Author Archive

Travel writing in ‘Intelligent Life’

IntelligentLifecoverThat excellent magazine Intelligent Life (from the same stable as The Economist) often has some good travel writing, and its current issue is no exception.

Tom Whipple, who has visited the monastic fastness of Mount Athos in Greece four times, ponders what it is that keeps pulling him back; Sara Wheeler (who is writing a book about Russia) considers the role of the railway in Russian life and literature; and Philip Hoare recalls adventures in the Azores, “a place of safety for whales”.

Prose and prizes

Extracts from the six books short-listed for the 2014 RSL Ondaatje Prize can now be found on the Telegraph website and will be in print in Telegraph Travel tomorrow.

And the new Thwaites Wainwright prize for a book focusing on the British countryside? That was awarded last night to Hugh Thomson for The Green Road into the Trees.

Leigh Fermor and the Dolman long list

BrokenRoadcoverWho would collect the prize if The Broken Road, the third part of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s account of his youthful walk across Europe in the 1930s, were to win the Dolman Travel Book Award? It’s on the long list of books being considered, which was released yesterday.

Leigh Fermor died in 2011 at the age of 96, leaving the narrative unfinished. It was two of his three literary executors, his biographer, Artemis Cooper, and Colin Thubron, who readied it for publication. When it appeared last September, Thubron introduced an extract published in The Sunday Telegraph with these words:

“A Youthful Journey [Leigh Fermor’s working title] was largely written between 1963 and 1964, in prolix bursts of enthusiasm, and its grammar, punctuation and even its style were far from what Paddy considered finished. In our revision we laboured to preserve his inimitable style, while clarifying and refining the text in a process as close as we could get to his exacting practice. There is not a sentence that is not his.

“But The Broken Road is our own title. It acknowledges not only that Paddy never, in the end, continued his written journey to Constantinople – it stops 50 miles short of the Turkish frontier – but also that this is not the exuberantly polished volume that he would have most desired. Yet it includes passages perhaps as fine as any he wrote. Its editing was aided by our sense of Paddy’s previous work, of course, by our knowledge of the man himself, and by his few hints and tentative suggestions. And here his journey must rest.”

Nick Hunt’s account of following in Leigh Fermor’s footsteps 78 years later, Walking the Woods and the Water (Nicholas Brealey), wasn’t published until this year, so won’t yet be eligible for consideration for the Dolman, which is for books that have appeared the previous year.

Writers who do have books on the long list of 16 include the travel veterans Dervla Murphy, Sara Wheeler and Paul Theroux (who suggested his, on Africa, would mark his “valedictory trip”), and those cargo-ship crew members Rose George and Horatio Clare. My Telegraph colleague Christopher Howse is also there, with The Train in Spain.

 The award (now £2,500), made by the Authors’ Club and founded by one of its members, the Rev Dr William Dolman, is this year being organised on behalf of the club by Barnaby Rogerson, guidebook writer, historian and publisher of travel classics at Eland Books. His fellow judges are Sarah Anderson, who ran the Travel Bookshop for 25 years in Notting Hill, Martin Randall, founder of the cultural-holidays company that bears his name, the travel writers Anthony Sattin and Jeremy Seal, and Amy Sohanpaul, editor of Traveller magazine and co-editor of Renegade, a new magazine that, like Deskbound Traveller, is dedicated to travel storytelling.

 No date has been set yet for publication of a short list, but the award is due to be made on September 30.

The long list is:

The Last Man in Russia by Oliver Bullough (Allen Lane)

Down to the Sea in Ships by Horatio Clare (Chatto & Windus)

Walls: Travels along the Barricades by Marcello Di Cintio  (Union Books/Aurum)

Deep Sea and Foreign Going by Rose George (Portobello)

The Broken Road by Patrick Leigh Fermor (John Murray)

Under Another Sky by Charlotte Higgins (Jonathan Cape)

The Train in Spain by Christopher Howse (Bloomsbury)

A Month by the Sea by Dervla Murphy (Eland)

Italian Ways by Tim Parks (Harvill Secker)

Ancient Paths by Graham Robb (Picador)

American Smoke by Ian Sinclair (Hamish Hamilton)

Alexandria by Peter Stothard (Granta)

Consolations of the Forest by Sylvain Tesson (Allen Lane)

The Last Train to Zona Verde by Paul Theroux (Hamish Hamilton)

O My America by Sara Wheeler (Jonathan Cape)

Meet me in Gaza by Louisa B Waugh (Saqi/Westbourne Press).

Short list for the Ondaatje Prize

I’d hoped the presence of the poet Imtiaz Dharker among this year’s judges would ensure there was some verse on the short list for the Ondaatje Prize, announced yesterday, but it hasn’t. It’s a strong list, though, featuring two novels (one set in the Pakistan/Afghanistan border region, the other moving between Bondi and the labour camps of the Burma Railway); a memoir by a former Labour Home Secretary of his London boyhood; and three books dealing in one way or another with natural history: on badgers, urban wildlife in Aberdeen, and green spaces ranging from the Cambridgeshire fens to the exclusion zone at Chernobyl. The green spaces are visited by Tim Dee in Four Fields, which has already featured on Deskbound Traveller. I’m looking forward to dipping into the other books for extracts to run in Telegraph Travel next weekend (in print on May 10, online possibly earlier).

