How do you mean?
Well, if you’re set on being an English travel writer in the high style, what you clearly don’t do – like Patrick Leigh Fermor, Freya Stark or Colin Thubron – is have children. You’ve got two, I see from your biography.
And a dog. I suppose travel’s become such a commonplace that we naturally fit it into our lives rather than make it its glorious focus, which might fairly describe, say, Freya Stark’s approach. You’re right that it makes a difference, one that’s largely to do with compromise; while preparing my latest book, Meander, a lot of negotiation was involved before I felt I had my family’s blessing to travel for a full month at a time when my girls were just 7 and 11. The question is whether the book would have better one if I had travelled without such time constraints.
I thought I was asking the questions.
I haven’t finished with your last one. An alternative answer is that plenty of my favourite travel writers – often Americans, it happens, like Peter Matthiessen and William Least Heat Moon – have had kids. Some of their best writing was done when their kids had acquired a semi-independence, so I’m hopeful the same may apply in my case.
What do you like about those writers?
Matthiessen’s extraordinary powers of observation, William Least Heat Moon’s boundless curiosity. And there’s another thing.
I love the way that these two writers have marked out their particular territories: the African savannah lands, albeit not exclusively, in the case of Matthiessen, and the American back-country in the case of Least Heat Moon. Matthiessen’s The Tree Where Man Was Born is my all-time favourite work of non-fiction. I like the way these writers return to familiar territories, which I guess which is what I’ve done with Meander, a travelogue set in a country, Turkey, I’ve written about at length in several previous books. The odd thing is I always imagined travel writing would mean me seeing the world; what I’ve actually seen is a great deal of one particular country.
In knowledge terms, then, is deep and narrow better than broad and shallow?
Certainly when you put it like that it is. The danger is an over-familiarity which may cause the insights to go stale. That said, Turkey feels like a deep seam, one that I’ve hardly begun to mine. Enthusiasm for the subject is all; and as long as Turkey’s mountains and valleys fill me with a yearning to explore and understand, and as long as writing about this passion pays, then I’ll feel blessed beyond all reason in my work.
JEREMY SEAL was born in England in 1962. After leaving university in 1984 he wasted no time in acquiring the necessary qualifications to teach English before heading for Turkey, a country which he has since come to cherish. He has been writing journalism and books since 1993; his first book, A Fez of the Heart, told of journeying through Turkey in search of the colourful history of that country’s former national hat, and was published in the UK and US in 1995. He is also the author of The Snakebite Survivors’ Club (1996), which explored exotic ‘cultures’ such as the rattlesnake-handling Holiness churches of the Appalachians. Subsequent books including Treachery at Sharpnose Point (2001) and Nicholas: The Epic Journey from Saint to Santa Claus (2004) took him, in part, back to Turkey. His latest book, Meander, tells of the journey Jeremy made, by kayak and elsewhere on foot, down the original winding river – in Turkey.
Jeremy has written for numerous newspapers and magazines including the Sunday Telegraph, Sunday Times, Conde Nast Traveller, the Weekend Australian, and the New York Times. He lives in Bath with his wife and daughters.