Tag Archives: An Adventure

Independent review of Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, By Artemis Cooper

I have disliked the cult of Paddy Leigh Fermor ever since reading Between the Woods and the Water, the first book of his pressed into my hands. It had won all sorts of travel awards, but seemed to chronicle a life of effortless ease moving from one country-house party to another, fuelled by intricate aristocratic connections and coloured by a frankly unbelievable glow of back-lit romance – like being trapped in a grown-up version of The Sound of Music.

By Barnaby Rogerson

First published in The Independent, 13 October 2012.

I began to question the 50 years of unstinted hero-worship accorded him by my elders and betters, alongside his irritating lack of regard for either Turks or Islam, as well as the breathless accounts of two generations of British travel-writers who have sought to measure their shadow against that of Paddy’s over a glass of ouzo on the terrace of his house overlooking the Aegean.

But, fortunately, I find myself to be totally in the wrong. Artemis Cooper’s funny, wise, learned but totally candid biography reveals Leigh Fermor (1915-2011) to be an adventurer through and through. The artifice of effortless gentility is blown away and Paddy is revealed as a much more interesting character, a fascinatingly self-made and self-educated man. He is also placed in the pantheon of literary liggers, a consummate lifelong freeloader, a prince among sponge-artists, which he paid for with his unique energy, talent and enthusiasm for song, dance, talk, memorised verse, drink and other men’s wives.

Freya Stark, describing her first meeting, left an impression of him “looking in this wine-dark sea so like a Hellenistic sea-god of a rather low period, and I do like him. He is the genuine buccaneer.” Steven Runciman complained how in his office in Athens “all the girls were love with him… and how he used to borrow money from them”. Somerset Maugham, with his customary acerbic malevolence, labelled him a “middle-class gigolo for upper-class women”. That can be balanced (not exactly contradicted) by the fond memories of an old lover: “Most men are just take, take, take – but with Paddy it’s give, give, give.”

So the first third of the biography is bowled along by an inner tension, for the reader cannot but suspect that the sexy young man who occupies the centre of the stage isn’t about to be exposed and fall very heavily from grace. Paddy consorted with the very grandest British families, at their country homes and in London, but yet had no money, no work, no home, no prospects and not much of an education, having been expelled from a number of prep schools and his second-rate public school.

Even his double-barrelled name is revealed to be a fake, one of the many deluded affectations thought up by his snobbish mother: the daughter of a prosperous Irish quarryman, unsuitably married to a brilliant scholarship boy from south London. Cooper gives us a grounding to Paddy’s adventurous life by providing occasional glimpses of the parallel middle-class story of his elder sister, Venetia.

The making of Paddy was a decision, one hungover morning, in 1933, to hang up his borrowed tail-coat and abandon the Bright Young Things, buy some army surplus clothing, catch a ferry to the Hook of Holland and start walking to Constantinople. He took just three books, a German dictionary, the Oxford Book of English Verse and a present from his mother, a copy of Horace inscribed “leave they home, O youth and seek out alien shores”.

She had lived this advice, abandoning him as a baby for four years to return to her geologist husband in India. But frustrated by her marriage and gifted with restless misdirected energies, she would return and teach Paddy to perform, while coping with her mood swings, before packing him off to an unsuitable prep school at a tender age.

Paddy loved life on the road, and all his life was genuinely fascinated by history, literature and architecture. He also had an extraordinary ear for languages, and lived with an intensity that attracted everyone he met, be it bargees giving him a lift after getting spectacularly drunk at a bar or Bohemian landlords astonished at the interest and encyclopaedic but disordered knowledge of this handsome tramp. The final making of him as a man was the love of Princess Balasha, who having been abandoned by her own husband, took Paddy off to live with her in a manor house in Moldavia.

His years in Romania with Balisha were his university, but more vivid. For here history smelled of blood, and pride in ancient chapels and mythology came alive in the spirit-possessed dances of the peasants.

