2 July 2014
This is undoubtedly the highlight of my career: an interview in the Romanian edition of Playboy magazine.Read and comment
20 May 2014
A couple of years ago I met a man called Dr. Mike Edwards at a dinner party. Mike is a climate change advisor and lecturer in global crisis, and I was so compelled by one of the stories he told round the table I asked him to write it into an essay, which later appeared in the fourth Dark Mountain book. Now that story has metamorphosed again into a play called Butterfly Man, scripted by me and co-directed by Caroline Hunt and Dan Jones – it's playing in Bristol's Tobacco Factory Theatre as part of this year's Mayfest.
Butterfly Man tells the story of Ben, who fell in love with butterflies as a child. But when the wood behind his home was felled the butterflies disappeared, with profound implications for his mental health. Psychiatric treatment helps him ‘cope’ with severe depression – but should we really be medicating the ones who cry when a butterfly dies?
You can read more about the play in this short interview I did. There are performances on May 23rd and 24th, and tickets are available here. Psychiatry, mental health and species loss in the Sixth Extinction – this play is a journey into some really important stuff, too often told badly. I believe we're telling it well. If you can, please come!Read and comment
3 May 2014
I was interviewed on Saturday Live this morning. That's me, sandwiched between presenter Richard Coles and food critic Jay Rayner. If you like you can listen to it here.Read and comment
10 April 2014
Another lovely review by Artemis Cooper in The Spectator today.
Walking the Woods and the Water Nick Hunt
Nicholas Brealey, pp.336, £10.99, ISBN: 9781857886177
When Nick Hunt first read Patrick Leigh Fermor’s account of his youthful trudge across Europe in A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, he knew ‘with absolute certainty’ that one day he would make that journey himself. When I embarked on Patrick Leigh Fermor’s biography, I made an equally firm resolve that I wouldn’t walk a step of it. Paddy’s books had left me with a vision of a timeless Europe suspended somewhere between memory and imagination, and I didn’t want that vision distorted by layers of personal impressions.
But to Hunt the books posed a question. Eighty years on, was there anything left of the ‘gifts’ Paddy had enjoyed in prewar Europe? Was there still room enough for wildness, freedom and spontaneous hospitality? In this moving and profoundly honest book, the answer is ‘yes’.
Hunt was in his late twenties when he set out from London, and he got off to a bad start. In Holland and Germany he was obliged to walk for miles on tarmac, under motorways and across industrial and suburban wastelands. He had done no prior training — after all Paddy hadn’t, and what was more natural than walking? The result was tendonitis so severe that he was laid up for a week in Ulm, cursing his stupidity and looked after by a couple called Dierk and Dora.
He found that the kindness of strangers — who included musicians, caretakers, house-painters and Buddhist soap-makers — was an ever recurring miracle. And like the grandees Paddy met, Hunt’s benefactors contacted their friends and relatives, urging them to help the traveller too. He found these guardian angels online, through the Couch Surfing network. Their website is designed to weed out loonies, but it still requires a high level of trust — a trust that was never misplaced. His hosts gave him food and drink, took him to the pub, lent him their laptops — and not once did he feel uncomfortable or threatened by them. At the same time, Hunt was more willing than Paddy to brave the elements. He often slept in the open, twice in sub-zero temperatures; and he became expert at ‘castle-squatting’ — finding snug holes in ancient walls.
As he walked on, the industrial sprawl gave way to landscapes that Paddy would have recognised. Hunt is often haunted by the ‘unimaginable inhumanity that lay between his walk and mine’, but at the same time many things remained startlingly similar. Swapping cigarettes is still a great ice-breaker; the sheepskin coats and cross-gartered moccasins were gone, but in a bar one morning Hunt could see that all the men there had known each other since childhood, and worked in adjoining fields. Hungary still mourned the loss of Transylvania like an amputation, and still hated the Romanians. Just like Paddy, Hunt was told that the moment he entered Romania he would be attacked by bears, gypsies, wolves and thieves. But as the author observes, people became nicer as he travelled eastwards, although their dogs got nastier.
Hunt is not Paddy, and never pretends to be. Baroque architecture and princely lineage leave him cold, and he never plunges into historical speculation or conjures fantasies out of thin air. But one of the most moving passages in the book tells of his meeting with Ileana Teleki, the great-granddaughter of Count Jeno Teleki, one of Paddy’s hosts in Transylvania. With her, he visits a number of the country houses described in Between the Woods; but now they are gutted, abandoned or used to shelter those who would never recover from the experience of being a Romanian orphan: ‘Traumatised children,’ writes Hunt, ‘housed in the ruins of a traumatised culture.’
