Monday, April 14, 2008

Travel News

This inventive fellow has caused a bit of a stir with his lurid 'confessions' of what he got up to when working on Lonely Planet guides. Sadly his story is fast unravelling - but then he is a self-confessed fantasist, so that's hardly surprising. The general point - that it's a miracle these guidebooks are as reliable as they are, considering the way they're made and the kind of people employed on them - holds good. But work they do - presumable because of a pool of willing young people so intoxicated by notions of travel and 'adventure' that they'll do the legwork for peanuts. Wanderlust is another of the false religious consolations of our time.
Imaginative writers, of course, have no trouble writing about places they've never visited. A recent example was H.R.F.Keating, whose Insepctor Ghote novels were widely praised for their vivid evocation of life in Bombay - even though he'd been writing them for ten years before he set foot in India. There must be many more such examples... Anyone?


  1. Historians ?. As in the past being...

  2. Oh well, there's Martin Cruz Smith and Moscow/Gorky Park in my mind, as well as (arguably) Hemingway who spent much of his time pissed in bars rather than leading the charge into the gates of hell and glory, etc. Or at least he does in Caroline Moorehead's biog of Martha Gelhorn. I've had dealings with at least two quite well-known travel-writers whose accounts of visits to far-flung parts are "imaginative reconstructions", shall we say, but better by far for it. Both are superbly talented writers. Imagination is the killer app that makes good books what they are. Empire of the Sun is a good example of the whole memory-fact-imagination thing at work, to my mind.

    I like the Lonely Planet guides. In a way they are like open source software. Scores of contributors all over the world, mostly working for free and all adding just one or two small pieces, but the end result still manages to be top class. The bazaar trumps the cathedral. I'm sure this couldn't be true for all the Lonely Planet guides as there are so many of them, but it's certainly true imho for some I've tried. Best not to confuse "wanderlust" and "false religious consolations" with the optimism, energy and curiosity of the young. They're not interested in Benidorm and the Daily Mail, let alone the living dead in some gloomy church, thank god.

  3. It is difficult to believe, from his reports, that the football correspondent on my local paper has ever been to the same matches as the rest of us.

  4. An outstanding example of imaginative writing about a foreign place is John Updike's Brazil: A Novel. Written without the author having ever set foot in the country.

  5. On the subject of foreign parts and misinformation.
    There is a wonderful story about Victorian journalists (exactly the same as today's but dressed differently.) Oh, I don't know, though.

    When, in July 1865 Edward Whymper and the Taugwalders struggled back into Zermatt after their victorious attempt on the Matterhorn, minus four of his party of course, they were besieged by a large crowd of journalists from all over Europe, anxious for the full story.
    The first question Whymper was asked was "what spurred you on to the summit."

    "I saw the lion of England before me, willing me ever upward" he said.
    Over the next few days the headlines in Europe's newspapers read....

    "Whymper conquers Matterhorn, four killed, including Lord Douglas, lion seen on the Hornli ridge."

    I cannot verify this story, but it did, many years ago, pass into mountaineering legend.

  6. Daniel Defoe anybody? He wrote "A Journal of the Plague Year," a non-fiction acc't of the great plague of 1666. Of course, he was like 5 years old when it occurred!

    I do believe, however, that he was old enough to remember the great storm that hit London in 1704 and that's one of his best bits, IMHO.

    Fibbers usually begin at home, however. You know Defoe was born "Daniel Foe" and added the "De" himself, then pretended to be descended from the De Beau Faux family? Faux indeed: Papa was a candle-maker and butcher.

  7. Although not a travel book, most certainly a book about travel, Laurie Lee's "As I walked out one midsummer morning", Good story, not very accurate, at it was meant to be an accurate portrayal of his travels during the Spanish civil war.
    If it happened as he said it did then I am the Archduke Ferdinand

  8. What about my exploits in Russia when in fact I'm based in Scunthorpe?

  9. Coleridge never visited Xanadu