers-Bremner, who has written books on insomnia and the novels of Ian McEwan, offers what the publisher says is “an enthralling look at wandering, belonging, alienation and hope throughout history”. Moving from ancient ancient Australian Aboriginal cosmology to the journeys of today’s refugees, she aims to show that “wandering is the means by which creativity and skills of adaptation are preserved”.

  In The Food Adventurers (Reaktion Books, July, £20), Daniel E Bender, a professor of food studies and history at the University of Toronto, tells the history of eating on round-the-world trips, looking at what tourists ate, as well as what they avoided, and what kinds of meals they described in diaries, photographs and postcards. 

  In the acclaimed Wanderers (2020), Kerri Andrews told the stories of 10 women who had found walking “essential to their sense of themselves as women, writers and people” — from Elizabeth Carter, a parson’s daughter of the 18th century, to Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild. Wanderers was a bestseller, and Andrews is following it up with Way Makers (Reaktion Books, September 1, £15.99), which the publisher says is “the first anthology of women’s writing about walking”. Moving from the 18th century to the present day, and taking in poetry, letters, diaries and novels, it is “testament to the rich literary heritage created by generations of women walker-writers over the centuries”. Andrews, incidentally, will be at the inaugural Abingdon Walking Festival in Oxfordshire on April 22.