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Archive for November, 2012

November 30th, 2012 • Posted in Nigel Beale's Biblio File Interviews

Audio Interview with Linda Spalding on The Purchase, 2012 GG award-winning novel

Born in Topeka, Kansas, Linda Spalding (nee Dickinson) is a Canadian writer and editor who has, over the years, worked as a professor of english and writing at numerous universities, including The University of Hawaii and The University of Toronto. She currently lives in Toronto with her husband, novelist Michael Ondaatje (plus her dog Jasper and her cat Jack), and works as an editor with Brick magazine,

Spalding’s  novel The Purchase has just won the 2012 Governor-General’s Literary Award for English Fiction. We met in Ottawa recently to talk about it.  Please listen here:

November 29th, 2012 • Posted in Literary Destinations

William Blake was born this day in 1757 – visit his grave

British poet, painter, and engraver William Blake was born at 28 Broad Street (now Broadwick St) in the Soho district of London on this date in 1757. Unrecognised during his lifetime, he is now considered one of the greats of the Western Canon. He spent his whole life in London save for a few years here, 


in this cottage in Felpham, Sussex where he worked illustrating the poems of  William Hayley and began Milton: a Poem the preface to which contains  “And did those feet in ancient time”, one of the most famous lines of poetry in the English speaking language.

According to his biographer Gilchrist (as quoted by Wikipedia),  Blake, on the day of his death, worked relentlessly on his Dante series. Seeing his wife Catherine next to his bed he is said to have cried, “Stay Kate! Keep just as you are – I will draw your portrait – for you have ever been an angel to me.” After finishing the portrait, Blake set aside his tools and started to sing hymns and verses. At six in the evening, after promising Katherine that “he would be with her always”, Blake died. Gilchrist reports that a lodger in the house, present at his expiration, said, “I have been at the death, not of a man, but of a blessed angel.”

Blake’s unmarked grave is today commemorated by a stone that reads “Near by lie the remains of the poet-painter William Blake 1757–1827 and his wife Catherine Sophia 1762–1831″. It is located in Bunhill Fields cemetery in the London Borough of Islington, north of the City of London.

November 29th, 2012 • Posted in Literary Destinations

Three books for only $10 at the Ottawa International Writers Festival Holiday Book Sale

Add to the mayhem at the Jack Purcell Community Centre in Ottawa from 11am to 4pm on Saturday, December 1st, and pick up some printed words at the Ottawa International Writers Festival’s first major Holiday Book Sale. With thousands of interesting books for sale, any three books can be yours for just $10! Featuring poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, they’ve got some amazing books on offer. And, as if this isn’t good enough:  100% of the funds raised go to support the Festival’s free children’s literacy programs.

November 29th, 2012 • Posted in England, Norwich

Why spend Valentine’s 2013 in Norwich England

Victorian Valentine’s Card – The Bridewell Museum. Image: Norfolk County Council

The Bridewell Museum, now newly vibrant, light, airy and inviting with its beautifully restored courtyard and stunning galleries, will be open for the first time in three years for Valentine’s in 2013, making it and the city of Norwich a great romantic destination for all literary lovers.

As it happens, St Valentine’s Eve was an exciting thrilling Victorian tradition particular to Norwich ( England’s first UNESCO City of Literature). Visitors to the city were often surprised to find local shop windows crammed with gifts in early February.  Norwich had its own special celebrations, its ‘one brilliant institution’ on 13th February, St. Valentine’s Eve.  For weeks beforehand newspapers were full of advertisements for ‘Useful and Ornamental Articles Suitable for the Season’ available from local retailers.

Shops took on extra staff and London Street bustled with people making secret purchases.  Clocks, umbrellas and workboxes, vases, tea caddies and albums, shawls, jigsaw puzzles and writing desks were all bought as Valentine gifts.  Just as at Christmas time, young and old were included in the festivities.

As soon as it got dark, people began knocking on doors and leaving presents on doorsteps.  Gifts were presented anonymously, labelled only ‘Good Morrow Valentine’.  Practical jokers rang doorbells and ran off, or left mock parcels which were whisked away by invisible strings when someone tried to pick them up.  Indoors there were excited shrieks, flushed faces and much laughter as parcels were examined for clues to the giver’s identity.  Valentine’s Eve really was ‘a glorious time in Norwich.’

As Hannah Henderson, Curator of Community History at The Bridewell puts it “We are delighted to offer the unique story of St Valentine’s Eve here at the museum, both for new visitors to Norwich and its residents. The beautiful displayed cards are works of art and it is rare to get a glimpse into the celebration of Valentine’s at a time when it was a little more sincere and tasteful.

