The art of travel, or travel through art

I am about to travel, heading for the memorial of a beloved uncle, who had lived a good life until the age of 88. I feel loss and regret, but also some excitement: to get on a plane has been a very rare occurrence in the last two years, due to the pandemic.

I’ll be visiting the Berkshires, low mountains in western Massachusetts that my uncle had loved so much. I hope we can give him the kind of send-off he would have liked, with people who loved him. In addition, I am really looking forward to visiting a new part of the country (for me), and experiencing a different landscape.

Looking through my photographs of the past two years, you’d think that I’d never left southeast London: there are urban scenes with rusty machinery extending out over the Thames river;  cloud formations over Blackheath; graffiti and street art; and the home-schooling disasters that threatened to destroy what was left of the garden.

But I had a life before the pandemic that was blessed with chances to travel much further than the small radius around my home. The photographs of those places matter to me now, possibly even more than before.

I am going through thousands of photos at the moment, trying to curate them for potentially publishing a new volume of the Humanity in the Landscape series of photography books. It is a daunting task: looking at more than 25 years of photographs from Africa, Asia, the Balkans, Europe, the US, and London. Some favourite views stay with me always: the desert in Morocco; the mountains of Nepal; the health workers dancing in Liberian refugee camps;  kids laughing with me in South Africa; the colours of a newly-painted schoolhouse in Vietnam. With my work for different humanitarian organisations, I know I was very privileged to see these places and have exceptional experiences.

But some of the places were very difficult, in conflict or struggling to emerge from war. I am left with mixed feelings and a variety of lived experiences that I explore in my novels, short stories and flash fiction.

I’ve been thinking about the art of travel, and travel through art. During the pandemic I craved stimulation and escape, so I dived into books set in different locations: The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak, set in Cyprus; Cuba and the Night by Pico Iyer;  Johannesburg by Fiona Melrose; Overboard  by Ivy Ngeow; and The Measure of Gold  by Sarah C Patten.

I also explored London books, from different perspectives: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo; This Lovely City  by Louise Hare; and Ridley Road  by Jo Bloom. I also surprised myself with a rare slip into fantasy, including the classic Astonishing the Gods by Ben Okri, and the odd but strangely compelling Piranesi  by Susanna Clarke.

What about you? Have you read any of the books above for escape, entertainment, or a sense of travel? Did you have a favourite, or did one on my list rub you the wrong way? Are there any that you couldn’t put down, or couldn’t finish? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to write in the comments below, or to write to me directly at contact [at] .

Thinking about landscape, I am just finishing the edits on my next book. Ahead of the Shadows is set in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan (Darfur) and Paris. The book is about the relationships formed and threatened by work in these intense contexts. It is also about the psychological impact on the next generation, and how one unconventional boy might be able to break the cycle.

Like Into the Mouth of the Lion,  I hope the book will transport readers into an intense and compelling landscape, with a story that pulls you forward and keeps you turning the pages.

I can’t wait to share more with you as soon as it’s ready. A cover reveal will happen in the next few weeks, and more information coming soon, ahead of the publication in September.

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