Chaired by Magnus Linklater
Michael Jacobs has written part memoir and part travel books about Alexandria and Peter Stothard has written a book which describes his journey through Colombia.
Conventional travel adventure books are becoming increasingly unbelievable. However you need to write close to your heart and this is why his book is not a conventional travel book. Talking to everyone you meet is an essential part of travel writing. It is a travel writers’ duty to extract magic from any place they go to and be totally absorbed by it. You need to be able to find an interest in everywhere you go.
Peter brought up the point that as you get older you need to write what you can. You need fuel to fire your writing however when you are young you don’t necessarily know what your fuel is. All we know about Cleopatra is through her enemies, nothing is documented directly about the woman herself. Alexandria exists in the mind, it is ultimately an invented place. Alexandrians invented themselves after all they were Greeks arriving in Egypt. The truth of Alexandria lies within your own head. You have to search for the truth of Alexandria within your own mind and be able to recognise the truth of what you don’t know. Cleopatra never done anything that didn’t make perfect political sense at the time, Egypt at that time was ultimately a Roman puppet. Athens ultimately has a fake history that was invented by the Greeks and the Germans. In Alexandria you are completely free, they had the first libraries, they were the first scholars, first people to recognise the difference between fiction and non-fiction. They ultimately invented the invention of the past.
Time for some audience questions
Do you write long handed or do you write on a computer?
Peter wrote the majority of the book in notebooks in Alexandria. Writing is ultimately high work and takes time. The computer bit always come later on in the process.
Michael has a completely different style to writing. He explained how he can never write when he is traveling and does write notes to remind himself of important things that happens however he can never read his writing when it comes to writing the actual book.
Do you write different from conventional writing to attract new audiences?
Peter’s book was radio 4 book of the week and through this it was accessed by a wider variety of audience that wouldn’t have necessarily of picked up the book. A lot of people do not trust objective history they like to feel an connection with what they are reading.
Michael brought up the point that at the moment travel literature is not popular as it once was. It has mostly been relegated to the back corner of the bookshop. By writing an non-conventional book it gives you access to readers that you would not usually attract.
With this an exciting hour was brought to a close, before this event I had only read Alexandria by Peter Stothard however I have been inspired by Michael Jacobs and have purchased a copy of his book The Robber of Memories and I am looking forward to reading it.