Category Archives: After the Woods and the Water

Jan Morris review of Nick Hunt’s Where the Wild Winds Are

Nick Hunt reads from his new book at the launch at Stanford’s bookshop, London on 6 September 2017

Jan Morris’ review of Nick’s new book, Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to ProvenceFirst published in The Literary Review. She is effusive in her praise, concluding …

Hunt’s own summing-up of the whole venture expresses it better than I can, anyway. He says that he and his senses have been washed, scoured, scrubbed, frozen, heated, pummelled, pounded, downcast, uplifted and animated by the Winds.

And so, in a way, have mine, by reading his book.

This extraordinary work is a prime example of that contemporary genre, the ex-travel book. Travel writing as such being a bit obsolete now, since so many readers have been everywhere, the form has evolved into something more interpretative or philosophical. Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to Provence is a work of this sort – a thoughtful (and perhaps rather too protracted) relation of a journey on foot across half of Europe – and it contains much admirable descriptive writing of the old sort. It is also, however, something far more interesting than most such enterprises: it describes an expedition into the Winds!

The Winds? Yes, four European winds, sometimes with a capital W, sometimes not, into which, one by one, Nick Hunt goes. He wants to experience and explore them all. Each is rich in history, myth, folklore, superstition and effect. Many of us have travelled across Europe, but as far as I know nobody has hitherto so deliberately explored the kingdoms of the great winds. Scientists, geographers, glider pilots, artists, poets and theologians have investigated and commemorated them, but travel writers never before. Hunt immerses himself in those Windlands and manages to give his readers a blast, a sigh, a shiver of each.

He chooses four named winds out of dozens, four being a geographical sort of number. His first and smallest wind, one I have never heard of before, blows across a northwestern corner of England. It is called Helm, and its headquarters, it seems, is a desolate plateau called Cross Fell in a particularly uninviting stretch of the Pennines. Helm is the only named wind blowing across Britain. It sounds perfectly awful and its reputation is frightful: it howled for fifteen days in 1843, it demolished a castle tower once, everybody complains about its psychological and temperamental effects and for centuries the countryside it rules was plagued by vendettas, pillagings, rapes, cattle-rustlings and murders. Hunt relates an awful curse that a 16th-century archbishop cast upon the place: it ran to more than a thousand words and finally declared that the souls of the local miscreants should be condemned to the deepest pit of hell, their bodies to be torn apart by dogs, swine and wild beasts.

Of course Hunt does not blame Helm for all this, but the wind does seem to have a baleful influence upon people, even now. He never experienced it for himself, diligently though he tried, tramping the high fells in search of it and miserably camping out, but his description of the experience is sufficiently vivid. It seems to me that the whole of Helmland is blown through with scoundrels and demons.

Less baleful, thank goodness, seems the influence of Foehn, which the novelist Hermann Hesse once described as the south announcing news of spring to the snowbound north. It is a warm wind (katabatic, Hunt helpfully explains, meaning that it blows downslope, not anabatically), and although it is said to cause migraines and depressions, it is also associated with clear skies and warmth. It sounds an ambiguous sort of wind. Our author starts his walk through its realm in Zurich in late March. He hopes to catch the wind doing what Hesse said it did, and he gives us some classic travel-book stuff on the way (‘flocks of sheep clanged their bells in a satisfyingly Alpine way’). When he gets to Liechtenstein he finds an entire exhibition devoted to Foehn. ‘We say’, announce its curators fondly, ‘that Foehn is the Oldest Man of Liechtenstein.’ This lively exhibition seems to reveal a different sort of attitude to the wind from anything Helm inspires in the bitter Pennines – more considerate, more affectionate perhaps. As Hunt walks on, though, he finds that while his front is growing warmer, his back is getting cold, and I take that to demonstrate that Foehn is a two-faced sort of wind.

It apparently is responsible for an illness of its own – Föhnkrankheit (‘Foehn-sickness’). Citizens complain of wind-induced depressions, anxieties and headaches. Farm animals grow fretful when Foehn blows and schoolchildren become uncontrollable. Hunt saw for himself a horse ‘excitedly’ performing ‘a small dance in its field’, and took this to mean that Foehn was on its way. When he told one elderly citizen that he was hoping to experience the wind for himself, the old boy scowled, tapped out his pipe on his trouser leg and simply said schlecht (‘bad’).

