Some jet-lagged reflections on travel

I’m a bit jet-lagged and weary, after a long journey back from India that has involved (in this order) a rickshaw, a train, a taxi (one of Kolkata’s glorious yellow Ambassadors), a lift from a friend, a plane, another plane, two tube journeys, and now another train, after which it is just a quick hop in a taxi to find my way home once again.

I’ve only been away for a couple of weeks, but in truth it feels a lot longer. It seems to me that subjective time is measured, at least to some extent, by the experience of change; and this being so, it feels as if it was along time since I left the UK. The final few days in India were I spent in Rabindranath Tagore’s university town of Santiniketan, reading, thinking and making a great many new friends and connections; and it was a humbling experience to meet with so many warm and generous people, and to find myself engaged in so many fascinating and enriching conversations.

So—partly to stave off the jetlag a while longer, and to keep myself awake, so that I don’t end up falling asleep and finding myself missing my stop and ending up in Nottingham by mistake—I thought I’d write a few idle notes on the subject of the virtues of travel. Nothing that I’m writing here is particularly new or startling; but (the issue of staying awake on one side) I thought it worth saying at least as a reminder to myself.
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The Whatever-it-is of Existence

It is seventeen years since I was last here in India. Back then, I was travelling around the Buddhist pilgrimage sites as a young and rather earnest aspiring Buddhist, making notes towards an excessively pious travelogue that I’m now rather glad was never published.

Now I find myself back in India to launch the paperback of my novel The Descent of the Lyre at the Kolkata Book Fair. As it’s a long trip for a book lauch alone, I’m taking advantage of being here to spend a short while doing some research towards various projects that I have in the works. And this has involved (for reasons that are still rather hazy in my mind) finding my way back to Bodhgaya, the foremost of India’s Buddhist sites, the place of the Buddha’s awakening.
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The last few days have been pretty busy, as I’ve been putting everything in order for my forthcoming trip to India. I’m going to be doing an event at the Kolkata Book Fair, where I’ll be launching the paperback of my novel, The Descent of the Lyre. Kolkata Book Fair is an interesting event, in particular because of the strong emphasis that it puts on the relationship between readers and writers. But I’m also taking advantage of being in India to head up to Santiniketan, where I’ll pay my respects to the memory of Rabindranath Tagore, and to do a bit of research for a couple of forthcoming projects in Bodh Gaya, Rajgir, and around the Buddhist pilgrimage sites.

I was last in India — and Bodh Gaya — in 1998, and so I’m expecting that things will have changed quite a lot. But I’m looking forward to being back, and to getting to grips with India again (and to spending a bit more time than usual writing and meditating).

I’ll be posting updates on this blog whilst I’m away — I generally write more when I’m on the move. In the mean-time, there are bags to pack, things to organise, and classes to be taught…

Storytellers and Anthropologists

I’m currently in the middle of editing a book that I’ve been working on about the Tanimbar islands in Indonesia. I was in Tanimbar some twenty years ago as a fledgling anthropologist, and it was in Tanimbar that I started writing seriously. In fact, I find it hard to disentangle my time in Tanimbar from my life as a writer. This, in part, has been why I have found this book so tricky to write, and why it has taken long. Read more

On Pakistan, Bicycles and Religious Experiences: Unmapped Magazine

I’m delighted to have another article in the most recent edition of the truly wonderful Unmapped magazine. Unmapped, for those of you who haven’t come across it, is a magazine for travel writing from all those hidden places that are off the map (whatever this map might be). The piece is called The Domed Heaven, the Domed Earth, and is about a strangely religious experience in the tomb of Ali Mardan Khan in Lahore, Pakistan. It is a piece I’ve been thinking of writing for about a quarter century, so I’m pleased that the editor of Unmapped pushed me into it!

Do pay Unmapped a visit and, whilst you are over there, subscribe.They are a fabulous publication.

Writer’s Toolkit: Writings, Travels and Tools

Tomorrow, I’m down in Birmingham at the Writers’ Toolkit day, taking part in a couple of panels. Firstly, I’ll be talking about writing work overseas, and secondly about digital tools for writers. These are rather large, rag-bag subjects, and as these are panels rather than stirring orations, I will need to keep things rather brief; but I thought that here I might present a few thoughts on both topics — both for the benefit of those who might be interested and not make it to Birmingham, and also so that I can use this blog post as a crib-sheet tomorrow, and thus not have to lug my Macbook down to Brum. Read more

Wrestling Goats in Albi

I’m writing this from Toulouse railway station, where I’m awaiting the train to Albi. I caught the train to Paris yesterday evening, and then the overnight train down here to Toulouse. I’m here in France to spend a couple of weeks working on the final draft of my next novel, Goat Music. It has been a long time in the works, this book, and so it’s good to have the chance to spend time wrestling the draft into shape. Read more


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