ASK AN ADVENTURER
Alastair Humphreys (Eye)
As the communications coordinator of the Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize, I’ve become enmeshed within a circle of very exciting people who I will call ‘professional adventurers’. Wilbur Smith himself undertook many adventures as part of his writing research, as do many of the writers he endorses and supports; currently, everyday adventurers like Pip Stewart and Dwayne Fields are involved in the Prize, too. It’s an exciting circle to be in, and I’ve often wondered: how did these people become full-time adventurers, switching from amateur to professional?
Here’s a book that answers that question in a clear, comprehensive style. Alastair Humphreys explains how he heard the term ‘working artist’ on the radio one day, and this inspired him to wonder about his own ‘art’ – that of adventuring. Ask An Adventurer gives you all the essentials on turning your hobby into a paying profession: from managing time to engaging audiences, pitching to clients to self-marketing. A really interesting read, yet down to earth and practical, I think anyone intrigued to learn about becoming any kind of full-time ‘artist’ would get something from this very lucidly written book. Its main message, of course, is to “not delay your adventuring dreams” – so get this book, and see where it takes you.
Price: £9.99. Info: here
words MAB JONES
Baxter Dury (Corsair)
Twenty-one years on from his debut album, indie chansonnier Baxter Dury makes his first venture into prose with this pugnacious and sometimes eyewatering account of his unruly early years. Growing up around the mad carnival of sex, drugs and rock‘n’roll that was father Ian Dury’s chosen lifestyle, Dury’s memoir skips back and forward through time as the fancy takes him. Rather than being disorientating for the reader. it instead adds to the swirl of chaos that seems to follow young Baxter from school to school and from one barmy caper to the next.
Reminiscent of the classic British film Withnail & I, the teenage Dury bounces around inner London and the home counties like a modern-day Artful Dodger, always on the lookout for the next place to stay, or the next handful of pills to swallow. Shockingly, considering his age, the most stable presence in his life is a towering, frequently violent drug dealer known to most as the Sulphate Strangler. Baxter Dury paints a picture of Ian as a kind, witty and caring figure one minute, the next a cruel and self-pitying man – scarred by his Dickensian upbringing in a school for the disabled, where he was sent after contracting polio – or simply absent, attempting to reinvent himself as an actor in soon-to-be-forgotten arthouse films.
The most abiding trait Dury has inherited from his father is a fantastic command of the English language, and this book is no different. Page after page reveals pure descriptive brilliance: recalling photos of his grandfather Bill, he finds that “he looks like a handsome potato”. And though he is at times unsparing in his evaluation of his family’s tumult, this tough but endearing memoir shows an author whose personality and creativity were forged in those same fires.
Price: £16.99. Info: here
words ADAM JONES
THE COUNTRY OF OTHERS
Leïla Slimani [trans. Sam Taylor] (Faber)
As Moroccan soldiers are billeted to France to help with the war effort, Mathilde, living in the French countryside, is drawn to one in particular, Amine. Here begins their love story that sees Mathilde move to his hometown in Morocco, following the liberation of the country. The lifestyle is very different to what Mathilde has previously experienced and imagined; living on a remote farm with two small children, each day brings new challenges in terms of her own existence and those around her, as war threatens her new country of residence.
The story is simultaneously harrowing and hopeful, as the narrative often switches seamlessly from different characters’ perspectives to a different time or memory. Each situation is described so deftly it invigorates the senses, and Mathilde’s feelings of isolation, frustration and loneliness are depicted so vividly.
The Country Of Others is a strong departure in both style and subject from Leïla Slimani’s previous novel Lullaby, with the author drawing on her own family’s past to bring this story to life. It forms the first title in a planned trilogy, too; I cannot wait to read about the next chapter in the family’s journey.
Price £14.99. Info: here
words RHIANON HOLLEY
THE LUMINOUS NOVEL
Mario Levrero (And Other Stories)
I’ll try to offer a synopsis: The Luminous Novel is a novel by Mario Levrero about Mario Levrero trying, and failing, to write a novel called The Luminous Novel. In order to write this novel, which has haunted him for years, Levrero has taken receipt of a large grant from the Guggenheim Foundation. He knows that he must show something for his efforts, but cannot find a way to begin the process. In order to overcome this writer’s block, he decides to keep a diary of his attempts to write the novel.
This diary records the minutiae of the near-constant procrastination with which all writers are familiar: rearranging working and living environments, meeting a friend for lunch, writing a diary even. (In a minor occurrence of synchronicity I accepted a friend’s invitation to go for coffee while sitting at my desk, staring at the laptop screen, ostensibly writing this review.) While listing the quotidian trivia of the writer’s life in banal detail, the novel’s real themes start to reveal themselves: Levrero’s fear and acceptance of his oncoming death, the nature of artistic inspiration, and, ultimately, the question of failure.
Sitting somewhere between Kafka, Borges and Brautigan, The Luminous Novel is a small masterpiece of bathos and the absurdity of life.
Price: £14.99/£6.99 Ebook. Info: here
words DAVID GRIFFITHS
THE MAGIC BOX
Rob Young (Faber)
Rob Young’s The Magic Box takes us on a terrestrial British journey from the 1950s into the 1980s. The eclectic mix of television programming during this time shines a light on British culture, politics and history. As Young navigates his way through a library of personal memories, he perfectly captures the zeitgeist of the golden age of screen.
Young describes the typical 1970s household television as “a three-dimensional box. It took up space in the room, it wasn’t generally moved around, and you could arrange ornaments on top of it”. The image of the fixed position and status of the TV – its three channels offering programmes that, once watched, may never be seen again – signify the importance of this televisual past life.
Many of the programmes you would likely expect to be discussed, such as Dr Who, The Wicker Man and The Canterbury Tales, share space with some lesser-known programming of that time. Young’s relatably patchy memory also gives him space to defer to the research and underlines that British TV established itself as part of who we are and the culture we grew up in. The Magic Box is a joyride into the past, and a highly entertaining read.
Price: £20. Info: here
words SARAH-JANE OUTTEN