Paddy only came back home in order to fight for Britain when war had been declared. Despite his ambition to serve in the Irish Guards, he was rightly judged “quite useless as a regimental officer but in other capacities will serve the army well”. Those capacities, most especially as an SOE liaison officer with the Cretan resistance, have deservedly become legendary. Paddy’s charm, his infectious delight in company, his ear for language, his physical strength and bravery, were matched by something much, much rarer in war: an innate sense of empathy, humanity and compassion.

The final touch to his birth as a writer was the unconditional love and financial support of the photographer Joan Rayner. She could cope with his fits of depression, his absences, his habitual philandering and was his travelling companion, editor and occasional restrainer. She was the enabling hero of the second half of Paddy’s life, who shared his love of Greece and the open road, and provided the supporting mother and father that Paddy had so completely lacked as a child.

Paddy for his part would try to give back to the world all the many gifts he had received as a man: his books on Greece, first and foremost, but also by entertaining a stream of visitors, holidaying friends, translating for Cretan colleagues, denouncing British policy over Cyprus, writing reviews and forewords, and encouraging young writers. As Dilys Powell wrote, “a wandering scholar but with a difference; unlike the celebrated travellers of the past, he has become part of the country he describes”. And since my reading of Cooper’s page-turning biography, he has acquired yet another fan.

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.


‘Biography is dirty work; someone has to do it’

Mariella Frostrup

Listen to Paddy’s biographer Artemis Cooper on the BBC Radio 4 programme Open Book discussing the art and challenges of writing a biography, and of course the writing of Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure.

A very interesting conversation between Artemis, presenter Mariella Frostrup, and the prolific biographer Hunter Davis. Their discussion starts at 11 min 30 seconds after the first package with Michael Chabron.

Listen online here

Download the MP3 by clicking here.

If you have difficulties go to the Open Book download page and look for the October 14 2012 episode.

The ultimate pilgrimage to Paddy’s house in the Mani?

Paddy with Goat! Photo by Joan Leigh Fermor, from the Trustees of the National Library of Scotland

If you wanted to make a trip to see Paddy’s house at Kardamyli and to visit the wider Mani this may be the one for you. In the company of Paddy’s biographer, Artemis Cooper, this six-day tour will take in Mistra, Monemvasia, and Paddy’s house in Kardamyli, as well as other sites in the Mani.

This tour has been arranged by Art Tours (sponsors of the Royal Geographic Society event about Paddy 24 Oct) and is designed to celebrate Paddy’s life, whilst exploring the dazzling, rocky region he loved best in Greece, and where he and Joan lived for over forty years.

It is a celebration of his life and travels and is planned to run from 7-12 May 2013. Artemis will bring a unique insight into Paddy’s life and personality, and to cover the wider history of the region she will be joined by art historian James McDonaugh.

If you would like to know more please download this pdf or contact Edward Gates at Art Tours Ltd on +44 (0)207 449 9707 or by email edward[at]arttoursltd.com

Guardian review of Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Patrick Leigh Fermor’s legendary life is that it lasted as long as it did. He died in 2011 at the age of 96, having survived enough assaults on his existence to make Rasputin seem like a quitter. He was car-bombed by communists in Greece, knifed in Bulgaria, and pursued by thousands of Wehrmacht troops across Crete after kidnapping the commander of German forces on the island. Malaria, cancer and traffic accidents failed to claim him.

By Robert Macfarlane

The Guardian, Friday 12 October 2012.

He was the target of a long-standing Cretan blood vendetta, which did not deter him from returning to the island, though assassins waited with rifles and binoculars outside the villages he visited. He was beaten into a bloody mess by a gang of pink-coated Irish huntsmen after he asked if they buggered their foxes. He smoked 80 cigarettes a day for 30 years, and often set his bed-clothes ablaze after falling asleep with a lit fag in hand. He drank epically, and would “drown hangovers like kittens” in breakfast pints of beer and vodka. As a young SOE agent in Cairo in 1943, the centrepiece of his Christmas lunch was a turkey stuffed with Benzedrine pills; at the age of 69 he swam the Hellespont – and was nearly swept away by the current.

