Tag Archives: Artemis Cooper

The Broken Road – book cover artwork

The Broken Road book cover

The Broken Road book cover

A message from Artemis Cooper who is preparing Vol Three – The Broken Road – with Colin Thubron.

Here is the art work for ‘The Broken Road’, the final volume of Paddy’s great walk which comes out on 12 September… it is by Ed Kluz, a great choice of artist by John Murray. Ed is very much in the English pastoral and Romantic tradition, like John Craxton who did all the covers for Paddy’s books. I know Paddy would have LOVED it.

Available to pre-order from Amazon The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos

At Home in the World

Paddy at the house in Kardamyli. Photo by Joan Leigh Fermor, Courtesy the New York Review of Books

War hero, self-made scholar and the greatest travel writer of his generation, Patrick Leigh Fermor lived on a remote peninsula in the Peloponnese until his death in 2011. From a humble house he built himself, now being restored by an Athens museum, he explored Greece’s romantic landscape—and forged a profound link to its premodern past.

by Lawrence Osborne

First published in the Wall Street Journal Magazine 27 September 2012.

A famous anecdote, told by Patrick Leigh Fermor himself in his book Mani, relates how on one furnace-hot evening in the town of Kalamata, in the remote region for which that book is named, Fermor and his dinner companions picked up their table and carried it nonchalantly and fully dressed into the sea. It is a few years after World War II, and the English are still an exotic rarity in this part of Greece. There they sit until the waiter arrives with a plate of grilled fish, looks down at the displaced table and calmly—with an unflappable Greek stoicism—wades into the water to serve dinner. Soon the diners are surrounded by little boats and out come the bouzouki and the wine. A typical Fermor evening has been consummated, though driving through Kalamata today one has trouble imagining the scene being repeated. The somniferous hamlet of the far-off 1950s is now filled with cocktail bars and volleyball nets. The ’50s, let alone the war, seems like another millennium.

Fermor, or “Paddy,” as many educated Greeks knew him, died last year at the age of 96. He is remembered not only as the greatest travel writer of his generation, or even his century, but as a hero of the Battle of Crete, in which he served as a commando in the British special forces.

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“For as long as he is read and remembered,” Christopher Hitchens wrote upon Fermor’s death, “the ideal of the hero will be a real one.” Hitchens placed Fermor at the center of a brilliant English generation of “scholar warriors,” men forged on the battlefields of the mid-century: This included poet John Cornford, martyred in the Spanish Civil War, and the scholar and writer Xan Fielding, a close personal friend of Fermor’s who was also active in Crete and Egypt during the war, and a guest of the aforementioned dinner party. When Fermor said Fielding was “a gifted, many-sided, courageous and romantic figure, at the same time civilized and bohemian,” he could have been describing himself.

But Fermor was a man apart. Born in 1915 into the Anglo-Irish upper class—the son of a famous geologist—Fermor, literally, walked away from his social class and its expectations almost at once. At 18, he traveled by foot across Europe to Constantinople—a feat later recorded in his books A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. In the ’30s he traveled through Greece, mastering its language and exploring its landscapes with meticulous attention. He fell in love with a Romanian noblewoman, Balasha Cantacuzene (a deliciously Byzantine name), and the outbreak of war found him at her family estate in Moldavia.

Because of his knowledge of Greek, the British posted him to Albania. He then joined the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and was subsequently parachuted into German-occupied Crete. In 1944 Fermor and a small group of Cretan partisans and British commandos kidnapped General Heinrich Kreipe, commander of the German forces on the island, and drove him in his staff car through enemy lines disguised in German uniforms. (They would have been shot on the spot if discovered.) Kreipe was later spirited away to British Egypt, but as they were crossing Mount Ida, a legendary scene unfolded. Fermor described it himself:

“Looking across the valley at [the] flashing mountain-crest, the general murmured to himself: ‘Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte.’ [See how Mount Soracte stands out white with deep snow.] It was one of the [Horace odes] I knew! I continued from where he had broken off… The general’s blue eyes had 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. As though, for a long moment, the war had ceased to exist. We had both drunk at the same fountains long before; and things were different between us for the rest of our time together.”

After the war, now decorated for his heroism, Fermor settled in Greece. He and his wife, Joan Rayner, a well-traveled Englishwoman whom he’d met in Cairo, built a house just outside the village of Kardamyli, a few miles down the jagged coast from Kalamata, in the wild and remote Mani. It was a place that, even in the early ’60s, almost no one visited. “Homer’s Greece,” as he put it admiringly.

“It was unlike any village I had seen in Greece,” he wrote in Mani. “These houses, resembling small castles built of golden stone with medieval-looking pepper-pot turrets, were topped by a fine church. The mountains rushed down almost to the water’s edge with, here and there among the whitewashed fishermen’s houses near the sea, great rustling groves of calamus reed ten feet high and all swaying together in the slightest whisper of wind.” It was timeless. Kardamyli, indeed, is one of the seven cities that Agamemnon offers a scowling Achilles as a reward for his rejoining the paralyzed Achaean army at Troy in The Iliad.

“Not a house in sight,” Fermor later wrote of his adopted view, in a letter to his friend the Duchess of Devonshire, “nothing but the two rocky headlands, an island a quarter of a mile out to sea with a ruined chapel, and a vast expanse of glittering water, over which you see the sun setting till its last gasp.”

The house, still largely untouched from when Fermor lived there, was bequeathed to the Benaki Museum in Athens. As I walked through it alone during a visit there this spring, it reminded me in some ways of Ian Fleming’s Goldeneye in Jamaica, a spartan but splendidly labyrinthine retreat devoted to both a productive life and to the elegant sunset cocktail hour. In one bedroom stood a set of Shakespeare volumes with painstakingly hand-penned spines; on a wall, a painted Buddhist mandala. In the living room there were faded wartime photographs of Fermor on horseback, armed and dressed like a Maniot. The whole house felt like a series of monastic cells, their piety replaced by a worldly curiosity, an endless warren of blackened fireplaces, bookshelves and windows framing the sea.

