Sunday, August 25, 2013

My notebook goes on holiday - without me

It is common for writers to follow in the footsteps of their more august predecessors, either literally or metaphorically. It’s less usual for their notebooks to do it for them. But that’s just what mine has done. The original footsteps are those of Robert Louis Stevenson, he of Treasure Island and Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde fame. When the great Scot was still in his twenties he spent twelve days hiking through the Cévennes, a wild and beautiful region of Languedoc, along the southern edge of the Massif Central. The result was a highly readable travelogue entitled  Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (1878) , the donkey being Modestine, who emerged as one of the more vivid  – and indeed sympathetic – characters in the book. (It seems a good few of the locals were decidedly wary of the RLS, and kept their distance.)

I was near the Cévennes earlier this summer, and took with me a notebook, as I always do when travelling. It was rather a nice one - a gift - leather bound with a hard cover. I wrote many notes for The Valley of Unknowing in it, and I had I stuck to things literary, I might never have lost it. Unfortunately on this trip I used it to write down directions to a nearby supermarket (and a shopping list, for shame!) and then left it in the trolley, on one of those little fold-out seats used to torture small children.  I could never have suspected that the next person to use that particular trolley would be a man from the Cévennes, who makes a living taking visitors through the region on donkeys; but that’s just what Christian Brochier does.  (I am told that his donkeys are as lovely as Modestine was, but that the locals are now a good deal friendlier.  Nor are you required, as RLS was, to share a bed with any of them – unless you want to.)

A few weeks later, the notebook turned up again in England with a card from M. Brochier, in which he wrote: “I thank you for this moment of poesy and adventure in the great temple of consumption. I felt like a detective trying to resolve the question of the lost booklet – important for somebody, probably for a book or a film – and was especially puzzled by the map with the shops.”

I think the great writer would have understood this reaction very well. And I offer M Brochier my sincere thanks for his kindness.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Young girl in an old town

Where she discovers the thrill and danger of other people's door-knockers. And more besides...

Back home again I find this nice review from the Irish Examiner.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Pleurisy, Nabokov and me

I recently wrote this short piece for the Vintage books blog about how I got into writing fiction, which I largely put down to a nasty lung infection contracted in the Andes at the age of twenty. The accompanying pictures, put through my rather rudimentary scanner, have come out looking like they were taken about 100 years ago using a Box Brownie, but maybe that all adds to the general sense of ancient history... 

Digging them out, I found myself wondering what happened to my two companions on that journey, Vanessa and Julia, both then students at New Hall. One I know spent a long time in Madrid working for Reuters (we met up there c.1990 when I too was journalistically employed there). The other became an expert on China, a while before it became a manufacturing superpower. More than that, I do now know...

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Small girl, BIG greenhouse

Katja at the Palm House, Kew Gardens, last Saturday. For my part, a nice break from First World War murder and mayhem... And the children love it there.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sharing the I-phone

They were watching a YouTube video of a song from Guys and Dolls... Nice to know the classics haven't lost their magic.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A new slant on 'The Valley'

The new Vintage paperback edition of The Valley of Unknowing comes out just after Easter. This is the new cover, front and back (below). I don't know whether this photograph was taken in Dresden or not, but I do know it was taken in the former GDR. At my suggestion the figure in the foreground was 'enhanced' - which in this case means made to look less fat.
If only life could be Photoshopped as easily as a black & white photograph, we'd all be much better off. Or would we ...?

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka

Watch the trailer for this upcoming feature documentary No Fire Zone. It reports on the mass slaughter of civilians by the Sri Lankan government in 2009 - a crime to which much of the world, including the UN, wilfully closed its eyes.

Well, it's about time they were opened. Tell your friends.