Category Archives: An Adventure: Paddy’s Biography by Artemis Cooper

Event – Patrick Leigh Fermor: The Man and the Legend

The UCLA Stavros Niarchos Foundation Center for the Study of Hellenic Culture presents a lecture by author Artemis Cooper on Patrick Leigh Fermor: The Man and the Legend on Sunday, Oct. 27, 3-5 PM, at UCLA’s Royce Hall, 10745 Dickson Court in Los Angeles, with a reception to follow on the Royce 306 Balcony.

The event is free and open to the public.

UCLA has recently signed a memorandum of understanding to partner with the Benaki Museum in program scheduling at the Patrick Leigh Fermor House in Kardamyli, Mani, Greece.

The event is sponsored by the Peter J. and Caroline B. Caloyeras Endowment for the Arts. More information is available online: hellenic.ucla.edu.

Details
Date: October 27 2019
Time: 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Venue: Royce Hall, 10745 Dickson Court, UCLA, Los Angeles, California 90095 United States

John Julius Norwich – 1929-2018

Barry Cryer and John Julius Norwich at an Oldie lunch in 2017

Very sad news over the weekend to hear of the death of John Julius Norwich, writer, diplomat, broadcaster, father of Artemis Copper (Paddy’s biographer), and friend of Paddy and Joan. Thank you to AJ for sending me this link to his final article for the Oldie magazine. Like John Julius, it was Paddy that led me to my interest in Byzantium, although my Byzantine output is nothing like the wonderful three volume history of Byzantium that John Julius wrote.

First published in The Oldie, 1 June 2018.

By John Julius Norwich.

A new show at the British Museum – about three great lovers of Greece – takes me right back to the 1950s. The English painter Johnny Craxton (1922-2009) was a joy – the only dinner guest we ever had who came on his motorbike and left his leathers in the hall. He always came on his own; we were all intrigued by the idea of his long-term boyfriend, whom we never met. I think Johnny saw Greece as a larger Crete – just as Neville Chamberlain was always said to see Europe as a larger Birmingham. Johnny loved Crete with passion.

The Athenian painter Nikos Ghika (1906-1994) provided me with my first breath of Greece in the summer of 1954, when we went to stay with him in his lovely old house on the island of Hydra.

Also staying there were Paddy and Joan Leigh Fermor. Ghika later designed the serpentine pebble mosaic floors at Kardamyli – the Leigh Fermors’ enchanting house in the Mani. It was Paddy that I knew best of the three. Our friendship lasted from the 1950s until his death in 2011 at the age of 96.

In the spring of 1955, when we were living in Yugoslavia – I was working at the British Embassy – a letter arrived from my mother. She had been offered a caique for a fortnight’s sail among the isles of Greece. Paddy and Joan Leigh Fermor were coming; could we come, too? At the end of August, we drove down from Belgrade to Athens, and boarded the Eros at Piraeus.

It was my first time in the Aegean, and my best. Paddy lived and breathed his beloved Greece – fluent in its language, encyclopaedic in his knowledge of its history, people and literature. And nobody has ever carried his learning more lightly.

As we sailed from island to island – and, in those days, there were almost no tourists, and I can’t describe what a difference that made – he talked about Greece, Greek beliefs and traditions, about Byron and the Greek War of Independence, about those monstrously magnificent Greek heroes – men such as Mavromichalis and Kolokotronis, whose names roll so satisfactorily across the tongue – and about the Greek Orthodox Church and its quarrels with the West over words such as ‘filioque’ and ‘homoousion’, his talk taking in all the mystery and magic of the Byzantine world. Twenty years later, I was to write a history of Byzantium myself; but I doubt whether, had it not been for that fortnight on the Eros, I should ever have done so.

One day we were in a taverna on Santorini. Britain and Greece were then at the height of the Cyprus dispute and Paddy was, of course, firmly on the Greek side. Suddenly a member of the party at the next table, hearing us speaking English and being slightly drunk, launched into a stream of anti-British invective. We pretended not to notice. Then, suddenly, he and his companions burst into song.

‘Quick,’ whispered Paddy. ‘National anthem – everybody up.’

We leapt to our feet while he, naturally knowing all the words, sang them at the top of his voice. The mood of the other table changed immediately; and they were still more impressed when he continued with all the following verses – solo by now, since no one else knew them. Abject apologies followed: the ouzo went round once more, and we all departed friends.

It was characteristic of Paddy that, when he and Joan decided to build themselves a house in Greece, they chose the remotest corner: Kardamyli, at the far end of the Mani, the second of the three peninsulas that form the southern coast of the Peloponnese. And oh, how they loved it.

Paddy basically designed it himself. I remember him saying, while the building was in progress, ‘I want it to be part of outdoors, so that, if a chicken were found wandering through the library, no one would be a bit surprised.’

By November 1969, with its vast supply of bookcases, a huge desk and plenty of room to pace over a stone floor, the ‘powerhouse for prose’, as Paddy liked to call it, was ready at last. The two books describing his teenage walk across Europe, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, were both written there, together with hundreds of letters, articles and the jeux d’esprit which he so loved, and of which he was such a master. But those dread enemies procrastination and distraction were always hovering behind him, tempting him away. And as we shall see, they were to get him in the end.

Kardamyli was a huge success. It became the epicentre of Paddy’s world. For the first time, at 54, he had a home of his own. He continued to travel around Europe to see his innumerable friends, but it was here, I feel quite sure, that he was happiest. Outside Europe he was seldom tempted to roam. Except, surprisingly, for the Caribbean. A year or two after the war, he and Joan were persuaded by their old friend (and mine) Costa Achillopoulos to accompany him on a longish tour of the islands.

The result was Paddy’s first book, The Traveller’s Tree, which was published in 1950, and also his second, The Violins of Saint-Jacques, an exquisite little novella which was his only venture into fiction.

The islands fascinated him. His chapter on voodoo is a masterpiece. And then, when he got to Barbados, what did he find? A tablet in the churchyard of St John’s, carved with Doric columns and the cross of Constantine, reading: ‘Here lyeth ye body of Ferdinando Palaeologus, descended from ye Imperial lyne of ye last Christian Emperor of Greece. Churchwarden of this parish 1655-1656. Vestryman twentye years. Died Oct 3. 1679.’

Later, Paddy discovered that Ferdinando’s son Theodore had returned to England and had settled in Stepney, where he left a posthumous daughter baptised with the typically 17th-century name of Godscall Palaeologus.

She may have married, and had countless children; but, for the time being, this little girl in Stepney remains the last authentic descendant of the Palaeologi, the last imperial family of Byzantium.

Of course Paddy was a superb linguist; but I have never known anyone who enjoyed his languages so intensely. He loved on-the-spot translations: ‘To be or not to be’ in German, for example – occasionally recited backwards – or D’Ye Ken John Peel in Italian, which my daughter Artemis (his biographer) and I sang at his memorial service:

Conosce Gian Peel, con sua giacca tanta grigia?

Conosce Gian Peel, prima cosa la mattina,

Conosce Gian Peel, quand’ è lontano, è lontano,

Con suoi cani e suo corno la mattina.

And then there were the letters –letters that could have been written by no one else. Reading them, written at such terrific speed that sometimes they grow faint because the fountain pen can’t deliver the ink fast enough, one marvels at Paddy’s facility and fluency. And yet, when he was writing a book for publication, every sentence was a battleground. When, in July 1988, Sotheby’s sold the autograph manuscript of A Time of Gifts, it was described in the catalogue as follows:

‘c.450 pages, the majority written on rectos only, some on both sides, the first chapter on lined foolscap sheets, some cartridge paper, others lined, heavily revised and corrected, revised passages frequently written on separate sheets and pasted or clipped over the original, corrections or elucidations often in red ink, foreign or difficult words printed in the margin, many sheets with encouraging notes to the typist, often stapled or stitched with coloured thread into gatherings, generally of ten pages.’

I have an idea – I hate to have to say it and desperately hope I’m wrong – that Paddy’s last years were not as happy as the rest of his life had been. He missed Joan desperately after she died in 2003, he was getting old and he gradually had to face up to the fact that he would never complete the third volume of the story of that glorious European journey in his early youth. He produced bits and pieces for it by the dozen, but something always prevented him from organising them, connecting them and making them into a single coherent document. It was, I suppose, a kind of writer’s block.

He would seize on anything – letters, articles, translations, those ingenious word games he so loved – rather than face one of two facts: the first, that he must finish the job; the second – far worse – that he couldn’t. Eventually he knew that the second was the truth. When he came to London, people would say breezily, ‘How’s Volume III coming on?’, little realising that they were driving a dagger through his heart.

Volume III is not entirely lost. The Broken Road, compiled by Colin Thubron and Artemis, breathes Paddy through and through. And anyway, he has left us so much more to revel in.

As a travel writer, he was surely in a class by himself. But he was much more than a travel writer; he was the most extraordinary literary – and social – phenomenon I have ever known, and I am proud to have been his friend.

Paddy’s Irishness

Paddy by Mark Gerson, bromide print, February 1954 (National Portrait Gallery)

Paddy by Mark Gerson, bromide print, February 1954 (National Portrait Gallery)

This gets better as you read it. I wasn’t going to publish it but I thought you might like the second half at least 🙂

By Michael Duggan

First published in the Irish Examiner 7 June 2016.

Patrick Leigh Fermor died five years ago this month, aged 96, and though he claimed to be part Irish, he was a man of the world, who walked from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul in his teens, and who later became a great travel writer.

British soldier and travel writer, Patrick Leigh Fermor, on April 25, 1966. Pictures: Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
ON the third of May, 1810, Lord Byron jumped into the waters of the Hellespont and swam the tumultuous four miles separating Asia from Europe.

In Greek mythology, Leander used to swim across this same stretch of water every night to visit his lover, Hero, who would light a lamp to guide his way.

Byron claimed that swimming the Hellespont was his greatest achievement. 174 years later, another English writer, Patrick Leigh Fermor — also, like Byron, revered by many Greeks for his part in a war of liberation — repeated the feat. Leigh Fermor, however, was 69 when he did it. Byron was 22.

The Hellespont swim, with its mix of literature, adventure, travel, bravery, eccentricity and romance, is an apt metaphor for Leigh Fermor’s life. ‘Paddy’, who died five years ago this month, at the age of 96, seemed to embody the lot.

And he claimed Irishness, too.

Leigh Fermor was born in London in 1915. His father was in Calcutta, where he worked in the Indian civil service. His mother, Aeileen, had planned to follow him, with Paddy and Paddy’s older sister, but the sinking of the Lusitania frightened her that both her children might die at once.

Paddy was packed off to a small terraced house in Northamptonshire. He was loved by his foster parents, and allowed to roam free around the town and countryside with their other children.

In June, 1919, his mother and sister returned from India and Paddy was whisked back to London. He did not adapt well to school. His education was a series of disasters and recoveries, experiments and ignominious expulsions.

After a time living it up with the fast set in London, Paddy decided to walk every mile from the Hook of Holland to the Gates of Constantinople.

Aged 18, this is more or less what he did. He disembarked in Rotterdam on December 8, 1933 and reached Istanbul on New Year’s Day, 1935.

By then, he had mingled with bargemen, peasants, nobles and gypsies, made countless friends, learned songs and languages, had love affairs, slept rough, slept in castles, and savoured a culture on the eve of extinction.

During the Second World War, he led a party of English commandos and local guerrillas, who, disguising themselves as German soldiers, kidnapped the general in command of Crete and smuggled him off the island.

After the war, he began to write, while continuing to indulge his eclectic tastes for travel, wild parties, seedy nightclubs and monastic retreats.

He eventually settled in Greece. where he was loved, with his wife, Joan, and became a legend among travel writers.

Patrick with Joan Rayner, after their wedding at Caxton Hall, Westminster, London, January 17, 1968. Picture: Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
The centrepiece of his achievement was a trilogy of books about his epic trek across Europe.

To get a flavour, new readers might try the opening pages of Between the Woods and the Water. The author is crossing the bridge at Esztergom, entering Hungary for the first time.

He attends the Holy Saturday ceremony at the cathedral. He is in the company of a local grandee, who “carried his scimitar slung nonchalantly in the crook of his arm” and who polished his rimless monocle with a silk bandana.

The passage concludes with the words “I kept wondering if all Hungary could be like this.” The first-time reader is left wondering whether all of Patrick Leigh Fermor could be like this. The books sometimes feel like a never-ending purple passage.

But this is not to say that everything they have to offer is there glittering on the surface. In A Time of Gifts, there is a charming vignette in a little tobacconist’s shop in Goch. Paddy picks up a ‘stocknagel’, a curved, aluminium plaque about an inch long.

On it is a view of the town and its name, and he tacks it onto his walking stick.

Then, with no preamble, the camera angle widens out to show a town hung with Nazi flags.

We hear “the crunch of measured footfalls” as Stormtroopers march into the square. It is the restraint of the writing that deepens the sick feeling in the reader’s stomach.

Intriguingly, Paddy liked to claim he was descended from Counts of the Holy Roman Empire, who came to Austria from Sligo.

Paddy could recite ‘The Dead at Clomacnoise’ (in translation) and perhaps did so during a handful of flying visits to Ireland in the 1950s and 1960s, partying hard at Luggala House or Lismore Castle, or making friends with Patrick Kavanagh and Sean O’Faolain in Dublin pubs.

He once provoked a massive brawl at the Kildare Hunt Ball, and was rescued from a true pounding by Ricki Huston, a beautiful Italian-American dancer, John Huston’s fourth wife and Paddy’s lover not long afterwards.

And yet, a note of caution about Paddy’s Irish roots is sounded by his biographer, Artemis Cooper, who also co-edited The Broken Road, the final, posthumously published instalment of the trilogy.

“I’m not a great believer in his Irish roots,” she told me.

“His mother, who was a compulsive fantasist, liked to think that her family was related to the Viscount Taaffes, of Ballymote. Her father was apparently born in County Cork.

“But she was never what you might call a reliable witness.”

“She was an extraordinary person, though. Imaginative, impulsive, impossible — just the way the Irish are supposed to be, come to think of it. She was also one of those sad women, who grew up at the turn of the last century, who never found an outlet for their talents and energies, nor the right man, come to that. All she had was Paddy, and she didn’t get much of him.”

Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, by Artemis Cooper
Paddy never tried to get to the bottom of his Irish ancestry, afraid, no doubt, of disturbing the bloom that had grown on history and his past, a recurring trait.

“His memory was extraordinary,” Artemis notes, “but it lay dangerously close to his imagination and it was a very porous border.”

