UK | 2001
Colin Thubron has been called “one of the two or three best living travel writers, in some ways probably the best”(Jan Morris, The Independent), and his work is widely translated. His early travel books include Mirror to Damascus, The Hills of Adonis, and Journey into Cyprus, all concentrated on the Middle East; in the eighties and early nineties, he turned his attention to the Communist Bloc with Among the Russians, Behind the Wall (Hawthornden Prize and Thomas Cook Travel Award, 1987), The Lost Heart of Asia, and In Siberia. His fiction includes A Cruel Madness (Silver Pen Award, 1985), Turning Back the Sun, and Distance. In 2000, he was the recipient of the SRGS Mungo Park Medal.
You know my prejudices. I’ve always held that scenic beauty didn’t particularly help creation, that all I needed was quietude and a blank wall. But this, I realize, is complicated. The peace of your tower, in which I’ve just written for six weeks, is the rare peace of somewhere absolutely insulated, solitary, ancient: It gave me a precious sense of psychological, as well as physical, tranquility
In fact the beauty of the surroundings—those deceptively wild-looking Tuscan valleys—creates its own ease: a feeling that (for once) all is well with the world outside, so it is safe to turn inwards.
All this is to say that Santa Maddalena has spoilt me for anywhere else. It provided solitude without loneliness, beauty without distraction. Your elegant but informal hospitality—the chance in the evening to meet writers whom I would not normally encounter, as well as your own friends—was an added and unlooked-for pleasure.
In these lovely surroundings—I found myself sitting at a Louis Seize desk under a Miro drawing and an Afghan camel halter—I was able to finish a novel set in the Peruvian jungle! I think the eclectic rooms (and company) create a special kind of breathing-space and sense of possibility. Nothing oppressive, nothing narrow, nothing set. Ideal. Thank you.