To help spread the love, The Bridewell will be offer St Valentine’s Eve themed children’s activities during February half term, shops in the Norwich Lanes and The Norwich Cathedral Quarter will decorate their windows and the ever popular 2nd Air Division Memorial Library located at The Forum will offer an exhibition of photographs, letters and other documents from their archive relating to the war time romantic relationships between Norfolk residents and American Air Force personnel during WW2.” The library also wants to hear from visitors about their wartime romantic memories of the American GIs in Norfolk.

Speaking of The Bridwell, Nick Bond, Head of Tourism at VisitNorwich encouraged visitors to the region to check out it’s treasure trove of collections and stories about Norwich and to learn about the city’s fascinating people and past. “We always recommend a trip to The Bridewell to really get to know what we are all about!”

Watch for details on upcoming St. Valentine’s Eve special accommodation offers, themed menus, events and activities scheduled for 1 – 24 February 2013 here

November 22nd, 2012 • Posted in Manchester

Authors, Poets and Playwrights from Manchester

View from Kersal Moor, Salford. Painted by Sebastian Pether in 1820

There’s more to Manchester than just football. Not only is it a great gateway to the North of England and the Lake District with its many literary connections (William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter for instance), it has quite a literary pedigree in its own right. Here are just some of many famed authors connected to the city:

Elizabeth Gaskell – (1810-1865)
Born in Chelsea, London in 1810. Due to her mother’s death when Elizabeth was an infant, she was moved to Knutsford, Cheshire to live with an aunt. She grew to love the town of Knutsford, and this is evidenced in two of her books which are based on the town – “Cranford” and “Wives and Daughters”. After her marriage to a Unitarian minister, she lived at various places in Manchester including Chorlton-on-Medlock and Plymouth Grove. Charitable, socially aware and politically conscious, much of her material came through her husband. Her novel “Mary Barton” was a best-seller, and was admired by Charles Dickens. She contributed articles to his periodical Household Words. Also wrote “Ruth”, “North and South” and a biography of Charlotte Brontë. By 1865, the year of her death, she was a phenomenal literary success. She is buried in Knutsford Unitarian Chapel. New Manchester Walks conducts Elizabeth Gaskell tours throughout the year. Check here for dates.

Anthony Burgess – (1917-1993)
Probably now remembered best for the Stanley Kubrick film made of his novel The Clockwork Orange , he was born John Anthony Burgess Wilson on 25th February 1917 in Harpurhey, Manchester, the son of a book-keeper and music-dance teacher. Both his mother and sister died of Flu when he was only 3 years old. He was educated at Xavarian College in Moss Side and at Manchester University, spent six years as a soldier and became an education officer in Malaya and Brunei. He was invalided home in 1959, and took to writing. Some 50-odd books later and he had become a leading novelist on the world’s stage. Retired to live in Monaco and died of lung cancer in 1993 at the age of 76. For details on the Anthony Burgess’s Manchester walking tour, click here.

Shelagh Delaney – (b. 1939)
Born in Salford in 1939 of Irish descent, the daughter of a local transport worker, and was to become known as one of a generation of so-called ‘Angry Young Women’ writers of the 1950s. She attended Pendleton High School, where she was actively encouraged to write by an enlightened headmistress. On leaving school she had many brief jobs before becoming a research photographer with the Metropolitan Vickers Company (MetroVicks) in Trafford Park.

Her writing was steeped in her childhood experiences of life in the industrial north-west of England, and her roots were to provide the background to many of her most celebrated plays and novels. Perhaps her most famous, A Taste of Honey, set in 1950s Salford, and later made into a film starring newcomer Rita Tushingham, was classified by critics as a ‘kitchen sink drama’ or else it came from the ‘kitchen sink school of playwriting’. Delaney herself objected to the “glib label” however, and a programme note to this effect was included when A Taste of Honey premiered on 27th May 1958 in London. Opening to strong critical acclaim, when she was barely 20 years old, it angered many Salfordians, for the unflattering glimpse of Salford it showed, with its post-war decay and the industrial grime of Salford Docks and the Ship Canal, around which most of the film was set. Yet the play had warmth and humour, despite its authenticity and seaminess.

Her second play The Lion in Love opened in London, just before A Taste of Honey premiered on Broadway, and helped promote her further as a playwright of international appeal and stature. By 1961 she had already won the New York Drama Critic’s Award for best foreign play, and by then her work was popular in theatres in Britain and America. Her plays continue to be popular period dramas based on her childhood experiences in Salford.