But she is in no doubt about how exceptional a man he was: “The thing that inspired me most about him was his responsiveness to people, whoever they were.

“I had known him all my life. When I wrote the book, I was in my fifties and he in his nineties.

“He didn’t have to impress or charm me, and he never set out to do so. But he was so curious, so responsive.

“Every time I mentioned a book I thought he might like he, he made a note of it.

“Every time I told a joke, he roared with laughter. Every time I told a story, he sat forward, eager to hear how it was going to turn out.

“That wasn’t me, it was him. He made me feel funnier, better-read and more intelligent than I ever could be, and he did that to everyone,” she says.

A bugler from his former regiment, the Irish Guards, delivered the ‘Last Post’ at Paddy’s funeral five years ago.

It marked the passing of an extraordinary man: soldier, writer, adventurer, charmer.

We may not see his like again.

Paddy’s World – Transcript of John Julius Norwich’s talk for the PLF Society

Many blog readers and members of the PLF Society were privileged to her John Julius Norwich give a very personal account of his memories of Paddy at the Hellenic Centre in London on 10 November. My account of the evening is here

I am very lucky to be able to present the full transcript of the talk. Didn’t I say we had some good stuff coming up? Enjoy this 🙂

On 22 February 1951 my mother wrote to me: “Just off for my jaunt to Passy sur Eure to spoon with P. Leigh Fermor. Shy. Fluster.” At that time she had only just met Paddy and hardly knew him, and she would have been – as indeed she confessed she was – extremely nervous. But all was well. The next letter read:

Well, the gallivanting was a red letter. It took me a good two hours cross-country by Pontoise and Mantes. Strange little village house in which he lives – the loan of a Lady Smart – was warm and welcoming and I really felt myself back in the pond I was raised in. Fascinating conversation with a male man who delights in one. Paddy was superb. Cultured, funny, telling wonderful sagas, zealous. We had a charming filthy little lunch over the stove of sardines, Pernod and vin ordinaire and afterwards we walked for two hours over low wooded downs in sparkling sun, talking ten to the dozen about people, grievances and enthusiasms

That was the beginning. My parents saw quite a lot of Paddy and Joan – whom my mother thought looked just like Joan of Arc, except that Joan of Arc didn’t wear sun-glasses – in the next year or two. I was at Oxford at the time, and I remember seeing them once or twice during vacations, and being invariably knocked sideways – as everyone was – by the sheer brilliance of Paddy, and the glorious fun of him. Every time he walked into a room it was as if the sun had come out; never have I laughed more uncontrollably round a luncheon or dinner table, and as for his erudition, never have I met anyone who knew so much about everything under the sun, yet wore his learning so lightly. There seemed to be no language he could not speak, or indeed sing songs or recite poetry in: French, German, Italian, Spanish, Greek and Rumanian for a start, but there were probably several others as well.

Then, in the summer of 1955, a wonderful thing happened. By then I had joined the Foreign Service. My first wife Anne and I were by that time living in Belgrade, where I was Third Secretary at the British Embassy. Another letter arrived from my mother. She had been lent a Greek caïque by the ship-owner Stavros Niarchos for a fortnight’s sail through the isles of Greece. Paddy and Joan were coming; could we come too? As far as we were concerned, it was a question of “can a duck swim?” At the end of August we drove down from Belgrade – which in those days had no airport – to Athens, and thence to the Piraeus, where we boarded the Eros.

It was my first time in the Aegean, and Paddy gave it a whole new dimension. It was the first time I had seen him, as it were, on his home ground, and it was wonderful. He lived and breathed his beloved Greece – fluent in its language, encyclopaedic in his knowledge of its history, its customs and its literature. But nobody – and that was the wonder and joy of him and – I know I’ve said this before – nobody has ever carried his learning more lightly. His conversation was consistently dazzling. As we sailed from island to island – and in those days there were virtually no tourists, and I can’t begin to tell you what a difference that made – he talked about Greece, about Greek history, about Greek beliefs and traditions, about Byron and the Greek War of Independence, with those monstrously magnificent Greek heroes – men like Mavromichalis and Kolokotronis whose names roll so satisfactorily across the tongue – and about the Greek Orthodox Church and its quarrels with the west over more of those words, like filioque and ͑ομοούσιον; but his talk roamed far wider than that, taking in the whole eastern Mediterranean and, in particular, Byzantium.

Now in England Byzantium has always had a terrible press. The great nineteenth-century historian W.E.H. Lecky wrote that it constituted, “without a single exception, the most thoroughly base and despicable form that civilisation has yet assumed…. There has been no other enduring civilisation, he claimed, “so absolutely destitute of all the forms and elements of greatness”. He went on,

Its vices were the vices of men who had ceased to be brave without learning to be virtuous…. Slaves, and willing slaves, in both their actions and their thoughts, immersed in sensuality and in the most frivolous pleasures, the people only emerged from their listlessness when some theological subtlety, or some chivalry in the chariot races, stimulated them to frantic riots…. The history of the Empire is a monotonous story of the intrigues of priests, eunuchs and women, of poisonings, of conspiracies, of uniform ingratitude, of perpetual fratricides.

Strong words indeed – although to modern ears that last sentence makes Byzantine history sound not so much monotonous as distinctly entertaining. But that long campaign of denigration continued well into the twentieth century. It was only in the time of which I’m speaking – the fifties – that the writings of people like Robert Byron, David Talbot Rice and Steven Runciman, together with the new-found ease, speed and relative comfort of travel in the Levant, made the glorious heritage of the Byzantine Empire at last generally accessible. Now, thank heaven, the Empire has come into its own again, and is seen as a worthy successor to the two mighty civilisations which it followed and so beautifully combined, the Greek and the Roman.

The trouble was, for most of us, that we knew so little about it. Those old attitudes died hard. During my five years at Eton, the entire subject was the victim of what seemed to be a conspiracy of silence. I can’t honestly remember Byzantium being once mentioned, far less studied; and so complete was my ignorance that I should have been hard put to define it even in general terms till I went to Oxford. And, for heaven’s sake, why? After all, it was not even the successor, it was that same old Roman Empire of Augustus and Tiberius and Claudius and the rest, which continued to exist in its new capital of Constantinople for another one thousand, one hundred and twenty-three years before it was finally captured by the Ottoman Turks on that fateful day, Tuesday 29 May 1453, after one of the most heroic sieges in all history. It was Paddy and Paddy alone who revealed to me its mystery and its magic, although he also recommended to me, among much else, that I should read an extraordinary book by Robert Byron, The Byzantine Achievement, which that most precocious author wrote when he was twenty-five. I read it with utter fascination, and ended up completely captivated. When I got home I devoured every book I could find on the subject, and the following year Anne and I drove to Istanbul for a week. Twenty years later I was to write a History of Byzantium myself – three volumes of it, which were necessary if I was to cover more than a millennium; but I very much doubt whether, had it not been for that fortnight on the Eros, those three volumes would ever have been written.

One evening, I remember, Paddy was talking about a poor fisherman at Kardamyli – this was long before he went to live there – a friend of his called Strati Mourtzinos, who, he told us, might just possibly have been the last heir to the imperial throne of Byzantium. Suddenly his imagination took over, and he built a magnificent castle in the air. It seemed, by some miracle, that the Turks had restored Constantinople to Greece. Byzantium was reborn and Strati Mourtzinos was formally crowned as its Emperor. Paddy was later to work up the idea further in his first book about Greece, Mani:

Bells clanged; semantra hammered and cannon thundered as the Emperor stepped ashore. Then, with a sudden reek of naphtha, Greek fire roared, saluting in a hundred blood-red parabolas from the warships’ brazen beaks….. In the packed square of Constantine, a Serbian furrier fell from a rooftop. An astrologer from Ctesiphon, a Spanish coppersmith and a money-lender from the Persian Gulf were trampled to death; a Bactrian lancer fainted and, as we proceeded round the Triple Delphic Serpent of the Hippodrome, the voices of the Blues and Greens, for once in concord, lifted a long howl of applause. The imperial horses neighed in their stables, the hunting cheetahs strained yelping at their silver chains. Mechanical gold lions roared in the throne room, gold birds on the jewelled branches of artificial trees set up a tinkling and a twitter. The general hysteria penetrated the public jail: in dark cells, monophysites and bogomils and iconoclasts rattled their fetters across the dungeon bars. High on his Corinthian capital, a capering stylite, immobile for three decades, hammered his calabash with a wooden spoon….

Would you like a bit more? All right: Continue reading

An Adventure – asking the questions about Paddy and Joan’s marriage

Perhaps a rather belated link to the Harvard Review Online but one that openly questions some of the things that Artemis probably deliberately left out, and worthy for a quick read for that point only. We have no real discussion as to the reasons and background of Paddy and Joan’s “open marriage” and how it really impacted Joan, who frankly must have been deeply hurt by Paddy’s behaviour.

by Laura Albritton

First published in the Harvard Review Online, March 24 2014

The cover of Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure is an excellent introduction to its subject. Leigh Fermor sits on deck with the sea behind him, his chest bare, cigarette casually in hand, his gaze focused on the discoveries ahead. By anyone’s estimation, Patrick Leigh Fermor’s life was an extraordinary adventure. His biographer, Artemis Cooper, has the advantage of having known him; she is also the granddaughter of Lady Diana Cooper, who carried on a great correspondence with him. As a result, she seems very much at ease with her subject, referring to him as “Paddy” throughout.

Leigh Fermor came to fame in the U.K. for his daring exploits in the Second World War and for a series of beautifully written travel books, including The Traveller’s Tree, Roumeli, Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, A Time of Gifts, and Between the Woods and the Water. As a teenager at King’s School, Canterbury, he learned Greek but was eventually thrown out. His housemaster reported that, “He is a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness which makes one anxious about his influence on other boys.” A devotion to Greece, the pursuit of women, recklessness, and an irresistible charisma became defining elements in Paddy’s life.

Leigh Fermor’s originality becomes clear when, with no prospect of attending university, he decides to walk across Europe to Constantinople. Cooper does excellent work researching his trek (which Leigh Fermor himself chronicled in two volumes). She quotes from his diary and introduces us to the people he met, many of them members of the faded aristocracy. People welcome him because: “In Paddy’s company everyone felt livelier, funnier and more entertaining.”

Abroad, Leigh Fermor uncovers a world that seems preserved in amber, with intimations of the terrible events to come, including a pervasive anti-Semitism. In Athens he meets the cultivated and older Romanian painter Princess Balasha Cantacuzene and becomes her lover. He spends a year on her family’s dilapidated Romanian estate, Balani, after which he and Balasha move between London, Greece, and Romania. Cooper notes that:

Living with the Cantacuzenes in Rumania had granted Paddy several of the opportunities afforded by a university education . . . he had learnt Rumanian, studied its history, and read as much as he could in that language and French. Above all, Balasha and the Cantacuzenes had given him . . . a set of people among whom he felt he belonged and was understood.

Later, during World War II, Leigh Fermor was given a commission in the Intelligence Corps based on his skill with foreign languages: “He would be in Crete, out of uniform, living in the open, in constant danger.” Cooper supplies us with welcome context, from the political to the geological, though the initial passages chronicling Paddy’s war work lag in places due to too many actors. “The Hussar Stunt,” however, is nail-biting. With the aid of fearless Cretan partisans, Leigh Fermor and a few Brits capture German General Kreipe and sneak him off the island in a boat to Cairo. Their improbable success later inspires books and even a film.

After the suspense of the Cretan episodes, Cooper keeps things lively as she recounts Paddy’s meeting with his future wife, the photographer Joan Rayner (née Eyres Monsell), and his friendship with figures like Lawrence Durrell. Leigh Fermor had a relentless curiosity, traveling to the French West Indies (inspiration for his only novel, The Violins of Saint-Jacques) and to Haiti (inspiration for The Traveller’s Tree). Here, Cooper reveals some of Leigh Fermor’s unpublished judgments: “All the Caribbean islands have something wrong with them,” he wrote. “All are founded on bloodshed and slavery, and are now miserable, subsidized, impoverished places.”

Greece remains a central organizing principle in Leigh Fermor’s life, and Cooper does a fine job of weaving tumultuous Greek politics through his personal chronology. He and Joan eventually build their dream house in Kardamyli. Writing, however, was sometimes a torture, as Cooper observes: “He set great store by the initial surge of writing . . . Yet the moments of creative possession, when the self is lost and time becomes meaningless, were rare.”

As a biographer Cooper shows little interest in psychoanalyzing her subject. On one hand, this shows admirable restraint; on the other, Leigh Fermor remains enigmatic. We wonder, for example, how exactly he became so erudite. Leigh Fermor and his wife maintain an open marriage, but their motivations and emotions are often left unexplored. Elsewhere, Cooper points out that the Duchess of Devonshire adored him, but we’re given only glimpses of his charisma.

Cooper does, however, add a great deal in terms of tracing the trajectory of Leigh Fermor’s life, pinning down facts (as opposed to myths), providing historic context, and quoting from diaries and letters. The result, even with unanswered questions, is an excellent read and should revive interest in his writing. For that we owe Artemis Cooper a debt of gratitude.

Paddy’s wall hanging from the castle of Passerano

Hanging made for Paddy when living in the empty castle of Passerano in 1958-9:

This picture was sent to me by Artemis Cooper some time ago. I hope that you enjoy looking at it and relating it to the part of her biography where Paddy moons around in Italy searching for love and as ever trying unsuccessfully to write.

Artemis writes:

I have just taken possession of this, thanks to Richard Riley who appears with it in the photo – he has had it in his basement, Paddy left it there years ago. Richard agreed to let me take it, and thought it a great idea that it be sold in aid of the house at Kardamyli. The hanging was made for Paddy when he was living in the empty castle of Passerano in 1958-9: he had it made by the local nuns! I thought it might be the centrepiece of a collection of Paddy memorabilia (yet to be collected) that we could sell when we come to do a charity event for the house.

2014 Stavros Niarchos Foundation Lecture at Yale University: “Patrick Leigh Fermor In Greece”

Artemis Cooper presenting the 2014 Stavros Niarchos Foundation lecture

Artemis Cooper presenting the 2014 Stavros Niarchos Foundation lecture

Artemis Cooper giving the 2014 Stavros Niarchos Foundation Lecture at Yale University.

A video is available on YouTube here or via the embed below. The blurb introduces things as follows:

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s first travels in Greece took place before the outbreak of the Second World War, and he already spoke fluent Greek by the time he was parachuted into occupied Crete in 1942 to help the Cretan Resistance, which in May 1944 resulted in the abduction of a German general. Leigh Fermor settled in Greece in the 1960s, and lived there until his death in 2011. His books Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece and Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese are two of the best travel books in the English language. The talk is about his life and friends in Greece, and how much the country meant to him.

