Time Traveller | Barnaby Rogerson
Whether you’re searching for summer holiday reading or looking for an exotic literary adventure while you’re stuck at home, Eland Books boasts a remarkable range of travel writing. Andre Paine meets EC1 publisher, author and dedicated traveller Barnaby Rogerson…
It may have become a cliché to claim that travel broadens the mind, but there’s no doubting the enriching experience of the far-flung literary journeys published by Eland Books, based in Exmouth Market.
With travel writing from Norman Lewis, Martha Gellhorn and even Winston Churchill, the publisher has won plaudits for keeping classic works available and rediscovering authors who open up our understanding of other cultures. Eland’s distinctive paperbacks can transport you to another time and place – West Africa 200 years ago in the account of Mungo Park, or the 17th century Ottoman world in the writings of Evliya Çelebi, a Turkish Samuel Pepys.
The independent firm’s top-floor office is also home to 13-year-old lurcher Bianca (pictured) and the personal travel library of publisher and author Barnaby Rogerson, who runs Eland with his wife, Rose Baring, an expert on Russia.The couple settled nearby in Clerkenwell in the mid-Nineties following an itinerant existence writing guidebooks.
Their joint effort on a guide to Istanbul was written with a toddler in tow, though it sometimes made life easier. “The Turks love children and you get straight to the front of the queue,” says Rogerson. Life as a solo traveller was less comfortable for Rogerson, who caught the bug from Gavin Maxwell’s Lords of the Atlas (now published by Eland) as a teenager and decided to seek out the Moroccan kasbahs described in the book. “I’ve been arrested more times than I care to think about in Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey, near frontiers alone with a notebook,” he says.
Although these incidents never turned into the ‘horror journeys’ that were the speciality of Gellhorn, Rogerson’s lack of linguistic skills didn’t help. “I’m hopeless at languages – it’s extraordinary how I’ve survived as a travel writer,” he says. When it became clear that raising two children wasn’t entirely compatible with writing travel guides, the family settled in EC1. A publishing venture soon resulted in the couple joining forces with John Hatt at Eland, which he founded in 1982.
‘I’ve been arrested more times than I care to think about in Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey’
Their backlist of travel classics is a treasure trove of around 100 titles – many are available as ebooks that span the globe. Eland also publishes fiction, biography and poetry, as well as new books by the veteran Irish writer and cyclist Dervla Murphy, including an account of her month in the Gaza Strip in the year she turned 80. “Spirit of place” is how Rogerson sums up the Eland ethos, and he’s excited about a new edition of Against a Peacock Sky by Monica Connell, who spent two years in a Nepalese village in the early Eighties.
Even their 19th century travel writing is a world away from the more colonial, politically incorrect travelogues – Eland has deliberately not revived those books. “Wherever possible, it’s about people who’ve really got an understanding of a culture, not just monument hunting,” explains Rogerson. Eland has been adept at picking up authors unloved by their big publishers, who require signifi cant sales to keep a book in print. Rogerson singles out one homegrown title as an EC1 favourite: Holding On, a Seventies novel by Mervyn Jones. “That was a perfect Clerkenwell book – it’s about three generations of a working class East End family,” he says.
As for aspiring travel writers, Rogerson says it’s become a tough market, especially as the wider reach of tourism means anyone can now visit places that used to be the province of intrepid authors. “The passion’s got to come first – and I would recommend that you get a job that involves travel,” he says. Rogerson’s own wanderlust is incurable and he recently returned from Algeria (“still safely nontourist”). “I think travel is one of the things that keeps you alive,” he says.