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I'm Laura Kroetsch, Director of Adelaide Writers' Week. Come and journey with me through the marvellous world of literature. If you feel inspired, get involved and leave a comment at the bottom of the stories!

It’s the journey, they say….

1 July 2016

Over the coming months we have arranged a series of conversations with five very different writers – all of whom, in some way, explore the art of travel or at least engage in some sort of journey. What you will hear are stories about surfing, reckless youth, advancing age, neuroscience, love, lost letters and an ape. All of the writers are white men, only one is still fairly young, and all are thoughtful – so don’t worry that they are all men – it just worked out that way.

All of the books also in some way reflect my own curiosities, perhaps none more so than William Finnegan’s memoir Barbarian Days. I have long harboured a fascination with surf literature, especially surf noir and when I recently came upon a list of the great surf books I was a bit sad to see that I’d already read all of the fiction and most of the non-fiction – one is always looking for that new thing.

Writers'Week Guide

Read about the best in surf lit

What I did find on the list was Barbarian Days – the book that won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Biography. It is a blissful read, a long wonderful journey around the globe, filled with the young daredevils, wild risk and lavish adventures. There really is nothing like surfing; its slightly dangerous culture, its maleness and its beauty. And I say this as someone who has never surfed, never tried, and don’t watch it on TV. And yet I absolutely believe that Kem Nun’s Tapping the Source is the greatest surf novel ever written, and that Barbarian Days is the best surf memoir ever. And in surf culture best, like biggest, counts.

Some of you may remember Geoff Dyer, he visited the festival in 2010 with his novel Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi. There have been a couple of books in between, most recently White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World. This new book is a collection of essays about journeys that rely on Dyer’s wonderful mashup of essay, fiction, and non-fiction. This time around, Dyer is pondering the question why we go where we go? What is refreshing about the collection is its sheer inventiveness, its wry wit and it careful consideration of the experience of disappointment.

Dyer is one of our most original thinkers and in this new book he considers mortality after a minor stroke, disappointment when questing for a connection to a shared literary past and an epiphany in New Mexico while seeing the The Lightning Field on a clear day. Dyer is also very charming and very funny and a wonderful conversationalist – that I can promise.

Yann Martel’s Life of Pi was one of those books everyone read; everyone discussed and then all his readers had to settle down and wait for 15 years to pass and Martel to produce his next novel, The High Mountains of Portugal. Finally it is here and it was worth the wait. Like Pi, the Mountains is a story within a story and it involves an animal (an ape). It is a trip through Portugal that spans the last century, it is a quest, a love story, a mediation on loss, a fable, a ghost story and it is somehow charming, funny and profound.

I was listening to an interview with Martel and I was struck again by the ease with which it explores philosophy, science and spirituality. I also marvelled again at his imagination and sympathy as each of the three stories are about a man grieving the death of his wife – and making a journey.

Writers'Week Guide

Listen to Yann Martel talk philosophy, spirituality and a chimpanzee

One of great mysteries of our age is the human brain, and for many the condition known as autism has been a complex and difficult path to navigate. John Elder Robison is a self-described author, advocate and Aspergian. He is the author of The New York Times best-selling memoir Look Me in the Eye. Robison was invited to participate in a pioneering Asperger’s study at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston in 2008. The treatment he underwent was using a system called transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, which activated neurological pathways in his brain that were able to deepen his emotional intelligence.

And according to his new memoir, Switched On, it worked and it continues to work. There are seemingly few stories about effective treatment for autism and what is so refreshing about Robison’s book is that he is living a good life, he offers real hope, if not necessarily for the treatment he received in Boston, then for treatment in general – so his is a good new brain story, one well worth listening to.

The series finishes with the English novelist Chris Cleave and his terrific new historical novel Everyone Brave is Forgiven. Based on his grandparents love letters, the novel tells the story of four young people during the Second World War, it takes place in both London and Malta, and is both a harrowing depiction of conflict and a touching love story. Cleave’s war is visceral, nasty and emotionally dislocating, his politics include considerations of racism and female empowerment – all that and it’s a love story.

Years ago now I saw him speaking about his novel The Other Hand, a novel about a little girl from Nigeria who we first meet in a detention centre in England. What struck me then, as now, is Cleave’s ability to create a character so outside his own experience and to make their stories so powerful. That and he is a very sweet and thoughtful man who clearly cares about this messy world of ours.

What is your favourite story about a journey? Tell us below to go into the draw to win a double season pass to these Adelaide Writers’ Week Special Events. Entries close COB Monday 11 July.