Fleming and Fermor were, perhaps predictably, close friends. Fleming’s Live and Let Die freely quotes from Fermor’s book about the Caribbean, The Traveller’s Tree. It was Fermor who made Fleming (and, of course, Bond) long for Jamaica. But where Fleming retreated to Jamaica to knock out six-week thrillers, Fermor lived in his landscape more deeply; he explored with dogged rigor its ethnography, its dialects, its mystical lore. His books are not “travel” in the usual sense. They are explorations of places known over years, fingered like venerable books and therefore loved with precision, with an amorous obsession for details.

Fermor led an active social life, and the house in Mani, however remote, was a place that attracted many friends, literary luminaries and even admiring strangers over the years. His circle included the historian John Julius Norwich and his daughter, Artemis Cooper; the literary critic Cyril Connolly; the Greek painter Nikos Ghika; and the writer Bruce Chatwin. In an obituary for Fermor in 2011, The New York Times put it thus: “The couple’s tables, in Mani and in Worcestershire, were reputed to be among the liveliest in Europe. Guests, both celebrities and local people, came to dine with them. The journalist and historian Max Hastings called Mr. Leigh Fermor ‘perhaps the most brilliant conversationalist of his time, wearing his literacy light as wings, brimming over with laughter.’ ”

Standing on Fermor’s terrace, with its fragments of classical sculpture and its vertiginous view of a turquoise cove of stones, I felt as if the inhabitants of 40 years ago had momentarily gone inside for a siesta and would soon be out for a dusk-lit gin and tonic. It seemed a place designed for small, intimate groups that could pitch their talk against a vast sea and an even vaster sky.

It also had something neat and punctilious about it. While sitting there, I could not help remembering that Fermor had once sternly corrected Fleming for a tiny factual error in his novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Didn’t Fleming know that Bond could not possibly be drinking a half bottle of Pol Roger? It was the only champagne, Fermor scolded, never sold in half bottles. It was exactly the sort of false note that Paddy never missed, and that the creator of Bond should not have missed either. Truth for Fermor lay in the details, and his books show the same straining eye for the small fact, the telling minutiae.

I noticed, meanwhile, a handsomely stocked drinks cabinet inside the house, in the cool, cavernously whitewashed living room lined with books—the selection dominated by a fine bottle of Nonino grappa. On the mantelpiece stood a card with the telephone numbers of his closest friends, Artemis Cooper (whose biography of Fermor is being published this month) and Deborah Mitford, later the Duchess of Devonshire.

Fermor had been at the heart of many aristocratic circles, including those of the notorious Mitford sisters. The youngest of the Mitfords—”Debo,” as she was known—became Fermor’s lifelong intimate and correspondent. Their polished and witty letters have recently been published in the book In Tearing Haste.

He was a frequent visitor at her country estate, Chatsworth, and the two were platonically entwined through their letters well into old age. They were, however, strange epistolary bedfellows. The Duchess hated books (“Quelle dread surprise,” she writes upon learning that a famous French writer is coming to dinner), while Fermor was the very definition of the dashing, encyclopedic gypsy scholar. In one letter the Duchess boasts that Evelyn Waugh gave her a signed copy of his latest book, which turned out to have blank pages throughout; he knew she hated reading. But the gardening-mad Duchess slyly understood all her correspondent’s erudite gags.

Their gossip was gentle and civilized, and underneath it flowed a kind of unrequited love. In his first letter of the collection, written in 1955 from Nikos Ghika’s house on Hydra, Fermor proposes having himself turned into a fish by a young local witch and swimming all the way from Greece to Lismore Castle in Ireland, where the Duchess was staying.

“I’m told,” he writes, “there’s a stream that flows under your window, up which I propose to swim and, with a final effort, clear the sill and land on the carpet…But please be there. Otherwise there is all the risk of filleting, meunière, etc., and, worst of all, au bleu…”

The Mani, meanwhile, was a far cry from English country houses and fox-hunting parties. Its remoteness and austerity—especially immediately after the war—were truly forbidding. As Fermor pointed out, this was a place that the Renaissance and all its effects had never touched. It was still sunk in Europe’s premodern past—a place still connected by a thousand invisible threads to the pagan world.

Above Kardamyli rise the Taygetus range and the forests that Fermor loved to wander. Steep paved footpaths called kalderimi ascend up into half-abandoned villages like Petrovonni and, above it, the church of Agia Sophia, which looks down on the Viros Gorge. In Mani Fermor remembers that it was here, near the city of Mistra, that Byzantium died out a few years after the fall of Constantinople, and where the continuously creative Greek mind lasted the longest. It is a delicate, luminous landscape—at once pagan and Christian.

Fermor discovered that Maniots still carried within them the demonology of the ancient world, filled with pagan spirits. They called these spirits the daimonia, or ta’ xotika: supernatural beings “outside” the Church who still—as Nereids, centaurs, satyrs and Fates—lived in the streams and glades of the Mani. They still believed in “The Faraway One,” a spirit who haunted sun-blazing crossroads at midday and who Fermor deduced to be the god Pan. The Mani was only Christianized, after all, in the 10th century. Fermor also described how an illiterate Greek peasant, wandering through archaeological museums, might look up at ancient statues of centaurs and cry, immediately, “A Kallikantzaros [centaur]!” To him, it was a living creature.

I hiked up to Exohori, where Bruce Chatwin had, 25 years ago, discovered the tiny chapel of St. Nicholas while he was visiting Fermor. (I had, in fact, been given Chatwin’s old room in the hotel next to Fermor’s house.) Chatwin venerated the older writer, and the two men would walk together for hours in the hills. Fermor, for his part, found Chatwin enchanting and almost eerily energetic. Yet Chatwin was inspired not just by Fermor but by where he lived. When Chatwin was dying, he converted to Greek Orthodox. It was Fermor, in the end, who buried Chatwin’s ashes under an olive tree next to St. Nicholas, in sight of the sea of Nestor and Odysseus.