Mark Granelli brought this video to my attention and had this to say:

It is quite fascinating, and includes a beautiful extract from ‘Mani’ where Paddy is accompanied by dolphins on a ferry trip.

It focuses a lot on Paddy’s time in Crete.

The Q&A at the end turns up some personal information about Paddy and also references Olivia Manning and Fitzroy Maclean.

Patrick Fermor, aventurero del siglo XX

Spanish an adventureA review of An Adventure in Spanish from La Aventurade la Historia.

Viajó a pie por toda Europa, organizó la resistencia cretense en la Segunda Guerra Mundial, secuestró a un general alemán y escribió espléndidas obras relatando sus viajes. Dos libros recuerdan su increíble periplo vital

A los 18 años Paddy Fermor decidió abandonar su renqueante trayectoria estudiantil y atravesar Europa a pie. Salió de Londres, cogió un barco hacia Rotterdam y desde allí caminó hasta Constantinopla. Entre 1933 y 1934 cruzó el viejo continente durmiendo en cobertizos, habitaciones prestadas y tabernas. También se hospedó en castillos y casas señoriales. Su alegría innata, combinada con unos exquisitos modales le abrieron todas las puertas, y su infinita curiosidad atrajo todo tipo de compañías.

Patrick Leigh Fermor Nació en Inglaterra en 1915 y falleció en el mismo lugar en 2011. El margen vital de su dilatada existencia le permitió atravesar medio mundo y escribir brillantes libros de viajes. Recientemente se ha publicado en castellano su biografía (Patrick Leigh Fermor, RBA, 2013), a cargo de Artemis Cooper, y un pequeño texto escrito por su traductora, Dolores Payás (Drinking Time!, Acantilado 2013), que enriquece el relato de su vida con las charlas que mantuvo con él pocos meses antes de su muerte.

Read the full review here.

Mapping a Life, and Finishing a Long Trip

Artemis Cooper

Artemis Cooper

How Artemis Cooper Wrote Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Biography

by William Grimes.

First published in the New York Times, November 8, 2013.

Great storytellers can be terrible interview subjects. Patrick Leigh Fermor, the British travel writer, was one of them. Artemis Cooper, the author of “Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure,” recently published by New York Review Books, found out the hard way.

Leigh Fermor’s classic two-volume account of his yearlong walk across Europe in the early 1930s, “A Time of Gifts” and “Between the Woods and the Water,” disgorged a cornucopia of colorful characters, historical curiosities ancient and modern, reflections on geography and national psychology, and sparkling dialogue.

To a biographer, Leigh Fermor presented a series of tantalizing incarnations: the wayward child expelled from one boarding school after another; the footloose traveler across a darkening Europe; the wartime undercover agent in Crete, where he engineered the kidnapping of the island’s Nazi commander; and the celebrated travel writer, ranked by many critics among the greatest of the 20th century.

No wonder that Ms. Cooper headed into her assignment believing that she had taken on, as she put it in a recent interview, “one of the jammiest jobs in English biography.”

Not exactly. Leigh Fermor, who died at 96 in 2011, lived up to his reputation as a talker, but he turned out to be a maddeningly reticent and evasive one. On regular trips to his house in the Greek seaside village of Kardamyli, Ms. Cooper posed questions. Leigh Fermor ducked and weaved, charmingly.

“Paddy was not telling me anything he wouldn’t tell any journalist,” Ms. Cooper said. “He hated talking about himself. He hid behind this dazzling conversation, and I wasn’t getting anywhere.”

A breakthrough came when Ms. Cooper, 60, who has written books on wartime Cairo and the food writer Elizabeth David, volunteered to help Leigh Fermor organize his study. He would sit at his desk, pretending to be hard at work but dying to be distracted. Ms. Cooper would drop comments as she sifted through manuscripts and letters, causing Leigh Fermor’s ears to prick. Conversations ensued.

“It was no longer an interview,” Ms. Cooper said. “Tidying the room was a fig leaf. That is how I began to get pieces of the story.”

One piece was the unexpected discovery of an early version of that cross-Europe trek, which allowed Ms. Cooper and the travel writer Colin Thubron to bring the narrative to completion after Leigh Fermor’s death. “The Broken Road,” which picks up where “Between the Woods and the Water” ends, with its narrator still 500 miles from the city he always called Constantinople, was published in Britain in September. New York Review Books, which has made a cottage industry of reissuing Leigh Fermor’s work, plans to publish it in March.

Even after the ice was broken, Leigh Fermor still threw up obstacles and obfuscated. Ms. Cooper quickly learned that any woman he described as “a terrific friend” was almost certainly a lover. There were many. In a relaxed mood, he would spin enticing yarns, only to pull up short and plead with Ms. Cooper not to use the material. Of course not, she assured him.

The writer Artemis Cooper said: “It’s a terrible thing being a biographer. One is such a rat.”

Connecting the dots and filling in the outlines, Ms. Cooper executed a detailed portrait that Christopher Benfey, in The New York Times Book Review, described as “affectionately intimate, informative and forgiving.”

It could hardly help being intimate. Leigh Fermor had popped in and out of Ms. Cooper’s family orbit ever since she was a child. He knew her grandparents, Lady Diana Cooper and Duff Cooper, and her father, the writer and television producer John Julius Norwich.

Leigh Fermor made a deep impression on Ms. Cooper, she said, when she visited her grandmother on the Greek island of Spetses during a school holiday. She was 17. Leigh Fermor, revered by the local residents for his wartime exploits, loomed a Zorba-like figure, always in the thick of things whenever a bottle of ouzo appeared, and the dancing started on the beach. This was the man whom the travel writer Robert Macfarlane, reviewing Ms. Cooper’s book in The Guardian, called “a mixture of Peter Pan, Forrest Gump, James Bond and Thomas Browne.”

Ms. Cooper was entranced. “I developed a schoolgirl crush from which I’ve never really recovered,” she recalled.

Initially, her husband, the historian Antony Beevor, proposed that he write Leigh Fermor’s biography, but when other projects got in the way, the task fell to Ms. Cooper. She quailed.

“I was daunted by the books and his reputation as a great prose stylist,” she said. “There were those great chunks of history. I thought, ‘Oh, God, I can hardly put Moldavia and Walachia on a map.’ I thought I’d have to know as much history as he did. But it turned out to be not so difficult.”

In 2008, at the offices of John Murray, Leigh Fermor’s lifelong publisher, Ms. Cooper came across three black ring binders containing a typescript with the title “A Youthful Journey,” the basis for “The Broken Road.” It was Leigh Fermor’s overenthusiastic response to a 1962 assignment from Holiday magazine, which had commissioned him to write 2,000 words on the pleasures of walking.

Leigh Fermor responded with 84 pages describing his trip across Europe, getting as far as the Romanian port of Orsova. Then, in a long burst, he generated a small book’s worth of prose on the final third of his journey.

With “A Youthful Journey” in hand, thanks to Ms. Cooper, Leigh Fermor regained a sense of purpose. Although nearly blind and deaf, and clearly at the end of his very long life, he began working on the manuscript. Ms. Cooper and Mr. Thubron finished the job.

“All the energy was there, and all the words,” said Mr. Thubron, who did the bulk of the editing. The manuscript was written in the stage that Leigh Fermor called “letting it rip,” and that Ms. Cooper calls “the first whoosh.”

“It is raw compared to the polished gems of the first two volumes,” she said. “But Paddy never said at any point, ‘This is not working, I don’t want this to come out.’ He knew that it would be published. Maybe it made it easier to leave the world, knowing that it would appear, and that we would tidy it up. “

Patrick Leigh Fermor celebrated author of one of greatest travel books ever written

By Michael Dirda.

First published in the Washington Post, 23 October 2013.

In the annals of armchair adventure, nothing can rival a travel classic by a good-looking, sandy-haired young Englishman — or Englishwoman. If you’re planning ahead for some ideal winter’s reading, you can’t go wrong with any of the following:

  •  A.W. Kinglake’s “Eothen.”
  •  Peter Fleming’s “Brazilian Adventure.”
  •  Freya Stark’s “The Valleys of the Assassins.”
  •  Robert Byron’s “The Road to Oxiana.”
  •  Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s “The Worst Journey in the World.”
  •  Sybille Bedford’s “A Visit to Don Otavio.”
  •  Wilfred Thesiger’s “Arabian Sands.”
  •  Eric Newby’s “A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush.”
  •  Bruce Chatwin’s “In Patagonia.”

All of these are wondrous. Still, the most beautifully written of modern “travel books” — an awkward term — may well be Patrick Leigh Fermor’s “A Time of Gifts” (1977) closely followed by its sequel “Between the Woods and the Water” (1986). These two volumes lyrically memorialize a youthful walk across Europe in 1933-34, starting from the Hook of Holland and passing through Germany and much of Eastern Europe. A never-completed final volume — drafts of which will be published in March (in the US) as “The Broken Road” — would have followed its boyish hero to Constantinople and Mount Athos.

While most of Leigh Fermor’s work is highly personal, his various books — and these include one about the Caribbean, “The Traveller’s Tree” (1950), and two about Greece, “Mani” (1958) and “Roumeli” (1966) — offer only carefully chosen glimpses of his long and astonishing life (he died at age 96 in 2011). Artemis Cooper’s excellent biography, “Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure,” fills in the details, corrects errors and makes clear that Paddy — as he was always known — often conflated incidents or fudged details in his writing, sometimes for reasons of art, sometimes to protect a friend or a woman’s reputation.

When Paddy began his European rambles, he was not quite 19. Up until then he had been an indifferent student, although passionate about reading and gifted with a phenomenal memory. Paddy also possessed, along with good looks, daring and boundless curiosity and a seemingly irresistible charm. He originally expected to doss down in haystacks and barns as he trudged along; in fact, he regularly smiled his way into country houses, consulates and baronial manors — and sometimes into the beds of young women and lonely divorcees. Letters of introduction then eased his way into other homes. As he cheerfully sauntered along, he would belt out each region’s folk songs.

At the end of his journey, Paddy met Princess Balasha Cantacuzene, a scion of one of the great dynasties of Moldavia and Wallachia. She was 16 years his senior, but the two fell in love and the young Englishman passed four idyllic years living on her family estate at Baleni in what was then known as Rumania. During these years he read voraciously — history, reference works, Mallarmé, Apollinaire, Gide, Proust, Tolstoy and much else. To his personal magnetism and general sexiness, the magpielike Paddy soon added a mind filled with poetry and out-of-the-way knowledge.

When Britain declared war on Germany, the stylish young adventurer immediately left Baleni to enlist. He was, at this point, all of 24. But Paddy already knew much of Europe intimately, had made friends everywhere, and could speak French, German, Romanian and Greek. He was a natural for the Intelligence Corps.

Lieutenant, later Major Leigh Fermor spent much of the war behind the lines in Crete, helping to coordinate its resistance to the Germans. Periodically, though, he would be pulled out for R&R in Cairo, where he partied all night, slept in the arms of exotic girlfriends and drank champagne with King Farouk. During one particularly orgiastic revel, the young intelligence officer came up with a plan to kidnap the commanding German general in his area of Crete. It would give a boost to the partisans’ morale. He eventually recruited his admiring friend William Stanley Moss to join him in this crazy exploit.

The two actually brought it off. Dressed as German border patrolmen, Paddy and Moss stopped General Heinrich Kreipe’s car, which was immediately surrounded by Cretan guerrillas. For more than two weeks, the ambushers and their victim eluded capture until they were able to rendezvous with their escape boat. In her biography, Cooper provides the most detailed account available of this “hussar stunt,” the highlight of which occurred on a morning when the raiding party was hiding in a cave:

“No one slept well that night, and as dawn broke and the sun illuminated the great snow-streaked hump of Mount Ida, the General murmured a line in Latin: ‘Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte.’ ”

As it happened, this was not only a poem that Paddy had once translated — the line from Horace means, in his schoolboy version, “See Soracte’s mighty peak stands deep in virgin snow” — but one that he knew by heart. Taking up where Kreipe had paused, the youthful British major went on to recite the entire poem.

Cooper then quotes Paddy’s own account of what happened next:

“The General’s blue eyes swivelled away from the mountain-top to mine — and when I’d finished, after a long silence, he said, ‘Ach so, Herr Major!’ It was very strange. ‘Ja, Herr General.’ As though, for a long moment, the war had ceased to exist. We had both drunk at the same fountain long before; and things were different between us for the rest of our time together.”

This whole adventure was later chronicled in W. Stanley Moss’s minor classic “Ill Met By Moonlight.”

After the war, Paddy — now all of 30 — found work at the British Institute in Athens, where his colleagues included the historian of the Crusades Steven Runciman and the translator and novelist Rex Warner. But, despite all his gifts or because of them, Paddy couldn’t hold a 9-to-5 job. He was too free-spirited, too feckless, in some ways, too spoiled. For years he would rely on, sometimes live on, the generosity of rich and aristocratic friends and lovers.

And there were many. When he finally returned to England, Paddy cemented his connections with the aging members of the Brideshead Generation. The second half of Cooper’s biography is packed with the usual names: critic Cyril Connolly, the famous beauty Diana Cooper (the biographer’s grandmother), the Duchess of Devonshire (nee Deborah Mitford), Ann Fleming (wife of Ian), poet John Betjeman and many others. With Joan Rayner, whom he had first met in Cairo, Paddy would settle into a permanent, if extremely open relationship. By the time the two finally married in 1968, they had already bought property in Kardamyli, Greece, and built their ideal house (marble, open air, lots of books, cats), where they would welcome celebrated friends, former Cretan partisans and numerous admirers of Paddy’s books.

Easily distracted and as much a perfectionist as Flaubert, Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor — as he eventually became — always found writing difficult. His descriptions are like tapestries, rich in color and intricate design; his bravura diction often requires a dictionary close at hand; and sometimes his weaker pages are clotted and overwrought. Yet “A Time of Gifts” marvelously evokes an ancient Mitteleuropa now almost wholly vanished. If you’ve never read it, do; and if you have, you’ll certainly want to follow up with this fine biography of its adventurous and romantic author.

Dirda reviews books for The Washington Post every Thursday.

 Artemis Cooper will be at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave NW, at 6 p.m. Nov. 2. Call 202-364-1919.

Transylvanian Book Festival – so much better than Hay; are you joining us?