Yes, Leigh Fermor was an insurer’s nightmare, an actuary’s case-study, and his longevity was preposterous. He might best be imagined as a mixture of Peter Pan, Forrest Gump, James Bond and Thomas Browne. He was elegant as a cat, darkly handsome, unboreable, curious, fearless, fortunate, blessed with a near-eidetic memory, and surely one of the great English prose stylists of his generation.

In 1933, aged 18, he set off to walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, passing through a Europe on the brink of calamity. Decades later, he published two books recounting his wander through that enshadowed land, A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1985). Both were instant classics, celebrated for their evocation of a since-shattered world, and for the tendrils and curlicues of their language. In between that walk and those books, Paddy (as he was mostly known) was the lover of a Romanian princess, took part in a royalist cavalry charge in Greece, parachuted into occupied Crete to co-ordinate the resistance, spent months in silent retreat in monasteries, became the most famous English Hellenophile since Byron, was played by Dirk Bogarde in a Powell and Pressburger film, and transformed travel writing.

He lived an inspirationally heterodox life that combined adventure and reflection in unique measure. His story has hitherto been known only in parts, and mostly through the refractive prism of his own tellings. At last his biography has been detailed in full, in Artemis Cooper’s tender and excellent book. Reading it is an odd experience: there is the melancholy of having one’s hero humanised, joined with renewed astonishment at the miracle he made of himself. Continue reading

You can still win some wonderful prizes in Heywood Hill’s Paddy competition

As many will know, Paddy set off on his European odyssey from Shepherd Market in Mayfair. His biographer, Artemis Cooper, has discovered that Paddy and Joan lived above Heywood Hill’s bookshop in Shepherd Market after the war. He kept an account there for Balasha Cantacuzene, the Romanian princess and great love of his youth, so that she could buy books whenever she wanted. He remained a lifelong customer of Heywood Hill.

This wonderful bookshop which I visited last week is offering you all the chance to win some amazing prizes in a draw to celebrate the publication on 11 October of Artemis Cooper’s biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure. If you order a copy through them you will be automatically entered to win:

1st Prize

Signed First Edition of A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor
Original John Craxton lithograph from A Poet’s Eye 1944
Watercolour of a View From The Library at Kardamyli by Isobel Brigham
Magnum of Laurent-Perrier Brut NV
£100 Heywood Hill voucher

You may well have already ordered a copy of the book at Amazon or some such place, but you know that you will need a second copy to give as a present to Aunty Mable, so why not order a further copy from Heywood Hill and have a chance of winning?

The first edition is worth in the region of £500 alone and was donated by John Murray, let alone a original Craxton!

The Heywood Hill Prize Draw closes on the evening of 29 November when the winner will be drawn from a hat by Artemis Cooper.

To order your copy and to enter The Heywood Hill Prize Draw 2012, contact them at:

10 Curzon Street, London W1J 5HH
+44 20 7629 0647


More details available on the Heywood Hill website.


Everyone fell in love with Paddy Leigh Fermor

Attracted to the man: ‘It wasn’t a sex thing,’ says the biographer Artemis Cooper, ‘Patrick Leigh Fermor was so curious, kind and funny’ Photo: Martin Pope

Like all those who met Patrick Leigh Fermor, his biographer Artemis Cooper found the travel writer and war hero utterly beguiling.

By Allison Pearson

First published in the Daily Telegraph 28 Sep 2012

It’s not usual to fall in love with an 83-year-old man when you are 37, but then Patrick Leigh Fermor was not your usual 83-year-old. It was 1998, and I had been sent to interview Leigh Fermor, the legendary travel writer and war hero. He was returning to Crete, where he had helped the resistance. Not much caring for either travel writing or wars, I was bemused by the assignment. I pictured myself having to look after some dear old boy and trying to get a few dusty stories out of him. Little did I know.

