Siân Phillips reads from A Time of Gifts

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About lamplighting time at the end of a wet November day, I was peering morosely at the dog-eared pages on my writing table and then through the panes at the streaming reflections of Shepherd Market, thinking, as Night and Day succeeded Stormy Weather on the gramophone in the room below, that Lazybones couldn’t be far behind; when, almost with the abruptness of Herbert’s lines at the beginning of these pages, inspiration came. A plan unfolded with the speed and the completeness of a Japanese paper flower in a tumbler.

To change scenery; abandon London and England and set out across Europe like a tramp – or, as I characteristically phrased it to myself, like a pilgrim or a palmer, an errant scholar, a broken knight or the hero of The Cloister and the Hearth! All of a sudden, this was not merely the obvious, but the only thing to do. I would travel on foot, sleep in hayricks in summer, shelter in barns when it was raining or snowing and only consort with peasants and tramps. If I lived on bread and cheese and apples, jogging along on fifty pounds a year like Lord Durham with a few noughts knocked off, there would even be some cash left over for paper and pencils and an occasional mug of beer. A new life! Freedom! Something to write about!

Extract from A Time of Gifts, with thanks to John Murray Publishers. Photo of Paddy reproduced with thanks to Joan Leigh Fermor.


About the contributor

On Sunday 30 April 2017, 34-year-old Londoner Katy MacMillan-Scott will embark on the adventure of a lifetime: a 600-mile journey from Rotterdam to Budapest, following the route of writer Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor. It is the first leg of a literary pilgrimage that will see her travel all the way to Istanbul over the next few years.

Katy decided to undertake the epic journey following the death of her friend Harriet Clarke from bowel cancer at the age of 32 last March. She credits Robert Macfarlane’s essay, The Gifts of Reading – which is centered around A Time of Gifts – and a talk at the Frontline Club for inspiring her to plan a literary adventure in Harriet’s memory, to celebrate her friend’s life and to raise awareness for Bowel Cancer UK’s Never Too Young campaign.

At Slightly Foxed we’ll be mapping Katy’s route and sharing news of her progress from the comfort of our desks during her three-week trip.

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