Thomas De Quincey – (1785-1859)
Born in Manchester in 1785 and baptised in St Ann’s Church, De Quincey was the son of a linen merchant in Market Street Lane. Shy and retiring, he was often severely bullied by his brothers. The family moved to a house in the country called “Greenhay”, about a mile from the town centre in 1791 – subsequently it became the urban district of Greenheys. Educated in Bath and The Manchester Grammar School, and later, in 1803 at Oxford. Frequently in ill-health and impoverished, living in London and Scotland, he published Confessions of an Opium Eater as a serialised work in the London Magazine in 1821. Close friend of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, and many other romantic poets of his day. Wrote “Reminiscences of the Lake Poets”. Drug addicted and impoverished, his writings became more obscure and mystic. Almost complete mental collapse, died penniless in 1859.

Frances Hodgson Burnett – (1849-1924)
Born in 1849 at 385 Cheetham Hill Road in Manchester, the daughter of a small shopkeeper. Decline in the cotton industry led to diminishing fortunes after her father had died, at which time her mother sold up and moved them to Tennessee to live with her brother. Frances began to write short stories based on those in popular English magazines, with immediate success and recognition. After her marriage to a local doctor, her literary success conflicted with his work and they divorced in 1898. Her most famous novels were “That Lass o’ Lowries” (1877), “Little Lord Fauntleroy” (1886) and “The Secret Garden” (1909). A controversial figure in later life, due to her strong-mindedness and her devotion to mystic cults, she died in 1924.

Richmal Crompton – (1890-1969)
Born on the 15th of November 1890 in Bury, the second of three children to the Reverend Edward John Sewell Lamburn and his wife Clara Crompton. Richmal inherited the double surname (Crompton-Lamburn) from both parents, though professionally she only used the Crompton part. Her unusual Christian name had been a tradition in her mother’s family since the early 1700s. Her father was a teacher at Bury Grammar School, and the family lived in the borough for many years, though Richmal attended schools in Derbyshire and Warrington, before winning a scholarship to the Royal Holloway College in London in 1911. She graduated from London in 1914, and was by then an ardent Women’s Suffrage supported and communicated regularly with the Pankhursts in Manchester.

She went to teach at Bromley in Kent from 1915-1917, and it was while here that she began to write short stories. Several stories were accepted for publication in Home Magazine, and by 1919 she had invented her most famous character, William. Her first “Just William” and “More William” stories were published in the same year, and were an immediate success with children. The robust, comic, anarchic schoolboy stories became best sellers. By the time of her death in 1969 there were 38 ‘William’ titles and by 1977 over 9 million copies had been sold world-wide, in English and in translations to several foreign languages. In the early 1990s the BBC produced many of her ‘William’ stories as a Sunday afternoon children’s television series. She died on the 11th January 1969 at her home in Farnborough in Kent.

Robert Bolt – (1924-95)
Robert Oxton Bolt, the famous playwright, author and screenwriter, was born in 1924 at 13 Northenden Road, Sale, and lived there, above his father’s furnisher’s shop until around 1928, when the family moved to live at 68 School Road. A commemorative plaque was placed on these premises in June 2000.

An English dramatist and screenwriter. He wrote several historical plays, including “A Man for All Seasons” in 1960, widely considered to be his most important play, which was made into a film in 1966. He also did many screenplays including for David Lean’s film of “Lawrence of Arabia” in 1962, and “Dr Zhivago” in 1965, both of which won Academy Awards. In 1970 he wrote the screenplay for “Ryan’s Daughter ” and for “Lady Caroline Lamb” in 1972, which starred his wife, Sarah Miles, in the title role – he also directed this film.

Later, in 1984 he wrote screenplays for the remake of “The Bounty” which starred Mel Gibson, and in 1986, “The Mission” starring Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons.  Bolt demonstrated outstanding skill in the dramatisation of political and moral issues, and was an expert in the use of dramatic structure, strong characterisation, and expressive dialogue. This was demonstrated further in “Vivat Vivat Regina” in 1970, which well illustrated his ability to bring history to life. His “Revolution” in 1977, though not a popular success, showed his ability to tackle intellectually ambitious topics and to deal with them authoritatively.

Alan Garner – (Born 1934)
Alan Garner was born in Congleton in Cheshire on 17 October 1934, and spent most of his childhood days in Alderley Edge. During childhood he suffered from both pneumonia and meningitis. He went to school at Alderley Edge Primary School and later studied at Manchester Grammar School before going on to Magdalen College, Oxford where he gained a degree in classics and met the authors Tolkien and C S Lewis.

