Thursday, 10 March 2011


Cover of "Travels with a Tangerine"Cover of Travels with a TangerineThey say you should never meet your heroes. I’d have agreed with you last year. I went to see William Dalrymple at the Emirates Festival of Literature and was disappointed that a man whom I had lionized through his writing should be so different to my expectations. Of course, it was my fault. I had loved his work, ‘From The Holy Mountain’, a journey through the decline of Levantine Christianity and Dalrymple had talked about Indian Gnosticism or some such. I wanted mezze, I got thali. I wanted reality, I got a slightly removed academic superiority. As a consequence, to be honest, when I review Dalrymple’s amusing little vignette of Robert Fisk as a war-crazed exploiter of curious visitors to Beirut, I’m with Fisk every step of the way. I would much rather stand our Bob a boozy lunch than listen to Willy again.

Yesterday, thanks to the miracle of radio, I got the chance to interview Tim Macintosh-Smith, whose fantastic ‘Travels with a Tangerine’ was such an enjoyable read – it had the same elements I have so much enjoyed in Dalrymple’s work, echoing the mixture of intelligence, historical reference and experiential joy that have made writers like Robert Byron so valuable to me. It was a likeable book – difference was, it comes from a likeable writer.

Tim is a lovely bloke. He’s lived in Sana’a for twenty five years, is a true ‘Arabist’ and is one of those people that thinks right there and then about every question, tasting it and weighing it up before answering. His responses to my clumsy pops were always deeper than the question, amusement never far from his eyes as he cast around for responses.

When we brought in cultural consultant Wael Al Sayegh, the conversation was almost magical. Here was an Arab who bridges the gulf of the Gulf and the West with a Westerner of fundamentally Arabian sensibility. As Wael said, ‘When you speak Arabic like this, you are an Arab.’

It all started an outside broadcast that was pure wall to wall fun. It must have been mildly irritating radio to listen to – the constant susurration of hundreds of kids around us (the OB was brilliantly located in the book sales area) will have grated after a while. But writers such as Atemis Fowl’s creator Eoin Colfer made the two hours slip by in subjective seconds. “We all used to fit in the car, I went in the trunk because I was smallest. My father used to tell us stories when we travelled, stories that would transport me to other worlds and other places. Then again, maybe it was just the exhaust fumes.”

We’re doing it again today. I hope it’s as much fun to listen to as it is to produce!


Mita said...

Please tell me there are podcasts of these conversations! Please!

Keefieboy said...

I haven't read any Artemis Fowl, but for the life of me I can't understand why Mr Colfer was commissioned to write the 6th episode of the Hitch-Hiker trilogy.

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