Two days later, I had drunk more in 48 hours than in the previous 20 years, and I think I spent large chunks of our delightful if inconclusive interview asleep in a bar under the Leigh Fermor jacket. I then found myself stumbling up a Cretan hillside with the “dear old boy” ahead, leaping from rock to rock, all the while telling me stories about Greek mythology, Dylan Thomas and Lady Diana Cooper. Did I know her? No. “Absolutely charming. And look at this flower over here, there’s this fascinating thing about its name. Have you ever been to Constantinople?” No, I… “You must be terribly hungry.” Yes, I… “Well, in the war we used to eat grass and snails, and the astonishing thing is…”

Occasionally, my handsome guide would break into song or poetry. By the time we reached a village, and tucked into a meal of melting lamb straight from a spit, I was exhausted but besotted. There was no prospect of getting that evasive, erudite faun to answer my questions, but I didn’t care. I have rarely felt happier. I had been Paddied.

“In Paddy’s company everyone felt livelier, funnier and more entertaining, and the gift never deserted him,” writes Artemis Cooper in her splendid new biography, Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure. The book is a primer for those poor souls yet to encounter his work and a valuable, decoding manual for the multitude who believe that Leigh Fermor’s trilogy about his youthful walk from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul – A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods and the Water and the long-awaited third volume, The Broken Road (to be published next year) – marks one of the high points of 20th-century English prose.

Artemis Cooper laughs when I tell her my Paddy-crush story (he was always Paddy, never Patrick). Cooper was 17 when she developed a crush on him herself (he was a friend of her father, John Julius Norwich). Paddy was in his fifties. “I thought he was amazing. He had what the Greeks call leventeia – the jokes, the physical courage, the sheer joy of life. What he did to you, he could do that to anyone, both men and women,” she says. “It wasn’t a sex thing. It was the fact he was so curious about everyone, so kind and funny. And devastatingly attractive.”

If it were possible to be libidinous towards the whole world, then Paddy Leigh Fermor was. It wasn’t just a sex thing – though there were lovers aplenty, as Cooper was unsurprised to discover during her research. It was also a lust for experience that began when he was boarded as a baby with a Northamptonshire farmer’s family (his parents were in India). For four years, little Paddy ran wild in the fields, a state of “complete and unalloyed bliss” that ended when his mother (“a beautiful stranger”) returned to England and he was sent to a series of schools, from which he was soon expelled.

Cooper believes that Paddy spent the rest of his life pursuing the freedom and joy of his infancy. Her first chapter is called Neverland, and there was a touch of Peter Pan about her subject. Paddy and his wife, the photographer Joan Rayner, never had children. Cooper points out that Joan, like several women he was drawn to, was older, “a Wendy figure” who organised – and subsidised – his life so the boy wonder could go on flying. The most shocking story in the book comes when Joan, after dinner in Cyprus one night, hands Paddy some cash saying, “Here you are, that should be enough if you want to find a girl.” But more of that later.

I am talking to Artemis Cooper, who is married to the historian Antony Beevor, at the kitchen table of their house in Fulham. Looking much younger than her 59 years, Cooper is a descendant of the famous beauty and Leigh Fermor friend, Diana Cooper. She has her granny’s bluebell eyes as well as a dreamy look that belies a biographer’s forensic intelligence. Was it daunting, trying to tell the life story of a man who had told that story so brilliantly himself?

“It was sooo daunting,” she sighs. “Paddy had this enormous reserve, which he covered with a torrent of dazzling talk. And you think, ‘How am I going to get the other side of the waterfall, into the cave behind?’ ”

Cooper enjoyed many face-to-face interviews with him before his death, at the age of 96, in June last year. But such meetings could be infuriatingly unproductive. Leigh Fermor came from a generation that viewed talking about oneself with the deepest suspicion. Paddy never dwindled into anecdotage – he was still lapping up fresh stories in his eighties – but Cooper says he was happiest refining formal set-pieces rather than delving into more personal stuff. “There are certain things he loves talking about,” she smiles, “like that story about kidnapping the German general on Crete, but then I ask about his feelings and he completely clams up.”