Later under National Service conscription, he spent two years in the Royal Artillery as a Second Lieutenant, and by the age of 22 he had begun to write his first novel, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. He worked for a time as a researcher at Granada Television. His children’s books are much influenced by local Cheshire dialect, legend and and myth. In 1968 he won both the Guardian Award and the Carnegie Medal (1968), for “The Owl Service” (published 1967) – the first author to win both awards for a book. His novel “Elidor” had already been a 1965 runner-up for the Carnegie medal. He also won the Phoenix Award in 1996 for “The Stone Book Quartet” which had been published in 1977. Other awards include the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, and First Prize at the Chicago International Film Festival for his film “Images”. Garner was awarded an OBE in 2001 for his services to literature. Alan Garner continues to live in Cheshire and is married with five children from his two marriages.

James Hilton – (1900 – 1954)
Also known as Glen Trevor, author James Hilton was born in 26 Twist Lane, off Wilkinson Street in Leigh, now in the Metropolitan Borough of Wigan, in 1900, the son of a local schoolmaster. The family moved to live in London while James was still a young boy and he attended various schools before finishing at The Leys School in Cambridge. He edited and contributed to the school magazine and later, while a seventeen year old undergraduate at Christ’s College Cambridge, had one of his essays published by the Manchester Guardian. He left university in 1921 and secured a job with The Irish Independent, a Dublin newspaper which helped finance his writing. His first novel ‘Catherine’ was published in 1920. Hilton was to become the author of two very famous classic novels, in a prolific and distinguished writing career, later adapted as films: “Goodbye Mr Chips” (which starred Robert Donat) and “Lost Horizons“, both of which were to become successful films in their own right, the latter directed by Frank Capra in 1937. ‘Lost Horizons’ had been written as a result of his visit in 1931 to a remote valley in North Pakistan, on its border with China, Afghanistan and Kashmir. He found a place so beautiful, so wild and so remote he christened it “Shangri-La”, (meaning “an earthly paradise”). The book was awarded the Hawthornden Prize in 1934.

Hilton went on to win an Academy Award for his screenplay for “Mrs Miniver“, which starred Greer Garson. Other award winning films based on his novels included ‘Half a Sixpence’ (later made into a musical starring Tommy Steele) and ‘Random Harvest’. By this time a successful author, script and screen writer, he had moved to live in Hollywood in California. Sadly, his first marriage ended in divorce in 1937 and only seven days later he married Galina Kopineck, a young starlet. This marriage proved volatile and Hilton again divorced eight years later. On 20th December 1954 Hilton died in hospital in Long Beach, California of liver cancer. By this time his first wife, Alice, had been reconciled with him and nursed him till the end. In 2000 a plaque commemorating the centenary of his birth was installed in Leigh Town Hall.

Francis Thompson – (1859-1907)
Francis Thompson was born in Preston in 1864 but moved to live with his family in Ashton-under-Lyne in 1864. Raised as a Roman Catholic and educated at home, in 1870 he went into Ushaw College to train for the priesthood. However, his tutors found him to be temperamentally unsuited and he left to study for a degree in Medicine in Manchester’s Owens College (later to become the University of Manchester). In the event, he did not complete the course and was thrown out by his father. He then moved to live in London where he would probably have ended his short life as a drug addict were it not for the intervention of Wilfred and Alice Meynall, publishers of the Merrie England magazine, who, recognising the quality of his writings, took him in, nursed him back to health and became his major promoters and benefactors throughout the remainder of his life.

Thompson went on to write many poems and was at his most prolific between 1888 and 1897, including his best known “The Hound of Heaven“. Other works include “Poems” in 1893, “Sister Songs” in 1895, as well as his “Essay on Shelley” and “Life of Saint Ignatius Loyola”, both published after his death in 1909. Thompson also contributed to magazines like the Athenaeum and the Academy.

Terry Eagleton – (Born 1943)
Writer, academic and novellist, Terry Eagleton was born into a working class family in Salford in 1943 and reputedly began writing short stories by the age of six. He went to school at De La Salle College and became interested in drama. After reading English at Trinity College, Cambridge, he achieved a First Class Degree with special distinction in 1964, and was awarded a PhD in 1967. Later, he became a research fellow at Jesus College. In 1969 he moved as a lecturer to Wadham College, Oxford where he was eventually to become Thomas Warton Professor of English Literature.

