Uncategorised Archive

On the North, and on the river

A quick mention of a couple of new books on place and travel that have appeared recently in the US: Extreme North: A Cultural History by Bernd Brunner (W W Norton & Company), which Liesl Schillinger, in The New York Times, describes as “an idiosyncratic inquiry into the power of the north in the popular imagination” (I’m reminded of Peter Davidson’s The Idea of North); and Riverman by Ben McGrath (Alfred A Knopf),  which was inspired by the disappearance of a canoeist, Dick Conant, and is, according to Gregory Cowles, also in The NY Times, “a portrait of forgotten American byways and the eccentric characters who populate them, a cursory history of river travel in America and, not least, an effort to solve the riddle of Conant himself — not only his whereabouts but also his elusive and irresistible nature”.

‘A treasure chest’ on France

When I compiled my roundup of books on travel and place coming out this year, I hadn’t heard of the latest from that cycling historian Graham Robb. France: An Adventure History won’t officially be published until March 17 (Picador, £25), but it was reviewed yesterday in The Sunday Times by David Sexton, who said it was “packed full of discoveries: a treasure chest to be opened with relish by all who love France”.

New travel/literature podcast

A new podcast that promises to combine travel and literature, The Wandering Book Collector, is due to be launched today by the writer and broadcaster Michelle Jana Chan (see my earlier post on her novel, Song). She is planning to have conversations with writers “around themes of movement, memory, borders, longing and belonging, and home”. Her first guest is the journalist and author Janine di Giovanni, best known for her reporting of war and the politics of conflict; the second, on December 29, will be Bernardine Evaristo, winner of the Booker Prize in 2019 for her novel Girl, Woman, Other and the first black woman and black British person to receive the award in its 50-year history.

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).