Places Archive

Atkins explores exile in new book for Faber

A new book from William Atkins, who won the Stanford Dolman prize for The Immeasurable World, will be published next May by Faber, the company announced yesterday. In Exiles: Three Island Journeys, Atkins travels to the places where three people were banished at the height of European colonialism: Louise Michel, a French anarchist (New Caledonia in the South Pacific); Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo, a Zulu prince (St Helena in the South Atlantic), and Lev Shternberg, a Ukrainian revolutionary (Sakhalin Island, off the coast of Siberia).

Atkins said: “‘Exile’ is a word that has haunted me all my adult life; this book is my attempt to grapple with its meanings, by following the journeys of three people I came to love and admire.”

Laura Hassan, associate publisher at Faber, said the book was “a moving, empathetic exploration of exile that will resonate in our era of mass human displacement. Part biography, part travel, part history, Exiles will cement Atkins’s reputation as one of our greatest writers of place.”

Atkins is guest editor of a special edition of Granta magazine on travel writing, due to be published next month.

Petro on tour with ‘The Long Field’

Pamela Petro will be in Britain in November to promote her new book The Long Field (Little Toller). For details of events, see her publisher’s Twitter account.

Win a copy of Pamela Petro’s ‘The Long Field’

Pamela Petro’s The Long Field (which I recommended recently) is out today — and you can read an extract here on Deskbound Traveller. Thanks to the publisher, Little Toller, I have five copies to give away. To be in with a chance of winning one, just retweet my mention of the book from either @kerraway or @deskboundtravel.

Terms and conditions
Entrants must retweet a mention of the prize on Twitter from @kerraway or @deskboundtravel by midnight on September 22. Each winner, who must be resident in the United Kingdom or Ireland, will receive one copy of the book. Winners will be selected at random and notified by September 29. Unsuccessful entrants will not be contacted.

Travel and place at Cheltenham Festival

Writing on travel and place features strongly on a tremendous bill for the Cheltenham Literature Festival, which is scheduled to run from October 8 to 17.  Speakers will include Colin Thubron (left), whose new book The Amur River: Between Russia and China, is due to be published on September 16. Tim Hannigan, who interviewed Thubron and many other travel writers for The Travel Writing Tribe, will also be contributing. He and Georgina Lawton, author of Black Girls Take World: The Travel Bible for Black Women with Boundless Wanderlust, will discuss with Jenny Coad, deputy travel editor at The Times and The Sunday Times, where travel writing can go in the 21st century.

Anita Sethi, author of I Belong Here, the British Bangladeshi birder and activist Mya-Rose Craig (We Have A Dream) and Lucy McRobert (365 Days Wild) will explore “why rural Britain remains predominantly a white landscape, the ways in which we all connect with nature, and what we can do to create a truly inclusive countryside”.

In a session billed as “Thinking on your feet”, Annabel Abbs (author of Windswept: Walking in the footsteps of remarkable women) and Matthew Beaumont (The Walker: On Losing and Finding Yourself in the Modern City) trace the footsteps of walking writers from Dickens and Woolf to Shepherd and Strayed. The session is chaired by the adventurer Phoebe Smith (who will also be interviewing Anne Strathie about her new biography of Herbert Ponting, photographer on Scott’s expedition to the Antarctic).

Gail Muller will talk about her 2,200-mile trek along the Appalachian Trail for Unlost — one she embarked on at 41, having been told she would be wheelchair-bound by the age of 40.

Susan Owens, author of Spirit of Place, will talk about how the British landscape has been framed and reimagined by successive generations of artists and writers.

October sees the launch of a new three-year theme for the festival: Read the World. The idea is that “A greater range of international writing will be profiled, offering an incisive guide to key issues on the global stage.” Ann Morgan, campaigning blogger and author of Reading the World, will be “literary explorer in residence”, with a brief to help expand reading habits and introduce the festival audience to new writers.

Away with words

Until a week ago, when I flew to Cyprus for a family wedding, I hadn’t been on a train or a boat, let alone a plane, for a long time. But I’ve still been travelling — thanks to the transporting power of words on paper. If you’re in need of a virtual escape, or something to read on a real one, you might find it among some of this year’s best new books on travel and place, which I covered in a roundup last weekend for Telegraph Travel.

New books on travel, place and nature

The first titles in the new “John Murray Journeys” series of travel books are due to be published this week.