Exohori felt as deserted as the other strongholds of the Mani, its schools closed and only the elderly left behind. It possesses an atmosphere of ruin and aloofness. I remembered a haunting passage from Mani in which Fermor describes how villagers once scoured out the painted eyes of saints in church frescoes and sprinkled the crumbs into the drinks of girls whom they wanted to fall in love with them. So, one villager admits to Fermor that it wasn’t the Turks after all.

As a former guerrilla of the savage Cretan war, Fermor felt at home here. It was a thorny backwater similarly ruled by a warrior code. Its bellicose villages were, almost within living memory, frequently carpeted with bullet casings. It was a vendetta culture.

The Mani was for centuries the only place in Greece apart from the Ionians islands and Crete (which, nevertheless, fell to the Turks in 1669) to remain mostly detached from the Ottoman Empire. Its people—an impenetrable mix of ancient Lacedaemonians, Slavs and Latins—were never assimilated into Islamic rule, and their defiant palaces perched above the sea never had their double-headed Byzantine eagles removed. Here, Fermor wrote, was “a miraculous surviving glow of the radiance that gave life to this last comet as it shot glittering and sinking across the sunset sky of Byzantium.” Mani, therefore, explores wondrous connections in our forgotten Greek inheritance (it argues, for example, that Christianity itself was the last great invention of the classical Greek world). But Fermor’s philhellenism was not dryly bookish. It was intensely lived, filled with intoxication and carnal play.

His contemporary and fellow Anglo-Irish philhellene Lawrence Durrell was, in so many ways, his kindred spirit in this regard. They were also close friends and had reveled together at the famous Tara mansion in Cairo during the war. Mani, in any case, stands naturally beside Bitter Lemons and Prospero’s Cell as love songs to the Greece of that era. In Ian MacNiven’s biography of Durrell, we find an enchanting glimpse of a riotous Fermor visit to Durrell in Cyprus just after the war. The two men stayed up half the night singing obscure Greek songs, rejoicing in shared Hellenic lore and making a lot of noise.

“Once as they went through Paddy’s vast repertoire of Greek songs far into the night, the lane outside the house filled with quiet neighbors, among them the usually boisterous Frangos, who told Larry, ‘Never have I heard Englishmen singing Greek songs like this!’ ” Their shared virtuosity in the Greek language was remarkable.

Greece, for some of the young prewar generation, held a special magic. It was a youthful Eden, a place linked to the ancient world that was doomed to disappear in the near future. It’s a mood cannily incarnated in Henry Miller’s The Colossus of Maroussi, which records journeys that Miller and Durrell undertook together in 1939. But no one sang Greece more profoundly than Fermor, and no one tried more ardently to argue its core importance to Western culture, both now and—a more radical argument—in the future.

Roumeli and Mani are his twin love songs to Greece, but it is in Mani that he most eloquently lamented the disappearance of folk cultures under the mindless onslaught of modernity and celebrated most beautifully what he thought of as an immortal landscape in which human beings naturally found themselves humanized.

Consider his illustration of the Greek sky that always seemed to hang so transparently above his own house: “A sky which is higher and lighter and which surrounds one closer and stretches further into space than anywhere else in the world. It is neither daunting nor belittling but hospitable and welcoming to man and as much his element as the earth; as though a mere error in gravity pins him to the rocks or the ship’s deck and prevents him from being assumed into infinity.”

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.

Transylvanian Book Festival Facebook page

FB pageThe new year has started off with a lot of activity for the team behind the very first Transylvanian Book Festival which will take place between 5-9 September 2013. The location is a great attraction, and those beautiful villages of the Saxon Lands in the Carpathian Mountains offer a unique location. More news coming soon.

The team hope that as many of you as possible can join themthere, but in the meantime, come on over and join the Transylvanian Book Festival page, by ‘Liking’ it on Facebook so you can keep up with the news and join in yourself.

Read more about the Festival here.

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.

The First Transylvanian Book Festival: 5th – 9th September 2013

The UNESCO World Heritage fortified church in Viscri

The UNESCO World Heritage fortified church in Viscri

If you enjoy literary festivals, want the opportunity to meet authors like William Blacker, and discover the romanticism and beauty of the Saxon lands of Transylvania whilst discussing the work of Patrick Leigh Fermor, then the place to be in September next year is the very first Transylvanian book festival which will be held during the period 5-9 september 2013.

Planning is well advanced. The event is being arranged by Lucy Abel-Smith who is an expert on Romania and has a house in the area. Her sister-in-law Caroline Knox is  assisting and has run the successful Boswell Literary Festival in Ayrshire for many years.

This will be your chance to join an exciting venture at its very beginning, in what I can assure you is one of the most beautiful places, full of history, romance and mystery right in the heart of Transylvania.

The list of authors who have agreed to speak is growing and includes William Blacker, whose acclaimed Along the Enchanted Way, has seen him hailed as heir to Patrick Leigh Fermor; Jessica Douglas-Home, author of Once Upon Another Time, will talk about the past under Ceausescu and her present work as chair of the Mihai Eminescu Trust, of which the Prince of Wales is Patron. Professor Roy Foster Oxford University and Historian expert on Bram Stoker and his influence on Literature; Michael Jacobs author of Robber of Memories.; and Artemis Cooper have been approached. Other talks will include writers from Romania’s strong literary tradition and will include those from the Romanian, Saxon and Hungarian communities whose work is internationally recognised.

Other talks will focus on the gypsies, the wolves, the wonderful wild flowers, life in the Saxon villages, Count Banffy’s epic ‘They Were Counted’ and inevitably the late Paddy Leigh Fermor. There will be organised walks, the opportunity for horse and cart rides in the beech woods, and the chance to take in some of Transylvania’s wonderful fortified churches

Accommodation will be in three villages in the heart of Saxon Transylvania: Copsa Mare, Richis and Biertan. All have fine churches and picturesque village houses that run as B&Bs. Minibuses will be on hand to transfer guests to picnics, visits and dinners. The costs are currently being finalised. Flights are not included but there are easy connections from Cluj, Turgu-Mures or slightly further afield, Bucharest. There will be a daily rate of entrance fees to the readings and picnics.

