Travel books Archive

Leigh Fermor on the Mani olive harvest

The London Review of Books has a previously unpublished piece by Patrick Leigh Fermor, a celebration of the olive harvest that was written for the Greek edition of Mani (1958) but not used in it.

The unflagging swish! swish! swish! is the predominant sound all through the harvest. The olives that patter on the cloth like rain are piled in pyramids; children who are too young to be left alone in the empty village chase each other between the trees; dogs bark, mules nibble the new grass and white goats tear the leaves from the stripped twigs that cover the ground.

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”).

New ‘John Murray Journeys’ series

A travel-writing imprint offering “classic and rediscovered adventures”, all selected by Nick Hunt and with new introductions, will be launched next month by the publisher John Murray. The first five titles from “John Murray Journeys” will be:

The Valleys of the Assassins by Freya Stark, first published in 1934, which chronicles the author’s travels through Iran in the 1930s. It is introduced by Monisha Rajesh.

A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor, the first of a trilogy recounting the “great trudge” from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul that he embarked on in 1933 when he was 18. This edition includes an introduction by Jan Morris from 2005.

A Vagabond for Beauty, a collection of letters and diary excerpts by Everett Ruess, an artist who disappeared at the age of 20 in the canyonlands of Utah. Everett’s writing, compiled by W L Rusho, is published for the first time in the UK, and introduced by Paul Kingsnorth.

The Cruel Way by Ella K Maillart tells of a road trip she made from Switzerland to Afghanistan in 1939 with Annemarie Schwarzenbach, the two travelling partly to escape war in Europe and partly in an attempt to break Schwarzenbach’s addiction to morphine. This edition has an introduction by Fiona Mozley and includes excerpts from All The Roads Are Open by Schwarzenbach, recently reissued by Seagull Books.

Mississippi Solo by Eddy L Harris, which tells of a 1988 canoe journey in which the author battled against the power of the river and confronted modern racism and the legacy of slavery. Published for the first time in the UK, the book is introduced by Adam Weymouth.

All five titles will be published on July 8 in paperback.

New memoir from Brian Jackman

I was in touch recently with the writer Brian Jackman, who, I discovered about 10 years ago, was a boy during the Second World War just down the road from where I’m living now, before being evacuated to a farm in Cornwall during the Blitz. He has long been writing for the Telegraph travel pages as a freelance (and before that was a Fleet Street messenger boy and then on the staff of The Sunday Times). Many years before he set eyes on the Maasai Mara, which he has described vividly in his books with the film-maker Jonathan Scott, The Big Cat Diary and The Marsh Lions, Brian had imagined it in the London suburb of Stoneleigh. In Nonsuch Park — named for a peerless but long-gone Tudor palace — he and his mates turned hawthorn hedges into African savannah, “made Robin Hood bows from young ash staves and built Apache dens among the cow parsley”. He remembers, too, seeing a Hurricane shoot down a Messerschmitt over his own street.

About a month ago I was scribbling about Nonsuch, and sent the copy to Brian to check something. I got an email back saying that he had just received proofs of his new memoir — West with the Light: My Life in Nature — in which Stoneleigh and Nonsuch figure large in the early pages. Later on, he’s in the real savannah: over the past 40 years or so, in his wanderings across sub-Saharan Africa, he reckons he has spent the best part of four years under canvas. As well as observing the beasts of the bush, he’s met characters including George and Joy Adamson and Richard Leakey.

The book is due to be published by Bradt in August. It’s not one I’ll be able to review as I know Brian too well, but I wanted to mention it here.

I first registered the byline “Brian Jackman” in the early 1980s, in typescript on the sub-editors’ desk of The Sunday Times, on the fifth floor of 200 Gray’s Inn Road, where I worked initially as a casual. On Saturday my colleagues and I subbed stories appearing in the early pages of the paper, which tended to be “hard” news in several senses of the word (though not necessarily as hard as in the front page from an old New York Post stuck to a partition that screened off the picture desk: “HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR”). On Fridays we worked mainly on foreign-desk stories and on softer pieces from other parts of the paper. Occasionally there would be something from Brian, either for the travel section, which sent him everywhere from the Falkland Islands to Everest Base Camp, or for the later pages of the news section, where he was among writers given space for the way they told a story as much as for the story itself. Dropping the copy on my desk, the then chief sub, John Wardroper, a lean and learned Canadian, would say: “Here’s a little treat for you: another lovely piece from Brian Jackman. Just tick it up.” In other words, breathe on it, but don’t edit it.