The New York Times Book Review has marked the Fourth of July weekend with a special issue featuring books about America’s past, present and future. Among them are two new books on Texas; memoirs of family migration; the journalist John Gunther’s Inside U.S.A, first published in 1947; and Republic of Detours, which tell how unemployed writers — including Zora Neale Hurston, Nelson Algren and Richard Wright — were hired to write idiosyncratic guides to the country during the 1930s.

Eland Books, which recently brought back into print Charles Nicholl’s Borderlines: A Journey in Thailand and Burma (1988), is to follow that at the end of this month with Somebody Else: Arthur Rimbaud in Africa, 1880-91 (£14.99), an account of the poet’s “lost years” that won Nicholl the 1998 Hawthornden Prize (for “the best work of imaginative literature)”.
Nicholl was interviewed recently about Borderlines by Jeremy Bassetti for his Travel Writing World podcast.

Wanderers: A History of Women Walking, edited by Kerri Andrews and with an introduction by Kathleen Jamie, is out in paperback next week (Reaktion Books, July 12, £9.99). It’s a book about 10 women “who have found walking essential to their sense of themselves as women, writers and people” — from Elizabeth Carter, a parson’s daughter of the 18th century, who wanted nothing more than to be taken for a vagabond in southern England, to Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, who set out to be “a woman who walks alone in the wilderness for eleven hundred miles”.

I’ve mentioned before the series of city-inspired noir anthologies published by Cassava Republic. The latest, Addis Ababa Noir, due out on August 4 (£12.99), is edited by Maaza Mengiste, who was short-listed for the 2020 Booker Prize for The Shadow King, and won an Edgar Award for a short story she includes in this new collection. She promises that the authors whose work she has chosen will open up their city: “Let them lead you down their streets and alleyways, into their characters’ homes and schools, and show you all the hidden corners, the secrets, and the lapsed realities that hover just above the Addis that everyone else sees.”

Michael Pye has written books on subjects from New York (Maximum City) to the North Sea (The Edge of the World). His latest is Antwerp: The Glory Years (Allen Lane, August 5, £25), in which he paints a portrait of the city between 1500 and 1570. It was then, he writes, “a world city, a centre of stories published across Europe, a sensation like nineteenth-century Paris or twentieth-century New York, one of the first cities where anything could happen or at least be believed. Other cities showed the power of kings or dukes or empires, but Antwerp showed only itself: a place of trade, where people wanted, needed to be, or couldn’t afford not to be. It was famous on its own terms.”

In The Eternal Season: Ghosts of summers past, present and future (Elliott & Thompson, £14.99), Stephen Rutt sets out to explore the natural world during its moment of fullest bloom. But he notices, too, the ways in which the season is being deranged by a changed and changing climate: the wrong birds singing at the wrong time; August days as cold as February. The book is both celebration and warning: “It sings,” his publisher says, “with love and careful observation, with an eye on all that we might lose but also save.”

What do Britons make of Finland? Few are better placed to tell us than Tony Lurcock, a former lecturer in English at Finnish universities. Since 2010, he has been producing a series of compilations of accounts by travellers and writers, acclaimed in the TLS as “a fascinating prism through which to view modern Finland”. The fourth and final volume, Finish Off with Finland: A Miscellany, was published last week by that one-person publishing house Charles Boyle, otherwise known as CB editions (£12); you can download an extract from the publisher’s website.

In Minarets in the Mountains (Bradt Guides, July 15, £9.99), Tharik Hussain, who was born in Bangladesh and grew up in the East End of London, travels with his family around the western Balkans. Following in the footsteps of the Ottoman explorer Evliya Çelebi, he takes them through Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro, intent on exploring indigenous Muslim Europe in the 21st century. The book has won praise from writers including Tim Mackintosh-Smith (“A richly detailed travelogue by a humane and compassionate pilgrim”) and Ziauddin Sardar (“A scintillating voyage”).

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.

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.

Short list for Ondaatje Prize

The short list was announced yesterday for 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 “evoking the spirit of a place”.

The six books are:

The Butchers by Ruth Gilligan (Atlantic Books)
This Lovely City by Louise Hare (HQ)
Box Hill by Adam Mars-Jones (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
Magnolia, 木蘭 by Nina Mingya Powles (Nine Arches Press)
English Pastoral by James Rebanks (Allen Lane)
Square Haunting by Francesca Wade (Faber & Faber).

This year’s judges are Lola, Baroness Young of Hornsey (Chair), Helen Mort and Adam Rutherford. The winner will be announced on May 11.