Please contact me – tsawford[at]btinternet.com – if you are interested in attending or would like to be on the circulation for more information. The organisers are also looking for sponsors either in cash or kind so please indicate if you or your company can help; all sponsors will be fully acknowledged in the programme and on promotional material, websites and in PR, and given complimentary tickets to events.


In the forest above Viscri

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.

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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.

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

Last Wednesday over seven hundred people packed out the main lecture hall of the Royal Geographic Society to hear Colin Thubron question Artemis Cooper about Paddy’s life in a joint event with the Royal Society of Literature, of which Colin is President. The event, sponsored by Art Tours, was entertaining, if perhaps a little shorter than one would have liked.

By Tom Sawford.

Artemis revealed how difficult it was to get Paddy to talk about his life, his experience and friends until on one visit to Kardamyli after Joan’s death she found every horizontal surface of his study, including the floor, covered with groaning piles of books, magazines, journals and personal correspondence (and I daresay some unpaid bills!). She offered to help him create some order and in doing so she started to ask questions: ‘I didn’t know that you had met so-and-so’ at which point Paddy, always happy to be distracted from his Herculean struggle with Vol Three, would brighten and start to expound on this outing, that visit or other glittering adventure. It was in this way that Artemis was able to make notes and get behind what she describes as the ‘waterfall’ of banter when asked directly to talk about his life.

It appears also that Paddy was perhaps always happy to receive visitors and recount old stories as he suffered both from bouts of personal depression and writer’s block.  Colin Thubron described the time that he and Paddy went for a long swim at Kardamyli and when well away from the house and others he talked to Colin about his struggles with this block, and his inability to understand this and his state of mind. Artemis said that Paddy was not ‘an intellectual’ and did not think too deeply. He was a ‘polymath’, less inclined to ask why, but rather dazzled, entertained, and fascinated by outward appearances and the sheer joy of being.

The other great excuse for not working was his correspondence with the three great correspondents of his life: Debo Devonshire, Annie Fleming and Diana Cooper. They were an ‘entertainment’ which Paddy approached with great enthusiasm and which ‘took up a lot of his time’ enabling him to divert his energies from his other writing.

We were also given a glimpse of The Broken Road (Vol Three) which is being edited jointly by Artemis and Colin. As the biography tells us it will be based almost entirely on the work that Paddy wrote in the early sixties for a US magazine ‘A Youthful Journey’ which was meant to be no more than 5,000 words. Once Paddy had reached the Romanian-Bulgarian border in this retelling he was suddenly gripped by a passion to write down this story in great detail, the result being over 50,000 words about the leg from Romania to Istanbul, although Colin said that the account does not include his time in the City.

Colin told us that this is difficult work, and they are being most careful not to add their own words. There is much work to be done but as I was told last week by Roland Phillips from John Murray, the publication date remains September 2013, not far short of the 70th anniversary of the start of Paddy’s youthful journey.

During the question and answer session a variety of subjects were raised from the condition of the house at Kardamylli – things are moving forward – to whether or not the Horace ode recitation actually did happen – yes it did but it may not have been on Mount Ida.

When it came to the last question a rather large man, wrapped in colourful braces stood up and shouted out that this was not a question but a statement, a Traveller’s Tribute. I think I could hear the whole audience groan quietly in apprehension, but all turned out well. Holding up a copy of the biography he boomed ‘This book is nothing short of a tonic and a treat! It kept me sane today during a long and boring train journey from Scotland!!’ Cue laughter and applause.

The event was sponsored by Art Tours who are arranging a tour of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Mani in the spring of 2013. Places are limited and already about half are taken so if you wish to go on this tour, which will include Artemis Cooper as a guide and key speaker, please make contact with Edward Gates at Art Tours as quickly as you can edward[at]arttoursltd.com

In addition Art Tours have 15 signed copies of the biography Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure to give away in a competition. To have a chance of winning, please send your Name, Postal Address, email address, and telephone number to Edward. Winners will be contacted in early November.

If you would like to know more about the Mani tour 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


Nomad who lived in caves and palaces

The review you have all been waiting for from the Daily Mail.

By Philip Marsden

First published in The Daily Mail, 15 October 2012.

Patrick Leigh Fermor was, to his many fans, a child of the gods. He was good-looking, charming and adventurous, his conversation a stream of brilliant references, jokes and anecdotes. He could recite poetry and sing songs in more than half a dozen languages. ‘Wouldn’t it be lovely,’ suggested one of his circle, ‘if Paddy came in pill-form so you could take one whenever you felt depressed.’

He was also a war hero. He spent a good deal of time behind German lines in Crete, and was awarded the DSO for capturing the island’s commander General Kreipe.

For rest and recreation he would slip across the sea to Cairo where he was at the centre of a group of fearless officers who lived and partied at a villa on the Nile. The baths were filled with alcohol and, for Christmas 1942, they served turkey stuffed with Benzedrine.

Yet in terms of his legacy, Leigh Fermor’s high jinks are far outweighed by his meticulously crafted writing. He produced prose of such lyrical power that almost single-handedly he freed travel writing from its backwater and pushed it into the literary mainstream.

Nowhere did his life and his writing combine to greater effect than in his masterpiece A Time Of Gifts. The book tells the story, the  first part at least, of his year-long, pre-war hike from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. He was 18. At one moment he might be sleeping in a cave in the Carpathians, at the next in a schloss or palace.

He makes friends wherever he goes. He has a number of dream-like affairs until he meets a Romanian woman, Balasha, with whom, until the war five years later, he lives and travels – alternately in Greece and on  her family estate in the forests  of Moldova. Life for Leigh Fermor continued in much the same way after the war. But now the Soviet shadow lay across much of the old Europe he knew.