The reader familiar with Paddy’s oeuvre will find that something of him has rubbed off on Hunt, which is hardly surprising: he took no other books on the journey, and he feels intimately connected to his predecessor. So in walking through the wooded Pilis Hills, or in watching for changes in physiognomy as he crosses from one territory to another, he is — consciously or unsconsciously — paying homage to Paddy by absorbing his way of looking at things.
At the same time, I’ve learnt so much from the vivid way Hunt describes the physiological effects of trudging on for month after month. Sometimes it brings a sense of unlimited freedom, sometimes joy, sometimes an extraordinary, dreamlike dislocation, always accompanied by a dazzling sharpness of hearing and vision. I see now how that youthful walk informed so much of Paddy’s style. Before embarking on his journey, Hunt was going to write to Paddy. The letter was never written, and by the time he set off, Paddy was dead. How touched and fascinated he would have been to read this book.
Available from the Spectator Bookshop, £9.89, Tel: 08430 600033Read and comment
9 April 2014
I've just seen a lovely review by E&T Magazine:
Nicholas Brealey Walking the Woods and the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn By Nick Hunt, £10.99, ISBN 978-1857886177
There’s a certain sadness about most ‘following-in-the-footsteps’ travelogues - a recent trend that is threatening to become a new full-scale literary genre. Sadness and repetitiveness, for it is hard to avoid excessive, at times over-excessive, quoting from the original.
Having turned the last page of ‘Walking the Woods and the Water’, I am pleased to say that none of the above applies to this delightful, balanced and extremely well-written book.
Hunt does try to retrace the 18-year-old Patrick Leigh Fermor’s footsteps across 1933 Europe - from Holland to Constantinople - as much as he can, but he seldom resorts to direct quotes from the classic preferring to convey the latter’s experiences descriptively, often by overlaying them with his own attitudes and observations.
Hunt’s narrative therefore, while carrying an inevitable retro touch and a lot of affection for his literary mentor (to whom he often refers as “Paddy” - a token not of familiarity, but of warmth), is never self-effacing. Nor it is in any way self-promotional.
Fans of Patrick Leigh Fermor among E&T readers (I am sure there are many) will be attracted to Hunt’s powerful descriptions of Europe’s altered and ever-changing industrial landscape: roads, factories, power stations and means of transport - particularly as he is walking through Germany and the Ruhr area.
In short, an impressive and timely effort. A worthy literary tribute to a classic of British travel writing.
Vitali VitalievRead and comment
7 March 2014
Over the coming months I'll be hopping around the country doing readings from the book and speaking about the journey. Here's the tour schedule so far:
Wednesday 26th March -- Oxford Literary Festival, Oxford 6pm
Tuesday 1st April -- Hungerford Bookshop, Hungerford 7.30pm
Thursday April 3rd -- Book launch at London Review Bookshop, London 7pm
Tuesday 8th April -- London Book Fair, London 12am
Wednesday 14th May -- Mr B's Emporium, Bath
Saturday 17th May -- Carrying the Fire, South Lanarkshire
Wednesday 28th May -- Broadway Bookshop, London
Sunday 8th June -- Dovedale Arts Festival, Derbyshire 12am
Saturday 9th August -- Wilderness Festival, Oxfordshire 6.40pm
Sunday 21st September -- Walking and Books Festival, North Yorkshire
Saturday 4th October -- Globetrotters Club, London
Friday 10th October -- Malmesbury Philosophytown Festival, Malmesbury
Thursday 30th October -- Wantage Betjeman Literary Festival, Wiltshire
If you'd like to book me to come and talk -- whether at a festival, bookshop, front room or field -- please get in touch! firstname.lastname@example.orgRead and comment
21 February 2014
An interview with me features in the current issue of The Bookseller. My book is officially 'free from Daily Mail/ UKIP-esque jingoism'! Glad they picked up on that.Read and comment
3 February 2014
The launch of Walking the Woods and the Water will be on Thursday 3rd April, at the London Review Bookshop in Bloomsbury.
I'm very happy to announce that I'll be joined 'in conversation' by Artemis Cooper, author of Paddy's biography and co-compiler of The Broken Road. Get your ticket early. There will be some merrymaking afterwards.Read and comment
20 January 2014
Condé Nast Traveller has featured my book as one of its 'Best New Travel Titles' -- chosen by Last King of Scotland author Giles Foden.Read and comment
15 January 2014
Walking the Woods and the Water has been chosen as Editor's Pick of the Month in The Bookseller -- very exciting news.Read and comment
30 October 2013
To coincide with the long-awaited publication of The Broken Road, I was interviewed by The Telegraph Travel a couple of weeks ago. You can read it online here.
In other news, the last draft of my own book is underway and going well (publication is still set for spring 2014). I’ve just got back from Romania after the amazing Transylvanian Book Festival, written up wryly and wittily by Thomas Hodgkinson in The Spectator here. More soon…Read and comment