When our author did at last encounter Foehn in person, as it were, sure enough it was an ambiguous fulfilment. The energy of its gusts was evidently thrilling: ‘Now that I had found the wind, I had to follow it.’ But with Foehn, he says, came a powerful sensation: ‘Melodrama was everywhere: in the lake, the trees, the grass, the birds, the mountains, the sky, the light.’ He was, he says, ‘worn ragged from the struggle … I had come a long way to find the wind, but now for the first time … I had the strong sensation of wanting it to stop.’

Ah, but Hunt’s fourth wind (I will get to the third one later) is the Mistral, and we all know that one. The very name whispers holiday, art and the warm south. Van Gogh, Hunt tells us, painted his Summer Evening specifically because the Mistral was blowing through the Midi that day. ‘Aren’t we seeking intensity of thought’, Van Gogh asked a friend, ‘rather than tranquillity of touch?’ Intensity is evidently a hallmark of the Mistral. Both the French and the Spanish have warships named after it. Van Gogh himself, of course, eventually went mad.

Hunt knew all about the Mistral when he began his exploratory walk at Valence, where the wind is popularly supposed to start, and he had no difficulty in finding it for himself. It hit him in the face the moment he went out, and all around him, he tells us, passers-by ‘walked at forty-five-degree stoops, their hair-styles heading south’. Was this indeed the Mistral? he asked one of them. The reply was definitive: ‘Oui … This is the place with the most wind in France.’

He need not have asked. Throughout his stay in Provence, the Mistral was boisterously and proudly with him, and everyone talked about it. It used to be called ‘the idiot wind’, he learned. In the town of Orange in 2004 it blew for sixteen days without stopping, and it regularly blows there for one in three days throughout the year. ‘It makes us nervous – angry, even. Yes, it makes us angry! He enjoys this! He likes the passion! Me, I hate it.’ It had lately changed its blowing patterns, some said, while others suggested that in the law courts judges sentence more leniently if the Mistral is blowing hard.

One connecting theme of Hunt’s book is the subject of madness and its supposed links with particular winds. Van Gogh spent a year at Arles in Provence and painted two hundred pictures there – scenes all distinguished, Hunt suggests, by ‘the restlessness of the air’. Van Gogh himself called the Mistral merciless and wicked, but he loved the clear light of it, and it was not in Mistral country but in northern France where in the end he shot himself.

Nick Hunt reads from his new book at the launch at Stanford’s bookshop, London on 6 September 2017

I have left to the end Hunt’s second Wind, the Bora, because it is the one I have personally experienced, and because it seems to me the one most dramatically associated with a particular city. The Bora is a terrific climactic phenomenon that periodically storms down the mountainous coastline of the Adriatic and bursts through gaps in the highlands to fall upon places on the coast. Hunt calls it the ‘enfant terrible of the Adriatic’, and at its worst it can reach hurricane strength.

The Bora is intimately associated with Trieste, a city of tangled nationality, mingled fortunes and pungent character. I have known the place myself for seventy years and have written about it often, but until Hunt’s book reached me I had never heard of the Bora Museum, which is in a back street near the docks and contains 150 bottled winds from the four corners of the world.
Trieste and the Bora have become almost synonymous and they are proud of each other.

Everyone in the city has tales to tell of the wild and boisterous Bora, its rolling over of trams, its stripping of roofs and all its extravagant goings-on – such a contrast from the sometimes melancholy suggestiveness of the city itself. The Bora is fundamental to the self-image of Trieste. There is a street named in honour of it, artists repeatedly celebrate it, you can buy comic postcards of it and local historians like to claim that a nearby battle fought under its influence in AD 394 led directly to the fall of the Roman Empire. I forget exactly why.

I can myself testify that the Bora has the usual deleterious wind effects, including odd sensations of desolation or enervation. Nevertheless, after finishing this fascinating work, it seemed to me that the Bora is the happiest and jolliest of all Hunt’s Winds, the only one, perhaps, with a sense of humour.

Where the Wild Winds Are is full to the brim with learning, entertainment, description, scientific fact and conjectural fiction. It is travel writing in excelsis, and if I have judged it to be too long, that is perhaps because I have had enough of the genre itself. Hunt’s own summing-up of the whole venture expresses it better than I can, anyway. He says that he and his senses have been washed, scoured, scrubbed, frozen, heated, pummelled, pounded, downcast, uplifted and animated by the Winds.