The more poignant moments of Artemis Cooper’s captivating biography come from the intertwined story of Balasha. ‘They do not want us, our education and culture any more,’ she wrote to him in 1946. Years later, Leigh Fermor slipped into Ceausescu’s Romania to find her living in an attic.

For two days they laughed and reminisced, but loss and hardship had aged her. He left undetected, and set up a postal account for  her in a London bookshop.

For most of the Fifties, Leigh Fermor was on the move – flitting between Paris and Devon, monasteries in Normandy, a  half-ruined palace near Rome  and his beloved Greece.

He wrote and read and fell in and out of love. But increasingly he found himself returning to a photographer he had first met in Cairo, Joan Rayner.

It was a strange and open relationship. They finally married in 1968, and built the house in Greece where they lived for the rest of their lives.

It is not easy writing a biography of someone who has poured so much of his own life into his books, but Artemis Cooper has done a brilliant job.

The story rips along, as Leigh Fermor’s life did, with friends and lovers, books and journeys and parties, all milling and jostling around him in a noisy and joyous throng.

And in the quieter moments we are left with something far more enduring: a man for whom the world was endlessly fascinating, and who found that he could recreate for his readers with carefully crafted words the same wonder that it gave him.

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.

The Scotsman review: Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure by Artemis Cooper

Patrick Leigh Fermor led one of the most enviable of 20th-century lives. The usual difficulty confronting the biographer of another writer – that the subject did little but sit at a desk and write – does not apply here.

By Roger Hutchinson

First published in The Scotsman 20 October 2012

Once he knuckled down to it, Leigh Fermor loved playing around with words. He was one of our greatest stylists and he was devoted to producing unimprovable books. But writing did not come easily to him, at least partly because it was something of a distraction from the main event, which was living an unimprovable life.

The difficulty in this case is rather how to tell the story of an inimicable writer whose own published work, from the travelogues to the letters, was itself autobiographical, without producing an inferior cover version. Patrick Leigh Fermor has a legion of devoted fans who can recite the story of his wartime abduction of General Heinrich Kreipe, for instance, by rote – and often do. In describing Leigh Fermor’s life, Artemis Cooper had often to revisit a told tale while correcting detail, expounding and inserting context. It was not an easy commission, and she has delivered it brilliantly. Cooper’s biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor is subtitled “An Adventure”. That is how we will remember him, as one of the post-imperial explorers; as a man who refused to accept that there were no undiscovered cultural territories left, even within the crowded borders of Europe.

To summarise his adult life: as a restless 18-year-old in 1933, Paddy Leigh Fermor crossed the Channel and then walked from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, as this most philhellene of modern philhellenes would always call Istanbul.

During the Second World War he joined the Special Operations Executive, who parachuted him into German-occupied Crete. There he liaised comfortably with Cretan partisans and bandits to pull off one of the war’s greatest coups de théâtre: the abduction and safe delivery to Allied captivity of a German commander, General Heinrich Kreipe.

After the war he travelled widely but was always drawn back to Greece. He built a house on the Mani peninsula – which had been, significantly, the only part of Magna Graecia to resist Ottoman colonisation since the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Before his death last year at the age of 96, he wrote some of the most acclaimed travel books of the 20th century.

Two of those books, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water told of the first two-thirds of his walk through pre-war Europe. Artemis Cooper is surely right to lay great significance on that particular adventure. Wherever else he went – Leigh Fermor’s first book, The Traveller’s Tree, was about the Caribbean, and he later published three long letters from the Andes – Europe retained his fascination and Greece, the wellspring of Europe, remained his muse.

Walking from Holland to Turkey gave the young Leigh Fermor a pedestrian’s-eye view of an interconnected continent. He saw how customs and dialects changed gradually, mile after mile, from one valley to the next. He used his facility with languages to tease out links between apparently independent cultures. In Cooper’s words, he acquired a “three-dimensional panorama of Europe … both in memory and imagination”.

That panorama, that cultural and historical landscape, was Leigh Fermor’s uncharted territory. His walking companions in the hills of northern Greece would dread the sight of a lonely shepherd, for Paddy would invariably stop and interrogate the man for half-an-hour while his friends kicked their heels and looked nervously at the sinking sun. But Leigh Fermor was not passing the time of day. He was exploring.

Since their deaths, inventions, embellishments and fantasies in the travelogues of Bruce Chatwin and Ryszard Kapusciski have become the subject of critical examination. If any modern travel writer’s experiences seem to skirt the borders of mythology, they would be those of Patrick Leigh Fermor. But Artemis Cooper acquits him of making up anything substantial. He did not in fact ride across the whole of the Great Hungarian Plain. He walked most of it. But “I decided to put myself on horseback for a bit. I thought the reader might be getting bored of me just plodding along … you won’t tell anyone, will you?”

Different characters were sometimes conflated into one person for literary convenience. “Paddy was making a novel of his life,” writes Cooper. That may be so. His working title for the transcontinental epic was Parallax, which suggests a degree of displacement from reality. But if so, it was a novel based firmly on non-fiction. Cooper is nonetheless right to query the spirit if not the detail of what has become, for male readers at least, one of the most memorable incidents in Paddy’s travels.

He was swimming naked in a central European river with a young aristocrat when – according to Leigh Fermor – two young peasant girls teased them from the bank. A chase ensued, which resulted in an orgy in a hayrick. All very Cider With Rosie, but Cooper wonders “were Rumanian peasant girls really so spontaneous and easy-going?” It appears that female migrant harvest workers of the time were “expected to oblige young gentlemen of the estate”. A carefree romp in the hay in the years before Europe burned may actually have been the cynical exercise of droit de seigneur.

If so, it was one of the last occasions that Patrick Leigh Fermor resorted to demanding sex. Peregrine Worsthorne tells of how, as a young man in post-war London, he occasionally found his chatting up of a pretty debutante abruptly curtailed by the arrival in their company of a dashing, handsome war hero, newly arrived from Jamaica or Rhodes and with the tan to prove it. Exit debutante, on Leigh Fermor’s arm.

