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Books And Travel

Jo Frances Penn

Unusual and fascinating places alongside the deeper aspects of travel
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Bath is known for its ancient Roman spa, medieval abbey, and sweeping Georgian terraces. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site in Somerset in the south-west of England and visitors often come on a circular cultural trip that takes in Stonehenge and Stratford-on-Avon.

But it’s not all Jane Austen bonnets, Regency dresses, and afternoon tea — there is a darker and more interesting side of Bath if you escape the tourist traps and explore the layers beneath. In this episode, I talk about the city I currently call home.

  • How finding a map shop helped me discover a different side to Bath
  • Curse tablets for an ancient goddess
  • Angels and demons and the dead of Bath Abbey
  • The city of Frankenstein
  • Ley lines, Druids and Freemasons
  • Walking the Kennet and Avon canal
  • Finding home in Bath during the pandemic
  • Recommended restaurants, bars, pubs and coffee shops away from the tourist traps
  • Recommended books about or set in Bath

How finding a map shop helped me discover a different side to Bath

My husband, Jonathan, and I moved to Bath in 2015 and we bought a house high on the hill overlooking the valley in 2019. I can happily say that this is my city now, but for the first six months of living here, I thought we’d made a terrible mistake.

We were thinking about moving out of London in 2014 and we came to Bath one weekend to visit Jonathan’s cousin who was joining in the Jane Austen festival. Think period drama come to life for ten days of bonnets, regency dresses, and fans held over coy smiles. Many people love it but it’s my idea of hell! I decided that I couldn’t possibly live somewhere so twee and excessively moored in the past.

Panoramic view of the Royal Crescent, Bath, England. Photo licensed from BigStockPhoto

But a year later, we found ourselves living in a flat behind the Royal Crescent, the sweeping Georgian terrace so beloved by tourists doing architectural selfies. Jonathan had left his consulting job to join my creative business so we were free to move wherever we wanted, and Bath had a lot going for it. It’s an hour from both of my (long divorced) parents and we wanted to be in a city with easy train travel to London and to an airport — Bristol Airport is fantastic with destinations all over Europe (when not in a pandemic, of course!). I didn’t want to be in a city where I had a previous history. We considered Oxford, but it belongs to my university years, and I went to school in Bristol where my Mum now lives.

So we moved here in mid-2015... and quickly felt like we’d made a mistake.

There is a buzz in London that keeps everything revved up, it keeps the pulse racing and you walk faster to keep up with city life. It seems as if everyone is achieving more than you, faster than you. There is always so much to do and see and experience and you never have enough time to do it all.

Of course, we moved out of London because we wanted a slower pace, we wanted to be closer to nature and walk and cycle away from the city. But Bath felt so slow those first few months, and our choices were suddenly diminished by the smaller physical location. It took six months for that buzz to fade, an addiction that lessened with time. Now when I go back to London — at least in pre-pandemic times — I find it invigorating but tiring and I look forward to getting away again.

I also couldn’t identify with the Jane Austen bonnet side of Bath. I am not a ribbons and bonnets type of girl! So how could I find my home here in this place that seemed so perfect?

For me, it’s all about writing and my fiction is rooted in my sense of place. My Brooke and Daniel thrillers are all set in London, and my love for the city is clear in the books, in the words and thoughts of Jamie and Blake. I thought that perhaps if I could set a book in Bath, I would learn more about the place and find something to anchor myself. I could not believe the city was just sickly sweet Jane Austen nostalgia — there had to be more. There had to be a dark side.

I started writing in a local cafe and walked almost every weekday from our flat down through Margaret Buildings, a pedestrianized street near the Royal Crescent, around the Circus and on to the coffee shop. I would always stop and look in the window of Jonathan Potter’s antique map shop as I passed, fascinated by the lines on paper and vellum that represented the physical world.

Jonathan Potter Map Shop, Margaret Buildings, Bat...
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In this wide-ranging interview with Ben Aitken, we talk about challenging cultural stereotypes, identifying as the ‘Other,’ and how to find beauty in the ordinary, as well as thoughts on where to visit and what to eat and drink when visiting Poland.

Ben Aitken is a freelance writer, playwright, and the author of three travel books. Today, we’re talking about his book, A Chip Shop in Poznan: My Unlikely Year in Poland.