His several books on literary criticism include “Literary Theory – an Introduction” in 1983, “Heathcliffe and the Great Hunger” (1995), “After Theory” (2005). Other work includes “The English Novel: an Introduction”, “The Significance of Theory” (1990), the novels “Saints & Scholars” (1987) and “The Gatekeeper” (2001), as well as several plays. Regarded as a leading intellectual and British Marxist literary critic, he lives with his wife and their son in Londonderry and is currently Professor of Cultural Theory and John Rylands Fellow at the University of Manchester.


In total there are now seven cities in North America with non-stop flights to Manchester: New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Orlando and Las Vegas. So what are you waiting for?

November 20th, 2012 • Posted in Literary Destinations

Calling all German Americans

Kurt Vonnegut, one of many famed Americans of German descent.

The German National Tourist Office (GNTO) celebrates over 400 years of German American heritage with the re-launch of its heritage website.

For the past 400 years, Germans and their descendants have been making their presence known in America. They first arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. Franz Daniel Pastorius, in 1683, created the first German settlement: Germantown just outside of Philadelphia. Famous Americans of German descent include Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, movie magnet Carl Laemmle who produced Erich Maria Remarque’s book, All Quiet on the Western Front; stage and screen stars Marlene Dietrich and today’s Kirsten Dunst; Eberhard Anheuser, John Jacob Astor, Kurt Vonnegut, John Steinbeck, Maximilian Berlitz, Heinrich Steinway, Richard Hellman. Elvis Presley even had German roots. Many are as American as apple pie. Inventions by German Americans range from the theory of relativity to aspirin, air bags, the computer, tooth paste…even television.

Now, with the relaunch of the German American heritage website, Germany is reaching out to German Americans, who at almost 15 percent of the population, make up the largest ethnic group in the United States. 

Visiting their roots…

 Two sophisticated museums in Northern Germany one in Bremerhaven and one in Hamburg highlight any heritage trip to Germany. In southern Germany, in Bavaria, the homes and museums dedicated to Levi Strauss ( famed for his jeans) and Daniel Pastorius (the founder of Germantown) are must-sees. The nearby UNESCO heritage town of Bamberg and the towns of Fuerth and Regensburg are the birthplaces or erstwhile homes of Henry Kissinger, Sandra Bullock and Oskar Schindler. Further west, history comes alive in the town of Ulm, Einstein’s birthplace in Baden-Wuerttemberg. In and around the beautiful vineyards of the Palatinate, visitors will find the towns from whence many Germans emigrated to America, and Berlin is filled with German-American heritage especially from the 20th century.

Visit the new website and you’ll find links to ancestry websites; the history of famous German Americans and inventions of German origin; German products; an emigration time line; an interactive map of important German American heritage locations; as well as cooking ideas and recipes, German American festivals and events in the U.S. , travel tips and places where you can share your travel and heritage stories and photos.

For more information on travel to Germany and special heritage offers, visit the German National Tourist Office.

November 18th, 2012 • Posted in Literary Tourism

Literary Tourism, Alain de Botton, Grand Tours and meeting people

In a recent piece for British Airways’ in-flight magazine High Ways, Alain de Botton writes that “our attitudes to travel are interwoven with the cultural priorities that once informed the European Grand Tour,” to wit “the ultimate purpose of travelling to a country was to stand respectfully before its artistic masterpieces in a silent gallery”. “Art” he continues,

” may be a particularly good medium for distilling and reflecting the characteristics of a nation, but contemplation of it does not give us the vivid and visceral experience of them that we may crave. We’re learning that what we might really want to do is to talk to people. This is remarkably hard. Entire institutions exist to help us to know the culture of a nation through its canvases, yet there’s almost nothing around if we want to try to strike up a conversation with one of its citizens over supper. We can easily pass through a country over a week and not interact with anyone outside the concierge and his colleagues. The growth travel industries of the future will be those that help us to mingle with and understand the living reality of host nations. They will take us out of the sterile routines of the art museum and throw us into the vibrant living reality of the kitchens, offices, kindergartens and wedding parties of our host countries.”

While I might quibble with him over the ‘standing before masterpieces in silent galleries’ bit (Grand Tours often involved the visiting of actual people, great people), I do take Alain’s point: when we travel we do typically want to mingle with and understand the living realities of host countries. Connecting with locals adds hugely to the experience.

Wherever I go I make a point of trying to meet local bibliophiles. Now granted, I do have a bit of an advantage. I am after all The Literary Tourist, and I do host a super-popular literary podcast :) , but this doesn’t mean that other literary tourists can’t follow my lead. Take my recent trip to Spain, and Valencia for example.

