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The word’s out on ‘Outpost’

A review I wrote some time ago appeared in The Daily Telegraph at the weekend, as if it had been sent by hand from some far-flung place, got lost along the way and finally surfaced. Maybe that was appropriate, for the review was of Outpost by Dan Richards (Canongate), a sprightly tour of staging posts — from the bothy to the writer’s retreat and the fire lookout tower — and the thresholds they mark, both on the ground and in the head. It’s online on the Telegraph site, and you can also find it here on Deskbound Traveller.

Dee and Co at Daunt Books Festival

Daunt Books not only runs great shops, most of them in London; it’s also a publisher and has its own annual festival. The line-up for the next festival, on March 19 and 20 at its Marylebone branch, includes Tim Dee, talking about his latest book, Greenery, in which he seeks to travel with the spring and its migratory birds, north from South Africa to Britain; Simon Loftus, author of Puligny-Montrachet: Journal of a Village in Burgundy (which Daunt republished last year); and Paul Wood, author of London is a Forest and London’s Street Trees, who will be leading a walk on the second day. Also on the bill are writers including Sebastian Barry, Colum McCann, Olivia Laing, Caroline Criado Perez and Max Porter.

‘Surfacing’ on Radio 4

I didn’t have time to mention it here before it started, but Book of the Week on Radio 4 is Kathleen Jamie’s deeply layered Surfacing (Sort Of Books), which was one of my books of 2019. Jamie and another poet, Denise Riley, were guests recently on an episode of Ian McMillan’s The Verb on Radio 3, musing on the writing of “deep time”; you can still hear that on the BBC website.

  On February 14, incidentally, McMillan will be interviewing Jan Morris, who “looks back over a career in writing that has spanned seven decades and explains what it is that keeps her returning to her writing desk every day at the age of 91”. A second volume of Morris’s diaries, Thinking Again, is due to be published by Faber in March.

To Israel and Palestine, San Francisco and Liverpool

Since I compiled my roundup of books on travel and place to look out for in 2020, I’ve been alerted to a few more… 

  Julian Sayarer won the Stanford Dolman prize in 2017 for Interstate, his account of hitchhiking across the United States towards the end of the Obama administration. Ten years after breaking a world record for cycling around the world, he returns to two wheels on the roads of Israel and occupied Palestine for Fifty Miles Wide, which Arcadia will publish in April. It’s a book, he says, that had its beginning in a conversation he had with an author from Israel, whom he had told that the bicycle seemed to bring out the best in people. She told him he should ride one through Israel and Palestine.

  The publisher says his route “weaves from the ancient hills of Galilee, along the blockaded walls of the Gaza Strip and down to the Bedouin villages of the Naqab Desert. He speaks with Palestinian hip-hop artists who wonder if music can change their world, Israelis hoping that kibbutz life can, and Palestinian cycling clubs determined to keep on riding despite the army checkpoints and settlers that bar their way.”

  David Reynolds — who was one of the founders of Bloomsbury Publishing — is another writer who has spent time on the move in the US. In Slow Road to Brownsville (2015), he drove the length of Highway 83, “the Main Street of the Great Plains”. In Slow Road to San Francisco (Muswell Press, June), he travels through small-town America, from Ocean City, Maryland, all the way to the west coast. “As he moseys from east to west,” his publisher says, he “meets Trump’s countrymen and women… They talk about everything from slavery and Indian reservations to Butch Cassidy and Marilyn Monroe. Everyone has something to say about Trump, whether they love him or hate him.”

  Jeff Young, a writer whose television credits include EastEnders, Holby City and Casualty, has long been fascinated with Liverpool, its history and how that intersects with his own life. In Ghost Town (Little Toller, late February) he journeys through the city and away from it, creating new ways of mapping his home town, “layering memory, history, photography and more”.


Following Chekhov to the ‘end of the world’

Why did Anton Chekhov travel in 1890 to Sahkalin Island, at the “end of the world”, where Russia was sending 20,000 prisoners a year? In seeking to answer that question, William Atkins (winner of the Stanford Dolman prize for The Immeasurable World) spent part of spring last year on Sakhalin. His haunting piece for Granta magazine, which went online in November, can be read for the moment without charge. On Twitter, Atkins is also recommending an “excellent” New Yorker essay by Akhil Sharma (from 2015) on Chekhov’s Sakhalin book.

Spanish vet named Travel Photographer of the Year

‘I was attracted to the look and beauty of this young shepherd,’ says the photographer of this image made in Fada N’gourma, Burkina Faso. © KATY GÓMEZ CATALINA/TPOTY.COM

Katy Gómez Catalina, a veterinarian from Úbeda, in Spain, was last night named Travel Photographer of the Year for 2019 for a portfolio of eight black-and-white images ranging in subject from the Batwa people of Uganda to the esplanade of the Louvre in Paris. She is only the second woman to be overall winner in the 17-year history of the awards. 


