The Soho Literary Festival, in association with The Oldie Magazine
We were delighted to be the sponsors of the travel talk at the recent Soho Literary Festival, organised by The Oldie. Accompanied by our Silver Travel Advisor prize winners, we all enjoyed a fascinating talk by authors William Blacker and Julia Blackburn, ably chaired by Sara Wheeler.
Who says older holidaymakers can’t be trendy pioneers? Silver Travel Advisor was one of the sponsors for the very first Soho Literary Festival in London last weekend, a celebration of all that’s great in British literature.
And Silver Travel Advisor members Angie and Bev Curtis were there to take part in the events, after winning one of our fantastic competitions earlier this year.
The couple from Welwyn Garden City, in Hertfordshire, were keen to hear from travel writer William Blacker, author of Along The Enchanted Way – the story of his life in Romania and how he fell in love with a gypsy girl.
Fellow travel writer Julia Blackburn was also on stage to talk about her book Thin Paths: Journeys In and Around an Italian Mountain Village, and they were interviewed by Sara Wheeler, who wrote travel books The Magnetic North and Terra Incognita: Travels In Antarctica.
Angie won the competition by telling us that William Blacker’s grandfather was the first person to fly over Mount Everest. After the show she confessed she used Google to find the answer, but added that she and her husband were interested in William Blacker because he has been compared to travel writer Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, who wrote about his experience walking from Rotterdam to Istanbul in 1934.
Leigh Fermor’s journey took him through Transylvania, and he later lived in Romania with his fist love – hence the comparisons with Blacker.
Neither Angie nor her husband Bev has visited Romania, but Bev said: “When I left university I did take the stopping train from Victoria Station to Constantinople [Istanbul].” He added: “We have travelled very widely in our lives, and I would love to have the ability to write about it.”
Angie and Bev have a particular fondness for Corfu, and Angie writes travel journals whenever they go away. “Looking back at them, some of the things I’ve written about I can’t even remember doing,” she admitted, although she vividly remembers one travel experience: “I lived in Beirut when I was younger, and the most interesting thing I ever did was to come back from Beirut by bus in 1964, aged 23. It was quite an experience for a woman travelling on her own back then.”
As for William Blacker, an old Etonian who grew up on the Goodwood Estate in Sussex, he went to Eastern Europe on a whim after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and returned to Romania in 1996. “I went to see a way of life before it disappeared,” he told the audience at Soho Theatre. “I was lucky to have sampled it after the Romanian Revolution in 1989, and found this extraordinary world which I thought had ceased to exist.”
Julia Blackburn lives in northern Italy and told us she wrote Thin Paths “as a way of getting to know myself and the people who live there”. The older people were particularly keen to tell her about the region’s history – particularly during the Second World War. “It was as if time present, time past and time future was stretched around us and we were walking though it – along thin paths,” she said.
But while ruined buildings and abandoned charcoal burning sites were part of Blackburn’s journey, Blacker discovered northern Romania was still almost medieval. “I found the charcoal burners still there hard at work,” he said. “It was like living in a Thomas Hardy novel or a Tolstoy story.” Blacker eventually fell in love with a gypsy girl and has a son still living in Romania with her family, so he returns often. He describes his first book as “part memoir, part travel book and part story”, and plans to write more about his experiences in Romania. “There’s another book just waiting; it’s ready-made,” he said. “It’s just a matter of finding time, and peace and quiet.”
Deborah Stone is a travel writer and journalist who writes for the Daily and Sunday Express, and has written for other national newspapers including The Daily Telegraph and The Times.