And so, in a way, have mine, by reading his book.

Buy Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to Provence
By Nick Hunt
Nicholas Brearley Publishing 258pp

Advertisements

Jaap Scholten talks about Comrade Baron

Dutch writer Jaap Scholten knows a good story when he hears one. In the early 1990s, when his Hungarian wife’s grandmother began telling him about life before communism, he was entranced. This was the beginning of the road to writing “Comrade Baron: A Journey Through the Vanishing World of the Transylvanian Aristocracy,” Scholten’s first work of non-fiction and the first to be published in English, launched May 5th.

“I have enjoyed this book so much – such a great tale, with brilliant original research and source material, and so many stories, tragic, humiliating, painful, yet all engrossing and highly readable” Petroc Trelawny, BBC presenter and journalist.

“This is a classic in the lines of Patrick Leigh-Fermor and it should be on the shelves of anyone interested in Mitteleuropa.” Norman Stone, Professor of Modern History, Oxford.

You can buy Comrade Baron: A Journey Through the Vanishing World of the Transylvanian Aristocracy here.

The launch event for the book, hosted by Petroc Trelawney will take place on Wednesday 4 May 2016 at 7pm at the Hungarian Cultural Centre, 10 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7NA. Attendance at the event is free but booking is required on bookings@hungary.org.uk.

Comrade Baron: A Journey Through the Vanishing World of the Transylvanian Aristocracy by Jaap Scholten

baronI am very excited about this and I know that some you will be too as you have asked about it on many occasions.

Comrade Baron A journey through the vanishing world of the Transylvanian aristocracy, is written by Jaap Scholten and will be published for the first time in English on 5 May 2016. The book was winner of the Libris History Prize 2011 and shortlisted for the Bob den Uyl Prize for best travel book 2011.

Comrade Baron will be launched at an event, hosted by BBC presenter, Petroc Trelawny, at the Hungarian Cultural Centre, London, on 4 th May. A best-seller in The Netherlands with more than 30,000 copies sold, Comrade Baron has been translated into French, Hungarian and Romanian. An extraordinary, passionate and important work, Comrade Baron is “in part, an oral history of a group we know little about, in part the account of a journey through one of the most beautiful and mysterious regions of Europe and in part a record of a Dutchman’s impressions on finding himself in an extraordinary milieu in the company of some exceptional families.”

In the darkness of the early morning of 3 March 1949, practically all of the Transylvanian aristocracy were arrested in their beds and loaded onto trucks. That same day the Romanian Workers’ Party was pleased to announce the successful deportation and dispossession of all large landowners. Communism demanded the destruction of these ultimate class enemies. Taken away with just the clothes they stood up in, what happened to these once mighty families? Their stories, as told first-hand in this fascinating and enlightening book, are ones of hardship and fear but also of determination, solidarity, family tradition, resilience and indomitable spirit…

Jaap Scholten lives in Budapest, which is where, in 2006, he first heard about the nocturnal mass deportation of the Transylvanian nobility. Fascinated by their plight, he determined to track down as many of the older members of the former aristocracy as he could, recording their stories before they were lost forever. His journey took him the length and breadth of Transylvania (a magical land that comes to vivid life through descriptions in the book), to apartment blocks, slums and ruined castles, and brought him face-to-face with a group of rare and fascinating families with an extraordinary tale to tell.

Supported by a selection of black and white photographs and told through poignant and illuminating first-hand conversations, Comrade Baron is their story – from the days that preceded communism to after the communists came to power and through to the modern day.

Grand houses were exchanged for homes in cellars, attics, laundry rooms and sculleries and pleasure-seeking lifestyles for work in quarries, steelworks or domestic service. Interrogation was a daily occurrence and many were sent to hard labour in the Romanian gulags. Yet despite living under terrifying conditions, inflicted upon them firstly by Gheorghiu-Dej and later Ceauşescu, the aristocrats were leading a double life. Secretly gathering at night, they maintained the rituals of an older world – “they carried on kissing hands and using other formal gestures, their conversations were governed by long established rules… They met in cellars to play bridge, rummy and canasta. They read poetry aloud and made music. The older aristocrats taught the children foreign languages and gave them music lessons.” In contrast, as Jaap travels through Romania and observes the behaviour of the new Romanian elite –extravagant behaviour at parties and restaurants, driving their Mercedes and SUV’s – he recognizes what has been lost and consider how best to rebuild a country in a moral vacuum.