Show notes

  • The relationship between the UK and Poland and how that changed while Ben lived there during the referendum
  • How travel can change attitudes
  • Finding beauty in the ordinary
  • Recommendations for food, drink, and places to consider visiting in Poland
  • The joy of travel without planning
  • The possibility of a return to more local travel in the wake of the pandemic
  • Why Ben chooses unusual trips like taking coach tours with the elderly as he writes about in his latest book, The Gran Tour
  • Recommended books about Poland

You can find Ben Aitken at BenAitken.com

Transcript of the interview

Jo: Ben Aitken is a freelance writer, playwright, and the author of three travel books. Today, we’re talking about his book, A Chip Shop in Poznan: My Unlikely Year in Poland. Welcome, Ben.

Ben: Hello, there. Good day. I should say good day because I’m down under. I’m locked down under.

Jo: Locked down under indeed. But you are a Brit.

Let’s just start with the question of why Poland and what sparked that trip in the first place?

Ben: What sparked that trip? Curiosity. It was a bit of an Alice in Wonderland-style adventure down an unusual Eastern rabbit hole. Of course, a lot of Poles had moved to the UK since 2004 so there was a new relationship with the country and a lot of the coverage of the country and the people was limited, sometimes negative.

I’m always in the mood to challenge the received wisdom and go on an adventure and hopefully return with a bigger picture and a bit more understanding.

Jo: We get a lot of international listeners to the show who might not understand how Polish people are part of life in the UK. You and I both being British. I live in Bath in the Southwest, we have a Polish supermarket, generally, a lot of British people will know Polish people. But to anyone listening who might not understand how our culture works. Explain a bit more about why, a few years ago, people started coming here.

Ben: In 2004 Poland, along with a few other countries in that part of the continent, joined the European Union, which enabled its people to work and live in any of the 27 member states of the European Union. And an awful lot of them, perhaps over a million, it’s difficult to know exactly, chose to come, and live, and work, and study, and bring up children in the UK. And that’s a significant number.

Polish is now the second most spoken language in the UK, and that happened quite quickly and it was quite exciting, to be honest, but other people reacted in a different way to the migration, as I’m sure you know, and as I’m sure people can understand. It doesn’t always strike people as a good thing or a progressive thing. But for me, it is those things. It is good and it is progressive, and it just gave me new things to consider doing and new places to consider looking at.

Jo: And I guess we should also say we’re recording this in June 2020. Because I read it quite recently, going through that at a time of Brexit is kind of crazy. Officially, Britain has left the EU now although, of course, you wrote the book over that period, didn’t you?

Ben: Yes, that was an interesting element of the year and the narrative and the journey. I knew that Britain was about to have a referendum. I didn’t expect the result would be that Britain would be leaving the European Union. That happened about a quarter of the way into my year in Poland and it did alter things a little bit.

Prior to the referendum, the Polish people had responded to me exclusively positively. After the referendum, less exclusively positively, because the way that that result was interpreted rightly or wrongly was that the Polish people were no longer welcome in the UK because it was interpreted that the UK wa...

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The word Kosovo brings to mind images of the Balkan War — a place of blood — but Elizabeth Gowing talks about it as a place of sweetness, a place of honey with wonderful food, welcoming people and a complex patchwork of religion that manages to get along together in a tiny country. She also explains how her unexpected move to Kosovo led to her love of beekeeping and a new direction helping local communities.

Elizabeth Gowing is the author of five books, including Travels in Blood and Honey: Becoming a Beekeeper in Kosovo. She’s also a professional speaker and co-founder of The Ideas Partnership, a charity that empowers and supports people in need in Kosovo.

Show notes

  • An unexpected transfer to Kosovo
  • Exploring Kosovo and the hospitality of the people
  • The dying art of silver filigree
  • The religious buildings and their significance
  • Is it safe to travel to Kosovo?
  • The symbolism of the traditional Kosovo foods
  • Working with the Roma and Ashkali communities to educate children
  • Tips for sustainable tourism in Kosovo

You can find Elizabeth Gowing at ElizabethGowing.com

Elizabeth’s headshot photo credit: Jonada Jashari

Transcript of the interview

Jo Frances Penn: Elizabeth Gowing is the author of five books, including Travels in Blood and Honey: Becoming a Beekeeper in Kosovo. She’s also a professional speaker and co-founder of The Ideas Partnership, a charity that empowers and supports people in need in Kosovo. Welcome, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Gowing: Hi there.

Jo Frances Penn: It’s great to have you on the show. And as I was saying, I love the book, Travels in Blood and Honey. It’s just super original.

