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The Warwick Writing Prize & Skyfaring

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

I’m one of the five judges for the 2015 Warwick Prize for Writing and yes, I am a graduate of Warwick University. The panel of judges is chaired by A L Kennedy and include Robert Macfarlane, I recently read his enchanted walking book The Old Ways. It’s not my first time as a judge on a literary prize panel, I chaired the panel for the 2012 Dolman Travel Book of the Year Award.

Skyfaring

We have 13 books to read on the Warwick longlist and the winner can be fiction, non-fiction (there’s even one book of poetry on the longlist), but there’s a theme and this year it’s ‘instinct.’ The titles are fairly evenly split between fiction and non-fiction (is Knausgaard’s A Man in Love – Book 2 in the My Struggle series – fiction or non-fiction, diary or autobiography or even, as the French term it, auto-fiction?). The judges had the option to nominate an additional title to add to the original 10 book longlist and I chose Skyfaring.

Well you would, I can hear somebody saying, knowing my interest in travel and aviation, but Mark Vanhoenacker’s book is a very different look at the airline, aviation and flying business. He’s not writing about the business of aviation or the technical side and what happens when things go wrong. I’ve read a number of William Langewiesche’s excellent books and articles in that field, he’s a regular writer on aviation for Vanity Fair.

What Skyfaring does and often in a quite magical fashion is bring alive the mystery, the delight, the astonishing wonder of flying. Yes, like Mr Vanhoenacker I’m a sucker for flying, just as long as I have a window seat so I can see what’s happening. He must also be the most poetic British Airways 747 pilot, even if he is still in the left hand, co-pilot’s position. In the air he’s poetic about the beauty of the world, but he’s equally adept at studying the curious situations that our ability to hurtle around the world brings home. That we can suffer from ‘place lag’ as well as ‘jet lag,’ it isn’t just our mental clocks running hours ahead or behind where we actually are it’s also the very concept of where we are at this moment. There’s a chapter – Night – on the mysteries of flying at night, how everything seems different in the dark. My most recent book posting was on Lights of Mankind, our planet as seen from space at night.

Coincidentally I’m working on an airline book and unlike Vanhoenacker, whose current flying is of the long haul intercontinental variety, I’ll be travelling and writing an hour at a time. Setting out from London, England and ending up a month or so and 20-plus flights later in Melbourne, Australia, all of it done on the ‘Low Cost Carriers’ which revolutionised air travel in recent years. I’ll be looking at the downside of air travel as well: the security hassles, the safety concerns and the ‘how much fuel are we burning’ environmental concerns.

Skyfaring

The Warwick Writing Prize & Skyfaring

15 July 2015 | Media

I’m one of the five judges for the 2015 Warwick Prize for Writing and yes, I am a graduate of Warwick University. The panel of judges is chaired by A L Kennedy and include Robert Macfarlane, I recently read his enchanted walking book The Old Ways. It’s not my first ti...

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Lights of Mankind - 540

Lights of Mankind

12 June 2015 | Media

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Airline Seating – at the sharp end in particular

8 June 2015 | Transport

There’s constant discussion about how many seats airlines can stuff in. They all seem intent on shoving in one more across the aircraft or squeezing the ‘pitch,’ the distance between one row and the next, in order to get more passengers on board. But that’s back in ec...

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Bicycle Tracks, Bicycle Signs

7 June 2015 | Transport

▲ On a recent visit to Turin in Italy I encountered this nice bicycle warning, admonishing cyclists not to go speeding down the laneway next to the Egyptian Museum, scattering pedestrians in all directions. ◄ I posted a recent photo of something I encountered o...

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Turin

6 June 2015 | Places

I spent a couple of days in Turin –Torino in Italian – for the Salone Internazionale del Libro Torino in the Lingotto Fiere, the imaginatively restored old Fiat car factory. Complete with its test track on the roof. ▲ It’s one of those cities which underlines why w...

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The Bush

2 June 2015 | Media

Don Watson is best known for being the speech writer and political adviser to former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating. Keating is famously touchy and his book about the Keating years – Recollections of a Bleeding Heart: A Portrait of Paul Keating PM – led to a m...

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Mallorca

29 May 2015 | Places

Why had I never been to Mallorca before? I finally got around to it with a bunch of friends, we all had a great week there, staying at the Hotel Son Paulo up in the hills at Orient. We never went near Magaluf, the package tour centre often referred to as Shagaluf. ...

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Walking Broadway – New York City

3 May 2015 | Places

In New York recently I set out to walk Broadway, it’s the one street which runs the entire length of Manhattan. ▲ So I took the subway down to South Ferry. ◄ It was an expensive trip, I put my credit card into a Columbus Circle subway station Metro Card machine,...

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Around the World in 50 Years

29 April 2015 | Media

When I got off the plane in Nauru during my travels for Dark Lands I immediately bumped into Albert Podell. There aren’t a lot of reasons to go to Nauru, if you aren’t unlucky enough to be a refugee who has become entangled in Australia’s Pacific Solution and has been...

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IMG_1117 - Maju Deval, Durbar Square, Kathmandu

Poor Kathmandu

26 April 2015 | Places

In the 24 hours since Nepal was hit by a huge earthquake I’ve been waiting for news from various friends who either live there or have Nepal connections. Over the years I’ve added up more than six months of my life in Nepal – lots of days on lots of trekking routes in...

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