  There was female success too in the Young Travel Photographer of the Year category. That was won by 11-year-old Indigo Larmour — who is Irish but was born in Abu Dhabi — with a portfolio depicting hands at work in India. Her caption to this image (right) says: “Chai is always part of any journey in India… So of course we had to have some on the streets of Kolkata.”

  Both winners, appropriately, were on the road making more images when the prizes were presented at a ceremony in London. Gómez, who is self-taught, says on her website that photography has become “an inseparable travel companion, to the point that my perception of the worlds I visit goes through the eye of the camera. It is then with those images that I can construct the story of my journey in the same way that a writer does it with his diary.”

  Chris Coe, who with his wife Karen founded the awards, said that Indigo was a photographer who showed real potential; she was already capable of very interesting compositions and had the ability to capture moments.

  Another category winner, of the TAPSA (Timothy Allen Scholarship Award) for Travel Documentaries, was “a very jet-lagged” Kiran Ridley, a Paris-based British photographer, who had flown in from Australia, where he had been covering the bushfires. He won for a portfolio of images of the demonstrations in Hong Kong, which began as a protest against proposed changes to extradition law and have morphed into broader demonstrations against the Hong Kong and Chinese governments.

  The award was started five years ago by Timothy Allen, who himself was Travel Photographer of the Year in 2013. Allen said Ridley’s photographs were “sensational”. The documentaries category had been included in the TPOTY competition, he said, because “a lot of us are starting to realise that travel photography isn’t what it used to be. It’s not shooting pictures of the Taj Mahal any more; it’s documentary photography. And I hope that more and more people are going to be entering this style of photography, because the lines between travel and documentary now are blurred beyond recognition. Kiran’s work is a classic example of that.”

  More than 20,000 images were submitted for the 2019 awards by professional and amateur photographers from 144 countries. The winners can be viewed on the Travel Photographer of the Year website and will go on display from April 7 to May 12 in Coal Drops Yard, King’s Cross, a new location for TPOTY’s London exhibition.

Police arrest pro-democracy protestors during a march in Hong Kong. © KIRAN RIDLEY/TPOTY.COM

Chatwin in Patagonia, pining for veg

On this date in 1975, Bruce Chatwin, in Patagonia, was missing his veg:

I have visited a poet-hermit who lived according to Thoreau and the Georgics. I have listened to the wild outpourings of the Patagonian archaeologist, who claims the existence of a. the Patagonian unicorn b. a protohominid in Tierra del Fuego (Fuego pithicus patensis) 80cm high… Dying of tiredness. Have just walked 150 odd miles. Am another 150 from the nearest lettuce and at least 89 from the nearest canned vegetable. It will take many years to recover from roast lamb.

Letter to Elizabeth Chatwin, January 21, 1975

Sailing, phantoms and fairies

The Summer Isles (Granta), in which Philip Marsden sails up the western coasts of Ireland and Scotland in search of places real and imagined, was one of my favourite books of 2019. A review I wrote for The Daily Telegraph appeared at the weekend in print and is up on the Telegraph website. You can also read it here on Deskbound Traveller.

Paul Bowles’s Tangier — and the real one

What’s a travel book? It’s a question that’s been argued over for centuries. The American writer Paul Bowles (1910-1999), author of The Sheltering Sky, gave his answer in an essay, “The challenge to identity”, published in 1958. “For me,” he wrote, “it is the story of what happened to one person in a particular place, and nothing more than that; it does not contain hotel and highway information, lists of useful phrases, statistics, or hints as to what kind of clothing is needed by the intending visitor. It may be that such books form a category which is doomed to extinction. I hope not, because there is nothing I enjoy more than reading an accurate account by an intelligent writer of what happened to him away from home.”

   Bowles wrote those words 11 years after arriving in Tangier, where — though he carried on travelling — he would live for the rest of his life. He wrote extensively about the city, in non-fiction as well as in novels and short stories, and helped to shape outsiders’ views of Morocco. So was he accurate about place and people? Hisham Aidi, a native of Tangier who met Bowles, and even ran literary tours of “Paul Bowles’s Tangier”, has been reassessing the man and his work for The New York Review of Books.

Getting to know ‘The Northumbrians’

If you’re planning a trip to the North East of England (and even if you’re not) I’d recommend reading The Northumbrians by Dan Jackson (Hurst), a history of the place and its people that I’ve reviewed for The Daily Telegraph: it’s an entertainment as well as an education. And the author, I’ve just noticed, has been interviewed for Dan Snow’s new History Hit podcast.