Uncategorised Archive

To China, Syria and Turkey via Bath

Foreign affairs, travel and place feature strongly on the bill for the Bath Literature Festival, which runs from Friday, February 27 to Sunday, March 8.

On February 28, under the heading “Understanding China, the country and the myth”, the writer and broadcaster Isabel Hilton will be joined in conversation by Anne Witchard, whose research investigates changing conceptions of China in Britain, and Jonathan Fenby, author of Will China Dominate the 21st Century? On the same day, Diana Darke, author of My House in Damascus, will discuss the prospects for Syria with John McHugo, author of  Syria: From The Great War To Civil War.

On March 5, Elif Shafak, Turkey’s bestselling female writer, will talk about the conflicting feelings she has for her homeland, a place where, she has said, “men write, women read”.

On March 7,  Mark Cocker (Claxton: Field Notes from a Small Planet) and Tim Dee (Four Fields) discuss the interaction between people and nature.

The following day, a journey “Around the world in 10 books” will be conducted by Scott Pack, publisher and “über-bookworm”, and Ann Morgan, author of Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer, which draws on writing  from 196 countries.

This year marks the 180th anniversary of the Great Western Railway; among literary walks on the programme is one on March 7 that will point up the difficulties Brunel faced in building the line through Bath.

For details of the programme, see the Bath Festivals website.

River, sea and countryside

The New Review section of The Observer today has a moving extract from The Fish Ladder, by Katharine Norbury, which I mentioned last week.

Blake Morrison, who will be in conversation with Norbury at the LRB Bookshop this month, has a new book out himself, a collection of poems titled Shingle Street. In The Guardian yesterday, writing about the fragile east coast of England and the pull it has for writers, he explained in prose why it’s being eaten away by the North Sea (rising sea levels and a “soft” coastline), and then, in a poem, offered another explanation.

Also in The Guardian yesterday, Helen Macdonald, whose H is for Hawk won her both the Samuel Johnson Prize and the Costa Book of the Year Award, reflected on the books that opened her eyes to nature.

The not-so-noble new law of the sea

“I had decided that it is the fate of my generation never to have known the noble law of the sea, and to live, instead, in an era when the captain leaves his ship not last, but first. Call it the new spirit of capitalism, ushered in with all the other forms of ruthlessness that mark contemporary times…” Rachel Kushner, in the London Review of Books, reflects on the sinking of the Costa Concordia.


Deskbound Traveller is taking a break until mid-December while its editor escapes from the desk.

Telling rooms

Nathan Heller, having scanned the bookshelves and rifled the cupboards, writes a character sketch of his Airbnb host in Berlin for The New Yorker.

Unbound – again

I’m escaping the desk again. Deskbound Traveller will be back to normal some time after Sept 27.


Deskbound Traveller will be taking a break until early September while its editor escapes from his own desk to do some travelling.

Making a break

Deskbound Traveller is taking a break while its editor does some travelling himself. Normal service will resume as soon as possible.

A weekend of wanderings

There was an excellent piece  in the Review section of The Guardian at the weekend by Robert Macfarlane on Laurie Lee and his wanderings through Spain. (I presume it’s from Macfarlane’s introduction to a new Penguin edition of one of Lee’s books, published to mark the centenary of the writer’s birth, but The Guardian doesn’t say.) “If the power of Cider with Rosie derives from its dream of dwelling,” he argues, “the power of As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning derives from its dream of leaving. If only I could live forever in one place, and come to know it so well, you think, reading Lee’s first volume of memoir. If only I could step from my front door, walk away and just keep going, you think, reading his second.

I’ve read all of Lee’s Spanish books several times, but Macfarlane, as he often does, made me feel I’d been only half-attentive. Of this passage from As I Walked Out

[The] next day, getting back on to the London road, I forgot everything but the way ahead. I walked steadily, effortlessly, hour after hour in a kind of swinging, weightless realm. I was at that age which feels neither strain nor friction, when the body burns magic fuels, so that it seems to glide in warm air, about a foot off the ground, smoothly obeying its intuitions. Even exhaustion, when it came, had a voluptuous quality, and sleep was caressive and deep, like oil.

he says:

The writing here is “voluptuous” yet precise, and as such it is characteristic of Lee’s style, in which elaborate metaphors serve not as ornaments, but rather as the means of most closely evoking complex experience. Lee does not walk so much as levitate or hover, borne aloft by supernatural stamina, and, in mimicry of this sensation, his clauses, suspended by their commas, also bear the reader along “the way” and onwards into the unknown. 

The Telegraph Magazine had a piece from Mike Pflanz on another wanderer, David Coulson, who has driven the equivalent of three times round the earth to find and chronicle the ancient rock art of Africa. “Here’s a great news story out of Africa,” says Coulson: “the preservation of thousands of years of history and culture about which we would know nothing if not for this art. That’s what should motivate us all to preserve it.”

A hundred years ago last week, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, set off on a trip that would end with his assassination – the event that triggered the First Word War. In Telegraph Travel, Adrian Bridge followed the archduke’s footsteps. “It’s a journey well worth doing today,” he says, “not because [Franz Ferdinand] did it, but for the geographical, historical, cultural and scenic splendours along the way”. The piece isn’t online as I write, so I’ll post a link to it later.

Also in the Review section of The Guardian was an interview by Emma Brockes with Teju Cole, mentioned here recently, who was born into a Nigerian family in the United States and is constantly struck by the ease of life there compared with that in Nigeria. How, he asks of the latter, “can a place be so interesting, full of history and real human conflict, and at the same time as slow as molasses?”


Haunted home of the whalers

“The most haunted place I have ever been”: Adam Nicolson, for the Telegraph Review, reports on Leith Habour, in South Georgia, once home to hundreds of Scottish and Norwegian men pursuing the whales of the Southern Ocean. His documentary for BBC4, Britain’s Whale Hunters: The Untold Story, will be screened tomorrow and on June 16.