She still speaks of Paddy in the present tense, and I understand why. It’s hard to accept all that springer-spaniel energy and the fabulous library of a mind are gone, and not writing at home in Kardamyli, the house that the Leigh Fermors built in Greece after decades of nomadic travels.

The incredible Paddy story about kidnapping a German general has the unlikely virtue of being true (see the Telegraph’s Review section tomorrow). It was immortalised in the film Ill Met By Moonlight. Paddy was played by Dirk Bogarde, though, for my drachma, the original was even more dashing, looking like Errol Flynn – who was, Cooper’s biography reveals, an old mucker of Paddy’s. Of course he was. Who wasn’t?

It was another heroic tale – swimming the Hellespont, love affair with a princess – to add to the Paddy mythology. Readers of A Time of Gifts have often wondered how the author, who was in his sixties when he sat down to write it, could possibly remember in such detail a journey he had made when he was barely 18. Artemis nods: “I said to Paddy, ‘Look, there seems to be this discrepancy here between two versions of how you got across the great Hungarian plain. In one version, you’re riding and in the other there’s no horse at all.’” She says Paddy admitted to “having smudged the facts a little. I did ride a fair amount, so I decided to put myself on horseback for a bit. I felt the reader might be getting bored of me just plodding along. You won’t let on, will you?”

She rolls her eyes. “Oh, no, I won’t LET ON. I’m only your biographer, for heavens sake!”

In the book, Cooper charitably calls this “just one instance of the interplay of Paddy’s memory and his imagination”, although playing fast and loose with the facts would be another interpretation. No matter. A Time of Gifts becomes more, not less, of a tale as you start to wonder how tall it is.

Knowing Paddy as a friend was sometimes a constraint on her probing. “I didn’t want to upset him. He would never talk about the women in his life.” Eventually, she deduced that whenever he said of a woman, “we were terrific pals”, he had been to bed with her.

The book reveals love affairs with Ricki Huston (ex-wife of John, the director) and Lyndall Passerini Hopkinson (daughter of Antonia White). “They aren’t necessarily the most interesting of his love affairs, there were loads of others; they just happened to be the two I had letters for on both sides.” She smiles. “Considering Paddy’s success with the ladies, it’s amazing that no children came out of the woodwork!”

Indeed, the Leigh Fermors had an open relationship. Joan announced she wasn’t going to have sex with Paddy any more but “she didn’t expect him to remain celibate”. That was many years into their loving relationship, but still a fair while before they actually married in 1968.

Cooper worries about what Paddy would have thought of the book. “I think he’d be horrified by certain bits. Horrified that I’ve broken faith with him and divulged secrets.”

I don’t agree. In the final weeks of his life, Artemis Cooper read A Time of Gifts to Paddy. The body may have been failing, but that great writing brain was still refining, still asking for a “but” to be changed to a “yet”. When he died, she raced to his side. “I had half an hour with him before the undertaker arrived. I found a copy of A Time of Gifts and I put it in his hands.” She is crying now. We are both crying.

On the front of Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure is the photograph of the most glorious, sensitive, scholarly and dashing man it’s possible to imagine. Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover.

‘Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure’ by Artemis Cooper is available to purchase here.

Related article:

Media coverage and updated events for Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure by Artemis Cooper

Media coverage and updated events for Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure by Artemis Cooper

Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure b yArtemis Cooper

For those who want to catch an early glimpse of Paddy’s biography you will need to get down to the newsagent or on-line this weekend as the carnival is beginning.

