Why ‘Astonishing travellers’?

I chose ‘Astonishing travellers’ as the title for this Web site after a wintry visit to Saint Malo some years ago. Readers of French books may recognise the borrowed (and translated) name of a major literary festival held there every year: Etonnants voyageurs. As a translator and (latterly) writer with a focus on art, heritage and literature, I see every translated book, every writer and artist,  as an astonishing traveller.  So many of my favourites have journeyed between continents, cultures, media, genders, classes: Henri Matisse, French authors Jean Rolin, Gabrielle Wittkop, Hubert Haddad, Olivier Truc… And in English? W. G. Sebald (through his translators, Anthea Bell, Michael Hulse et al.), E.M. Forster, Patrick Leigh Fermor, H. V. Morton, Freya Stark, Jan Morris, Margaret Drabble, Bernardine Evaristo, Bruce Chatwin and more.

I’m a woefully infrequent blogger, but when I do put finger to keyboard, I like to write about art and heritage (mainly in France, where I live when I’m not back home in SE Wales), and about literary translation (from French, which has travelled well and is written and spoken on every continent).

Why the flying books?

Because books connect minds across space and time. Translated books, especially, grow wings.

Why the photograph?

Saint Malo’s inshore islets are home to the tomb of the poet Châteaubriand, the location and design of which was toute une histoire (as the French say) – a whole other story of pettyfogging objections, scandal and opprobrium. At high tide, the Romantic hero is cut off from the mainland, at peace with the lonely sea and the sky. But at low tide, a causeway is exposed and we can walk out to join him. Time and tide have the power to cut us off from great writing or art, but they may also lay bare the connections that existed all along. Translation can help us across.

Travel has been a theme throughout my working life, from travel articles as a journalist in the 80s to editing and writing for the Cadogan Guides, Dorling Kindersley and Time Out Paris, and translating the excellent Louis Vuitton City Guides. As poacher-turned-gamekeeper, I now also own two holiday let properties in the Wye Valley and Fontainebleau forest.

Solo and family travels have taken me to Bali, western Java, Singapore, Australia (nine weeks in a campervan with my boys, aged 2 and eight months), South Africa (same, a few years later), the US West Coast, Iceland, Thailand, Hong Kong, New England, Scandinavia, Ireland, Venice (numerous trips, staying everywhere from a palace on the Grand Canal to a houseboat in a boatyard on the Giudecca) and throughout Europe.

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