His partnership with and then marriage to Joan Raynor was an open relationship, at least on Leigh Fermor’s side. More than that: Raynor’s inheritance subsidised his peripatetic life at least until the enormous success of A Time of Gifts in the late 1970s, which in turn created a new market for his previous volumes about Greece, Mani and Roumeli.

Like most enviable lives, it was far from blameless. Wounded women were littered in his wake. Some British visitors to Athens were less than impressed by this Englishman who posed as “more Greek than the Greeks”.

Some Greeks shared their disdain. Revisionist historians criticised his role in wartime Crete, and warned their fellow Hellenes that for all his fluency and charm, Leigh Fermor was no latterday Byron. His unoccupied car was blown up outside his Mani house, probably by members of the Greek Communist Party which he had vocally opposed. The accidental fatal shooting of a partisan in Crete led to a long blood feud which made it difficult for Leigh Fermor to re-enter the island until the 1970s, and possibly explains why he chose to settle in the Peloponnese rather than among the hills and harbours of his dreams.

His own books have already eclipsed those incidents, not only among readers of English but also in Greece, where in 2007 the government of his adopted land made him a Commander of the Order of the Phoenix for services to literature.

Travel writers such as Jan 
Morris have described Leigh Fermor as the master of their trade and its greatest exponent in the 20th century.

When A Time of Gifts was published in 1977, Frederick Raphael wrote: “One feels he could not cross Oxford Street in less than two volumes; but then what volumes they would be!”

They are not for everyone. Leigh Fermor wrote that written English is a language whose Latinates need pegging down with simple Anglo-Saxonisms, and some feel that he personally could have made more and better use of the mallet. His exuberance is either captivating or florid. It is certainly unique among English prose styles.

Artemis Cooper says that “Paddy had found a way of writing that could deploy a lifetime’s reading and experience, while never losing sight of his ebullient, well-meaning and occasionally clumsy 18-year-old self … this was a wonderful way of disarming his readers, who would then be willing to follow him into the wildest fantasies and digressions”.

Those fantasies and digressions took decades to express. A Time of Gifts had arguably been 40 years in the making when it was published in 1977. Its sequel, Between the Woods and the Water, did not appear until 1986.

The third and final volume has been awaited ever since. Following Leigh Fermor’s death, a foot-high manuscript was apparently found on his desk. It will be published next year.

In the meantime, Artemis Cooper offers us an abridged version of his last leg through Romania and Bulgaria to European Turkey. He stayed a while in Constantinople, we learn, before taking a boat via Salonika to Mount Athos early in 1935.

Greece was his true destination. Constantinople – Istanbul – was by 1935 no more than the cracked shell of Byzantium. From then on his pulse was with the Hellenes. In them he found the root of the European mystery.

From their midst he set out to solve it. It was a quixotic, endless quest. Artemis Cooper’s fine biography gives colour and substance to the adventure, and a delicate, sympathetic portrait of the man who made it his life.

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.

More pictures from the launch of Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure

Some further pictures from the launch of the biography last week in Paddy’s old Club, The Travellers, in Pall Mall.

Read Patrick Leigh Fermor’s ‘magical’ tour here and listen to the Radio 4 Today programme recording.



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.

My hero: Patrick Leigh Fermor

Patrick Leigh Fermor: his books had a devoted following. Photograph by Joan Leigh Fermor

Patrick Leigh Fermor once seriously annoyed Richard Burton at a London dinner table with Elizabeth Taylor. Burton was in the mood for quoting Shakespeare but the second he stopped, Paddy would cap the quote and go on for several more lines. Finally Burton kicked back his chair and said “Elizabeth, we’re leaving!” Their distraught host accompanied his star guests to the door, urging them not to mind Paddy, who was, after all, a war hero. “F*** war heroes!” roared Burton.

by Artemis Cooper

First published in The Guardian, 20 October 2012

Yet at a time when men were defined by their war, Paddy’s DSO shone with a dazzling lustre. In the spring of 1944, he led the Anglo-Cretan team that captured the German general Heinrich Kreipe and whisked him away from occupied Crete under the very noses of the enemy. There was no doubting his courage. One of the young men who had served with him recalled: “While everybody in our company pretended to be a palikari [a brave warrior], you radiated a genuine fearlessness.” He also possessed a heroic determination. The Kreipe operation nearly ended in disaster, and it succeeded because Paddy refused to acknowledge that possibility. In Budapest decades later he went looking for a sick friend, and spent two days trailing through every nursing home and clinic in the city till he found him. He wrote with painful slowness, going over every sentence again and again, often discouraged to the point of despair – yet he never gave up.

But what of the famous third volume of his trilogy, that he never finished? Did he give up on that? Not really, but in his 90s he must have known that he no longer had the energy to construct the flights of imagination and memory that had earned A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water such a devoted following. But he never admitted, to himself or anyone else, that it would never be published. If anyone asked he would reply, “I’m plugging away” – and he was.

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.

Travelling man – biography of a charmer

SIR PATRICK LEIGH FERMOR, who died last year at the age of 96, was known to everyone as Paddy, “a friendly, cheerful name with a spring in its step”, writes his biographer, Artemis Cooper. Leigh Fermor lived to the full a charmed life packed with incident and adventure, despite its unpropitious beginnings. His parents returned to India shortly after his birth and only when his mother reappeared four years later did he discover that he had been living, very happily, in someone else’s family. His parents were ill-suited and soon parted. Leigh Fermor was never close to his father, an austere, distinguished civil servant, and he found his mother’s tendency to veer between possessive love and complete neglect destabilising. “A dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness”, he was repeatedly expelled from school.

First published in The Economist, 20 October 2012.