Here’s the full list, with the judges’ summary of each book:

The Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam (Faber)
Set in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the months following 9/11, this novel brings home the complexities of life and belief on the frontiers, reminding us that the essence of a place can be one of conflict rather than harmony, almost impossible to resolve.

 Badgerlands by Patrick Barkham (Granta)
A lyrical, deep and humane investigation of our relationship with one of the British countryside’s more controversial animals.

Spirit House by Mark Dapin (Tuskar Rock Press)
A compassionate, subtle and darkly humorous novel about a complex subject – it deals with male psychology and the architecture of historical wounds terrifically well.

 Four Fields by Tim Dee (Jonathan Cape)
The seemingly restrictive framework of four fields is used to throw open a wide-ranging meditation on the world and how we live in it. There are moments of horror, beauty and sheer poetry.

 This Boy by Alan Johnson (Bantam Press)
A scrupulous yet moving memoir of a particular area of London, with its boundaries, streets, people and poverty – which also captures the elusive spirit of place that imprints itself on a child, and is never forgotten.

Field Notes From a Hidden City by Esther Woolfson (Granta)
Aberdeen has never seemed so rich in wildlife as it does in this book, which follows the rhythm of a year, moving from loving observation of local dunes, streets, woods and gardens out to wider considerations of the universe, and our attitudes to the natural world.

The winner will be announced on May 19.

A fortress home in South Africa

Absolution.coverWith the short list for the 2014 RSL Ondaatje Prize due to be announced later this week, I’m publishing here an extract from the last of three books I picked from last year’s short list. This one is from Absolution, by Patrick Flanery, a literary thriller set in South Africa. It’s an ambitious work for a debut, and one in which the ambition is fully realised. Its two central characters are both writers: one renowned and coming to the end of her career; the other starting out, hoping to make his name by writing her biography. It’s a book in which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission features, and in which the truth itself is constantly just out of reach. Flanery powerfully evokes the sights, sounds and smells of South Africa, as well as the fear (see the extract) that afflicts its better-off citizens in their fortress homes.

Cornwall: a place set apart

The recognition last week of the Cornish people as an official minority was just a late acknowledgment of a truth, according to Philip Marsden. Their homeland, he writes in The Guardian, is certainly not England.

A tourist at Chernobyl

Alexander Nazaryan, born in Russia and raised mainly in the United States, reports for Newsweek on a visit to what was the scene, in 1986, of the world’s worst nuclear accident: “The toxic cloud that enveloped much of Europe that spring has intrigued me ever since. I can name all of the radionuclides it contained: cesium-137, iodine-131, zirconium-95,  strontium-90, ruthenium-103… But I longed to know its origins, the way a naturalist might yearn to see the source of a river somewhere high in the mountains, simply to fulfil the human need to discover beginnings and pay homage to them.”

Back to Rwanda with Hilsum and Gourevitch

A longer excerpt from Lindsey Hilsum’s article on Rwanda (which I recommended a few months ago when it appeared in the print version of Granta) can now be found on the magazine’s website. April 7, Memorial Day in Rwanda, marked the 20th anniversary of the genocide, a systematic attempt to exterminate the Tutsi minority. July 4, Liberation Day, celebrates the genocide’s end. Until the latter date, The New Yorker is allowing all visitors to its site to read the articles of Philip Gourevitch, who reported for the magazine on the aftermath of the slaughter and went on to write We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, which won the National Book Critics’ Circle Award for non-fiction. They are introduced by his own commentary, telling how they came to be written and reinterpreting them in the light of subsequent events.

A memoir of the Troubles in Belfast

CallMotherjktI’m publishing an extract this week from another book that was on the short list last year for the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize, awarded for a work “evoking the spirit of a place”. It’s from Call mother a lonely field by Liam Carson, a memoir of growing up in an Irish-speaking family in Belfast at the time of the Troubles.

The title, incidentally, is borrowed from a song by Jackie Leven, who was lead singer in the 1970s of the band Doll By Doll before going on to a solo career in which he collaborated with, among others, the crime writer Ian Rankin.

In search of the best book on the British countryside

There’s been surprisingly little coverage of the short list for the new Thwaites Wainwright Prize, released last week. The £5,000 prize, designed to celebrate the best of nature- and travel writing about Britain, was set up last November by Frances Lincoln (publisher of the walker Alfred Wainwright’s books) and the Wainwright Society, in association with the National Trust, and is sponsored by Thwaites, the brewer.

The  organisers’ website says that books can be narrative or illustrative “but must be focussed [sic] on the British countryside”. That stipulation could lead to a few arguments in advance of the prize-giving on May 8. One title on the short list is Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways (my favourite non-fiction book of 2012), in which he tramps paths not only through the chalk-lands of England and the islands of the Scottish north-west but also through Spain, Palestine and the Himalayas.

The other books are:

Walking Home by Simon Armitage (Faber)
Badgerlands by Patrick Barkham (Granta)
Under Another Sky by Charlotte Higgins (Jonathan Cape)
The Green Road into the Trees: A Walk Through England by Hugh Thomson (Windmill/Random House)
Field Notes from a Hidden City: An Urban Nature Diary by Esther Woolfson (Granta).

You can read an extract from each of the books on the Thwaites Wainwright Prize site.