Lit fest authors

Arrangements for the Transylvanian Book Festival are proceeding apace. This will be a truly wonderful event and I want to encourage as many of you as possible to come along during 5-9 September. Look at it as a holiday in itself, spending five days in the most beautiful setting, a region lost to time, that reflects the history, culture, and architecture of one of the last untouched Medieval landscapes in Europe. A chance to talk to the authors and like-minded folk in a calm and relaxed atmosphere.

The line-up of authors is growing all the time. More details can be found on the website here.

The following have confirmed:

  • Artemis Cooper: An Adventure, the biography of Paddy Leigh Fermor
  • Professor Roy Foster: Bram Stoker, Ireland and Dracula
  • Jessica Douglas Home: Once Upon Another Time
  • William Blacker: Along the Enchanted Way
  • Michael Jacobs: Robber of Memories but will talk on Starkie or von Rezzori
  • Caroline Juler: Author of the Blue Guide to Romania
  • Jaap Scholten: Comrade Baron
  • Nick Hunt: After the Woods and the Water
  • Andrea Rost: on the biography of Hans Schaas
  • Sarah Dootz: Her autobiography
  • Countess Elizabeth Jelen Salnikoff: talking about her grandfather Miklos Banffy
  • Others to follow

You can make a reservation and book online here.

Unlike other book festivals this will be a relatively small and intimate affair. The authors will be living in the same villages and mixing with all those attending in a relaxed atmosphere. All food is included and we can expect some magnificent meals and picnics under the warm Transylvanian sun, with just the sounds of horse drawn carts, cows going to and from the fields, geese and ducks filing along the dusty roads, and our own animated conversation in English, Romanian, German and Hungarian as we reflect on the day’s events.

In addition there will be excursions included into the woods and countryside surrounding Richis so we can all get close to the land which is one of Prince Charles’ favourite spots. There is a lot included for the money which does not happen at other similar festivals.

If you want to know more please get in touch with me. I am happy to advise on travel options, flights into the country, car hire, and possible extensions to your visit so that you can visit some of Romania’s other wonders, many of which are just 1-2 hours away from Richis. There are already plans for extensions to turn your visit into a longer stay if you wish.

Romania is a very safe country for travellers with a good infrastructure. If you hear things from others that put you off, like the state of the roads, or are deterred by its very mysteriousness, please be assured that none of this is remotely true, nor should it be a barrier to you having a great time.

Don’t forget to visit our Facebook page. I am looking forward to seeing as many of you there as possible. Perhaps this medley of images may tempt you to come along by making your booking here 🙂 Some of these you may have seen before; many others are new. I promise!

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Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure – paperback publication

Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure paperback cover

Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure paperback cover

For those of you who could not stretch to buying the hardback, or who now want to shower your friends with copies of Artemis Cooper’s fine biography, the time is almost upon us when you can purchase the paperback, just in time for summer holiday reading.

It is apparently due for release on 27 June 2013, but as ever is available for pre-order. You can order the paperback version of  Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure here.

As you can see it has a distinctly different cover with the famous view of the house at Kardamyli, whilst still showing our hero at the peak of his powers.

A postcard from Cluj

The Hotel New York in the 1920's

The Hotel New York in the early part of the 20th Century

Thank you to my friend and colleague in Cluj, Stefi Timofte, for finding this picture for me. Of course it shows the Hotel New York (now the sad and decaying Continental) that Paddy visited with Angéla and István in the summer of 1934.

This story has been debunked in Artemis’ biography but I am not entirely convinced by the explanation in her book. Paddy says he got the details from a book in German, but the level of detail (see my story about the internal decor) implies that this book had very good photographs in colour or Paddy at least visited during one of his later visits to Romania.

For me, Paddy’s description of the romance of those days on the road, and the nighttime trysts with Angéla can never be diminished.

Related articles:

An eye for detail and the memory of the Hotel New York in Cluj

Angéla, Paddy, István and Tom in Cluj-Napoca

£1 a week – Rendezvous in Cluj

Dashing hero – champion sponger

Ooops! I have a feeling Mr Peter Lewis will not be on the Cooper-Beevor Christmas card list.

By Peter Lewis

First published in the Mail Online, 25 October 2012

When he died last year at the age of 96, Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, DSO, OBE, inspired long and admiring obituaries. They described him as an intrepid traveller, war hero and ‘the greatest travel writer of his generation’.

All this is borne out in this admiring biography by Artemis Cooper, granddaughter of Lady Diana Cooper, who knew ‘Paddy’ since her childhood. So Artemis’s knowledge and access to his papers, letters, and many friends is unrivalled.

There is one disadvantage to being so close to your subject – a certain blindness to their shortcomings. Fermor was known above all for a charm that most people found irresistible. It allowed him to get away with selfish and unfeeling behaviour that wouldn’t have been liked in ordinary mortals.

And Sir Patrick was certainly no ordinary mortal. He decided when he was 18 to walk across pre-war Europe, from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, as a tramp with only £1 a week to live on.

Later, as an SOE (Special Operations Executive) officer during the war in Crete, he carried out another audacious plan: to kidnap and deport General Kreipe of the German occupying army. This escapade is the highlight of the book.

After ambushing Kreipe’s car, Paddy – wearing German uniform – and his SOE partner Billy Moss, drove through Heraklion, the German headquarters, clearing checkpoint after checkpoint with the General pinned down in the back of the car. Paddy even issued curt orders to the sentries in excellent German.

After some grim hungry days and nights crossing the mountains with the entire German garrison searching for them, they were taken off in a boat to Alexandria. By then General Kreipe and Paddy were almost friends, having discovered a mutual love of the Latin odes of Horace.

Paddy won his DSO for his part in the plot, which was written about by Billy Moss in his book Ill Met By Moonlight. His account was subsequently filmed, with Dirk Bogarde playing Paddy.

Yet Paddy’s start in life was inauspicious. He hardly saw his father, who was an archaeologist working in India. His mother fostered him out for his first four years then despatched him to prep schools that he hated.

Wild by nature, Paddy was nothing but trouble – expelled from school after school and failing every exam. He wound up at 18 as an incorrigible drunk and party-goer.

Then he turned his back on all that to tramp diagonally across Europe and write about its gypsies, remote towns, forgotten villages and colourful peasant customs – indulging his insatiable curiosity for foreign languages, history and architecture. He had few advantages but youthful ones: great looks and physical fitness (like a Greek God, said an admiring Freya Stark); a natural ebullience and eagerness to learn; a quick ear for languages; and an amazing memory for detail.

Wherever he went, women and men – whether peasants or aristocrats – took to him and offered him hospitality. One introduction led to another.

He sometimes slept rough in stables and barns but this was interspersed, we now learn, with sojourns in the castles and country houses of the eccentric, amusing, minor nobility of Bavaria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Rumania (as Cooper spells it).

It was a very superior form of tramping. And at the end of it, he was swept off by a Rumanian princess who took him to live with her in her manor house. Most of his hosts had splendid libraries that he ransacked for knowledge of local history and customs, on which he became a living encyclopaedia. He also had a great capacity for carousing, whether with peasants or princes, talking all night and singing songs in many languages.

Cooper chronicles many a riotous evening among Greeks and Cretans with near-unpronounceable names, until they dissolve into an indistinguishable blur.

The trouble is there is just too much of Paddy’s charm and charmed life, and they begin to wear thin after the halfway point.

Delightful company as he no doubt was, he made a wide range of upper-class friends in England and abroad, in whose houses he was welcomed. In short he was a champion sponger. There are also awkward questions that are not satisfactorily answered, such as an ugly incident in Crete when he accidentally shot dead one of his partisans by easing the bolt of a rifle that had – unbeknown to him – a round up the barrel.

He made profound apologies to the man’s family, which unsurprisingly they did not accept. No trained rifle handler would fail to notice a cartridge in the breech nor test the gun’s action other than by aiming at the sky.

Also, the 1944 kidnapping of Kreipe led to savage German reprisals on Cretan villages, which were razed to the ground. In fact it served no strategic purpose other than to raise morale.

Paddy was welcomed back to Crete as a hero (though not by the family of the man he shot) but one wonders how happy he was about his jape in retrospect. It may be why he never published his version of the story.

There is also his cavalier attitude to money. He was always borrowing it, even from the adoring office girls of the British Consul in Athens – and not often paying it back. Chronically short of finance for his incessant travels, he never stooped to earning any, except for the occasional magazine article.

For years he was financed by the love of his life, Joan Rayner – a photographer he met in Cairo in 1944. She fell hopelessly in love with him, and they travelled together in Greece and the Caribbean, and shared her homes in London and Athens.

She was the ideal travelling companion, his best listener, who tolerated his late-night binges and even his affairs with other women. She was seen to give him money, saying: ‘That should be enough to get a girl.’ But he would not marry Joan, though she plainly wanted it. He  preferred what he called ‘intermittent concubinage’ with vague ideas of marriage, ‘which we talk of and then forget’.

They finally wed in 1968, 24 years after they met, ‘because it seemed idiotic not to’. By then they (or rather she) had bought land in a Greek bay and had built a fine house to settle in. Joan, it seems to me, is the real hero of this book.

The biggest and perhaps unanswerable question that nags throughout is: why did Paddy not get on with the writing, given his power with words? He had an ideally patient publisher, Jock Murray, who made him advance after advance on promised manuscripts, which Paddy spent on yet another journey or party.

When his books on Greece did appear, he got rave reviews and won prizes. Yet the magnum opus, the account of his youthful walk to Constantinople, remained unwritten for decades. The first part, A Time Of Gifts, was finished in 1977, followed by part two in 1986, more than 40 and 50 years respectively after the journey they described.

I have to admit that, dipping into them again, I would never guess that a man of almost 60 was describing his experiences at 19. And the last words of the epic were ‘To Be Concluded’. It never was.

Cooper’s biography, though enjoyable and spirited, is essentially a flawed book about a flawed character.

Many writers have remorselessly neglected or exploited others in their compulsion to write. Fermor did so while producing surprisingly little. What there was, however, was worth it.

Life with Paddy Leigh Fermor – the Times Literary Supplement review

Paddy at Dumbleton

Paddy at Dumbleton

by Peter Green

First published in the Times Literary Supplement 14 November 2012.

Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor was born on February 11, 1915 in London, one year into the world war that changed the face of Europe for ever. Within four months, the Lusitania had been torpedoed and the first Zeppelin air raids carried out over London. At his birth, the attendant good fairy seems to have been in a generous mood. She lavished on him striking good looks, a strong streak of imaginative creativity, physical vigour, a long and – despite an outsize addiction to both cigarettes and alcohol – largely healthy life (he died last year), linguistic skills well above the average, a phenomenal memory, daring courage, an outgoing and exuberant, almost Herodotean fascination with the oddities of the world (not least its more eccentric and obsolescent aristocracies), and an equally exuberant ability to charm a remarkably wide range of people, most notably (though far from exclusively) women.

The bad fairy, watching all this with a sourly malevolent eye, did what she could, which was quite a lot, to minimize the effects of such prodigal largesse. She began by ensuring that the wunderkind, however percipient about the remote marvels of the world he explored, never, in all his ninety-six years, acquired the taste, much less any real ability, for self-analysis. Unable to diminish his creativity, she saddled him with a perfectionist’s crippling demands, and the infinite time-wasting occupations of the born procrastinator. By rendering him impervious to all formal external discipline – much helped by his being allowed to run wild as a child in Northamptonshire while his parents were in India – she both sidelined him from any professional career in the normally accepted sense, and made it inevitable that his prodigious learning (which she could do nothing to stop) was at least of the autodidactic variety. She saw to it that his undeniable charm was frequently interpreted as an attribute of the freeloading gigolo with a weakness for titled ladies, his infectious high spirits as boring bumptiousness, and his very real courage as egomaniacal self-promotion, often – this a contribution from her irredentist Greek cousins – in the service of imperialist politics.

It follows that any prospective biographer of so remarkable a character (frequently labelled “the last Renaissance man”, and for once the cliché is at least understandable) will have an unusually hard row to hoe, and some very tricky decisions to make. This is no less true of one who, like Artemis Cooper, knew him from childhood: such intimate familiarity may in fact have made her task appreciably more difficult. Paddy (as he was known, in Cooper’s prefatory words, “by all the hundreds of people who knew and loved him” – and, one might add, by many more who didn’t) presents the daunting problem of having become a public legend in his own lifetime.

As a teenager (a term he detested) he walked from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, and used the experience to write a unique elegy to the not-quite-lost, and ultra-Chekhovian, country nobility of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire (A Time of Gifts, 1977). As a Special Operations Executive (SOE) operative on German-occupied Crete in 1944, and against all predictable odds, he not only kidnapped a German divisional general and got him safely away to Cairo, but formed a personal bond with him by smoothly capping one of his Latin quotations. Finally, when almost seventy, and faced with a strong current, he successfully swam the Hellespont.

These and other experiences have been rubbed smooth by much telling, often inaccurate as well as humdrum, and it is very much to Artemis Cooper’s credit that she irons out the inaccuracies, and places each anecdote in its proper context, backing it up with careful documentation. This historicization of what was rapidly becoming myth may take off a little of the lustre, but it also deepens perspective. We can see, for example, not only how extraordinary that moment in the White Mountains of Crete was when Horace’s Soracte Ode created an instant cultural and personal rapprochement between British captor and German captive, but how strikingly it symbolized the final flare-up before extinction of a code of international culture that had endured for over two millennia; how it indeed formed a wonderful, if unintentional, postscript to the dying worlds so memorably evoked in all Paddy’s writings. At one level the extraordinary, and moving, fascination of his work consists in the fact that from start to finish, from the doomed Creole aristocracy of The Violins of Saint-Jacques to Count Jeno, “scion of one of the great Hungarian houses of Transylvania” in Between the Woods and the Water (1986) – not to mention his portraits of the Sarakatsani nomads in Roumeli (1966) or the fierce individualists of Mani (1958), who, in their scorched and rocky peninsula, preserved an ancient way of life beyond the reach of the Turks – what he is chronicling is the end of an epoch, a loving and nostalgic farewell to civilizations that were dealt their quietus by a single pistol-shot in the fateful summer of 1914.

