Thursday, April 19, 2012

Lonely Planet co-founder to speak at 10th IMMRAMA Festival of Travel Writing

Tony Wheeler, co-founder almost 40 years ago of the Lonely Planet guidebooks that have become a ‘must-read’ for millions of travellers, is to visit Lismore, Co Waterford where he’ll be among the speakers at the 10th annual IMMRAMA Festival of Travel Writing which takes place from June 7-10.

With less than 50 days to go, this year’s festival programme was launched by Denis McCarthy, Waterford County Manager, at a reception in the picturesque heritage town last night.

Tony Wheeler originally founded Lonely Planet Publications with his wife Maureen in 1973 to publish Across Asia on the Cheap, a book recalling their six-month, low budget journey overland from London to Sydney. A second book, Southeast Asia on a Shoestring, followed in 1975.

From this modest beginning, Lonely Planet grew to be the largest independent guidebook publisher in the world with more than 500 titles in print and over 500 staff. While the couple sold a majority stake in the business in 2007 to BBC Worldwide, Tony Wheeler remains closely involved and continues to travel extensively. In 2009, he filmed programmes in Laos and Alaska for the Lonely Planet TV series ‘The Roads Less Travelled’ with National Geographic.

Joining the Lonely Planet co-founder in Lismore will be a range of travel writers including returning IMMRAMA guest speaker Jan Morris. The World War II veteran’s writing career began with the Times newspaper. Aged just 26, the then James Morris climbed three quarters of Mount Everest in 1953 to cover the Hillary and Tensing expedition. The resulting scoop won international renown and a distinguished career as a foreign correspondent with both the Times and Guardian newspapers followed.

Morris’ first book As I Saw the U.S.A. was published in the late 1950s after a year spent travelling in the United States. In 1960, The World of Venice captured a year in that city. Morris’ career as a full-time journalist ended in 1961 and more than two dozen highly-regarded books followed, including the Pax Britannica trilogy on the British Empire.

As efforts continue to seek a peaceful solution to the crisis in Syria, one of the few Irish people to have travelled extensively in the country– Mary Russell– is also among the speakers at IMMRAMA. The Dubliner’s My Home is Your Home tells of her experiences in Aleppo, Homs and Hama as well as remote areas of eastern Syria. An overnight desert taxi trip from Damascus to Baghdad also features in the book published late last year.

Among her previous books are The Blessings of a Good Thick Skirt which is about women travellers and explorers through the ages; Journeys of a Lifetime which recalls some of the many places she has visited as well as her reasons for going there and Please don’t call it Soviet Georgia about the then Soviet Republic.

The current intense focus on China as a growing economic power is expected to generate additional interest in the IMMRAMA talk by British travel writer and novelist Colin Thubron. The Mandarin-speaking writer’s first book Mirror to Damascus was published in 1967 with books on Lebanon and Jerusalem to follow over the subsequent two years.

In 1983, Thubron published Among the Russians describing a road trip through western Russia in the Brezhnev era. His 1987 Behind the Wall: A Journey through China won both the Hawthornden Prize and the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award. Later books included The Silk Road: Beyond the Celestial Kingdom; The Lost Heart of Asia; In Siberia and To a Mountain in Tibet which was published in 2011 by Chatto & Windus and focuses on his pilgrimage to Mount Kailas.

A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature for over 40 years, Mr Thubron has also written novels set in enclosed locations including a prison and a psychiatric hospital. Since 2000, he has received the Royal Scottish Geographical Society’s Mungo Park Medal; the Royal Society for Asian Affairs’ Lawrence of Arabia Medal and the Society of Authors’ Travel Award.

Returning to Lismore for this year’s IMMRAMA is Belfast-based  Paul Clements. The former BBC journalist is a contributing editor to the Insight and Fodor’s series of guidebooks. He has also written Irish Shores: Journey Round the Rim of Ireland (1993); The Height of Nonsense: The Ultimate Irish Road Trip (2005) and Burren Country (2011) as well as Jan Morris– Around the World in Eighty Years (2006).

A Fellow of Green-Templeton College, Oxford and a member of the National Union of Journalists; the Society of Authors and the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, his writing has also appeared in the Irish Times; Irish Examiner; Observer and Guardian newspapers as well as Radio Times magazine.

Mr Clements’ contributions at the festival will include chairing a June 8 panel discussion on the legacy and influence of Patrick Leigh Fermor on travel writing including an overview of his book In Tearing Haste,  which features letters written between Patrick Leigh Fermor and Deborah Devonshire, a former resident of Lismore Castle, which is still owned and lived by the Devonshire family. As well as Tony Wheeler, Jan Morris and Colin Thubron, this session at Lismore’s Courthouse Theatre will feature Artemis Cooper.

Currently writing the biography of Mr Leigh Fermor– a war hero, adventurer and travel writer who died last year aged 96 – Artemis Cooper and her husband Antony Beevor wrote Paris After the Liberation. As well as writing Watching in the Dark which deals with her daughter’s critical illness, she has also edited two collections of letters – A Durable Fire: The Letters of Duff and Diana Cooper and Mr Wu and Mrs Stitch: The Letters of Evelyn Waugh and Diana Cooper. She also co-wrote Words of Mercury with Patrick Leigh Fermor while previous biographies include Writing at the Kitchen Table about food writer Elizabeth David.

British writer and broadcaster Anthony Sattin will also speak at this year’s IMMRAMA. He has spent much of his adult life travelling in the Middle East and North Africa. His work has appeared in the Daily Telegraph; Guardian and Independent newspapers while he has also made several programmes for BBC Radio 4.
Sattin’s books include The Pharaoh’s Shadow (2001); The Gates of Africa (2004) and – most recently - A Winter on the Nile (2010) which tells of the mid-19th century journey in Egypt of Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert.

Also travelling to Lismore to talk about her travels as part of the 10th IMMRAMA is Diana Gleadhill, a former Northern Ireland librarian who became a graphic artist. While living in Co Down, she has explored Kenya, South America, Central Asia and Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. Her first book Kamchatka, A Journal and Guide to Russia’s Land of Ice and Fire was published in 2007 while Our Fiery Hearts – Experiences in Central Asia will be published shortly.

A book edited by Paul Clements and featuring contributions from writers who have spoken at IMMRAMA since 2003 titled ‘The Blue Sky Bends Over All’ will be launched in Lismore during the festival.

This year’s IMMRAMA will open on the evening of June 7 with an event showcasing Waterford journalist and writer Ciaran Murphy’s What Happens on Tour... and NUIG Professor Eoin Bourke'’s Poor Green Erin, a compilation of translated 18th and 19th century travel writing about Ireland by German and Austrian authors. The festival will also feature a presentation by retired County Librarian Donal Brady on ‘Olivia Wilde and the Cockburns of Ardmore’ as well as the presentation of the Molly Keane Memorial Creative Writing Award.

Full details of the schedule and bookings for the IMMRAMA Festival of Travel Writing 2012 are now available online at or by calling (058) 53803.
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