I want to just first talk about Kosovo because, in my mind, I know to a lot of listeners, Kosovo means war in our heads. That’s the only image we have. We don’t know much about it.

Could you explain, first of all, where Kosovo is and how it featured in the Balkans conflict?

Elizabeth Gowing: As you say, it’s the image that lots of people have, which is where I decided to start the title of my book with blood and honey because I realized that lots of people thought of it as a place of blood and I was really discovering it as a place of honey.

It’s a beautiful country with beautiful landscapes and hedgerows and all the things you’d imagine for a place that has great honey. And it’s also a very small country, which always surprises people because it did dominate so much in the headlines, less so now, thankfully. But in 1999 when the NATO initiative against Slobodan Milosevic’s forces was the huge news and the biggest initiative that was taken since the Second World War by NATO.

So people remember it for that war and can’t believe that it’s actually a country the size of Devon. So it’s a small country. Tucked in between other former Yugoslav countries like Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and it also has a border with Albania.

The people of Kosovo are a mixture of Albanians ethnically and Serbs ethnically with the vast majority of them now being Albanian. In terms of its climate, it has summers that are much hotter than the U.K.’s and winters that are much colder. So it veers between this very Mediterranean summer and then this really what people would probably think of as a Balkan winter.

Jo Frances Penn: And for any people who aren’t in the U.K., you said the size of Devon there. I’m trying to think of an American state that might be a similar size.

Elizabeth Gowing: Rhode Island always seems to get wheeled out as a comparator. But yes, I think it’s about the size of Rhode Island. I’ve never been to Rhode Island.

Jo Frances Penn: That is great because it is difficult to imagine the size. I guess the other question is what drew you to Kosovo and also Albania? And you speak Albanian, which is very cool.

Tell us how you came to work there and how bees helped you make a home.

Elizabeth Gowing: I didn’t intend to go to Kosovo. It was really a big surprise to me when it happened, but me and my partner were looking for some ki...

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Adventure is a mindset. You can find it in a pocket of wilderness in your local area just by doing something different and seeking out the unusual — or you can find it by running Great Britain barefoot, cycling the Andes, and running the length of New Zealand!

In this interview, adventurer Anna McNuff talks about the definition of adventure, finding the element of the unknown, encouraging young people to explore, and the acceptance that change is the only constant.

Anna McNuff is a British adventurer, professional speaker, and author named by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the 50 most influential travelers of our time. And by The Guardian as one of the top modern female adventurers.

Show notes

  • What is ‘adventure’?
  • The changing motivations for adventure travel
  • Cultivating a voice that supports adventure
  • Stepping into the unknown
  • Running from Scotland to London barefoot
  • Change is a constant
  • What travel might look like in the future
  • How adventure travel is actually about storytelling
  • How moments from our young lives shape us

You can find Anna McNuff at AnnaMcNuff.com and on Instagram @annamcnuff

Photos used with permission from Anna McNuff.

Transcript of the interview

Joanna: Anna McNuff is a British adventurer, professional speaker and author named by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the 50 most influential travelers of our time. And by The Guardian as one of the top modern female adventurers. Welcome to the show, Anna.

Anna: Oh, thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be on.

Joanna: I’m so excited to talk to you. I’ve been following you on Instagram, reading your books. And we’ve known each other for a while now. I really wanted to talk to you about adventure because the word adventurer can mean so many things.

What does adventurer mean to you and how does that definition shape how you choose to travel?

Anna: I think it’s changed over the years. Adventurer used to be a term that was kind of solely reserved for the Shackletons of the world and the people who went off and did brave and daring things in far-flung places.

But now I think the more adventures I do, and the more I adventure in between myself big ones and do little things around and close to home, I think I realized it really is a mindset.

Adventure is just about trying to see something, and it could even be something that you thought was familiar, but you see it through a new fresh set of eyes. So it is just about trying to experience something new and see how you feel in that landscape or experiencing that culture or eating that food.

That is what adventure is to me. And the beauty is that it’s a personal thing. So what is new and exciting and intriguing to one person might be completely different for someone else. And also, you don’t have to go very far to do it.

So yes, you can have an adventure on the other side of the world. But you can also have a great adventure across the road in your local hill, checking out bluebells and finding new trails there. So that is what adventure means to me, seeing something new.

Joanna: I go up the hill, our local Solsbury Hill, for example, and I don’t think that’s an adventure, but for example, going at night with a head torch, I would probably be quite afraid. You go sleep on hills a lot and that to me is slightly scary.

