I’ve never suffered from the loneliness of the long-distance runner. I love escaping on my own, away from all conversation and distraction, for a head-clearing blast along the road or through the park. Solitary, yes, but never lonely. Since last November, however, when I made a trip to Addis Ababa, I’ve begun to wonder whether I might be missing something. You can find out why in today’s Telegraph Travel print section, where we celebrate the carnival known as the Great Ethiopian Run. My piece is online already, but the print section is worth buying, partly to see how our designers, Simon Khalil and Keith Waterfield, have interpreted the headline “Run the world”, and made the most of some great pictures from Dan Vernon. If you’re thinking of combining running with travel, my colleague Jolyon Attwooll has plenty of suggestions on where best to do it.
This blog has been shamefully neglected over the past few months while I’ve been developing Deskbound Traveller, which is dedicated to travel storytelling. One of my objectives there is to broaden notions of what constitutes travel writing to let in, among other things, fiction and poetry.
I’m not sure that The Spies, by the Brazilian writer Luis Fernando Verissimo (Maclehose Press), which I read over Christmas, falls within the criteria I’ve set out for the new site (and those are pretty all-embracing), which is why I’m mentioning it here. It’s a delightful comic novel about a frustrated publisher who receives in instalments a manuscript from an author known only as Ariadne. It turns out she is married to one of two shady brothers who dominate a small town in a distant province. Taken with her story (if not her disdain for commas), which he reads as a cry for help, he despatches a series of his drinking buddies — the spies — to the town to save her so he can sign her up.
If you’re planning a trip to Brazil for the World Cup, or after the final whistle when room rates will doubtless be lower, you will, of course, have already read Telegraph Travel’s beginner’s guide to the country, written by my colleague Chris Moss. I don’t think The Spies was available in English at the time he was compiling his recommended reading, but I would definitely add it to his list. Football even features tangentially in the plot, when the publisher’s friends are taken for match-fixers.
“Diamonds on the soles of her shoes”; the Mississippi Delta “shining like a national guitar”: where do those Paul Simon lines come from? The songwriter offered a few pointers in a conversation with the poet Paul Muldoon at the New Yorker Festival, says Maggie Fergusson on More Intelligent Life.
Opening sentence of the week, from Clive James on David Attenborough:
So successful are the vertebrates that one of them is making huge television programmes at the age of 87.
The winning picture in the “People” section of the 2013 iPhone Photography Annual Awards, published yesterday, is powerful enough in itself, but it struck me immediately as a homage, deliberate or unconscious, to what is perhaps the most famous portrait of 20th-century photography: Steve McCurry’s “Afghan girl”.
McCurry has already recounted in National Geographic the story of that girl, how he first met her at a refugee camp in Pakistan, and how he tracked her down 17 years later and photographed her again. In a book due out next month, Steve McCurry Untold: The Stories Behind the Photographs, he tells how he secured many more of his best-known pictures. In the process, particularly in a chapter about Mumbai, he offers something of a teach-in on travel photography. He’ll doubtless offer a few more tips when he takes to the stage to promote the book at the Southbank Centre in London in October. I’ve already booked my ticket.
In London with no firm plans for the weekend? If you’re keen on travel and travel writing, you might enjoy the first Travel Festival at Kings Place, the arts centre near King’s Cross, which opens tomorrow.
A Saturday evening session with Michael Palin, there to plug his new novel The Truth, is sold out, but there are still tickets for others on subjects from mapping and blogging to Gulliver’s Travels (as updated by the cartoonist Martin Rowson) and the live and loves of Debussy. The last, a collaboration between the pianist Lucy Parham and the actor Henry Goodman, follows the composer’s journeying from France to Scotland, Japan and the United States. Other contributors include staff from The Guardian’s travel desk (their office is next door to Kings Place) and writers whose names appear regularly in Telegraph Travel, including Sarah Wheeler, Andrew Martin, Jeremy Seal and Hugh Thomson. A teach-in on curries of the world, which I mentioned in an early tweet, has been cancelled, but the wine-tasting is still on.
