Tag Archives: travel writing

Bristol Festival of Literature Appearance 22nd Oct

12 Sep

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I’ll be discussing my new travelogue of the contemporary Philippines, Realm of the Punisher, at the Bristol Festival of Literature on 22nd October. My good friend Mike Manson will be present too, riffing on his new novel Down in Demerara. Click here for tickets and further details.

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The Realm of the Punisher Out November

22 Jun

‘At last! A Western journalist/academic writing about the Philippines who has done proper homework and legwork, and who clearly has affection for both the country and its people.’ James Hamilton-Paterson, author of Ghosts of Manila and America’s Boy

In June 2016, Rodrigo ‘The Punisher’ Duterte won the Philippine presidential election. Infamous for his bombastic temper and un-PC wisecracks, he is waging a brutal drug war that has killed an estimated 10-20,000 people so far.

Over the last nine years, British writer Tom Sykes has travelled extensively in the Philippines to understand the Duterte phenomenon, visiting the sites of extra-judicial killings and interviewing friends and enemies of the regime. Sykes witnesses an anti-government demonstration in the capital Manila and journeys to the provincial city of Davao, where Duterte began his crusade against crime using police and civilian death squads.

The Realm of the Punisher also features encounters with slum-dwellers resisting violent eviction, an elderly former sex slave to the Japanese in the Second World War and a public artist who must work while under attack from Maoist rebels.

The past is never far away from these present-day problems and Sykes’ travels to festivals, memorials and a tomb housing an embalmed corpse reveal how key figures in Philippine history – from José Rizal to Ferdinand Marcos – have influenced current affairs.

Funny, tragic, enlightening and uncompromising – and infused with the author’s strong sense of social justice – The Realm of the Punisher is the first major travel book by a Westerner to explore Duterte’s Philippines.

(Design and image by Louis Netter).

Pre-order here.

Troubadour of the Vastness: Gareth Rees 1948-2018

16 Apr

I’m truly devastated to hear of the death of my great friend Gareth Rees. I was just one of many people he inspired with his erudition, compassion, free spirit and dry humour. I first met him in 2004 when I was seeking out contributors for a travel writing anthology I was co-editing. With his paint-spattered shirt and veteran rock star looks, Gareth cut a cool, bohemian figure in the somewhat conventional setting of the Hole in the Wall pub, Southsea. My conversation with him that night was an exhilarating tour of literature, music, art, nature, politics, travel and spirituality. We’d have many more chats like that over the next fourteen years. I will always cherish them.

The son of a vicar, Gareth grew up in Gosport and later St Louis, Missouri, where he acquired what would become a lifelong passion for blues music. In 1967, aged nineteen, he went to work picking peaches on a kibbutz in Israel. One morning, after seeing Israeli tanks on the horizon as the Six-Day War was breaking out, he sensibly quit the job and hitchhiked across Europe back to the UK. The experience didn’t put him off travel – he would go on to visit Eastern Europe, North Africa, India, Iraq, the Bahamas and New Zealand, amongst other places. In 1968, he went to the University of Wales where he earned a first-class degree in sociology. After that he pursued graduate research in Canada, where he also lectured, and studied art at the University of Portsmouth.

In the 1970s, he worked as a schoolteacher in Gosport and taught English as a foreign language in Libya. It was while living and working in the Libyan section of the Sahara Desert that he devoured the works of Dickens and Trollope, both of whom he would love for the rest of his life. By the time I’d come to know him, he was also fond of travelogues by Robert Byron, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Laurens van der Post; mystical and religious texts from the New Testament to Rumi’s poetry; autobiographies (never one for ‘high’/’low’ cultural distinctions, he’d read everyone’s from Tony Benn’s to Nigel Benn’s); and the post-colonial novels of Salman Rushdie, Rohinton Mistry and JM Coetzee. Gareth was probably the best-read person I’ve ever met.

And, of course, Gareth was himself a superb writer with a rare gift for fusing intimate, sometimes confessional storytelling with broader meditations on culture, society and the human experience. He once showed me a dusty, forty-year-old copy of the Guardian featuring one of his essays on the Middle East. That piece, too, adroitly blended the personal with the political. In the 1980s, he ghost-wrote the memoir of a British serviceman who’d been incarcerated in a Japanese POW camp during World War II. Gareth received an advance for the book, he told me, but it was never released because the publisher was bought out by a Japanese company that was worried the book would spell bad publicity for that country. His later work can be found in the anthology Portsmouth Fairy Tales for Grown-Ups and in his 2014 collection Read Rees, which includes his brilliantly understated comic account of his brief stint as a cleaner at Portsmouth Naval Base. Over the last three years, he was a major and much-loved contributor to Star & Crescent, his most powerful article concerning his battle with the cancer he likened to a ‘hostile being within me which is realising its identity by stealing my substance.’

Gareth’s creative talents didn’t end with writing. Most of his friends and family members will have at least one of his beautiful, often psychedelic painted tiles sitting on their mantelpiece. Throughout his life he played guitar and sang in various local bands including Sister Divine, and regularly performed his songs to acclaim at events such as Portsmouth Darkfest.

But it was in person that Gareth arguably made the biggest impact on me and others. As a diligent student of the human condition, he’d listen intently to anyone – whatever their class, creed or background – especially if they had an unusual or distinctive story to tell. He’d be even more intrigued if the story involved travelling somewhere he himself hadn’t been. Although usually reserved and self-effacing, Gareth could be blunt – sometimes hilariously so – with those who indulged in egotism, hypocrisy, pretension, self-righteousness or one-upmanship. After witnessing some blokeish, beer-fuelled argument about a political issue or abstract concept, he’d say to me, ‘Well, what’s the emotion behind the rhetoric?’ And if the emotion was petty or vindictive then he’d suggest that whoever was projecting it should do some self-examination before making judgements about anybody or anything else. In that same vein, Gareth was very mindful of his own feelings and motives – he strove to be himself at all times and respected others who did likewise.