Publicity kicks off this week. There will be an interview with Artemis in the Daily Telegraph tomorrow 28 September, and an extract in the Daily Telegraph Weekend section on Saturday 29 September. On the same day there will be a PLF feature in the Guardian travel pages (will that actually be a LPF feature?), with heaps more to come including a big Financial Times Magazine feature, Guardian Review feature, BBC Radio 4 Open Book interview, and a full programme of events between now and December, which you can download here. This is updated but you will need to check all details. I cannot be held responsible for errors or omissions.

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

You can buy the book here.

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

Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure – Talks and presentations by Artemis Cooper

We are now only about six weeks away from the publication on 11 October of An Adventure, the biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor by his friend and literary executor, Artemis Cooper. Personally I am very excited and there are a number of events planned which will build up to the day and beyond.

Artemis will be speaking at a range of locations and signing her book. Entry to many of the events is by ticket, but some offer a refund of the ticket price off a purchase of the hardback book.

See the attached pdf for details which I will update as further information becomes available. This includes links to websites. I cannot be held responsible for errors or omissions.

An Adventure – talks by Artemis Cooper v3

Also you can visit Artemis’ new Facebook page here.

To pre-order or purchase your copy of An Adventure click here.

An opportunity to win some wonderful prizes in Heywood Hill’s Paddy competition

As many will know, Paddy set off on his European odyssey from Shepherd Market. His biographer Artemis Cooper has discovered that Paddy lived above Heywood Hill immediately after the war. He kept an account there for Balasha Cantacuzene, the Romanian princess and great love of his youth, so that she could buy books whenever she wanted. He remained a lifelong customer of Heywood Hill.

To celebrate the publication in October the biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor : An Adventure, Heywood Hill are running a Prize draw. If you order a copy through them you will be automatically entered to win:

1st Prize
Signed First Edition of A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor
Original John Craxton lithograph from A Poet’s Eye 1944
Watercolour of a View From The Library at Kardamyli by Isobel Brigham
Magnum of Laurent-Perrier Brut NV
£100 Heywood Hill voucher

To order your copy and to enter The Heywood Hill Prize Draw 2012, contact them at:

10 Curzon Street, London W1J 5HH
+44 20 7629 0647


More details available on their website.

Worldwide availability of An Adventure by Artemis Cooper

A short update to follow-up the question asked by many of you unlucky enough not to be resident in this wet and sceptered isle; will An Adventure be published elsewhere other than in the UK in October?

The answer is yes, and certainly for the following countries. I am informed that it will appear in bookshops in Canada, Germany, France, Greece, New Zealand (especially for you Maggie), and of course Australia. In the US it will be published by the New York Review of Books.

One would imagine that copies may only be available in English at this stage. I will keep you all updated.

To pre-order or purchase your copy of An Adventure click here.

An Adventure – Artemis Cooper’s biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor now available for pre-order

The biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor, entitled “An Adventure” by Artemis Cooper and published by John Murray is now available for pre-order at Amazon. It should be available on 11 October 2o12.

I respect the comments of those who recently said that I should not link to Amazon for a range of reasons and not just because of the potential impact to independent booksellers. I could link to other places but how does one choose? Also Amazon is very convenient for some people.

If you are a bookseller and wish to promote your site/shop I would be very happy if you added a comment here. Readers could then make a choice about order location.

An Adventure

Artemis Cooper

Word has reached me that the biography of Paddy by Artemis Cooper is now completed and is going through the final editorial stages. The much anticipated book will be published by John Murray and is likely to hit the bookshops in October.

Artemis is Paddy’s literary executor and a good friend. Her father, the historian John Julius Norwich being a friend of Paddy’s for many years. She has had exclusive access to Paddy’s archive and will be able to fill in many of the gaps in his life story, including more details about the last stage of his 1934 journey through Bulgaria, Romania, and Thrace to Constantinople. We are all hopeful that her next project will be the completion of ‘Volume Three’, the book that Paddy was unable to complete despite attempts over many years.

I hope to bring you more news about the biography, which will be called ‘An Adventure’, in the coming months.

To pre-order or purchase your copy click here.