It is easy to forget, because of his much-touted heroism in the Second World War, that what Paddy actually inherited as an impressionable child was very much a pre-1914 view of life. His passion for heraldry, old houses, even older families, and the colourful pageantry of royal processions; his happy embracement of a Europe in which an infinite number of languages, customs and migrant peoples made a transparency of political frontiers and showed a happy indifference to passports; his polyglot adventurousness, his philhellenic romanticism, his taste for crowned heads and ancient titles: all this stamped him unmistakably as a latter-day Edwardian, drawing comparisons with Rudolf Rassendyll, or Sandy Arbuthnot in John Buchan’s Greenmantle, and revealing beyond these fictional characters his basic affinity with the no less astonishing real-life characters who had inspired them, such as T. E. Lawrence or Aubrey Herbert (who was twice offered the throne of Albania). He is in his element at the 1958 enthronement of Cardinal Roncalli as Pope John XXIII, dashing off a postcard from Rome to Diana Cooper (Artemis’s grandmother), in ecstasy over “the silver trumpets, the ruffs, the cloaks with Maltese crosses, the morions and slashed doublets . . . . I’m swooning”. His inspired idea, when still eighteen, of walking to Constantinople (never, even at that age, thought of as Istanbul) was not entirely a lucky guess: precocious reading and bred-in-the-bone instinct played their part too. Psychologists will also note how periods of great emotional tension are followed by months of recuperative illness: scabies and pneumonia after initial training in the Guards Depot; near-fatal polyarthritis after the successful abduction of General Kreipe from Crete.

When we ask ourselves how, in essence, the two published volumes of the Great Walk trilogy represent (as is generally, and I think rightly, believed) a higher literary achievement than Paddy’s other work, this sense of their being a powerful and emotionally loaded requiem for an all-but-lost world – artfully strengthened by the way in which the author’s older self, familiar with the bitter end of the story, plays that off against the omnivorous excitement of his innocent youth – is surely the dominant factor. Other major characteristics, from the antiquarian’s delight in exotic historical arcana to sharp portraits of eccentric individuals and a detailed knowledge of local slang and social habits, are all present in Paddy’s other books from the start. The penetrating study of Caribbean voodoo practices in that now much underrated first book of his, The Traveller’s Tree (1950), is a nice case in point. He learned, very early, that to sing successfully for his supper, not just personal charm, but having a genuine interest in the lives and activities of his hosts, were tremendously helpful.

But the other major aspect of A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water that surely guaranteed their capacity to enchant so many readers, and their survival as classics of twentieth-century literature, is the immense, time-consuming, and, to his publisher, maddening care their author devoted to fashioning the sentences in which they were written. However much we write off as procrastination, the final subtly crafted verbal achievement is what gives these texts their magical allure, and goes far to justify the long years spent on them. Paddy, as he made unforgettably clear in a famous passage of Mani, was in love, in an almost physical sense, with words:

“I often have the impression, listening to a Greek argument, that I can actually see the words spin from their mouths . . . the noble shapes of the Greek letters, complete with their hard and soft breathings, the flicker of accents with the change of enclitic and proclitic and the hovering boomerangs of perispomena sail through the air . . . . As the argument kindles and voices wax louder, the lettering matriculates from italics to capitals and out like dangerous missiles whizz triangles and T-squares and gibbets and acute angles, pairs of Stonehenge megaliths with lintel stones, and half-open springs . . . .”

What a word is this, Homer remarks in a recurrent formulaic line, that has escaped the barrier of your teeth. That metaphor comes nearer to a kind of unexpected reality in Paddy’s collected works than most of us would ever have surmised. The climax of his prose poem “Sounds of the Greek World”, the concluding chapter of Roumeli, with its caressing description of “the abruptness of asyndeton” and “the swell of hyperbole”, is in the same mode.

And here we begin to see some of the very real problems confronting his biographer. In Paddy’s expert hands the Great Walk becomes an ongoing, and infinitely seductive, quest for the Earthly Paradise, all the more compelling for the rich glimpses of it to which we are treated in his hypnotic and tessellated prose. No accident, I suspect, that he set out for Constantinople in the December of 1933: the year Hitler came to power, but also (and surely related) the year in which James Hilton published Lost Horizon, the novel that made Shangri-La a symbol of the Edenic refuge from modern conflicts. Paddy’s hosts along the way are presented as part of this paradisal world. But the biographer’s business is factual, with the result here that Cooper’s black-and-white functional prose (always in sharp contrast to Paddy’s own richly coloured version), just as it demythicizes the anecdotes, also gives us a walk that is just a walk, and characters who, charming though they may be, are in fact the last survivors of an anything-but-paradisal landowners’ regime. The biography, going about its proper business, is always looking at the Realien behind Paddy’s magically evocative vision, and thus, quite unintentionally, and probably inevitably, ends by steadily cutting him down to size throughout.

Where this becomes a real, and potentially threatening, problem is in the matter of the long-awaited third volume of the trilogy, never published in Paddy’s lifetime, and for years a task with which he struggled in an increasingly pessimistic mood. The crucial question is, does even a first draft of the trilogy’s conclusion exist? Paddy himself talked, on numerous occasions, of working at it. Visitors report seeing a pile of manuscript variously estimated at eight or twelve inches high. Some kind of text is promised for publication in 2013. Yet in her appendix on sources, Cooper lists, for the final stretch, only the “Green Diary” (left behind by Paddy in Romania in 1939, but recovered after the war), and an early (1963–4) version of the Great Walk, about 60,000 words in length, that grew out of a commission from Holiday magazine on “The Pleasures of Walking” (see the 1963 letter to Xan Fielding in Commentary, pp16–17).

It is this last item, we are told, “that will form the bulk of the posthumous conclusion”. But did its final third, from Orsova to the Black Sea, which was, Cooper reports, “covered in detail”, ever get any of the painstaking revision, the cutting and splicing and verbal thaumaturgy that gave the two earlier volumes their enduring magic? What, in fact, were those piles of paper? In what did Paddy’s unfinished labours actually consist? Here, once again, the factual details of Cooper’s biography are suggestive, hinting at possible reasons for non-completion beyond the obvious ones of age, burn-out, and the cumulative ravages of compulsive socializing and over-indulgence.

The quest for the Earthly Paradise needed a fairy princess; and, in a very literal sense, it duly found one. In 1935 Paddy met in Athens, and fell head over heels in love with, Princess Balasha Cantacuzene, who “belonged to one of the great dynasties of eastern Europe”. She was sixteen years older than Paddy, but seems to have reciprocated his adoration with equal fervour. Like many European aristocrats of the period, she maintained a country estate (at Bäleni in Moldavia), while at the same time being virtually penniless. This was no fly-by-night affair. The two lived together – at first in Greece, where they shared a watermill near Galatas, and for a while in England, but for the most part on the Moldavian estate – for nearly five years: writing, painting, translating, travelling, and enjoying each other. It was only the outbreak of war in 1939 that tore them apart, sending Paddy, a natural patriotic adventurer, headlong back to England to join the Irish Guards. This, as Balasha presciently foresaw, was the end of the affair. Cut off, first by the war, then by the brutal initial years of the Communist regime in Romania, which evicted Balasha and her family from the estate, they didn’t meet again until 1965, by which time the one-time princess was a broken wreck of a woman in her sixties, looking much older, and soon to die of breast cancer. But it was she who had preserved the Green Notebook, and at that last meeting she returned it to him.

It is, I think, at least possible that this horrific end to the happy idyll that had formed the climactic conclusion to the Great Walk was one factor, and not a small one, in helping to create so massive a writer’s block in Paddy over the final volume of the trilogy. It will have joined that other nightmare of the Mediterranean expatriate: recognition of advancing age, the ultimate failure of the dream of eternal youth, when the sunlit world is less easily mastered, and the physical self, once so carelessly taken for granted, begins to fail. Paddy defied the clock better than most (a photo of him taken on Ithaca in 1946, when he had a tough war behind him and was in his thirties, makes him look a teenager still), but the determined mountaineering of his later years, not to mention his swimming the Hellespont, had their inevitable limit. His increasing melancholy as time passed hints at a characteristic Mediterranean timor mortis lurking behind the still upbeat bonhomie, and this, too, cannot have encouraged the literary pursuit of paradisal dreams recollected in a mood increasingly removed from tranquillity.

It is also possible that, in some sense, he never fully recovered from the loss of Balasha. His subsequent record of Don Juanism does nothing to disprove this; nor, more surprisingly, does his lifelong relationship with Joan Eyres Monsell, which Cooper charts with an unsparing eye. We watch Joan’s hope for marriage and children being thwarted by a combination of the freedom dream and the writer’s demand for creative solitude (this last being helped out at tight moments by her trust fund). While their companionship grows ever stronger, a time comes when she nevertheless abjures sex with Paddy, and indeed takes to giving him cash handouts to pay for pick-ups. By 1968, when they finally marry, they are both in their fifties, and Joan has had a hysterectomy. Curiously, nothing better emphasizes the subtle gap between their life and that of the Greek world where they spent half of each year than the reaction to their wedding of the citizens of Kardamyli in the Peloponnese, where they had built themselves a legendary house. When they returned from London as a married couple, they found the single bed in Joan’s bedroom, at the other end of the house from Paddy’s, “covered with rose petals and sugared almonds”. Joan, Cooper reports, “was embarrassed and amused”. The amusement, I suspect, was hard work. Artemis Cooper’s biography is subtitled “An adventure”, and in its understated way it spells out just how much, for all its undeniable glamour, that adventure cost.

Peter Green is the Dougherty Centennial Professor Emeritus of Classics at the University of Texas, Austin. He is a professional translator and an occasional poet and novelist. He currently serves as a member of the Classics Faculty at the University of Iowa.

Russians on Crete, oligarchs and controversial journalism

"Billy" Moss with his Russians

“Billy” Moss with his Russians

I was woken from my post New Year slumber by an email from someone called John Helmer who claims to be the longest-serving western journalist in Moscow. He said that he wanted to write a review of An Adventure and asked for the Paddy Blog community’s help in clarifying one or two points about mentions of Russians in Crete and whether or not Paddy had fired his weapon on any other occasion other than the unfortunate accident that led to the death of Yannis Tsangarakis. This all sounded fair enough and the Russian angle was clearly one that would make his article interesting for his Russian readers.

The experts on this subject generally are those involved in trying to prove the actual route of the kidnap in Crete as they have amassed a huge amount of general evidence in their years of research. Billy Moss mentions the Russians in Ill Met by Moonlight (and is pictured with them) and in his sequel, War of Shadows, they are mentioned regularly, forming a key part of his strike force in the vehicle ambush that Moss leads (see War of Shadows).

We passed on this information to Helmer who then wanted to dig deeper into the Russian angle. The problem is very little evidence exists, but Moss, who spoke Russian, mentions them time and time again. Helmer  remained unconvinced, stating that they may have been Bulgarians which is clear nonsense.

There are references to escaped Russians serving in ELAS units (see Sarafis, 1964) on the Greek mainland. When this was mentioned to Helmer he seemed to think that Moss was recruiting Russians as some sort of counter-propoganda move by the British against communists. Clearly Moss saw them as well-trained and aggressive fighters. Other sources have said that in other post-war SOE accounts mention is also made of Russians fighting alongside Cretan partisans.

Unless documentary evidence exists we may never know the extent of the number of Russians prisoners used as forced labour on Crete as they may well have been slaughtered by the retreating Germans (but where are they buried?). Any that did survive and fell into British hands were probably shot by their own side upon return to Russian control as happened in so many places. In war life is cheap; Russian life even cheaper.

Whilst these arguments were put to Helmer he clearly decided that was going to write a most extraordinary review full of venom and hyperbole. Some sources have previously questioned the Australian journalist’s balance and indeed it is said that he has a controversial reputation in Moscow with apparently inappropriate contacts to a number of Russian oligarchs. This short article appears to sum up what some think of his work and character.

Helmer makes some good points about the weaknesses in Paddy’s character, and Artemis’ biography, but it is a pity that he wraps up his prose with so much pent-up spite that the meaning is lost. Quite a lot of the ‘Paddy Magic’ has been lost as Cooper has revealed much more about the man behind the curtain, but his achievements and the pleasure he gave to so many cannot be taken away. It is certain that Helmer has missed a trick by not pursuing the Russians in Crete idea further.

This review is one to add to the list of reviews of the book, and a negative view is always welcome. You just wish that he could have done it with some style. Paddy would have liked that.

Read Helmer’s review here or click the picture.

From The Tablet – Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure

My thanks to David Platzer who wrote this review of An Adventure for the 1 December issue of The Tablet. It is the first time an article from the Catholic organ has made an appearance on the blog.

By David Platzer.

At the beginning of this splendid biography, Artemis Cooper tells us that one of the very first books Patrick Leigh Fermor, Paddy to his friends, ever read was Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill,  a  favourite to which Leigh Fermor yearly returned, along with another Kipling gem, Kim, until the end of his long life.  There was a bit of Puck in Leigh Fermor. To this was added a Buchan hero’s dash and a spice of Byron in good looks, a reputation as  heroes in Greece and both being published by John Murray. Byron and Leigh Fermor possessed as well a sympathy for Catholicism without ever converting even if Leigh Fermor identified himself as ‘R.C.’ during the Second World War.

The war made Leigh Fermor famous when, while fighting with the Greek Resistance he led the kidnap of General Kreipe, German Divisional Commander in Crete.  Any other  writer would have wasted little time in turning his wartime adventures into a book as did Fitzroy Maclean  did with regard to his experiences in Yugoslavia. Leigh Fermor was happy to let his comrade-in-arms, William Stanley Moss, tell their story; as it happened, Moss’s Ill Met by Moonlight, filmed by Michael Powell with Dirk Bogarde playing Leigh Fermor,only enhanced Leigh Fermor’s legend.   Leigh Fermor made his literary fame with The Traveller’s Tree, one of the few books that  James Bond is known to have read.  Years later Leigh Fermor finally did he accept a commission to write an article about his war; typically, the chronically dilatory Leigh Fermor was eleven months late in filing 36;000 words of  ‘Abducting the General’, well over the 5,000 limit specified. Cooper, Antony Beevor’s wife,  discusses in detail Leigh Fermor’s war. This included two darker moments, Leigh Fermor’s accidental shooting dead of a Cretan resistant and the killing, to Leigh Fermor’s horror,  of General Kreipe’s driver by the two Greeks guarding him.

Leigh Fermor’s dilatoriness was the cross of the long-suffering John Murray who died, still waiting for the third volume of the trilogy of Leigh Fermor’s masterpiece portraying his walk in his late teens from Holland to Constantinople in the Thirties. The always hard-up  Leigh Fermor approached his work as if he was a leisured gentleman writer,  blessed with unlimited time in which to write and re-write, his ‘Penelope-ising’, as his friend, the poet George Seferis, put it. He was fortunate indeed in his wife Joan, Wendy to his Peter Pan, who possessed the private income he lacked. Artemis  Cooper, who knew her subject  as a family friend, doesn’t shirk mentioning that Joan not only looked the other way to her companion’s sexual infidelities but even encouraged them.  Though Joan gave up sleeping with Leigh Fermor fairly early in their relationship and long before their marriage, she didn’t expect him to be celibate.  One is reminded of the biographer’s own grandparents, Duff and Diana Cooper, also bound together by a deeper link than the merely physical.