Aged 18, precocious and disillusioned, he set out to walk from Hook of Holland to Constantinople. He explored eastern Europe, fell in love with a Romanian princess and lived with her in a Balkan idyll until the outbreak of war. Back in England he was commissioned in the intelligence corps and sent to the Middle East. After escaping from a defeated Greece he returned to Crete to help organise the resistance and made his name with the capture and evacuation to Egypt of a German general. Thereafter he was widely regarded in Greece as a hero second only to Lord Byron. The affection was mutual and 20 years later he built and settled in a house in the south of the Peloponnese. After the war Leigh Fermor continued to travel widely and he used his facility with languages, scholarship and extraordinary memory to good effect as an author. Easily distracted and notoriously slow to complete a piece of writing, he published fewer than a dozen works. But his two books on Greece and, most especially, “A Time of Gifts”, the first of two volumes recounting the story of his pre-war walk across Europe, established him as an acclaimed and bestselling travel writer.

Leigh Fermor was a man of legendary charm with a great gift for friendship. As a young man, footloose with rucksack and notebook, he was readily welcomed into houses humble and palatial. In his company people felt livelier and more entertaining. A friend wished that he could come in pill-form to be taken whenever one felt depressed. He was amusing and amused, quick to burst into song, ever the last to leave a party. Energetic, attractive and susceptible, he regularly fell in love but was devoted to his wife, Joan Eyres Monsell. Despite smoking 80 to 100 cigarettes a day and drinking prodigious amounts of alcohol, he remained remarkably fit. At the age of 69 he emulated Byron and swam the Hellespont in Turkey.

It is not easy to convey the flavour of a man whose fame to a large extent rests on his ebullient personality and conversation but Ms Cooper succeeds admirably in this readable and entertaining book. Nor is she shy of admitting his shortcomings and his bouts of depression when he would retreat to a Trappist monastery in France.

Leigh Fermor was not to everyone’s taste. Some found him insufferably bumptious; his enthusiasm and noise could be “wearing”. Essentially, though, he was well loved, a man of action and a self-taught intellectual, who brightened the lives of his many friends and readers.

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.

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s ‘magical’ tour

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

To celebrate the publication of Artemis Cooper’s biography of travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, Today presenter James Naughtie joined a party led by Artemis Cooper to walk past some of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s London haunts. As you may see from the photograph, the participants included Colin Thubron, Cherie Lunghi, Justin Marozzi, Robert Macfarlane, and Gabriella Bullock who is “Billy” Moss’ daughter.

Starting at Paddy’s favourite bookshop (and temporary post-war residence) Heywood Hill, we first braved the traffic in Curzon Street to cross into Shepherd Market where curious drinkers at The Grapes watched as we gazed in awe at 28 Shepherd Market, the place from where Paddy set out on his walk on 8 December 1933. It may have been bombed in the war as the building is a replacement with the enticing Plus News newsagent on the ground floor.

We weaved our way in the dusk to Berkeley Square which Paddy passed through one night during the blitz and later noted ‘only one thing remained standing, three storeys high, stood a white marble privvy’. The journey to Stratton Street was quick and this is where Paddy left two trunks containing most of his documents from the walk which were eventually deposited by the keeper into Harrod’s Depository; Paddy could not pay the large accumulated storage fee and when he did return the trunks and their contents had been sold and dispersed. Artemis observed that perhaps it was a good thing as he had to rely upon his mind and was perhaps ‘set free’.

50 Albemarle Street, the entrance to publisher John Murray

Our touristic snake trailed into Albemarle Street and we passed John Murray’s at number 50, crossed Piccadilly to the entrance of The Ritz where Paddy often stayed, but once had great difficulty entering when in training at the Guards’ Depot as he was dressed in the uniform of a private soldier, the Ritz being for officers only.

Paddy went to riotous and notorious parties at The Cavendish hotel in Duke Street, St James’ with many of the “bright young things” which did not include Evelyn Waugh as he had offended the owner, Mrs Lewis who said of him ‘When I see that Mr Waugh I’m going to cut his winkle orf’. Mrs Lewis indulged Paddy and others of somewhat straightened means and let them build up virtually unlimited credit. She knew that they would be unable to pay, but it was small beer to some of her more wealthy clients who did not check their bills too closely and ended up paying for Paddy’s extravagancies.

Throughout the walk we were accompanied by James Naughtie from Radio 4’s Today programme. He recorded the package below and left early as you would expect from someone who has to get up at about 3.30 am when presenting the programme. Naughtie grabbed some time with Nick Hunt who walked Paddy’s route from Hook of Holland to Constantinople just this year. He promised to make Nick a star. Let’s hope so.

Nick Hunt being interviewed by James Naughtie

This tour through Paddy’s Mayfair was a pre-cursor to the official launch of Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure at Paddy’s old club, The Travellers. Artemis got a very well deserved round of applause for the biography, and she spent most of the evening busy signing books; dozens must have been sold. Ian Hislop made a sartorially unkempt appearance near the end (how did he get in without a tie?), and I think I saw Bank of England Governor, Sir Mervyn King pop in and do his bit for the consumer economy.

Artemis and Colin Thubron in the lobby of the Travellers Club with bust of Paddy

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.

In Paddy’s footsteps around Mayfair – BBC Radio 4 Today Programme now!

Yesterday evening a small group of some of Britain’s best travel writers, the odd actor and even your blog editor were invited by Heywood Hill bookshop to an evening tour of Paddy’s Mayfair led by Artemis Cooper as tour guide in chief. This event was a pre-cursor to the official launch of Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure at Paddy’s old club, The Travellers.

James Naughtie from Radio 4’s Today programme was there to record a package for this morning ‘s programme which will be broadcast in the next hour (probably before 8.30 am). It will probably include an interview with Nick Hunt who is making good progress with his book.

Love letters to foreign lands – from The Spectator

One thing is certain. In the coming days I may bore you with reviews of Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, but this is one that merits reading as it is more thoughtful. Just wait for the Daily Mail review which I will offer in our mission of complete on-line coverage!

By Philip Mansel

First published in The Spectator, 13 October 2012.