While Gareth didn’t have any formal political affiliations, he knew a lot about politics and was sceptical of all hierarchies and power structures, often calling out those at the top of them – wherever in the world they were – as bullies and gangsters. As someone who was forever youthful in spirit, he was troubled about what he termed, in an interview for S&C last summer, ‘the problem of senescence … Are you with the young shoots – the future – and want to join them in fighting for change or are you afraid of the future, would prefer to stay in the past?’

His resistance to senescence extended to practising yoga most days (in his late sixties he was still able to stand on his head) and taking long, brisk walks in the country. When I saw him on the night before he passed, he said how beautiful the birdsong outside his room was, which reminded me of the strolls he and I used to take around Rowlands Castle. The following morning when I heard the news that he’d gone, I looked out of my window and thought that this was exactly the kind of bright, sunny spring day that would have stirred the pair of us to go up to Stansted Park and see the bluebells in blossom. He loved the bluebells.

Gareth is survived by his children Freya, Rhiannon, Joe and Sian, all of whom showed incredible love, care and fortitude during his last months. They have lost a great father. Others, me included, have lost a great friend. But we will always remember the ways in which Gareth brought light and beauty and energy into our lives.

This article was originally published here.

Photography by Alexander Sebley.

Two New Tunisian Stories in New African Magazine

27 Aug

I have one article on the ancient Carthaginian and Roman sites of Tunis and another on Tunisian cuisine in the current edition of New African. The pieces are not online yet so it’s well worth buying a hard copy through the site right here, even if I say so myself.

Adventureman out February 9th

15 Jan

Jamie McDonald’s Adventureman, which I had the privilege of editing last summer, is out on February 9th with Summersdale Books.

“At the age of nine, Jamie McDonald’s family feared he would never walk again.
Twenty years later, he set off to run 5,000 miles coast to coast across Canada.

“When Jamie decides to repay the hospitals that saved his life as a child, he embarks on the biggest challenge of his life: running the equivalent of 200 marathons back-to-back, solo and unsupported, in –40 degree weather, surviving all kinds of injuries and traumas on the road and wearing through 13 pairs of trainers. And he does it all dressed as the superhero, the Flash.

“Though his journey was both mentally and physically exhausting, it was the astounding acts of kindness and hospitality he encountered along the way that kept him going. Whether they gave him a bed for the night, food for the journey, a donation to his charity or companionship and encouragement during the long days of running, Jamie soon came to realise that every person who helped him towards his goal was a superhero too.”

More info here.

 

Island Cities, Coasts of Teeth Event

17 Oct
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6pm-7.30pm

Blackwell’s in Portsmouth, Cambridge Road, Portsmouth, PO1 2EF

A heady gala of both travel writing about Portsmouth and Portsmouth-based travel writers who have gone elsewhere in search of inspiration. As part of the event, Tom Sykes and Alexander Sebley will be doing a local launch of their new book Ivory Coast: The Bradt Guide. Expect tales of animist rituals, Rastafarian communes, disabled artisans’ cooperatives and risky expeditions with Ghanaian migrant fishermen.

Other performers include Sarah Cheverton (Star & Crescent, Huffington Post) and Gareth Rees (reading from his latest book Read Rees). More TBA.

Facebook group here.

Bradt guide featured in Travel Africa magazine

10 Aug

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Just found out that the excellent Travel Africa magazine will be featuring the guide in the Book Club section of their October issue.

Book launch for Ivory Coast: The Bradt Guide

11 Jul

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When: 11th August 2016, 6.30pm-8pm

Where: Stanfords, 12-14 Long Acre, WC2E9, London, UK

Hosted by: author Tom Sykes (New Statesman, The Scotsman, Private Eye) and photographer Alexander Sebley (VICE, BBC).

You’re cordially invited to the launch of the very first full-length English language guidebook to Ivory Coast. The country is a stunner, from the cream-hued beaches of Assinie in the southeast to the crimson savannahs of the north to the awe-inspiring mountains of the west and a wealth of wildlife-rich national parks (500 bird species, chimps, crocs, hippos and even lions and elephants can be glimpsed). At weekends the nightspots of the largest city, Abidjan, boom with the sounds of home-grown musical genres like coupé-decalé and zouglou alongside US hip-hop, French free-form jazz and Latin American soca. If Ivory Coast’s music is the envy of Africa, its traditional art and craft scene is the envy of the world. In the north, jewellers, blacksmiths, weavers, potters and wood-carvers use ancient techniques to create unique artefacts. Aside from the usual practical information, the book includes reportage, interviews and political, historical and cultural analysis.

 

Interview with bradtguides.com

8 Jul

Just two weeks to go before the Ivory Coast book comes out and here’s me chatting about it alongside pictures by Mr Alexander Sebley.

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Editing Adventureman

6 Jul

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Chuffed to have signed on as an editor with Summersdale, publisher of extraordinary travelogues such as my students’ favourite The Gringo Trail by Mark Mann. My first job is Adventureman by the remarkable Jamie McDonald. Here’s a teaser (and a half):

At the age of nine, Jamie was told by doctors that he would never walk again. Twenty years later, he set off to run 5,000 miles coast to coast across Canada.

 When Jamie decides to repay the hospitals that saved his life as a child, he embarks on the biggest challenge of his life: running the equivalent of 200 marathons back-to-back, solo and unsupported, sleeping in a tent in –40 degree weather, surviving all kinds of injuries and traumas on the road and wearing through countless pairs of trainers. And he does it all dressed as the superhero, the Flash.