Uncategorised Archive

The year we stopped flying

I’m late getting round to mentioning it but The Guardian had an excellent piece on Saturday from Cal Flyn on the year we stopped flying, and what it meant for work, family life, scientific research — and the planet. (Flyn’s Islands of Abandonment, a life-affirming book about dead zones, was one of my books of this year.)

‘The Long Field’ competition winners

Happy reading to my five competition winners, who will each be receiving shortly a copy of Pamela Petro’s The Long Field. The five are: Ruth Bradshaw, Stephen Hackett, Dr Claire Harris, Martin Pearson and Jane Simmonds.

Thanks again to the publisher, Little Toller, for putting up the prize, and to all those who retweeted my posts about it. And thanks, of course, to Pamela Petro for the book, a wonderful exploration of the Welsh idea of hiraeth (“a soul-deep homesickness”). You can still read an extract here on Deskbound Traveller.

Banff Mountain Book short lists

The finalists have been announced in the Banff Mountain Book Competition, which recognises excellence in mountain literature from around the world, with more than $20,000 in prize money awarded across eight categories, from fiction and poetry to mountain imagery and guidebooks. Jessica J Lee (for Two Trees Make a Forest) and Leon McCarron (for The Land Beyond: A Thousand Miles on Foot Through the Heart of the Middle East) are both finalists in the adventure-travel category. Category winners will be announced in October, and the $4,000 grand-prize winner will be named on November 5.

Hanbury-Tenison on space, Survival and the lessons of Covid-19

Yesterday’s interview in the Hard Talk slot from BBC News is well worth a listen. The explorer Robin Hanbury-Tenison talks to Stephen Sackur about space exploration (“a complete waste of time”), the work of Survival International, the lessons of Covid-19… and why we should stop flying long-haul.

Short lists for Wainwright Prizes

The short lists were announced this week for the Wainwright Prize for UK Nature Writing and the Wainwright Prize for Writing on Global Conservation; you can find both on the organisers’ website. The winners will be announced on September 7.

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.

On this day…

There never was such delicious weather… and there is an English cuckoo talking English — at least, he is trying, but he evidently left England as a cadet, with his education incomplete, for he cannot get further than cuck — and there is a blackbird singing. We pass our lives in gardening. We ride down into the valleys, and make the Syces [servants] dig up wild tulips and lilies, and they are grown so eager about it, that they dash up the hill the instant they see a promising-looking plant, and dig it up with the best possible effect, except that they invariably cut off the bulb. It certainly is very pleasant to be in a pretty place, with a nice climate. Not that I would not set off this instant and go dâk* all over the hot plains, and through the hot wind, if I were told I might sail home the instant I arrived at Calcutta; but as nobody makes me that offer, I can wait here better than anywhere else — like meat, we keep better here.

Emily Eden, Journal, 1838

*A Hindi name for a transport system at the time carrying mail and passengers.

Emily Eden (1797-1869), an English novelist who travelled to India with her brother, the 1st Earl of Auckland, when he was governor-general there, wrote a series of letters to her sister, later published in two volumes as Up the Country: Letters Written to her Sister from the Upper Provinces of India (Richard Bentley, 1866).

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.

Paul Theroux on fiction, travel and the post-pandemic future

Paul Theroux turned 80 this month, but he’s still behaving like a writer keen to make a name for himself. Last Train to Zona Verde, which he published in 2013, may have been, as the subtitle has it, his “ultimate African safari”, but it wasn’t his last travel book. Since then, he has driven through the southern US for Deep South and through Mexico for On the Plain of Snakes; in between, he delivered an essay collection, Figures in a Landscape, on people and places.  

  His latest book, Under the Wave at Waimea, is his 56th. It’s a work of fiction about a man who has done some travelling himself, but who never reads: Joe Sharkey, a big-wave surfer on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, who is struggling to come to terms with the dimming of fame and the advance of age. 

  Driving back drunk one night to his home on the north shore, Joe kills a homeless man on a bicycle near Waimea, and his own life takes a turn for the worse. Then his new girlfriend, Olive, an English nurse, intervenes. She makes Joe confront what he’s done and help her establish the dead man’s identity. In the process, Joe pulls himself together and gets back on his board.

  Under the Wave at Waimea is about the joys of surfing (“a rush, a feeling, a dance”), about living a lie, and about the unseen life of Hawaii. This week I talked to its author about fiction, travel and the post-pandemic future. An edited version of the interview is now up on the Telegraph website (where you’ll have to register to read it) and will be in print in the travel section of The Daily Telegraph tomorrow.

‘Greenery’ competition winners

Happy reading to my five competition winners, who will each be receiving shortly a copy of the paperback of Tim Dee’s Greenery. The five  are: Steve Birt, Ros Croe, Nathan Munday, Lesley Rawlinson and EE Rhodes. Thanks again to the publisher, Vintage, for putting up the prize. And thanks, of course, to Tim Dee, for the book, a genre-hopping, border-crossing hymn to spring.