Anna McNuff running the length of New Zealand

Do you think there needs to be an element of fear or apprehension for it to be an adventure?

Anna: I think to call it an adventure when it’s going to be an adventure because you feel it, you feel that thing and it goes, ‘Let’s go on an adventure.’ Or ‘I’m going on an adventure,’ and there’s sort of a buzz in your veins.

I think there does have to be an element of the unknown in it. But that doesn’t necessarily have to be 100% fear. There’s probably a tiny bit of fear there because that’s what happens with the unknown, we are fearful of it. But there can also be a lot of excitement. And I think an adventure probably ranges on that scale.

Sometimes it’s a little bit too scary and sometimes it’s just 100% fun and excitement.

But yes, there’s definitely an element of fear, I think in some adventures, but it doesn’t have to be terrifyi...

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The word Ararat brings to mind an adventure into myth and history and in this episode, I talk to Rick Antonson about his journey to the fabled resting place of Noah’s Ark, as well as some of the research into Biblical history and ancient myths of the flood.

My ARKANE thrillers center around Biblical archaeology, history, and myth, so this was a particularly exciting interview for me!

Rick Antonson is an author, professional speaker, and world traveler. Today, we’re talking about his book, Full Moon Over Noah’s Ark: An Odyssey to Mount Ararat and Beyond.

Show notes

  • The history, mystery, and myth surrounding Ararat and Noah’s Ark
  • Versions of the flood story
  • The complications of climbing Mt. Ararat
  • The lure of (slightly) dangerous travel
  • What travel might look like in the future
  • Recommended books

You can find Rick Antonson at RickAntonson.com.

Transcript of the interview

Jo Frances: Rick Antonson is an author, professional speaker, and world traveler. Today, we’re talking about his book, Full Moon Over Noah’s Ark: An Odyssey to Mount Ararat and Beyond. Welcome to the show, Rick.

Rick: Thank you for having me.

Jo Frances: I’m so excited. I was just saying before we started recording, this is just catnip to me. I just love stuff about Noah’s Ark and Ararat. So, I want to ask you, so why choose Ararat?

There are so many biblical archeology sites around the world. What drew you to this adventure?

Rick: Each trip it seems has its own little curious motivation, but I find that there are levels of them that continue to overlap. So part of it was as a youngster, four, five, nine years old, whatever, I first encountered the story of Noah’s Ark and Mount Ararat.

Secondly, there was a book on our shelves. Me and my brother, older brother by a year, shared a bedroom and we shared a bookshelf, and one of the books there was about a fellow who in the early ’50s, a Frenchman had gone to Mount Ararat, actually, seeking to find Noah’s Ark, believing as he did as a person of faith, that it actually had landed there.

And those two things along with...as time went on and I was older wanting to go, and be places that were uncommon, that the phrase gets used, off the beaten path, but it really was to try and do something that maybe friends, and family, and others weren’t doing. And one day I was looking at a map and across my mind came Mount Ararat.

Khor Virap, an Armenian monastery located in the Ararat plain. Photo licensed from BigStockPhoto

Jo Frances: It just has a romance about it, really. Because you’re in Canada. And I’m in Europe and, you know I’ve traveled in the Middle East. Do you think there is something quite different when you’re from North America, Canada to come to the Middle East?

Rick: Well, first of all, the last couple of years, my wife, Janice and I were living in Europe because of my wife’s job. And then before that, for five years, she was in Australia and I was back and forth, and then the last couple of years living there.

So I probably bring a different perspective, but the further away you are from any destination, the more romantic, perhaps forbidding, foreboding a place could be. And the Middle East is so characterized by turmoil that to actually plan on traveling there has to put safety at the front of your mind and also just loads your planning table with history, almost overwhelming history.

Again, you know, layers of it that one wants to sift through before they go. But you also don’t want to take away that traveler’s awe by being too prepared.

Jo Frances: Absolutely. And you mentioned that overwhelming layers of history, which is certainly true.

What is history and what is myth when it comes to Ararat and the flood?

Rick: The ‘Reader’s Digest,’ Peter Rabbit short version is that great flood stories appear throughout the world, all over the planet. There have been perhaps localized floods but they were great floods to the people involved.

So the factual part is that if a flood happened in 5,000 BC almost anywhere in the world, if you had never traveled more than 20 miles from Bath in any direction and you didn’t know anyone else who had, and that part of ...