I thoroughly enjoyed the trip I made last October to villages in the foothills of the Himalayas in the Indian state of Uttarakhand. While I was there, I heard a couple of stories from local people about leopard attacks. What I didn’t hear was that more people are killed by leopards in Uttarakhand than in any other state in the country: 70 a year, according to Rom Whitaker, a conservationist who presented Leopards: 21st-Century Cats, on BBC2 at the weekend. Had I known that, I’d have been even less keen to venture in the dark to the outside loo at one of the places where I stayed. In Uttarakhand and elsewhere, leopards that have turned man-eaters are being stoned, trapped and shot.
Another startling assertion was that Mumbai, the biggest city in India and the fourth-biggest in the world, has “the highest density of wild leopards anywhere on earth”. One was followed with a thermal-imaging camera as it sniffed around homes. Residents didn’t seem overly concerned, pointing out that the leopards were most likely to strike one of the many stray dogs that root about in the rubbish left on city streets.
This was a fascinating programme about the ways in which leopards and people are coming into conflict in some parts of the country and coexisting in others. If you missed it, it’s well worth catching on iPlayer.
“I’m just trying to make real pictures of real moments in people’s lives”: David Guttenfelder, of AP, winner of the International Centre of Photography’s 2013 Infinity Award for photojournalism, explains what drives his work in North Korea.
I’ve given quite a lot of advice in this blog on how to sell travel articles. Here’s a lesson in how not to do it.
A few weeks ago I was emailed an unsolicited article. It was a Thursday, press day for our Saturday print section. It also happened to be a day when the Telegraph Media Group was expected to start making 80 journalists redundant. I had plenty of other things to think about, and I get a couple of hundred emails a day, but I answered briefly that we had all the copy we needed.
I got this response:
As a professional freelancer I’m all too aware that ‘we have all the copy we need at the moment‘ usually means that a piece has not gotten an actual look, nor will it ever get one. Based on the reply times on this email (5 minutes, could be wrong), I’m guessing that this has been the case here, which suggests that as you do not already know my work, it is preemptively judged to be below consideration.
I want, however, to believe that ‘we have all the copy we need at the moment‘ is a situation that is amenable to change — ie, that you will not, forever and in perpetuity, be full to overflowing with great pieces to fill the pages of your section. As such, and as I have written an excellent piece that would suit that section wonderfully, I would politely ask that you give the piece a read when you have time, and let me know at what date I might productively follow up with you about finding a home for it within your pages.
The favour of a reply is requested.
Now, I hadn’t read the piece at this stage. I didn’t need to. As I had said in my email, we weren’t looking for copy. It’s often hard to find space in our pages for pieces that have been commissioned. When I didn’t reply, the “professional freelancer” followed up next day with this (the italics and bold are his):
I apologise if my being assertive and direct seems out of step with the standard pattern by which these things normally proceed. I understand that editors are extremely busy people, and that marginalizing the large volume of useless emails you receive on a daily basis is a part of the job.
I have, however, regularly pitched and submitted to and queried the Travel section of the Telegraph for more than two years now. When I do, I am typically given a snap response that the section is full up on copy — a perfectly understandable situation — yet when I offer to set a horizon to follow up, as such situations do not last indefinitely, I am invariably met with silence.
This leads me to believe that my submissions and queries are not being rejected on their merits (or lack thereof), but are in fact not being given any consideration at all.
As such, I would politely ask again if there might be a time at which I might follow up with you about this engaging… submission… when the space issues within your section may be less critical.
I’ve since looked at the piece he sent. It wasn’t badly written, but it was essentially timeless, and as I’ve pointed out here before, Telegraph Travel rarely runs timeless pieces. It’s also unlikely to commission freelance writers who approach it as this one did. Be “assertive”, be “direct”. But don’t tell the editors that you know their publication better than they do.
Peter Pomerantsev wins the @RSLiterature Ondaatje Prize for Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible.