Exploring nothing

The stage at Eden Court.  More people turned up than this, I promise.I’m not long back from my Inverness Book Festival appearance, which was really good fun, and wonderfully supported by the brilliant staff at Eden Court.

I was lucky enough to have a great audience who asked lots of interesting questions, and I hope my slideshow presentation tour of the mullet adventures (both those featured in Up The Creek Without a Mullet and those from later trips that I am nearly finished writing up) went down well.

However, many of the comments from Kit Fraser, who chaired the event and introduced me, and the questions from the audience, focussed on the fact that the adventures have often taken me to places where not a lot happens – quiet villages, remote and uninhabited backwaters and so on. This surprised me, but pleasantly so.

In amongst the admittedly oddball and madcap adventures of UTCWAM and the impending sequel, there lies, I hope, a quiet focus on the solitude, emptiness and downright unattractiveness of some of the non-entities that I visit. It got me thinking a lot about how some travel writing dwells on, even relishes, the idea of empty, uninteresting and rarely-visited destinations. This is something especially valuable in a world where all the most exciting and interesting places are so easy to get to and so regularly covered by travel writing and new or interesting angles on them are increasingly hard to find.

I made reference in one of my answers from the audience to Daniel Kalder, a Scottish travel writer who, I feel, magnificently captures how such empty and little-known places can be compelling precisely because of their emptiness and nothingness. His two books, Lost Cosmonaut and Strange Telescopes, are well worth a read if that side of travel appeals to you. I increasingly find that it does to me.

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