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Great cathedrals are places of awe and wonder, no matter your religious belief.

Whenever I visit a new place, I always go to the cathedral or church, or place of worship in the area. There is always something new and interesting to be found and you can get a particular sense of a region that way. I also love to take photos of religious architecture and sculpture, much of it crafted by devotion over many generations.

In this interview, I talk to Derry Brabbs about places of pilgrimage across Europe and why they attract so many, even those with no particular religious faith.

Derry Brabbs is one of the UK’s finest public photographers with over 30 illustrated books to his credit. He’s also an author and speaker, and today we’re talking about his book, Pilgrimage: Great Pilgrim Routes of Britain and Europe.

Show notes

  • The popularity of pilgrimage in our secular times
  • The lesser-known routes of the Camino
  • The resurrection of stonemasonry to repair historic cathedrals
  • Highlights of beautiful churches and cathedrals
  • The joys of the unexpected on a pilgrimage
  • Seeing the world through a camera lens and learning to be in the right place at the right time to catch the light
  • Recommended books

You can find Derry at DerryBrabbs.com.

My book, Pilgrimage, Lessons Learned from Solo Walking Three Ancient Ways, is out now.

My book, Pilgrimage, Lessons Learned from Solo Walking Three Ancient Ways, is out now

Transcript of the interview

Jo Frances Penn: Derry Brabbs is one of the UK’s finest public photographers with over 30 illustrated books to his credit. He’s also an author and speaker, and today we’re talking about his book, Pilgrimage: Great Pilgrim Routes of Britain and Europe.

Welcome, Derry.

Derry Brabbs: Hi. How are you?

Jo Frances Penn: I’m good. It’s so great to talk to you. Let’s start by talking about why ‘Pilgrimage’ in the first place because you’ve written lots of books about heritage, and pubs, and churches.

What drew you to this particular topic?

Derry Brabbs: It was actually entirely by chance because, during the mid-’80s, I was doing a photographic project in Spain for a book on Spanish food and wine. And when I was in the heart of Spain, west of Burgos, I came across some churches that had references to St. James and also some old pilgrimage references and it tweaked a curiosity button.

Salamanca cathedral interior dome. Photo copyright Derry Brabbs. Used with permission.

But it was lodged in the brain and nothing happened. And I went on and finished that particular job. Years after that I was getting more and more architecturally aware because most of my work had been with landscapes. And the idea had just laid dormant for a few years and then I got very tied up working with the wonderful Alfred Wainwright, on books on the long-distance footpaths and, in particular, in the Lake District and that sadly came to an end after seven books.

Then I got to do my own illustrated book on the UK’s abbeys and monasteries and that really got my medieval architectural interest going. And then from the depths of the brain, I remembered the pilgrimage route. And I actually put together a proposal to the publishers and they thought it was worth a go.

So that was my first book called The Roads to Santiago, and that was predominantly the four Pilgrim routes through France and then across the Camino Frances de Santiago de Compostela. And I was hooked.

Jo Frances Penn: You mentioned there about long-distance footpaths.

For all these books you’ve written, have you actually been walking the whole journeys including these pilgrimages?

Derry Brabbs: Well, now, here’s a confession because as confession plays a significant role in the act of pilgrimage, I’m going to confess first and foremost is that no, in a word, because...

Jo Frances Penn: I was going to say it would take you a long time.

Derry Brabbs: Well, the thing is, I worked out that if I was actually walking all the routes that I’d written about and photographed, I’d still be there and I wouldn’t have really got one book out.

Bleak & exposed landscape near Zamora. Photo copyright Derry Brabbs. Used with permission.
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Would you cycle across Europe on a ‘sit up and beg’ bike with little experience and no map reading skills? Helen Moat talks about how her adventure unfolded in an inspiring interview that will have you reaching for the guide books and considering where you could travel next.

Helen Moat is an author and freelance travel writer for Wanderlust and BBC Countryfile, originally from Northern Ireland. Today we’re talking about her latest book, A Time of Birds: Reflections on Cycling Across Europe.

Show notes

  • Making the decision to plan a cycling trip without much experience
  • Taking time to enjoy the journey
  • Starting off on the flats near the Danube and the Rhine
  • Restoring one’s faith in humanity by staying with strangers while couch surfing
  • Facing fears about the journey
  • Choosing the wrong bike for the ride
  • Slow travel and seeing the world from the seat of a bicycle
  • Travel as a time of healing

You can find Helen Moat at her website here and her books on Amazon.