First I sought out a library with a rare books component. Next, after a time, the helpful information person asked me what I really wanted. I told her that, ideally, it would be great to find someone, a fellow bibliophile, who could show me around town, take me to all the cool places a literary tourist might want to visit.

Wait she said…well, it was more like a signal…after about 15 minutes Fede


her boyfriend, showed up. He also happens to work in the library, as a librarian, and is one of the sweetest, most kind-hearted hombres you’d ever want to meet. The next few days were filled with visits to libraries

and bookstores

and conversations with booksellers


It was the best way to see and experience Valencia, topped off with a great night out

on the town. Thank you Fede and Concha!

Alain is right. It’s about the people. And, if you’re at all literary, and a bit lucky, one of the best ways to connect with a place is via fellow bibliophiles. Next time you’re on holiday why not wander into a rare book library, or check out the local Writers Festivals or reading series you never know who you might meet, or how it might change your life.

November 16th, 2012 • Posted in Edinburgh

Guest Post: Match the scene to the location – A literary tour of Edinburgh

From Robert Lewis Stevenson novels to the hugely popular work of Ian Rankin, Edinburgh has inspired creation of some of the world’s best literature. Many of city’s prolific writers have felt compelled to set their narratives here because of the wealth of ‘character’ found in the place – its local people and its surroundings.

The following excerpts from novels, written by top Edinburgh literary talent, provide the starting points for a grand literary tour.

Sir Walter Scott references The Royal Mile in  The Heart of Mid-Lothian, best known of his magisterial Waverly novels. Note the scene’s atmosphere of oppression, as prison blends into adjoining city centre.

“He stood now before the Gothic entrance of the ancient prison, which, as is well known to all men, rears its ancient front in the very middle of the High Street, forming, as it were, the termination to a huge pile of buildings called the Luckenbooths, which, for some inconceivable reason, our ancestors had jammed into the midst of the principal street of the town, leaving for passage a narrow street on the north; and on the south, into which the prison opens, a narrow crooked lane, winding betwixt the high and sombre walls of the Tolbooth and the adjacent houses on the one side, and the buttresses and projections of the old Cathedral upon the other.”

Edinburgh: Tolbooth

Irvine Welsh’s modern classic, Trainspotting  is written in thick Scottish dialect. It provides an amusing and raw depiction of Edinburgh’s ‘Leith Walk’ through the troubled underclass perspective of Sickboy.

“Supposed tae be a rank. Supposed tae be a fuckin taxi rank. Nivir fucking git one in the summer. Up cruising fat, rich festival cunts too fuckin lazy tae walk a hundred fuckin yards fae one poxy church hall tae another fir thir fuckin show. Taxi drivers. Money-grabbin bastards … Sick Boy muttered deliriously and breathlessly tae hissel, eyes bulging and sinews in his neck straining as his heid craned up Leith Walk.”

Robert Lewis Stevenson‘s Kidnapped  is set in 18th-century Scotland and brings historical drama thrillingly to life.

“We came the by-way over the hill of Corstorphine, and when we got near to the place called Rest-and-be-Thankful, and looked down on Corstophine bogs and over to the city and the castle on the hill, we both stopped, for we both knew without a word that we had come to where our ways parted.”

Views from the castle are just as spectacular.

Ian Rankin has used Edinburgh’s dark secrets and alleyways as backdrop to his Inspector Rebus novels for the past 24 years. In A Good Hanging, Parliament Square’s bloody history sets the tone for murder.

“It was quite some time since a scaffold had been seen in Parliament Square. Quite some time since Edinburgh had witnessed a hanging, too, though digging deeper into history the sight might have been common enough. Detective Inspector Rebus recalled hearing some saloon-bar story of how criminals, sentenced to hang, would be given the chance to run the distance of the Royal Mile from Parliament Square to Holyrood, a baying crowd hot on their heels. If the criminal reached the Royal Park before he was caught, he would be allowed to remain there, wandering in safety so long as he did not step outside the boundary of the park itself … Frankly, Rebus would have preferred the noose.”

Parliament Square is a relaxing part of the old town where you’ll find street performers and many striking civil buildings.

Where to stay and other attractions

UNESCO’s first City of Literature, Edinburgh has many literary attractions to offer, including lots of writerly pubs, and The Writers’ Museum.

If you’re looking for somewhere comfortable and central to stay try Edinburgh B and B. It hasn’t appeared in a novel yet, but its grand Georgian history doubtless contains many a fascinating story. From your room you’ll get a fantastic view of the city and Edinburgh Castle.

