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TripFiction in Brontë country with HF Holidays and Silver Travel Advisor

8th February 2020

I’ve just got back from God’s Own Country, spending a few days in the glorious Yorkshire Dales with HF Holidays and their guests on the inaugural Brontë Book Club Weekend.

Brontë

I was there in my role as Editor of the Silver Travel Book Club, at TripFiction’s good friends Silver Travel Advisor – an award-winning website offering reviews, information and advice for mature travellers – but hopefully did enough to earn my keep at the rather splendid Newfield Hall country house in Malhamdale.

The 56 guests were split into three groups, and over the next couple of days we all discussed Charlotte’s Jane Eyre (led by Lizzie Enfield), Emily’s Wuthering Heights (Alison Carr) and Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Elizabeth Hopkinson). What talented sisters, and how remarkable that these classics remain so popular – and also largely relevant – more than 150 year later.

My own contribution was a short presentation one evening on ‘books with a strong sense of place‘, introducing everyone to the concept of TripFiction. It was intended as a small off-piste adventure, but hopefully delivered to a receptive audience enjoying the immersion into Brontë books so close to the sisters’ home in Haworth, where these enduring literary classics were created.

Here is an abridged version of the presentation, covering just a few books that hopefully brought the idea of TripFiction to life for HF’s Brontë Book Club guests.

How perfect it was to take Baba Dunja’s Last Love by Alina Bronsky with me on a trip to Chernobyl.

Baba Dunja has returned to her village after the explosion, and the book tells – in a darkly humorous way and with beautifully spare prose – the story of Baba Dunja and a few neighbours trying to live in the radioactive no-mans land.

I devoured the book whilst touring around the Exclusion Zone in the depths of winter, visiting Pripyat (the model Soviet village for all the nuclear scientists working at Chernobyl), whilst swigging from a bottle of horseradish vodka in our truck and then interviewing 81 year-old Ivan Semenyuk, whose own life mirrored Baba Dunja’s so closely.

On a lighter note, I read Rosanna Ley’s ‘The Little Theatre by the Sea whilst in Sardinia. I followed her main protagonists down the unspoiled western coast of the island, and through the labyrinthine streets of beautiful Bosa, an enchanting mediaeval town with pastel-coloured houses.

I strolled through the cobbled streets of Bosa, amongst the pastel-coloured houses and ever upwards to Malaspina Castle, standing guard over the old town. I walked along the river Temo, spotting the converted houses where Rosanna inserted Charlotte and Fabio, and down to the beach and marina, where enigmatic hero Alessandro worked in a boatyard.

Victoria Hislop is another great writer of books with a powerful sense of place. Her love of Greece, where she has owned a home for many years, shines through the pages of her novels as brightly as an Aegean sunrise.

 

A friend recommended The Thread, when they heard we were visiting Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city. I read the book before our trip, and my wife read it while we were there. It was a revelation for both of us, and really enhanced the whole travel experience. ‘The Thread’ is fictional, but the characters live through the city’s tumultuous real-life 20th century history.

In The Island, Victoria weaves her fictional story and characters around the leper colony on Spinalonga, a small island off the coast of Crete.

‘The Island’ was adapted into a hugely successful Greek-language  TV series, and Victoria is treated as an honorary Greek these days.

Cartes Postales, The Sunrise, The Last Dance, Those Who Are Loved are also set in Greece or its surrounding islands, and deserve to be read on location, as the sun sets and holding on to an ice cold glass of ouzo. No wonder the Greek Tourist Board love her!

Another very personal experience of TripFiction was reading The People We Were Before by Annabelle Thorpe. We were on a cruise down the Danube, from Budapest towards the Black Sea, and I was reading books set in the Balkan states along the way.

The author uses the vehicle of a novel to great effect to tell the story of the conflict from 1979 to 1995.

Moving on – to the Caribbean this time – has anyone read Golden Child by Claire Adam? One of the publishing highlights of 2019, this astonishing debut novel is set in her homeland of Trinidad…although I can’t imagine the Tourist authorities have been thrilled by its success.

 

‘Golden Child’’ is a heartbreaking story of fatherhood, family, sacrifice and violence, told with an overpowering and understated simplicity.

Any Sebastian Faulks fans here? In Paris Echo, the author’s love and deep knowledge of the city shine through in a timely tale of immigration and the dark underbelly of the French capital.  Renowned Francophile Faulks infuses every page with the sights, smells and history of Paris, taking the reader to the far-flung suburbs as well as to the better known central neighbourhoods. And usually by jumping on the Métro.

 

The book I’m currently reading – in between all things Bronte, obviously! – is American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. Already causing a stir in the publishing world, it’s a riveting story about a mother and son trying to flee from Mexico to the USA, along with thousands of other illegal migrants, after her husband and entire family have been executed by the drug cartel in Acapulco.

One of my favourite books of the last few years is Beautiful Animals by Lawrence Osborne. The author writes beautifully – he’s been likened to a modern-day Graham Greene – has led a fascinating personal life, and writes books with a sensually strong sense of place. ‘Beautiful Animals’ is set on the small Greek island of Hydra and revolves around two privileged girls stumbling across a young Arab man, washed up on shore, a casualty of the crisis raging across the Aegean.

‘Beautiful Animals’ has stayed with me limpet-like, so that I feel compelled to try and visit Hydra this year. Now THAT is what TripFiction is all about.

I read some excerpts from most of these books to illustrate the authors bringing the setting of their novels to life. And to bring the mood back to more classic than contemporary literature, I ended up with a short passage from Chapter XXI of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.

‘Turning down Sun Street and Crown Street, and crossing Finsbury Square, Mr. Sikes struck, by way of Chiswell Street, into Barbican: thence into Long Lane, and so into Smithfield; from which latter place arose a tumult of discordant sounds that filled Oliver Twist with amazement.’

‘It was market-morning. The ground was covered, nearly ankle-deep, with filth and mire; a thick steam, perpetually rising from the reeking bodies of the cattle, and mingling with the fog, which seemed to rest upon the chimney-tops, hung heavily above. All the pens in the centre of the large area, and as many temporary pens as could be crowded into the vacant space, were filled with sheep; tied up to posts by the gutter side were long lines of beasts and oxen, three or four deep. Countrymen, butchers, drovers, hawkers, boys, thieves, idlers, and vagabonds of every low grade, were mingled together in a mass; the whistling of drovers, the barking of dogs, the bellowing and plunging of oxen, the bleating of sheep, the grunting and squeaking of pigs, the cries of hawkers, the shouts, oaths, and quarrelling on all sides; the ringing of bells and roar of voices, that issued from every public-house; the crowding, pushing, driving, beating, whooping, and yelling; the hideous and discordant din that resounded from every corner of the market; and the unwashed, unshaven, squalid, and dirty figures constantly running to and fro, and bursting in and out of the throng; rendered it a stunning and bewildering scene, which quite confounded the senses.’

At its best, any book with a palpable sense of place should confound the senses: you’re reading with your eyes, but you should also be transported by the author to another place, smelling, feeling and absorbing the story as if you were in that location yourself.

If you like the idea of a Book Club Weekend, check out these other literary breaks from HF Holidays later in the year:

Andrew for the TripFiction Team

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