Thursday, November 17, 2011

Here Today and Here Tomorrow

You must have noticed, (he said presumptuously), that I’ve been less than diligent in my blogging this year. This is my excuse: it’s the likely cover of the masterpiece I’ve been working on for the past year or more, and which, to my indescribable relief, just went off to the anxiously awaiting publisher. It will be another in a series being published by I.B. Tauris that features interesting places like Tuscany, the French Riviera, Morocco and such, as seen through the eyes of the writers who lived and wrote there.
One summer evening in 1787, in the conservatory of his garden in Lausanne, Edward Gibbon put down his pen having finished writing The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He wrote later that he experienced two conflicting sensations: relief - at what he called “the recovery of my freedom”. But then, “a sober melancholy was spread over my mind by the idea that I had taken everlasting leave of an old and agreeable companion…”. As I handed my manuscript over the counter in Windsor Post Office, I understood, on an infinitely smaller scale, just how he must have felt. Relief, yes, and freedom - but also loss. My own “old and agreeable companion” will be called something like Florence and Tuscany: A Literary Guide. But while Gibbon’s magnificent work had taken him 23 years, my humble effort has been my constant companion for fewer than 23 months – but long enough for me to miss it now it's gone.
We thought, the DG and I, after visiting Florence and Tuscany for more than 15 years, that we knew something about the region, but our research over these past months has shown us only how much there is yet to know about this wonderful place. Writing books about writers is both absorbing and exciting: it links them unforgettably with places you know and love, but there’s a bonus: the writers that you know introduce you to new and different writers, and together they lead you to places that you only thought you knew. I hope the book will do the same for its readers, whether exploring for themselves or armchair travelling. It’s been a fascinating journey for us, trekking in the footsteps of seven centuries of writers, from Dante and Chaucer to Sinclair Lewis and Muriel Spark - and a hundred others, and we’re sorry it’s over – especially as the next jobs are boring but necessary stuff like galley-proofing and the Index, but while I can’t wait to see it in the shops, it’s the great satisfaction of writing that, contrary to Gibbon’s “everlasting leave”, it’s not at all like pictorial art: because when the book goes out of the door, you still have it. For ever.