Jaap Scholten studied Industrial Design at the Technical University in Delft, Graphic Design at the Willem de Kooning Academy of Arts in Rotterdam (BA), and Social Anthropology at the Central European University in Budapest (MA). He is the award winning author of seven books, novels and short story collections. Comrade Baron is his first non-fiction book. Jaap has lived in Budapest since 2003. His Hungarian wife is of noble descent and distantly related to some of the families in the book.

“I have enjoyed this book so much – such a great tale, with brilliant original research and source material, and so many stories, tragic, humiliating, painful, yet all engrossing and highly readable” Petroc Trelawny, BBC presenter and journalist.

“This is a classic in the lines of Patrick Leigh-Fermor and it should be on the shelves of anyone interested in Mitteleuropa.” Norman Stone, Professor of Modern History, Oxford.

You can buy Comrade Baron: A Journey Through the Vanishing World of the Transylvanian Aristocracy here.

The launch event for the book, hosted by Petroc Trelawney will take place on Wednesday 4 May 2016 at 7pm at the Hungarian Cultural Centre, 10 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7NA. Attendance at the event is free but booking is required on bookings@hungary.org.uk.

Horatio Clare and Bill Bryson winners at Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards

Winners Bill Bryson and Horatio Clare at the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards

Winners Bill Bryson and Horatio Clare at the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards

Some disappointment for our friend Nick Hunt in the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards, the results of which were announced at an event at London’s National Liberal Club this week. The winner was Down To The Sea In Ships: Of Ageless Oceans and Modern Men, Horatio Clare’s account of the ordinary men that place their lives in extraordinary danger on container ships on the high seas.

“In selecting a winner from our wonderful shortlist, we kept in mind that one of the great litmus tests of travel writing is companionship, how much the reader relishes the company of the writer,” said prize Chair, Barnaby Rogerson. “We wanted to be led on an adventure, we wanted new doors opened, fresh horizons of inquiry unveiled, we want to be filled with wonder and enthusiasm at the dazzling riches of our world. Down To The Sea In Ships: Of Ageless Oceans and Modern Men ticked every box.”

“It is a book charged full of vim and passion,” continued Rogerson. “Filled with polished, near poetic prose, it is alert to labour as well as beauty, the loneliness of long-distance sea travel as well as the communities that form below deck, and are dissipated with each new voyage.”

Chris Schüler, outgoing Chairman of the Authors’ Club, echoed Rogerson’s words adding that “Down To The Sea In Ships: Of Ageless Oceans and Modern Men is a book entirely worthy of its place amongst the Stanford Dolman’s illustrious list of past victors. In this first year of our partnership with Stanfords, we couldn’t have hoped for a better choice from our judges to capture the essence of this vital prize – a work of true literary excellence and cultural importance.”

As winner, Clare received a cheque for £5,000 and a specially commissioned hand-made globe by master globe-makers, Lander & May.

Best-selling travel author Bill Bryson was also honoured at the Awards when he received the Edward Stanford Award for Outstanding Contribution to Travel Writing. Selected from public nominations by specialists at high street and independent bookshops, including Waterstones, Blackwell’s, Daunt Books and the Hungerford Bookshop, this is the first time the Award has been presented.

“I am hugely honoured to receive this award,” said Bryson, “particularly as it comes from booksellers, my favourite people on the whole planet.”

Tony Maher, Managing Director of Edward Stanford Limited, said “Bill’s elegant, witty and amiable prose has been entertaining readers for many years. From adventures walking the Appalachian Trail, to defining the British better than any Brit has ever managed, he has a turn of phrase at once insightful and hilarious.

“The beauty in his writing is often its brevity and sincerity; it is understatedly, unassumingly, powerful. I couldn’t be more thrilled that he is the first recipient of the Edward Stanford Award for Outstanding Contribution to Travel Writing, and commend the public and our bookselling partners on their choice.”