Xenophilia is as English as Stilton. Despite a reputation for insularity, no other nation has produced so many writers who have  immersed themselves in other countries. From Borrow to Lawrence, Byron to Auden, the list is impressive. In one of the wonderful letters quoted in this perceptive, haunting and highly readable biography, Patrick Leigh Fermor called living in England ‘like living in the heart of a lettuce. I pine for hot stones and thorns and olive trees and prickly pears.’ In the opinion of his biographer Artemis Cooper he had an ‘entirely European sensibility’. In the house he built in the mountains of Mani in the Peloponnese, between olive groves and the sea, however, he sometimes missed London.

This is a book about the use and operation of charm, written, as Victorians might have said, by One Who Knew Him Well. Artemis Cooper defines his charm as a combination of ‘happiness, excitement, youth, good looks, eagerness to please and an open heart’. She might have added skill with languages and a driving literary and historical curiosity, not always apparent in the works of Norman Douglas, the Italophile travel writer to whom he was sometimes compared. At least ‘eight languages existed in his head in a state of perpetual acrobatics’. His high spirits — he once described himself as being ‘in a coma of happiness’ — and kind-heartedness helped him to understand other countries — to get under their skin — at least as well as more cynical writers.

A casual remark — ‘castles were seldom out of sight’ — expresses one effect of his charm. After 1934, aristocratic acquaintances entertained and housed him as he walked or rode along the Danube, across the Hungarian plain and into the mountains of Transylvania, on the travels described in A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. Wherever he went, arms opened, barriers fell. He ended up in the embrace of Balasha Cantacuzene, descendant of a princely dynasty, living in a manor house in Moldavia. He left in September 1939 to join the British army.

He had chosen well. Diaries, papers and letters recording his journey, lost by Harrods Depository, in his words ‘ached liked an old wound in wet weather’. Throughout the horrors of war and communism, however, Balasha Cantacuzene guarded a  ‘green diary’ which Paddy had left behind in 1939. She returned it at their last meeting in 1965. It was invaluable for writing Between the Woods and the Water.

‘Useless as a regular officer, but will serve the army well in other ways,’ a perceptive commanding officer wrote of Paddy in 1940. Among other feats, our hero delivered, for interrogation in Cairo, a German general whom he had captured in Crete. After 1944 he lived, mainly between Athens and London, in an Anglo-Greek world as distinctive as the Anglo-Florentine world of the 19th and 20th centuries. He particularly enjoyed the ‘louche and delinquent’ dockside tavernas of the Asia Minor refugees in Piraeus.

One of his girlfriends called him ‘the most English person I have ever met’. Perhaps because of his security about his identity, he could step out of his English skin. In the 1950s he supported Greece over ‘the Cyprus question’. In contrast, his fellow Anglo-Greek Lawrence Durrell, who  called him ‘the most enchanting maniac I’ve ever met’, was compared to a Gauleiter by the poet George Seferis for working for Britain in Cyprus.

The books started to appear: Mani (1958) and Roumeli (1966), which includes an enquiry into the clash between the ‘Hellenic’ and the ‘Romaic’ aspects of Greece, between private ambition and wider aspiration, which would interest European bankers today. But it was A Time of Gifts (1977), about his walk across Europe, that made him famous. He was admired in the countries about which he wrote, as well as his own. Not for him the horrors of academic publication, where ‘a few experts stand to attention and salute in half a dozen periodicals; an art historian presents arms here and there. And the rest is silence.’

This is not just the life of a charmer. It is also a book about the process of writing. Cooper, whose admiration does not blunt her critical sense, shows how Paddy blurred the frontiers between truth and fiction. Imagination often replaced memory. In parts of some books he was ‘making a novel of his life’.

His style — described by Cooper as ‘sumptuous, precise and acute’ — was all the more enjoyable for its contrast with the bare prose of postwar Britain. Farewells were ‘shattering deracinations’. In Germany there was ‘hardly an interprandial moment’. The account of Germans eating and drinking in the Munich Hofbrauhaus is a tour de force, over several pages:

Their voices, only partly gagged by the cheekfuls of good things they were grinding down, grew louder, while their unmodulated laughter jarred the air in frequent claps. Pumpernickel and aniseed rolls and pretzels bridged all the slack moments, but supplies always came through before a true lull threatened.

Inevitably there were snipers on the sidelines. Dismissing him from the British Institute of Athens, Steven Runciman complained of ‘Paddy’s little irregularities’: too many parties, too few repaid loans. ‘A middle-class gigolo for upper-class women’,  was the verdict of Somerset Maugham.

Indeed this biography could also be a handbook on how to live with a writer. Joan Eyres Monsell, whom Leigh Fermor married, took and labelled photographs as a visual reference for his books. She read them once a year, and was generous with her money. As she put down a handful of notes when leaving a restaurant, the immortal words — ‘here you are, that should be enough if you want to find a girl’ — were overheard by a friend.

Paddy’s only novel, The Violins of Saint Jacques (1953), is one of his finest works. Brilliantly plotted and playfully written (tree roots are ‘like dancing partners in a waltzing forest’), at a faster pace than later books, it is a portrait of a vanished French colony, Saint Jacques des Alises, ‘the glory of the Antilles’, in 1900. It is also a novel of aristocratic decline, which anticipates aspects of  Sybille Bedford’s A Legacy and Lampedusa’s The Leopard. It describes  the impact on a private love affair  — between a Count’s daughter Josephine de Serindan and the governor’s son Marcel Sciocca — of the political feud between French royalists and the Third Republic. It culminates in one of the most dramatic ball scenes in an English novel, which ends in an eruption: ‘It looked as if the volcano was conspiring with the Count to add lustre to his rout.’ In the end, with ‘a deafening clap of thunder as if the world had been blown in two’, the volcano destroys the island. All that remains is the sound of violins, heard every carnival from beneath the waves.

All Leigh Fermor’s books are love letters to foreign lands — Caribbean islands, France, Austria, Hungary or Greece. The loss of his projected books on Crete and Romania is, for admirers, a tragedy. Hopefully it will soon be mitigated by the publication of more letters, his portraits of friends, and his 1963 account of ‘A Youthful Journey’ from Orsova to the Black Sea.

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.