Other than his army pay in wartime and a brief stint at the British Council in Athens, Leigh Fermor never earned a salary and Cooper quotes Somerset Maugham’s description of him as ‘a middle class gigolo for upper class women.’  Maugham, always touchy about his speech impediment, was miffed by Leigh Fermor’s bibulous jokes about stammerers at the octogerian author’s table; nevertheless,  Maugham’s fiction often celebrates cheeky adventurers triumphing at the expense of rectitude and the remark may  have been more a compliment than a barb.  Friends and lovers found he earned his keep through his kindly thoughtfulness. ‘Most men are just take, take, take,’ Ricci Huston, one of Leigh Fermor’s loves said, ‘…with Paddy, it’s give,give, give.’ A few of Leigh Fermor’s  acquaintanceship found that his boisterousness, the frequent singing in nine different languages, often for his supper, and  the dazzling flow of erudition a little too much of a good thing. For the overwhelming majority, however, whether aristocrats or peasants, he was always welcome.  This enthralling biography may well convert even those sceptical to the charm of this endearing sprite, luckier than any Jim,  who succeeded in his early ambition of making his life into a novel.

Book shops vote on alternative Christmas best-sellers

Fed up with Jamie Oliver? Tired of E.L. James? High street book retailers have come up with an alternative list of books that they think will be best-sellers this Christmas. Of course An Adventure must be in your top ten for Christmas presents this year, and judging by various articles the biography is doing very well both in terms sales and recommendations. Here is just one of them by James Hall from the Telegraph.

Around 200 independent bookshop owners voted on the ten books they think will appeal to people looking for something a little different this year.

The list includes titles such as 101 Uses for a Dead Kindle by Adrian Searle and Wenceslas: A Christmas Poem by Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate.

The number one book is Horologicon: A Day’s Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language by Mark Forsyth. The book examines “extraordinary” words from the English language arranged by the hour of the day.

In second place is Artemis Cooper’s biography of the war hero and travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor.

Patrick Neale, president of The Booksellers Association, said that the list contains “bizarre”, “obscure” and “undiscovered” titles.

“These out of the ordinary, off-beat titles were nominated during the Association’s annual conference, which brought together around 200 booksellers. These were carefully selected with the imaginative book buyer in mind, who may be looking for something a little different to bestseller books,” said Mr Neale.

The Alternative Top Ten

1. Horologicon by Mark Forsyth

2. Patrick Leigh Fermor by Artemis Cooper

3. The Middle Class ABC by Fi Cotter-Craig and Zebedee Helm

4. Wenceslas by Carol Ann Duffy

5. 101 Uses for a Dead Kindle by Adrian Searle

6. First Class by Chris West

7. On the Map by Simon Garfield

8. Paper: An Elegy by Ian Sansom

9. Fir Tree by Sanna Annukka

10. Bring Me Sunshine by Charlie Connelly

Letting it rip – Patrick Leigh Fermor, Mythmaker

Artemis Cooper reflects on Patrick Leigh Fermor’s flexible approach to historical fact.

By Artemis Cooper

First published in History Today Volume: 62 Issue: 12 2012

Patrick Leigh Fermor could not look at a landscape without wondering who had been there before him and how they had shaped what he saw. This was the springboard for all his travel books. Yet alongside this curiosity about the past ran a more imaginative impulse. Some writers might have tried to curb it, especially when tackling historical passages. Not Paddy, who had great faith in what he called ‘letting it rip,’ which added such zest to his prose. Yet when he came to write about his own history, as an undercover agent in occupied Crete between 1942 and 1945, scruples seemed to stifle even his irrepressible style.

While he cared passionately about getting facts and details right, he rarely set foot in an archive. Most of his ‘mugging up’ came out of encyclopedias, books and conversations. He found the legends surrounding a person or an event every bit as interesting as the truth. Even an old chestnut, like the story of Richard I’s minstrel Blondel singing outside every fortress in the hope of hearing his master’s voice, was worth retelling. ‘[The story] is almost too good to be true’, wrote Paddy in A Time of Gifts (1977), ‘but on the spot, it is impossible to doubt it.’

He pursues the story in a long footnote. Richard was handed over to the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI by his captor, Leopold of Austria, in 1193. In his place Leopold took a hostage, one Hugh de Morville – possibly the same de Morville who, with three other knights, had murdered Thomas Becket in Canterbury two decades before. ‘Some authorities think the two Morvilles are the same,’ wrote Paddy. ‘I do hope they are right.’

While prepared to concede that they might be wrong, the appearance of a historical figure in an unexpected place produced a charge in Paddy that set his imagination racing. Take the headstone of ‘Ferdinando Palaeologus, descended from ye Imperial lyne of ye last Christian Emperor of Greece’, which Paddy found in a graveyard in Barbados. He traces a direct line from Ferdinando back to the Emperor Constantine, who fell defending the walls of Constantinople in 1453. For the genealogy to hold, all depended on whether or not Constantine’s son Thomas had a son called John. Paddy admits that this figure is ‘shadowy’. Even if he had been told that his thesis was false, as has now been proved, I doubt whether it would have stopped him telling the story.

As well as anecdotal history, he could conjure up a great sweep of time. In A Time of Gifts a character called the Polymath describes the barbarian invasions of the fifth century and the sack of Rome. Paddy did not expect anyone to take it seriously, yet it is still a tour de force which sends the reader skimming over continents, to watch events unfold at exhilarating speed.

Friends urged him to write about his experiences in occupied Crete, especially the abduction of General Kreipe in April-May 1944, one of the most celebrated exploits of the war. He was reluctant because anything by Patrick Leigh Fermor about Crete would be translated and published on the island and, since this was bound to offend or displease someone, he preferred to remain silent. Then, in 1966, he was commissioned to write a 2,000-word article on kidnapping Kreipe, which grew into a typescript of 84,000 words called Abducting a General.  Until then the story had only been told in Ill Met By Moonlight, the 1950 bestseller by William Stanley Moss.

Paddy’s account tells how, still wearing the German uniform in which he kidnapped the general, he enters the village of Aoyeia. As he walked up the main street, doors and windows slammed shut while the men in the café turned their backs on him. The cry went up: ‘Our in-laws are here! The black crows are in the wheat!’ When he approached the priest’s wife she was terrified. ‘It’s me, Pappadia,’ he whispered, ‘It’s me, Mihali!’ (he was always Mihali in Greece). ‘Mihali? I don’t know any Mihali!’ she cried. It took her a moment longer to recognise him, by the gap between his front teeth.

History must be objective, but Paddy found it impossible to be objective about the Cretans. He could never forget how they had guided, fed and protected him during the German occupation, at such risk to themselves. The pages he devotes to their courage and endurance, their love of song and poetry, may make one smile; but we can only respect his devotion to the the people whose hardships he shared and whom he counted among his closest friends.

A Pilgrimage Through Paddy’s London

Rake’s progress: Leigh Fermor set out from his rooms in Shepherd Market for Constantinople in 1933

And we’re off. This is the Patrick Leigh Fermor Tribute Walk, a bit of a Magical Mayfair Mystery Tour or even, as I prefer, a Paddy Pilgrimage: a literary procession in honour of the late warrior-writer through the London he knew during the course of an enviably long and dazzlingly adventurous life.

By Justin Marozzi.

First published in Standpoint Magazine, December 2012.

We have gathered at Heywood Hill, the venerable Curzon Street bookshop where Paddy, as he was always known to friends and fans, had an account for decades. The pilgrims are a caravan of travel writers and publishers, friends, acolytes, devotees and disciples, for such is the admiration—shading into unadulterated hero worship in some quarters—for a man considered one of the great prose stylists of the 20th century. Our group includes the travel writers Colin Thubron, Sara Wheeler, Anthony Sattin, Jason Elliot and Robert Macfarlane, the writers and historians Jason Goodwin and Fergus Fleming, publishers Roland Philipps and Barnaby Rogerson (in a tangerine linen suit), Mark Amory of the Spectator, an exuberant throng expertly marshalled by Paddy’s biographer Artemis Cooper.

It is not surprising that a man who wrote like an angel, fought like a knight and had beautiful women swooning at his feet for most of his adult life should attract such a following and such affection. Few men can claim to have walked across a continent, fallen in love with a princess, kidnapped a German general, joined a Greek cavalry charge and written a string of masterpieces.

“Patrick Leigh Fermor, the man, could have sprung from the pages of Cervantes or Homer, and we revere him at Heywood Hill for his courage, style and beautiful manners,” says Nicky Dunne, chairman of the bookshop, who dreamt up this expedition.

Paddy lived above the shop briefly in 1947 with Joan, his future wife. In 1965, horrified to have discovered how Communism had destroyed so many of his friends in the Europe he had walked across in 1933-34—”disaster overtook them all”—he set up an account at Heywood Hill for the great love of his youth, the Byzantine princess and artist Balasha Cantacuzene. “He couldn’t do much but he could make sure that at least she was never without good books,” says Cooper.

Our unruly, traffic-blocking gaggle spills out onto Curzon Street to the astonishment of passers-by—30 men and women sporting bright blue earpieces is a curious sight—and ducks into Shepherd Market to our next stop, 28 Market Street: four square windows above the “PLUS NEWS” newsagent. Having been kicked out of almost every school he had attended, Paddy washed up here as a restless 18-year-old with literary longings and a diminutive allowance. His long-suffering landlady, assaulted by endless revelry, was Miss Beatrice Stewart, an artist’s model who had sat for Sargent and Augustus John and was later immortalised in bronze as the Angel of Peace in Adrian Jones’s Quadriga of War on the Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner. “I can never pass the top of Constitution Hill without thinking of her and gazing up at the winged and wreath-bearing goddess sailing across the sky,” Paddy wrote in a typical flight of fancy.

“This is where the great walk began,” Cooper explains. “He’s lurching between high spirits and utter despair, filled with self-loathing, going to endless parties, ‘drowning hangovers like kittens’. His father wants him to get a job but Paddy thinks a career is life imprisonment. He’s uninstitutionalisable. All he wants to do is write.”

Hightailing it out of this Rake’s Progress, Paddy walked from the Hook of Holland through Nazi Germany to Constantinople. It took him over a year from 1933-34, much of it spent “in a coma of happiness” recounted decades later in the spellbinding prose of A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986). Our little saunter is less than a mile in more than an hour. Yet what we may lack in schloss-hopping mileage and accumulated time, we make up for in rowdiness and delight. This could be a lesser-known ecclesiastical ritual of the Eastern Church, the Adoration of the Paddy. And we all know it will end, as it should, with wine.

We head towards Berkeley Square on roads slick with rain. “Paddy was my earliest model of a travel writer: brave, curious, cultivated and a marvellously gifted stylist,” says Thubron, president of the Royal Society of Literature. “It’s strange to be walking commemoratively through a world that’s not usually associated with him—not the Greece or Eastern Europe which all his readers know, but the London—still pouring rain—from which he set out 80 years ago.”

Friends and admirers of Patrick Leigh Fermor outside Heywood Hill, his favourite bookshop, in London’s Shepherd Market

Friends of Patrick Leigh Fermor outside Heywood Hill, his favourite bookshop, in London’s Shepherd Market

Here we are a stone’s throw from The Running Horse pub on Davies Street, from where Paddy briefly and rather successfully sold silk stockings as an impecunious teenager. Invited to share his tips with his fellow salesmen one evening, he popped a stocking onto his hand and described its properties as though it were a condom. He was fired on the spot. “That was the last sales job he ever had,” says Cooper. One night in the summer of 1940, when the London skyline was thick with smoke and flames, Paddy entered Berkeley Square from Piccadilly. “The blaze of an explosion had revealed two sides of that sentimental quadrangle in a disordered wreckage of wood and stone,” he wrote. “Only one thing remained standing. Perched three stories high on a tottering pinnacle of rubble was a white marble privy, glowing shyly in this unaccustomed radiance.”

We beetle along to Lansdowne Row, where Cooper describes a literary catastrophe on neighbouring Stratton Street, once home to the Baroness d’Erlanger, a rich and eccentric artist: “I think she had a bit of a crush on him.” Everyone did. In 1937 or 1938, Paddy left two trunks here full of papers connected with his trans-Europe tramp—every letter, diary and early draft. The Baroness moved home, put Paddy’s trunks into storage at the Harrods Depository, only for Harrods to sell them off years later because Paddy had forgotten to pay the storage charge. He had lost everything. There is a collective writerly wince. “Paddy said the pain used to ache ‘like an old wound in wet weather’, but I think it was the best thing that ever happened to him,” says Cooper. “It sort of set him free, allowing him to remember with advantage.”

To 50 Albemarle Street, former HQ for John Murray publishers, a powerhouse of British writers from Byron, Darwin and Disraeli to Walter Scott, Conan Doyle and Paddy. “Jock Murray was the best publisher and editor Paddy could have hoped for,” says Cooper. “In the days before agents he was also Paddy’s banker, therapist, PR consultant, book-finder and poste restante.”

Picking up the pace now like horses heading home—drinks at the Travellers Club await—we stride magnificently down Jermyn Street. One imagines Paddy, sartorially something of a peacock, thoroughly at home here.

“Oh God, absolutely!” Cooper says, laughing. “Hats from Lock, shoes from Lobb, Savile Row suits. He loved all these shops. Paddy adored clothes. In all his books the costumes of men and women are described in extraordinary detail. I’ve walked along Jermyn Street with him, striding along with his cane with that lovely flick upwards before putting it down. If you didn’t know, you’d think he’d never left the Home Counties.”

Into the final furlong and past the Cavendish Hotel, an unlovely blend of underground car-park and drive-through fast-food forecourt. “Here he met the tail end of the Bright Young Things, a decade after all those parties that had scandalised society.” Alistair Graham, Jennifer Fry, Eddie Gathorne-Hardy, Mark Ogilvie-Grant . . . and Elizabeth Pelly, to whom Paddy lost his virginity.

“They’re a revelation to him. Godlike and irresistible. Suddenly he feels he’s met kindred spirits.” He didn’t meet Evelyn Waugh at the Cavendish because Waugh was banned. Mrs Rosa Lewis, the owner, did not find her portrayal as Mrs Crump in Vile Bodies amusing. “If I get my ‘ands on that Mr Woo-agh,” she told Paddy, “I’ll cut ‘is winkle orff!”