As well as receiving his own handmade globe trophy, Bryson’s name was inscribed on a commemorative globe which will go on permanent display at Stanfords, Covent Garden. The names of future winners will be added to the globe in due course.

Maher also announced that the 2016 Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards ceremony would move to coincide with the Stanfords Travel Writers Festival, which will take place at the Destinations Show, Olympia in February 2017.

Stanfords entered into sponsorship of the Stanford Dolman prize earlier this year, in association with the Authors’ Club and donor, Rev. Dr. Bill Dolman, doubling its funds and adding it to the newly created Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards, alongside the Edward Stanford Award for Outstanding Contribution to Travel Writing.

Buy: Down To The Sea In Ships: Of Ageless Oceans and Modern Men

Print

Nick Hunt shortlisted for Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year

award1Great news to see that Nick Hunt’s magnificent book, Walking the Woods and the Water, has been listed for the 2015 Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year. I guess there will be lots of comments about the strength of the competition but I am backing Nick to win. Let’s wish him the best of luck!

More about the award here. The Shortlist is:

The Land Where Lemons Grow: The Story of Italy and its Citrus Fruit, Helena Attlee, Penguin (Penguin Random House)

Down To The Sea In Ships: Of Ageless Oceans and Modern Men, Horatio Clare, Vintage (Penguin Random House)

Walking the Woods and the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn – A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods & the Water and The Broken Road, Nick Hunt, (Nicholas Brealey Publishing)

Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place, Philip Marsden, (Granta)

A Journey into Russia, Jens Mühling, (Haus Publishing)

Indonesia etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation, Elizabeth Pisani, (Granta)

award2

Hachette UK Buys Nicholas Brealey Publishing

Whilst I have been busy moving house over the last month, hence the absence of posts – sorry – the publishing world has moved on. Hachette UK has acquired Nicholas Brealey Publishing in a deal that includes the company’s U.S. imprints, Davies L. Black and Intercultural Press. By the end of the summer three of Brealey’s Boston-based employees–Janet Crockett, Melissa Carl and Jen Delaney–will move into Hachette Book Group USA’s Boston offices.

Nicholas Brealey is headquartered in London and is best known for its business books list. Company founder Nick Brealey will continue to manage the firm from London as part of Hachette’s John Murray Press division, which is overseen by Nick Davies. According to HBG, Hachette UK will handle sales for all Nicholas Brealey titles. In addition to its business book program, Brealey publishes travel writing and a cross-cultural list.

Jamie Hodder Williams, CEO of Hodder and Headline (John Murray Press’ parent division), said: “Nick Brealey is a brilliant publisher. His areas of specialism–global business, personal and professional development and travel writing–are also areas of specialism for Nick Davies’ team at John Murray Press. I am absolutely delighted that Nick has chosen to come to Hachette so that together we can further develop the wonderful business he has created.

Nick Brealey said: “This is splendid news for everybody and just as an example of how good the fit is – John Murray famously publish Patrick Leigh Fermor’s classic backlist whilst one of our recent travel titles is Nick Hunt’s acclaimed Walking the Woods and the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn – a perfect piece of publishing serendipity.”

Before setting up his imprint, Brealey worked at Allen & Unwin and at Simon & Schuster UK.

Nicholas Brealey joins recent Hachette UK acquisitions Constable & Robinson, Quercus (also now part of Hodder), and the educational publisher Rising Stars.

Catch up here.

Listen to Harry and Nick

Harry Bucknall, Tom Cheshyre, and and Nick Hunt at the Stanford's Travel Writing Festival

Harry Bucknall, Tom Cheshyre, and and Nick Hunt at the Stanford’s Travel Writing Festival

I know that many of you would have liked to have joined me and dozens of others as we listened in awe to Blandford Forum’s leading travel writer, Harry Bucknall, at the recent Stanford’s Travel Writing Festival. Along with our very own Nick Hunt they kept us entertained with stories of their travels across Europe.

Harry is author of Like a Tramp, Like A Pilgrim: On Foot, Across Europe to Rome, whilst Nick has written the wonderful Walking the Woods and the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn.

Like a Tramp, Like a Pilgrim

Walking the Woods and the Water
If you would like to find out what all the fuss was about you can now listen to a podcast of the event as Standford’s have put up all the talks on iTunes. Click here to listen to the deadly duo.

For more writers’ talks hit this link .