Review | Travels in a Dervish Cloak, Isambard Wilkinson | Book of the Week

The next morning, standing in the doorway to see me off on my way to the north of Punjab, to the capital, Islamabad, the Begum strained with both hands to raise a heavy old leather-bound Koran under which I ducked to receive divine protection. She resembled a classical figure holding up a torch so that I might see the good in her country.”

Two great matriarchs loom over this memoir which flies over Pakistan like a magical flying carpet: Isambard Wilkinson’s grandmother, and her friend, Sajida Ali Khan a.k.a. the Begum, from Lahore in the Punjab. As a small boy visiting the Irish family home that is suffused with a “heady, dusty fragrance” and chock-full of Anglo-Indian mementoes dating back to the 19th century, a warm and intoxicating vision of another world offered an antidote to the cold austerity of boarding school. His first actual visit to Pakistan was with his grandmother in 1990, to attend a wedding of one of the Begum’s children; and then in 2006 as foreign correspondent. His desire to explore the country and live there eventually was cut short by kidney failure, dialysis and successful surgery when his brother gave him a kidney. Travels in a Dervish Cloak has been seven years in the making. Continue reading Review | Travels in a Dervish Cloak, Isambard Wilkinson | Book of the Week

Interview | Isambard Wilkinson | Author of the Week

Where were you born?
Southsea, which conjured exotic images of Pacific islands in my young mind. Then I discovered it was part of Portsmouth. I was born there because my father was in the navy.

 Where did you grow up?
After my birth, my father went off to sea to the Antarctic and my mother took me and my elder brother to our grandmother in rural Ireland. I went to boarding school in the UK at the age of seven ‘til 18. Ireland was our one constant for many years, as well as my parents’ Edwardian-bohemian home on the seafront in Deal, Kent, then an old smugglers town with a raffish air.

What sorts of books were in your family home?
My parents read lots and widely, from biography and history to novels of all stripes. My father’s favourite book is Lampedusa’s The Leopard, and my mother loved Nancy Mitford. There were also plenty of humorous books, including P.G. Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh. Continue reading Interview | Isambard Wilkinson | Author of the Week

Interview | Alison Brackenbury | Author of the Week

Alison Brackenbury’s Carcanet collections include Dreams of Power (1981), Breaking Ground (1984), Christmas Roses (1988), Selected Poems (1991), 1829 (1995), After Beethoven (2000) and Bricks and Ballads (2004). Her poems have been included on BBC Radio 3 and 4, and 1829 was produced by Julian May for Radio 3. Her work recently won a Cholmondeley Award.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in what now seems almost like Victorian England, in the Lincolnshire countryside. I won a scholarship to Oxford, but quickly found that I preferred writing to academic work. So my First and I worked in a technical college library, then, for twenty-three years, in my husband’s metal finishing business. I had a child – and shaggy ponies – and too many cats. The planet heated. I had plenty to write about, and managed to produce nine poetry collections (and do a surprising amount of broadcasting on BBC Radio). Now I am a Retired Person, I at last have time to go round and give readings from all these poems . . .

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A successful writer of historical fiction, with an Irish wolfhound! I don’t regret not having written the fiction. I do wish I’d managed to keep a dog.
Continue reading Interview | Alison Brackenbury | Author of the Week