November 16th, 2012 • Posted in Literary Destinations

Ibsen on Munich, and fresh air

Bavarian State Library

“Ibsen found Munich much to his liking. ‘Many Norwegians live here’, he reported to Johan Thorensen on 21 May [1875] (how that recommendation would have surprised his countrymen!), ‘and I find the air much fresher and more invigorating than in Dreden, a natural result of the proximity of the Alps.’ Ibsen had an almost English passion for fresh air, as visitors to his apartment occasionally discovered to their discomfort. ‘ He needs good air in quantity,’ Hans Midboe was to note twelve years later. ‘Lofty, airy rooms are an absolute necessity to him.’ He was a great one for leaving windows open.

from Ibsen, by Michael Meyer (Pelican, 1974)

November 13th, 2012 • Posted in Literary Destinations

Literary Tourist visit to Ireland: Your Nine Day itinerary

Image from here.
Here, courtesy of Irish Tourism, is one possible 9 day itinerary for the literary tourist visiting the Emerald Isle:

Day 1: Arrive Dublin

Arrive in Dublin airport and meet with your driver/guide. Given that Dublin was named as a UNESCO City of Literature in 2010, there can be no better place to start your literary tour of Ireland beginning with a guided tour of the William Butler Yeats Exhibition at the National Library. The National library has the largest collection of Yeats manuscripts in the world and in addition holds other fascinating material donated by Mrs George Yeats. Next visit the James Joyce Museum/Tower (James Joyce Centre), originally built as a defence against Napoleonic invasions. This tower was the setting for the first chapter of Joyce’s masterpiece, Ulysses, and now displays a collection of Joyce artifacts including photographs and personal possessions as well as objects associated with the Dublin of Ulysses. After this visit, check into your hotel where you will have some time to relax before your evening entertainment, a Literary Pub Crawl. Tour Dublin’s historic pubs in the company of two actors who introduce writers such as James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Brendan Behan and Oscar Wilde and perform fascinating scenes from their works along the way. Dinner has not been arranged for you this evening so you can enjoy one of the capital’s many restaurants or re-visit one of the pubs you enjoyed on your pub crawl. Overnight in Dublin BB.

Day 2: Dublin City Tour

This morning enjoy a full Irish breakfast at your hotel before continuing your literary tour of Dublin. First, it’s on to the Dublin Writers Museum where Dublin’s literary personalities are brought to life through their books, letters, portraits and personal items. The Museum Collection is as fascinating as it is various and as might be expected, there are plenty of books representing the milestones in the progress of Irish literature from Gulliver’s Travels to Dracula, The Importance of Being Earnest to Ulysses and Waiting for Godot. Portraits of Irish writers are everywhere, including fine originals by artists such as Edward McGuire, Harry Kernoff, Patrick Swift and Micheal Farrell. Next, visit The James Joyce Centre which is located in a beautifully restored Georgian house and includes an exhibition area with computer installations, videos, re-creations of period rooms, and items relating to the life and work of James Joyce. Also on view are a copy of Joyce’s death mask, furniture from Paul Leon’s Paris apartment where Joyce worked on Finnegans Wake, and the front door from number 7 Eccles Street; Leopold Bloom’s address in Joyce’s Ulysses. Afterwards, visit The Chester Beatty Library which houses a great array of manuscripts, miniature paintings, prints, drawings, rare books and decorative arts assembled by Sir Alfred Chester Beatty. Your final stop for today is Shaw Birthplace which was the birthplace of the legendary playwright George Bernard Shaw. This remarkable building has been restored to its original Victorian style and is a fine example of Victorian Dublin domestic life. Return to your hotel this evening where dinner will be arranged for you. Following dinner, the evening is free for you to enjoy the nightlife in this bustling city. Overnight in Dublin DBB.

Day 3: Dublin – Sligo

Today we make the journey from Dublin to Sligo which is long renowned for being associated with the Irish playwright William Butler Yeats. En-route stop at the heritage village of Ardagh. In 1744 one of the most famous incidents in Ardagh’s history occurred; this was the visit of young Oliver Goldsmith who was tricked into mistaking the mansion (Ardagh House) for an inn. His endeavors to court the Fetherston daughters in the belief that they were servant girls formed the plot of his most successful play ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ , a comedy which explores the contemporary themes of sexual morality and double standards. Visit the Ardagh visitor centre which recounts the tale as well as the curious history of the area. Continue on your travels and arrive in Sligo by early afternoon. Visit Yeat’s Memorial Museum where you can see a photographic exhibition detailing the famous writer’s life, visit Drumcliffe Churchyard where Yeats is buried and visit the Sligo County Museum & Art Gallery which also has Yeats’ work on display. Return to your hotel where dinner will be arranged for you. Overnight in Sligo DBB.