Transcript of the interview

Joanna: Helen Moat is an author and freelance travel writer for Wanderlust and BBC Countryfile, originally from Northern Ireland. Today we’re talking about her latest book, A Time of Birds: Reflections on Cycling Across Europe. Welcome, Helen.

Helen: Hi, Jo. It’s good to talk to you.

Joanna: Thanks for coming on. So the book is about cycling to Istanbul with your son, which is super adventurous.

Why did you decide to take this trip? What led to it?

Helen: I think it was a moment of pure madness to tell you the truth. And actually, when I first had the idea, I mentioned it to my brother who really is an excellent cyclist. And actually, at that point, I didn’t really cycle, I like walking but I never cycled.

When I told him that I was planning to cycle the Istanbul, he looked really puzzled and he said, ‘But Helen, you’re a walker, you’re not a cyclist.’ But I had read a book by a guy called Nick Kant, who had walked to Istanbul in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor. And I thought, ‘I’d really love to do that.’

I was in a job I wasn’t very happy in but I couldn’t leave at that point but imagined it was something that would keep me going. And maybe three years down the line, I could take off and do this trip. And I figured that walking would take too long. So I decided, ‘Yes, I’ll cycle it.’ So that was the reason why I decided to do this trip, and a midlife crisis, I think.

Joanna: It was interesting that you went with your son though in the end. You mentioned your brother there.

How come you ended up going with your son? And how was that, because doing things with family can be good and bad!

Helen: First of all, I’m quite a sociable person. So I didn’t really fancy doing it by myself. I’m not that adventurous. But secondly, I’m really rubbish at reading maps, and so my son is just brilliant. So he was actually 15 when I first mentioned it, and I said, ‘Yeah, would you cycle to Istanbul with me?’

And like any other 15-year-old, he said, ‘Yes, okay,’ thinking it would never happen. And then when he left school at 18, I mentioned it again, and he’s such a lovely guy because he had made this promise to me, he decided he would keep it. He just didn’t tell any of his friends he was going cycling with his mum because that wasn’t cool.

Joanna: I can imagine!

How long did it take you?

Helen: Well, to be quite honest, a long time, it took us three-and-a-half months. But I did a degree in German at school, so I had friends in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. So we really took our time and we made sure we looked up the sights along the way.

We stayed with friends for a few days. So I really doddled, going really slow but that’s the way to cycle as far as I’m concerned.

Joanna: Absolutely. So let’s think about some of the highlights because three-and-a-half months, I imagine a lot of it was just pedaling.

Crossing the Austrian Danube. Photo By Helen Moat

What are some of the highlights or things that surprised you along the way?

Helen: We left on the 1st of May, right at the beginning of spring, well, not right at the beginning, but close to the b...

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There are certain places in the world that are so full of stories, they become ‘catnip for a novelist,‘ as Layton Green talks about in this interview. We delve into the lure of far-off cities, why the occult draws us both, and how to turn a trip to a new place into a book.

In the introduction, I talk about my own experience of traveling for book research and how I find story ideas in new places including Amsterdam, New Orleans, and Bath, plus how synchronicity often happens when I delve deeper into history, culture, and religion.

Layton Green is the award-nominated, international bestselling author of the Dominic Grey thrillers, as well as the Blackwood Saga fantasy series and loads of other books.

  • Researching The Summoner in Zimbabwe
  • Why occult and religion continue to inspire stories
  • Planning travel around book ideas
  • Tracking ideas while traveling
  • Writing about a place as an outsider
  • Some of our favorite graveyards, cemeteries, and museums
  • Why New Orleans inspires so many stories
  • Recommended books with a sense of place

You can find Layton at LaytonGreen.com

Transcription of interview with Layton Green

Joanna: Layton Green is the award-nominated international bestselling author of the Dominic Grey thrillers, as well as the ‘Blackwood Saga’ fantasy series and loads of other books. Welcome, Layton.

Layton: Hi, Joanna. So nice to talk again.

Joanna: Oh, absolutely. So I wanted to ask first, so I first got to know you, I read The Summoner when it came out years ago now, and I knew I wanted more of your thrillers and we met later on.

Tell us about the origins of that book with your travels in Africa.

Layton: I will. And first off, I’m a fan of yours as well. I think it’s almost funny how our interest in fiction coincide over the years. When you came out with your...what was it ‘Mapwalker,’ is it the name of that series?

Joanna: Yes, ‘Mapwalker.’