Through St James’s Square and we’re almost trotting into Pall Mall, from where it is a hop, skip and jump up the 11 steps into the Travellers Club, whose bar Paddy did more than most to prop up—together with those of White’s, Pratt’s, the Beefsteak and the Special Forces Club—during 66 years as a member. In 1950, the Club Secretary reported to the House Committee that the nomadically careless Paddy owed “over £100 for storage, if by-law 6 were to be strictly enforced”.

There is an inescapable whiff of glamour and adventure at the launch party. A light sprinkling of aristocracy, a smattering of bohemian scruff, the sparkle of beautiful women, sumptuously suited grandees, suggestions of espionage, the straight-backed swagger of military top brass.

Paddy was a prodigious drinker. He once wrote of retsina: “One of its secrets is drinking it with unstinted abundance. It seems to have an alliance with the air in the promotion of well-being. Many people think that it bestows the gift of bodily health as well; a belief I accept at once without further scrutiny.”

The evening dissolves into high spirits, laughter and torrents of wine. The hommage is complete.

Related articles:

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s ‘magical’ tour

Marathon man – Justin Marozzi interviews Paddy and drinks quite a lot of retsina.

Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure as BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week 19-23 November

Don’t forget that you can listen to Artemis Cooper’s biography being read as the BBC Book of the Week on Radio 4 (the world’s greatest radio station) from today.

If you are working or miss an episode you have seven days to catch up via the BBC iPlayer.

Visit the Book of the Week webpage here to find out more.

Jan Morris’ review of An Adventure

Patrick Leigh Fermor on horseback at Baleni, Moldavia

‘He is justly commemorated in this magnificent biography, and will surely be remembered for ever as one of the best of men.’

By Jan Morris.

First published in the Telegraph, 6 November 2012.

Happy the hero who, after a lifetime of glorious achievement, in death finds a biographer worthy of his memory. Patrick Leigh Fermor, “Paddy” to all his acquaintances and half his readers, died last year to a plethora of obituaries, and his life has been so widely celebrated in print, in film and in legend that the task of writing another 400 pages about him would seem, as he might himself say, Sisyphean. Artemis Cooper, however, rolls the immense boulder with an apparently effortless grace, and makes this marvellous book less a mere life story than an evocation.

The life itself hardly needs retelling. The rapscallion school years, the wonderful adolescent walk across Europe, the derring-do in wartime Crete, when Leigh Fermor was responsible for the kidnapping of a German general, the books that established him as one of the great prose writers of the 20th century, the profound explorations of things Grecian and Byzantine, the illumination of everything by tremendous gifts of scholarship and linguistics – all this is almost too familiar.

But Cooper makes it all seem new. She knew Paddy well herself, she has travelled almost everywhere he travelled, and she has had access to unpublished diaries and innumerable informants. More to my point, she has immersed herself in the minutiae of Leigh Fermor’s character, so that the epic figure of his reputation becomes not clearer, but more convincingly blurred.

In no way does she diminish his renown, but she humanises it. Of course he could sing folk-songs in eight languages, and translate PG Wodehouse into Greek, and swim the Hellespont in his 70th year, and mingle as easily with dukes as with layabouts, and extemporise sonnets, and design his own house, and discuss the most obtuse points of theological dogma or historical theory and write lyrical extravaganzas in a manner that was majestically his own.

Dear God, we knew all that! Did we realise, though, that Paddy smoked at least 50 cigarettes every day for half his life, and for much of it was more or less penniless? Does it surprise us to observe Joan Rayner, later to be his wife, slipping him a few banknotes at the table in case he needs a girl after dinner? We surely would not have expected Somerset Maugham to define him as “a middle-class gigolo for upper-class women”; on the other hand we might be mildly taken aback to learn that in his old age he was simultaneously a member of four London clubs – White’s, Pratt’s, the Beefsteak and the Travellers.

It is no surprise, though, to be told what terrific fun Paddy was. For myself, with a slight distaste for raconteurs and virtuoso conversationalists, I feel I might have been rather overwhelmed by the torrential exuberance of his company, but a vast company of his acquaintances revelled in it, and his friendships were lifelong. Even General Kreipe, the man he kidnapped, was reconciled to him, and a violently vindictive Cretan whose son Paddy had accidentally killed forgave him in the end. Almost at the moment of his own death, Leigh Fermor touchingly wrote in the book he was reading: “Love to all and kindness to all friends, and thank you for a life of great happiness”.

His days were full of astonishments, but I find myself most amazed, as I read this record of his 10 decades, by the truly prodigious energy that pervades its every chapter. His social life, pursued among all classes of society (but mostly, one must concede, among cultivated toffs), was unflagging. His instinct for travel kept him constantly on the move, from boyhood to old age – tirelessly exploring new places and revisiting old haunts, and absolutely never, it seems, either daunted or bored. For years he never learnt to use a typewriter, writing everything in a longhand whose endless crossings-out and juxtapositions were the despair of his publisher, “Jock” Murray: but once he had mastered the machine he could play his prose upon it, so he once reported, in “mad obbligato”.

There seems an element of frenzy to all this. There are few passages of calm in this book, few moments of inner contemplation. As I read about its incessant goings-on I am sometimes haunted by the feeling that they shelter a quieter soul. We hear little about religious convictions in his life, but one of his lesser books concerns three separate sojourns in monasteries, he wrote thoughtfully about his experiences on Mount Athos and he was intensely interested in the varied mysteries of sacred thought. That smashing obbligato passage was played in order to get rid of unwanted visitors; inveterate socialiser that he was, and a cheerful lesser sinner (wine, women and the occasional fib), perhaps just now and then he pined to be alone with one god or another.

He was a good, kind sort of hero anyway, and his life did end on a gentler note, spent largely with his beloved Joan in the house they had built beside the sea in the southern Peloponnese. When she died he divided his time, as was only proper, between Greece and England, and gradually his splendid body failed him. He lost part of his sight, part of his hearing, and in his 96th year he went to his rest beside his wife in Worcestershire.

He is justly commemorated in this magnificent biography, and will surely be remembered for ever as one of the very best of men.

A scanned copy of the review Jan Morris wrote for the Telegraph culture published on 4 November 2012 is below.

Jan Morris review 041112

Sunday Times review of Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure

I was sent this review by good friend Chris Hammond.

Click this link to open the pdf.

A man of gifts

A review of Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure by William Dalrymple which is a must read. He knew Paddy and wrote one of the best profiles of Paddy for the Daily Telegraph in 2008 which you can read here.

by William Dalrymple

First published in the Financial Times, 2 November 2012.

Patrick Leigh Fermor, who died last year aged 96, had a facility for bringing together worlds usually considered incompatible. Here was a war hero who was also one of the great English prose stylists; who adored Greece and Britain with equal passion; and who was celebrated for his love of both high and low-living. His masterpiece, A Time of Gifts (1977), an account of the first stage of his 1933-34 walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople (“like a tramp, a pilgrim, or a wandering scholar”) has his 18-year-old self moving from doss-houses to Danubian ducal fortresses: “There is much to recommend moving straight from straw to a four-poster,” he writes, “and then back again.”

One of the world’s great walkers, Leigh Fermor was also a writer of great erudition and intelligence, reading widely in at least eight languages. He was gregarious and talkative, loved “saxophone-haunted nightclubs” and, according to Artemis Cooper’s magnificent new biography, was an enthusiastic explorer of Mediterranean brothels. Yet he also appreciated the ascetic and understood “the capacity for solitude and the recollectedness and clarity of spirit that accompany the silent monastic life … [where] the troubled waters of the mind grow still and clear, and much that is hidden away and all that clouds it floats to the surface and can be skimmed away.”

Cooper’s book is the perfect memorial to this remarkable man. She had known him (he was Paddy to his friends) since her childhood and has written a lovingly admiring account of his life which is as full of joie de vivre as its subject. She is not uncritical, and is aware of Leigh Fermor’s frailties: his insensitivities and infidelities. She shows that he was not always the ebullient figure often sighted, glass in hand, at book launches: he frequently suffered from depression and writer’s block. She reminds us that editing a piece of lifeless prose was to him, “deadening, heartbreaking mortician’s work,” like “rougeing and curling a corpse.”

The mythic outlines of Leigh Fermor’s life are well-known. His most famous moment was in April 1944 when, against almost impossible odds, he led the British team that kidnapped the Nazi commander of Crete; but the rest of his life was no less filmic. He went to an experimental school, later closed down, where nude eurhythmics welcomed the rising of the sun. He took part in one of the last cavalry charges on European soil and had a prolonged love affair with a Byzantine princess, the last of the Cantacuzenes. He became the focus of a Cretan blood feud, and attended Molotov cocktail lessons in Palestine and voodoo ceremonies in Haiti. He was beaten up by Irish huntsmen after asking if they buggered their foxes and his car was bombed by communists. Well into his sixties, in homage to Byron, he swam the Hellespont.

He also found the time to pen some of the most beautiful travel books ever written. While his prose – with its “truffled style and dense plumage”, according to Lawrence Durrell, “madly, intoxicatingly overwritten” – is beyond any sane attempt at imitation, his travel books became models for generations of British writers of non-fiction, including Bruce Chatwin, Colin Thubron, Rory Stewart and Robert Macfarlane. All were inspired by the character he created, that of the erudite literary wanderer striding over mountain passes, notebook in hand.

In several places Cooper gently polishes away at the accumulated crust of legend that has begun to cling to Leigh Fermor’s breastplate. She reveals, for example, the moral dilemmas he suffered during his work with the Cretan resistance, when the Nazis wiped out whole villages in response to an ambush.

Cooper also shows that Leigh Fermor didn’t resign from the British Council in Athens after the war as he used to claim: he was sacked by the other great Hellenophile of his generation, Steven Runciman, who didn’t know what to do with Leigh Fermor and wasn’t prepared to pay for him to sit in his office “throwing a party, sitting with his feet on the desk and entertaining a stream of Cretan visitors,” as one colleague recalled. The classicist Maurice Bowra, also in Greece at the time, declared Leigh Fermor, probably correctly, as “unfit for office work.”

Cooper also reveals that, unlike almost all the other British writers of the 1930s, he was actively and successfully heterosexual from the outset. The walk across Europe was accompanied by many a tumble in a village haystack that the author, with his prewar codes of reticence and honour, does not even hint at in his books. He seems to have remained a generous lover until the end. “Most men are just take, take, take,” reported one of his girlfriends, “but with Paddy it’s give, give, give.”

His one drawback in this department seems to have been his tendency to attract pubic lice: “The crabs of the world seem to fly to me,” he writes apologetically to another girlfriend who complained she had found an embarrassing parasite on her eyebrow. “On getting your letter, I made a dash for privacy and thrashed through the undergrowth, but found everything almost eerily calm … The whole thing makes me scratch my head, if I may so put it.”

The last decade has seen the death of the many of our greatest travellers – Wilfred Thesiger, Eric Newby, Norman Lewis – and it is interesting that almost all of them came home in the end. Despite his years in Greece and the Balkans, and for all that he dreaded the damp of England – which he described as “like living in the heart of a lettuce” – Leigh Fermor remained almost absurdly English; to the end, he was completely certain that he wished to be buried in England rather than his adopted home of Greece. His funeral took place at Dumbleton in Worcestershire, where he lies beside his wife, Joan.

For those of us who loved him and his work, and for a whole generation of writers who set off in his footsteps, he was the exemplar, showing how magnificently an English life could still be lived. He remains – pubic lice apart – the model to which we still aspire.

William Dalrymple’s next book, ‘Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan’ is published by Bloomsbury in February.

Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure will also be the BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week from 19th November onwards.

You can buy Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure here.

Don’t forget to visit Artemis Cooper’s Facebook page for further information.

Related article:

Patrick Leigh Fermor: The man who walked – the excellent profile of Paddy by William Dalrymple.

Patrick Leigh Fermor: the story was the thing

The Royal Geographical Society was full to overflowing last week to hear Colin Thubron in conversation with Artemis Cooper, the accomplished biographer of Patrick Leigh Fermor. Memory, as we all know, can be an unreliable witness.  As Cooper explained, Paddy, who died at the age of 96 last year, was a story teller: a complex man who struggled with depression, who loved life, who loved people, but who at his heart was intensely private.  It amused me when I first arrived in Greece that everyone we met seemed to have a ‘Paddy’ story: rather like Princess Diana he was one of those charismatic icons that everyone wanted to own: a living legend. It was appropriate that he chose the wild Mani at Kardymili for his home, for it is a land of heroes and myths.

By Lauren O’Hara.

Published in The Cyprus Mail 3 November, 2012

It was brave of Cooper to tackle the question of the elaboration of truth, the ability of PLF like any good raconteur to give edited highlights: to cut and paste to make the tale more engaging: the spirit rather than the letter of historical accuracy.

She took head on too, the reasons for his mixed reception in Crete, the place where he won a DSO for the daring capture of General Kreipe. The place where he was parachuted in by British intelligence to live in the wilds, as a shepherd, to organise the Cretan resistance: the place where he was immortalised on celluloid, forever, by the dashing casting of Dirk Bogarde.

But there was a dark side: the accidental killing by Paddy, mishandling a loaded gun, of his comrade in arms in the Cretan resistance, Yanni Tsangarakis. It resulted in a long blood feud, after the war, leaving Paddy with a death vendetta on his head.  Yanni’s family finally forgave him, but you cannot help but wonder if Paddy ever forgave himself. Cooper also tackled the terrible reprisals that happened as the Germans withdrew from Crete killing many of the men in the villages, and astutely blaming not Paddy but that policy, still used in wars today,  which sees Special Operations’ forces  sabotage and create havoc and then leave. For as we see in the Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan it is always, however grateful for the intervention, those left behind that count the cost in lives and revenge.

A year ago we were at a party at Paddy’s house to celebrate his life and legacy which left the house as a permanent memorial to the Benaki Foundation: a ‘study centre’ – to be used for writers, scholars and historians. Inevitably, given the limitations of money, for the house comes with no endowment, plans will take time to unfold. Meanwhile, those lucky enough to go will find it full of the spirit of the man: to be loved even more, perhaps, once this biography humanises the hero, for like the Greek gods that squabble and feast in the high mountains behind the house, flawed heroes are far more fun.

Related article:

‘A Tonic and a Treat’ – Patrick Leigh Fermor: A Celebration

Event – Sounds of the Greek World and Beyond: The travel writing of Patrick Leigh Fermor

A commemoration, presented in collaboration with the Society for Modern Greek Studies.

