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Authors on location – William Dalrymple

29th December 2017

#AuthorsOnLocation – WILLIAM DALRYMPLE

For some writers location is as integral to their story-telling as plot or character. TripFiction takes a look at some of these authors, for whom a sense of place has helped to define their literary output. For the fifth in the series we have chosen William Dalrymple.

William Dalrymple

William is a man of many talents – a historian, an art curator, a broadcaster and a critic, and much more. He is also a prodigious writer – of travelogues, history books and social commentary. He has even edited Lonely Planet’s guide to Sacred India. He may not write fiction, but many of his books have the powerful sense of stories sourced from history.

William hails from Scotland but spends large parts of the year in India. His interests and influences are rooted firmly in Afghanistan, the Middle East, India and Pakistan and in the Muslim faith and other religions.

In Xanadu – travelogue along the Silk Route, from Jerusalem to Shangdu, Mongolia

At the age of just twenty-two, William Dalrymple left his college in Cambridge to travel to the ruins of Kublai Khan’s stately pleasure dome in Xanadu. This is an account of a quest which took him and his companions across the width of Asia, along dusty, forgotten roads, through villages and cities full of unexpected hospitality and wildly improbable escapades, to Coleridge’s Xanadu itself.

At once funny and knowledgeable, In Xanadu is Dalrymple’s first book, published in 1989, and in the finest tradition of British travel writing. Told with an exhilarating blend of eloquence, wit, poetry and delight, it is established as a classic of its kind.

City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi – travelogue set in Delhi, India

A riveting description of 6 years spent in New Delhi, and a fascinating portrait of a city that was the ancient capital of India. The book is shaped more like a novel than a travel book, William and his wife uncovering a colourful cast of characters and digging into the city’s violent past and vibrant present.

‘The book follows his established style of historical digressions, tied in with contemporary events and a multitude of anecdotes.’

From the Holy Mountain – travelogue set in Turkey, and the Middle East

A rich blend of history and spirituality, adventure and politics, laced with the thread of black comedy familiar to readers of William Dalrymple’s previous work.

In AD 587, two monks, John Moschos and Sophronius the Sophist, embarked on an extraordinary journey across the Byzantine world, from the shores of the Bosphorus to the sand dunes of Egypt. Their aim: to collect the wisdom of the sages and mystics of the Byzantine East before their fragile world shattered under the eruption of Islam. Almost 1500 years later, using the writings of John Moschos as his guide, William Dalrymple set off to retrace their footsteps.

Taking in a civil war in Turkey, the ruins of Beirut, the tensions of the West Bank and a fundamentalist uprising in Egypt, William Dalrymple’s account is a stirring elegy to the dying civilisation of Eastern Christianity.

Return of a King – historical narrative set in Afghanistan

In the spring of 1839, the British invaded Afghanistan for the first time. Led by lancers in scarlet cloaks and plumed shakos, nearly 20,000 British and East India Company troops poured through the high mountain passes and re-established Shah Shuja ul-Mulk on the throne.

On the way in, the British faced little resistance. But after two years of occupation, the Afghan people rose in answer to the call for jihad and the country exploded into violent rebellion. The First Anglo-Afghan War ended in Britain’s greatest military humiliation of the nineteenth century: an entire army of the then most powerful nation in the world ambushed, in retreat and utterly routed by poorly equipped tribesmen. 4,500 British and Indian soldiers died, together with 12,000 camp followers.

First published in 2012, after significant research by the author on the ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan, this towering analysis of historical events has real parallels with the more recent situation in the area.

Andrew for the TripFiction Team

You can follow William Dalrymple on Twitter and on Facebook.

William’s own website is here.

Other authors on location:

Graham Greene

Robert Harris

Dan Brown

Paul Theroux

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Enter the 2021TripFiction 'Sense of Place' Creative Writing Competition!

A story in which the location plays as important a role as the rest of your words.

2,500 word maximum, 750 word minimum

Judges include Victoria Hislop and Rosanna Ley

First Prize of £1,000 / US$1,350

Prizes total £1,750 / US$2,362 

Winning entry published on TripFiction site and publicised on Social Media

Entries close 6th November 2021