Layton: I was like, ‘Did she just take that from my head?’ I mean, that is ridiculous. I love your ideas. But back to The Summoner. That was my first, really...not the first novel that I wrote, but the first one that came out. And after I had written my first novel called The Letterbox which is back out now, I just was thinking, I wanted to write a book that actually sold.

I was naturally drawn to mysteries and thrillers and I thought, ‘What would be cool and different and interesting?’ And my fiancée at the time, my wife is Zimbabwean, and I had been doing some travel there. And I thought, ‘Not a lot of people go to Zimbabwe,’ and I am a huge traveler, as you know. And I thought, ‘Okay. I’ll write about that.’ It was turned out to be a strength and a weakness. A weakness in that I had so many editors love the book but say, ‘No one’s interested in Zimbabwe so we can’t publish this book.’ And it turns out that they were kind of right. But it was also a strength. People who did like the book were the people that do love to travel to exotic places and were fascinated by that new culture.

So I am a traveler that is bored by going to the same place — I won’t say twice, I do like to do some repeat — but I really am intrigued by new and different cultures. And I consider Zimbabwe a little bit Africa light, but it was my first time to Africa. And I say that because the English were there for a long time and are still there and English is widely spoken, and the streets of Harare are wide and beautiful and it’s not a hard place to go, honestly, but then you go into the countryside, and you see the villages and the exotic flora and fauna. And there’s actually some really cool ruins there from the Shona culture. Think they’re around 800AD and the Portuguese claim they discovered them, but obviously, they were there for a very long time before that. So I think it was my first time to Africa and I was very excited to write about it and just explore that culture.

Zimbabwe. Photo by Layton Green

Joanna: And you also wrote about the occult in the area, or I guess, the local religion in the book. So tell us about that.

Layton: Okay....

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“Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” Galileo Galilei

So much of the joy of travel is eating and drinking and I certainly love to try local wines when I visit new places!

In this interview, Caro Feely talks about why she and her husband gave up successful careers to take on a rundown vineyard in a new country, the struggles they went through to build up the business — even down to their blood shed on the land itself. There are a surprising number of ways to die in a vineyard! We also talk about the importance of terroir — the unique taste of a place due to environmental factors — and the different wines they produce at Chateau Feely.

Caro Feely is a certified wine educator writing part-time from the organic biodynamic vineyard and wine school in Saussignac, France that she owns and runs with her husband, Sean. Part Irish, part South African, and now part French, she is passionate about wine and life. Her books include memoir About the Vineyard Life, and a nonfiction book, Wine: The Essential Guide to Tasting History, Culture, and More.

Show notes

  • Giving up the corporate life for a tumbledown French vineyard
  • The challenges of starting a vineyard
  • The surprising ways to die amongst the vines
  • Terroir and the importance of the land
  • The different wines of Chateau Feely
  • Recommended books about vineyards

You can find Caro Feely at ChateauFeely.com

Transcript of the interview

Joanna: Caro Feely is a certified wine educator writing part-time from the organic biodynamic vineyard and wine school in Saussignac, France that she owns and runs with her husband, Sean. Part Irish, part South African, and now part French, she is passionate about wine and life. Her books include memoir About the Vineyard Life, and a nonfiction book, Wine: The Essential Guide to Tasting History, Culture, and More.

Welcome, Caro.

Caro: Thank you, Jo. It’s a pleasure to talk to you today.

Joanna: I’m so excited. As I said before recording, I wish I was there in your vineyard, and we were talking over a glass of wine.

Caro: For sure. That would be good.

Joanna: That would definitely be my favorite way of doing this. But we’re on Skype, so, for now, we’ll just get into it.

You and I share a background in business consulting, which is so interesting. I was also at Accenture and briefly IBM.

Tell me, why did you give up the corporate life for a French vineyard?

Caro: It’s quite a story. I guess it goes back pretty far. Sean and I met in Johannesburg back in 1993, and we pretty quickly said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to go wine farming?’ He had grandparents that were vine growers in Stellenbosch in South Africa near Cape Town.

Vineyard of Chateau Feely. Photo used with permission from Caro Feely

I had shared a house with a guy that was a master of wine, so we both had this passion for wine. We were both in completely different careers at the time. Sean was a journalist, and I was an economist, but just starting work for IBM as a consultant.

We started to cook up this idea of going wine farming, following our passion, and we moved to Cape Town, and it was kind of a long shot. It was clear that we had to pay off our student loans before we had any chance of going wine farming. But work actually then took us to Dublin, and we both have Irish roots.