This event will celebrate the travel-writing of Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011), author and Hellenist. After a welcome by Professor Roderick Beaton, Director of the Centre for Hellenic Studies, and an introduction by Professor Tim Youngs, there will be three individual reflections on Patrick Leigh Fermor’s contribution to travel-writing, followed by a panel discussion. Participants include:

  • Professor Tim Youngs, Director: Centre for Travel Writing Studies, Nottingham Trent University; Founding Editor of Studies in Travel Writing
  • Professor David Roessel, Interdisciplinary Centre for Hellenic Studies, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey; author of In Byron’s Shadow: Modern Greece in the English and American Imagination (Oxford 2003)
  • Sir Michael Llewellyn-Smith, Visiting Professor: King’s College London and former British Ambassador to Greece; author of Athens: A Cultural and Literary History (Oxford 2004)
  • Dr David Wills, Treasurer-elect: Society for Modern Greek Studies; author of The Mirror of Antiquity: 20th Century British Travellers in Greece (Newcastle 2007)
  • Artemis Cooper, author: Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure  (John Murray 2012)

After a vote of thanks by Professor David Holton, Chairman of the Society for Modern Greek Studies, a reception in the Anatomy Museum will follow. By kind permission of the publisher, copies of Artemis Cooper’s new biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor will be available for purchase at the reception.

For further details of the programme, please see the event flyer

The event is open to all and is free. Prior registration is not necessary.

Organisers: John Kittmer & Dr Liana Giannakopoulo.

Location: King’s College London, Anatomy Lecture Theatre, K6.29 King’s Building, King’s College, Strand, WC2R 2LS – map

When: 20/11/2012 (18:30-20:00)

Contact: Queries should be directed to chsevents@kcl.ac.uk

 

Paddy’s childhood home: The Weedon Bec route near Northampton

The travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor enjoyed a blissful childhood of ‘barns, ricks and teazles’. His biographer, Artemis Cooper, strolls through the landscape of his adventures.

By Suzi Feay

First published in the Financial Times, 27 October 2012.

“I made the decision very early on that I was not going to walk in Paddy’s footsteps,” says Artemis Cooper, biographer of travel writer, raconteur, war hero and all-round charmer Patrick Leigh Fermor. Just as well, as his youthful exploit of going “on foot to Constantinople”, as detailed in his book A Time of Gifts, is probably his most famous achievement. That’s if you don’t count kidnapping a German general and force-marching him round Mount Ida, Crete, during the second world war, an adventure retold in the movie Ill Met By Moonlight in which PLF was played by Dirk Bogarde. This must be one of the few cases where a film star was eclipsed by his subject. Leigh Fermor continues to enchant from beyond the grave.

Certainly his biographer is smitten. “I’ve known him all my life,” she says of her old family friend, still apt to talk about him in the present tense (he died last year, aged 96). We have met in the Northamptonshire village of Weedon Bec, where Paddy spent his infancy. In her book, Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, Cooper describes these idyllic years during the first world war, when he lived with “Mummy Martin”, “Daddy Martin” and their children, adored though unrelated. Why he was there is a mystery; he was reunited with his own mother aged four, but was never to feel strongly attached.

By St Peter & St Paul’s Church in Weedon, the main road passes under the Grand Union canal. We climb some steps to the towpath, where a barge puffs out atmospheric smoke. Although this is a lovely spot to begin our walk, there is no mention of the canal in any of his writings about his childhood. Little Paddy-Mike, as he was known, was clearly not allowed to go near it.

We set off, the first of many brightly coloured barges chugging past us, and glimpse a tiny water vole. Cooper tells me about PLF’s legendary vitality. “His energy was amazing. We went to stay with him in Greece and went for a walk. He was in his seventies and we [she and husband Anthony Beevor] were in our thirties and quite fit and it was hard to keep up with him. He was making a point, but still … ”

One thing I gleaned from her book was that Leigh Fermor hated going to sleep. Why was that? “Because it wasn’t living,” Cooper replies. “He felt you had to get the most out of life, every minute of it.” There are amusing tales of a Christmas turkey stuffed with Benzedrine as he whooped it up in wartime Cairo.

At the second bridge over the canal we ascend to the High Street, where the Martins lived at number 42. After some puzzling, we finally discover the house, formerly divided into two tall, thin dwellings. The date “1849” is visible under the porch. Nearby is The Wheatsheaf, behind whose vanished gates Paddy-Mike would play. This would have been a busy little town, but in A Time of Gifts he speaks of a rural childhood of “barns, ricks and teazles, clouded with spinneys and the undulation of ridge and furrow”.

The Grand Union Canal between Dodford and Weedon Bec

We nip into the Heart of England pub opposite, and I ask Cooper what it was like to talk to this legendary conversationalist. “He just made you feel so great,” she beams. “I’d never read Hardy’s The Dynasts. ‘OH, my dear, what a TREAT you have in store, I think I have a copy here, you can take it with you to bed tonight. WHAT, you’ve never read The Bridge-Builders by Kipling? It won’t take a second – I tell you what, after lunch I’m going to have a nap, you can read it then.’ That enthusiasm, never making you feel stupid or under-read. One of his oldest friends said, ‘if only Paddy came in pill form and you could take him whenever you felt depressed.’ That’s how he left you feeling. Even in his nineties.”

We rejoin the canal path as it makes a series of lazy wiggles, talking about Leigh Fermor’s mother (“an awful snob and a name-dropper”) and wife (“If it hadn’t been for Joan, I think he might just have been a charming sponger”). We leave the canal at the next humpbacked bridge and turn west, following a quiet road with a view over tranquil fields. “Now can’t you just imagine the young Paddy, roaming around here playing Robin Hood? Always the romantic.”

Artemis Cooper togged up!

By the stream running by the path, Cooper takes a photo of a purple flower to identify later. Over the fields lies the village of Dodford, where Leigh Fermor and his mother lived when he was slightly older. At the village green, we turn right past a red telephone box, then left at a set of gates. Cooper has an Edwardian photograph of Vicarage Cottage, his former home, and is eager to find it. Now called Quiet Ways, and somewhat enlarged, it is instantly recognisable; and opposite is the Swan, or “Dirty Duck”, now a private home.

We ascend a footpath and walk through the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin to the A45, which we cross at a place called Four Views. From there, we take a diagonal path across the fields, eventually meeting the Nene Way. A sharp left turn returns us in the direction of Lower Weedon. The soil in the fields is a rich red, the landscape gentle, undramatic, yet quietly beautiful. Our conversation takes a sombre turn as the sky darkens.“The gods gave him great gifts. To be handsome, intelligent, a gifted linguist with a wonderful body … And it doesn’t stop there: to have all that and be charming, a great conversationalist, to be the person everyone loves being with. But with great gifts the gods also make you pay a price. He had periods of depression, and times where he felt that he hadn’t written enough, that he’d wasted his life.”

At Upper Weedon a sharp right turn takes us south, then we turn left on to Farthingstone Road to ascend Weedon Hill, supposedly the site of Boudicca’s last stand. “Well, it’s one of the possible locations. Perhaps the least likely,” Cooper concedes. Leigh Fermor, a magical embroiderer of legend himself, I’m sure would have begged to differ.

Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure shortlisted as Waterstones Book of the Year

Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure by Artemis Cooper

A debut novel translated from French is among the six titles shortlisted for the inaugural Waterstones Book of the Year.

Laurent Binet’s HHhH, published in translation by Harvill Secker, is one of only two novels included on the shortlist, announced today (30th October). Also shortlisted is the Man Booker Prize-winning Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate).

The remaining titles are all non-fiction: Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure by Artemis Cooper (John Murray); The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlane (Hamish Hamilton); On The Map: Why The World Looks The Way It Does by Simon Garfield (Profile Books); and Polpo: A Venetian Cookbook (Of Sorts) by Russell Norman (Bloomsbury Publishing).

The winning title will be promoted in Waterstones stores in the month of December as The Book of the Year, with the chain bookseller’s managing director James Daunt heading up the judging panel to select it.

Binet’s novel tells the story of Operation Anthropoid, the assassination of Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich in Prague during the Second World War. Its title refers to “Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich” (“Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich”), a quip about Heydrich said to have circulated in Nazi Germany. It was awarded the 2010 Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman.

Daunt said: “In an extremely strong year of publishing, we have an exceptional shortlist for our Book of the Year. They have such singular attributes, it will be fascinating to see which emerges the winner.”

The books on the shortlist have not been put forward by publishers. Instead, all Waterstones booksellers were invited to nominate the new book that they thought deserved the Book of the Year title and that they wanted to help more people discover. They were asked to choose a book that stood out in its field, and that would speak to the company’s core customers ­ defined as “those people who love reading and love books.”

The winner will be announced on Thursday 29th November at the Waterstones Christmas Party, which will take place at the bookseller’s King¹s Road shop in Chelsea (London). As well as the support of the entire Waterstones business, the winning author will also receive a case of champagne.

From The Bookseller 30 October 2012

Artemis Cooper to speak at King’s School Canterbury, 14 November

Patrick Leigh Fermor at school, Kings’ Canterbury

Artemis Cooper, the author of Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, will give a talk on Wednesday 14 November at 7.30 pm in the Clagett Auditorium, Canterbury Cathedral Lodge.

Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011) was one of the King’s School’s most distinguished old boys. He was in The Grange from 1929 to 1931. He went on to be a war hero and is regarded as one of the greatest travel writers.

The biography was published by John Murray on 11 October.

Artemis has already produced Words of Mercury, a selection of Leigh Fermor’s writings, and is now editing what survives of the planned third volume of his autobiographical trilogy, following on from A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. It is due to be published in the autumn of 2013 and will be called The Broken Road.

Tickets for the talk cost £5 and are available on-line from The King’s Box Office, or in person from 1 Mint Yard, or on the door. Copies of the book will be available at the talk.

From the King’s School website.

Related articles:

A combination of prefab, garage and potting shed

Some Memories of King’s .. And the final word goes to?

The Observer review of Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure

The Observer review of Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure which concludes that life was one great adventure for Paddy, with the hard part now being to separate the fact from the fiction. It concludes that Fermor emerges as a man determined to live on his own terms, if not his own means!

By Anthony Sattin

First published in The Observer, 21 October 2012.

Traveller and writer Paddy Leigh Fermor is best known for two events. In 1933, at the age of 18, he set off with a little money and a lot of nerve to walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. Eleven years later, with an equal amount of nerve, he led a commando group to occupied Crete to kidnap General Kreipe, the local Nazi commander. From these two events sprang the subjects and passions for his work and his life, the subject of Artemis Cooper’s new biography.

Fermor is a seriously challenging subject for any biographer, perhaps more so for Cooper, who knew him from a very early age. She was contracted to write the book in the 1990s but on the condition it did not appear before his death, perhaps wanting to spare his wife, friends and self the stories of his sexual adventures. Given his wine and cigarette intake, Cooper would have been forgiven for thinking he wouldn’t last as long as he did: he died last year at the age of 96. But not even close acquaintance with her subject and unrestricted access to his archive and friends will have made it any easier to get around the main obstacle: the man himself.

A school and army reject, Fermor was a self-made man in the most literal sense. He started, in the words of his headmaster, as “a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness”. With those and other qualities, he honed his character with the company of extraordinary people and the words of great writers – he had a prodigious memory for prose as well as poetry. However complex his character, it was made more so, from a biographer’s point of view, by the fact that he had already written his own version of some of his life. His books contain some of the finest prose writing of the past century and disprove Wilde’s maxim that “it is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating”.

Charm, self-taught knowledge and enthusiasm made up for the lack of a university degree or a private income. His teenage walk across Europe and subsequent romantic sojourn in Baleni, Romania, with Princess Balasha Cantacuzene are proof enough of that. But the difficulty of capturing such an unconventional and glamorous life is made harder by the certainty that Fermor was an unreliable narrator.

He was also an infuriatingly slow writer. Driven by a life-long passion for words yet hampered by anxiety about his abilities, Fermor published eight books over 41 years. The Traveller’s Tree describes his postwar journey through the Caribbean; Mani and Roumeli (1958 and 1966) draw on his experiences in Greece, where he would live for much of the latter part of his life. But it is the books that came out of his trans-Europe walk that reveal both the brilliance and the flaws. A Time of Gifts was published in 1977, 44 years after he set out on the journey. Between the Woods and the Water appeared nine years later. Both describe a world of privilege and poverty, communism and the rising tide of Nazism, and end with the unequivocal words, “To be continued”. Yet the third volume hung like an albatross around the author’s neck. As the years passed, Fermor found it impossible to shape the last part of his story in the way he wanted. Yet Cooper refers to one manuscript written in the 1960s, and a diary, and from these the final volume will be fashioned and published next year.

Fermor’s longevity also presents challenges: there is much to record of more than nine decades of travelling, flirting, writing and hard living. Cooper runs through it mostly chronologically, drawing on published work, intimate letters, unpublished notebooks, and letters and interviews with some of the many people who knew and loved him. There are places where she verifies things that might otherwise have seemed a little incredible – some of the hospitality he enjoyed on his Constantinople walk, for instance. There are other places where she shows up inconsistencies. Some were no doubt due to his writing about events from a distant past, but some were deliberate. As Cooper explains it, these came about “partly because he is condensing more than one encounter, and partly out of tact”. He was also quite happy to merge details or elaborate in order to make his story work better. Some might feel cheated by the fabricating of non-fiction but Fermor would insist he always remained true to the spirit of the event.

Fermor emerges as a man determined to live on his own terms, if not his own means, and who mostly – and mostly magnificently – succeeded. Always popping off on a journey when he should have been writing about the last one, always ready to party, he was forever chasing beautiful, fascinating or powerful women, even when with his wife, Joan. She was the great facilitator who funded his passion for travel and writing, as well as women, from her trust fund. Cooper shows that he had often had such a character in his life, starting with his earliest memories, during the first world war, when he was left with a Northamptonshire family, including an older girl he thought was his sister, while his mother and real sister returned to India to be with his father. Fermor remembered spending those first years, “said to be such formative ones, more or less as a small farmer’s child run wild: they have left a memory of complete and unalloyed bliss”. Running wild, as Cooper shows, was one of the things he would do best during the 92 years that followed.

This is not a perfect book. There is too little analysis of man and motives and not enough probing throughout, as though Cooper could still imagine the wild family friend leaning over her shoulder as she wrote. But then Fermor was far from perfect himself. Instead he was funny, learned, sexy, irrepressible, flawed yet much loved, remarkable and, at times, brilliant – not unlike this book. Cooper ends with the words, “it all really happened”, although by then I was in no doubt.

Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure will also be the BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week from 19th November onwards.

You can buy Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure here.

Don’t forget to visit Artemis Cooper’s Facebook page for further information.