You can read more of Brian Jackman’s work, extracted from earlier books on Africa and Britain, here on Deskbound Traveller.

Nick Hunt on Travel Writing World

In the latest podcast on Jeremy Bassetti’s Travel Writing World, Nick Hunt talks about his new book, Outlandish, and the relationship between travel writing and nature writing.

What’s new in writing on travel and place

Work on my own lockdown project, and a coming move that will have me deskbound-by-the-sea, have left little time to update Deskbound Traveller recently, but I wanted briefly to mention a few things…

Nick Hunt’s Outlandish (see previous post), which is published today, has been reviewed in the Financial Times by William Atkins (winner himself of the Stanford Dolman prize for travel writing for The Immeasurable World) and in the Literary Review by Oliver Balch.

New books on my TBR pile include About Britain: A Journey of Seventy Years and 1,345 Miles by Tim Cole (Bloomsbury Continuum, £18.99, June 10). Armed with a series of “handbooks for the explorer”, written for the Festival of Britain in 1951, Cole — professor of social history at the University of Bristol — takes to the roads to see what has and hasn’t changed in the 70 years since their publication.

Tim Parks, that renowned English interpreter of Italian ways, went for a seriously long walk in 2019. He and his partner, Eleonora, followed in the footsteps of the Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi, who, with his pregnant wife, Anita, and 4,000 volunteers, marched away from Rome in 1849 after the fall of the Roman republic that had briefly replaced papal rule. In The Hero’s Way (Harvill Secker, £20, June 3), Parks recounts a trek of 400 miles, and a trip back in time through 170 years.

The latest offering from Eland, curator of travel classics, is a new edition of Letters from Egypt: An Englishwoman on the Nile, 1862-69 by Lucie Duff Gordon (£12.99, June 10). The author, who contracted tuberculosis in the 1850s, went to Egypt — where her eldest daughter lived — to avoid the damp winters of England. Her letters to the husband and three children she left behind first appeared in 1865. “Her humane, open-minded voice,” the publisher says, “shines across the centuries… witty, life-affirming, joyous, self-deprecating, and utterly enchanted by her Arab neighbours.”

James Attlee is a writer who see creative possibilities where others see constraints. In Under the Rainbow, published early this month (And Other Stories, £11.99), he sets out from his home in Oxford after the first lockdown to record the voices of those making a brief escape from isolation. The book, his publisher says, is “a unique record of an extraordinary year and a tribute to creativity and resilience”.

Tom Chesshyre reckons he has totted up 40,000 miles on the rails for books in various parts of the world. In his latest, published last month, he takes Slow Trains Around Spain (Summersdale, £16.99).

Finally, I was reminded earlier this week by a tweet from Robert Macfarlane (who had been sent an early proof) that Colin Thubron’s latest travel book will be with us in the autumn. It’s  The Amur River: Between Russia and China (Chatto & Windus, £20, September 16).

‘Outlandish’ walks in Europe

Having followed Patrick Leigh Fermor (Walking the Woods and the Water) and then four of Europe’s winds (Where the Wild Winds Are) across the continent, Nick Hunt takes us in Outlandish (John Murray, £16.99, May 27) through landscapes that shouldn’t be there: wildernesses that seem to belong to another part of the world. An extract from the new book went up yesterday on the website of The Guardian.

Khan and Sethi on bill for Destinations show

Speakers at Destinations, the holiday and travel show, over this weekend will include Taran Khan, winner of the Stanford Dolman prize for Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul, talking to the journalist Julia Wheeler, and Anita Sethi, author of I Belong Here, talking to Monisha Rajesh, author of Around the World in 80 Trains. For details of all talks — which will be streamed live and then available online until midnight on May 16 — and how to register, see the Destinations 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.