We visited France on a wine holiday, and we totally fell in love. And that was the start of, ‘Maybe, we’ll go to France to follow our vineyard dream and not back to South Africa.’

And, of course, at that stage, we were both still in other careers, Sean in finance and me still in consulting. But we had this dream, this idea that we wanted to pursue, and we kept our heads down, saved every penny that we had, and slowly moved towards our goal.

It was dream about it first, start think about, ‘Well, what can we do? We can’t do it right now, but what can we do to kind of prepare ourselves for this?’ And that was things like, you know, learning French, visiting France for research purposes to taste wine of course, and slowly bringing it together.

We were preparing ourselves doing things like learning French, learning about wine, visiting France to learn more about it, and slowly moving ourselves closer to the goal of moving to France and following this dream. Bu...

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If you look below the surface of an ancient city, you can travel through time and find its deeper layers. In this episode, David Morrell talks about how he researched Victorian London for his historical mysteries about Thomas De Quincey, and how he brought to light the “chasms and sunless abysses” of the first British serial killer.

David Morrell is the multi-award-winning and many times bestselling author of over 30 books, as well as short stories, essays, comics, and collaborations that have sold millions of copies and are available in many different languages. He has a Ph.D. in American literature and was a professor of literature at the University of Iowa. His novel First Blood became the Rambo franchise, but today we’re talking about the Thomas De Quincey historical mysteries set in Victorian London. The first in the series is Murder as a Fine Art.

Show notes

  • Time travel through book research as a way of dealing with grief
  • Thomas De Quincy, addiction and the unconscious
  • How De Quincy invented the true crime genre
  • Finding inspiration in mid-Victorian London
  • Famous locations that inspire David’s work

You can find David Morrell at DavidMorrell.net

Header photo: St Pancras Station, finished in 1868 and abandoned by the 1960s. After much lobbying, it was restored to its glorious Victorian self and re-opened in 2007. It is one of my favorite stations in London!

Transcript of the interview

Jo: David Morrell is the multi-award-winning and many times bestselling author of over 30 books, as well as short stories, essays, comics, and collaborations that have sold millions of copies and are available in many different languages. He has a Ph.D. in American literature and was a professor of literature at the University of Iowa. His novel First Blood became the Rambo franchise, but today we’re talking about the Thomas De Quincey historical mysteries set in Victorian London. The first in the series is Murder as a Fine Art.

Welcome, David.

David: It’s nice to chat with you. We’ve known each other quite a few years now, and it’s always fun despite the distance. It’s fun to have the opportunity to get together and chat.

J.F. Penn with David Morrell at Thrillerfest NYC, 2017

Jo: Indeed.

What first drew you to historical London?

Because you don’t live anywhere near here. What was the idea behind the De Quincey books?

David: If people are curious, I live in the United States in a state called New Mexico. And since we’re talking about travel you’d be surprised how many people in the United States do not know that New Mexico is a state in the United States. I remember sending away to The Museum of Modern Art in New York for something, I think it was a Christmas card. And they said, ‘Well, we don’t ship to a foreign country.’ And we said, ‘Well, what you mean?’ And she said, ‘Well, you know, New Mexico is a foreign country.’ ‘Well, no, it is not a foreign country and this is our zip code for mailing.’ And they had to go to a supervisor who finally said, ‘You know what? I think New Mexico is in the Union.’

Jo: That’s brilliant!

David: So, there you are. And New Mexico gets featured a lot in movies and westerns particularly. A classic movie like Silverado was filmed near here, for example.

I’ve always been interested in the Victorians and I’m from Canada, so I share an interest in the UK and because we’re all in the Commonwealth. And the short version is that my granddaughter Natalie died in 2009 from a rare bone cancer. And our son had died years earlier from the same rare bone cancer and my wife and I, and of course, our daughter, whose child it was, we were devastated.

I happened to see a film called Creation about Charles Darwin’s breakdown when he was writing On the Origin of Species. And the breakdown was because his favorite daughter had died. In the midst of the movie, somebody shows up to explain his breakdown by saying, ‘You know, Charles, there are people like Thomas De Quincey who maintain that we can be controlled by thoughts and emotions we don’t know we have.’

This sounded so much like Freud that I wondered if the movie was making it up because it was set in the 1850s, and Freud’s at the turn of the century. It turned out that De Quince...

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