Day 4: Sligo – Galway

From Sligo, travel to Galway via the Museum of Country Life in Castlebar. This award winning museum is home to the national Folklife Collection which represents traditional life in Ireland throughout the 19th and early 20th century. Here you will see for yourself the traditions, folklore and history of the real people of Ireland that would have inspired many famous Irish writers. Following your visit arrive in Galway City where you will check into your hotel and the remainder of the afternoon is free for you to explore this colourful city. This evening enjoy a Banquet at Dunguaire Castle which includes a four course meal accompanied by entertainment to lift the soul. The entertainment includes extracts from the works of great literary writers such as Synge, Yeats, Shaw and O’Casey. Overnight in Galway BB.

Day 5: Aran Islands

Enjoy an early breakfast at your hotel before departing to take the ferry to Inis Meáin, which is the middle of the three Aran Islands. Inis Meáin has managed to suppress the intrusion of the modern world to a large extent and remains the quietest and most traditional of the three Islands. The islanders still speak their native language but will have no problem in communicating in English. This enchanting island was frequented by the distinguished playwright John Millington Synge. It is the subject of numerous books, and proves continually to be of inspiration to visual, dramatic, literary and other artists. On the Island you will visit many sites including the historic fort of Dún Chonchúir, an impressive oval fortress measuring approximately 20ft in height, Dún Fearbhaí, the second stone fort on the island most notable for its unusual shape (almost square in shape as opposed to the normal round shape), ‘Cathaoir Synge’, the place where Synge was inspired and regularly wrote and ‘Teach Synge’, the cottage where Synge stayed while on the Island. Return to your hotel in Galway in the evening in time for dinner. Overnight in Galway DBB.

Day 6: Galway – Limerick

Enjoy a leisurely breakfast at your hotel before continuing on your literary tour. Today you will visit Limerick which was made famous by Frank McCourt’s Pulitzer Prize winning book ‘Angela’s Ashes’. Visit the Frank McCourt Museum which depicts the classroom of the 1930’s where Frank and his siblings attended as pupils as well as a collection of memorabilia including items such as school books of the period and old photographs. After your visit, take the Angela’s Ashes Walking Tour which includes locations featured in the book and subsequent film. After some free time to enjoy the shops of Limerick you will check into your hotel where dinner will be waiting for you. Overnight in Limerick DBB.

Day 7: Limerick – Killarney

Depart Limerick and head toward Kerry, stopping along the way in the heritage town of Listowel. Here you will visit the Seanchaí Visitor Centre which shows the works of the great Kerry authors in a unique audio-visual experience. Located in a 19th century Georgian residence in Listowel’s magnificent square, the centre features five of County Kerry’s most esteemed writers – John B. Keane, Bryan MacMahon, George Fitzmaurice, Brendan Kennelly and Maurice Walsh. The writings of these national and internationally renowned literary figures are filled with an abundance of rich characters, humour, romance and tragedy drawn from the towns and villages of North Kerry. Continue on your tour arriving in Killarney by late afternoon, where you will have time to explore this beautiful town before settling down to enjoy dinner in your hotel. Overnight Killarney DBB.

Day 8: Dingle Peninsula

This morning you will continue on your journey heading for the Dingle Peninsula. There is no other landscape in Western Europe with the density and variety of archaeological monuments as the Dingle Peninsula. This mountainous finger of land which juts into the Atlantic Ocean has supported various tribes and populations for almost 6,000 years. The Conor Pass which runs from Dingle on the southern end of the peninsula towards Brandon Bay and Castlegregory in the North is the highest mountain pass in Ireland, a tight, precarious road weaving its way around the sharp cliff faces and past magnificent lakes. Stop at the Blasket Centre on the tip of the Dingle Peninsula which celebrates the story of the Blasket Islanders, the unique literary achievements of the island writers and their native language, culture and traditions. Sadly, An Blascaod Mór was abandoned in 1953 as a result of the decline of its once vibrant population. Enjoy some free time in Dingle to explore the town and its many bars and cafés before returning to your Killarney Hotel. This evening enjoy a farewell show of traditional dance, song and music including a three course meal at Kate Kearney’s Cottage. Overnight Killarney BB.

Day 9: Say “Goodbye”

After your final breakfast take the journey from Killarney to Shannon airport, arriving in good time to complete checking in formalities and that last minute duty free shopping.

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