“J.M.W. Turner: The Majesty of Vision” by Kyle Gallup

“J.M.W. Turner: Watercolors from Tate at the Mystic Seaport Museum” through Feb 23, 2020

“J.M.W. Turner: Watercolors from Tate at the Mystic Seaport Museum”

Painting as an Aide-Memoire

Stormy seas as atmospheric notations; sheer, floating sunsets; a bright-white moonrise over a glassy body of water; imaginary, architectural views of early nineteenth-century buildings; and a pastoral River Thames on a cloudy summer day. These paintings comprise five of the ninety-two watercolors, four oil paintings, and one of Joseph Mallord William Turner’s last sketchbooks that are on view in a current exhibition, “J.M.W. Turner: Watercolors from Tate,” at the Mystic Seaport Museum, Mystic, Connecticut, through February 23, 2020.

The watercolors are thoughtfully selected from the Turner Bequest, which contains 30,000 works on paper left to Great Britain and housed by the Tate since 1856, five years after the artist’s death. The show is curated by Dr. David Blayney Brown,Tate’s Manton Senior Curator of Nineteenth Century British Art, and organized chronologically with informative title cards that provide important context for these visionary works within the larger arc of Turner’s long public career.

As you enter the gallery, the first dark, silvery watercolors were done when Turner (1775-1851) was in his early twenties and one, “View in the Avon Gorge,” was painted when Turner was only a precocious sixteen-year-old. In it we see a gorge and river view with an overhanging tree, rock cliffs in powdery blues, and silvery-green leafed trees, delicately painted and already masterfully detailed. These early works, along with the thousands of others on paper, filled his residence after his death. The majority of the bequest was part of Turner’s private collection, made for himself, and not intended for public viewing.

Watercolors—a fragile, fugitive medium—are seldom displayed in public. They are loaned, transported, and exhibited even less often, so it’s very special to have the works on display in the United States at all, and an opportunity to see Turner in an intimate light, not as Royal Academician and renowned artist of dramatic oil paintings, but as a far-seeing, romantic, and hard working painter.

The exhibition has many watercolors with atmospheric notes; dashes and washes of buoyant color; sight and thought as one. I can imagine that Turner used these simple landscapes for reference, and as aide-mémoire when painting other works.

“A Wreck Possibly Related to ‘Longships Lighthouse, Land’s End’ (1834),” “Sunset Across from the Terrace of Petworth House (1827),” and “Coastal Terrain (1830-45),” give the viewer a sense of the weather conditions, movement, and hour of the day. They are Turner’s visual shorthand—pared down, yet still encompassing a larger sense of what Turner was looking at and thinking about at particular moments in time.

For the full essay with all illustrations, please click here.

“A Wreck, Possibly Related to ‘Longships Lighthouse, Land’s End (1834)”. Turner Bequest 1856 © Tate 2019

“Coastal Terrain (1830-45)”. Turner Bequest 1856 © Tate 2019

“Sunset Across from the Terrace of Petworth House (1827)”. Turner Bequest 1856 © Tate 2019

Another Good “Ride” with Marc Berger & Band

Marc Berger, 11th St BarMore than six years ago, at a now-shuttered music venue called The Living Room on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, I was lucky to hear singer/songwriter Marc Berger for the first time, a live show that I wrote about then for this blog. I made friends with Marc and have stayed on his email list so earlier this week was delighted to see that he’d be playing at another LES venue, 11th St Bar, with no cover charge on Thursday night. I made a point of turning up.

Marc always assembles a good band. On acoustic guitar and vocals, he was flanked by four good players, mandolin, electric bass, drums, and electric guitar—the bass and mandolin players had been on hand earlier occasions. They played two full sets in the intimate room—a donation bucket was passed around twice among the appreciative audience—and a piano player came on for the late set when Marc switched from acoustic guitar to an electric of his own.

I believe the songs were all his compositions, several coming from his 2013 album “Ride,” along with some newer numbers. If you enjoy acoustic and roots music drenched in the American West, and artists like Ian Tyson and Tom Russell, you ought to listen to Berger and his richly themed album. On Berger’s website, he writes about the setting that inspired the music: “Clouds that forever stampede the endless sky, shadows gliding over canyon walls–the West is a vast expanse of magic and mystery. American artists from John Ford to Frederick Remington to A.B. Guthrie have used film, canvas and the printed page to convey the essence of its unique landscape and mythology.” To those visual associations, I’ll add the 1962 black & white Kirk Douglas film, ‘Lonely Are the Brave,‘ where he plays a latter day cowboy unable to conform to modern society. The movie was based on a novel, Brave Cowboy,  by legendary iconoclast of the American West Edward Abbey. Relatedly, Kirk Douglas also played the lead role in the 1952 adaptation of the aforementioned Guthrie’s modern classic about the frontier west, The Big Sky.

Here’s an old video of Berger and band playing his song “The Devil Came Down from Idaho” at the much-missed Living Room. Jeff Eyrich, here on acoustic bass, also played at the 11th St Bar gig, with nice chunky bass parts. Berger definitely keeps good musicians around him. Rob Meador, the mandolin player, is a rhythmic rock. And Berger’s a good performer, with lots of energy and easy banter between songs.

Marc Berger and band

Among the sideplayers at 11th St Bar was a well known music producer, Steve Addabbo, who played tasty lead guitar throughout the evening. That’s him in my photos with the halo of white hair. During the break between sets I saw him talking with another member of the audience, a woman who had a friendly dog with her. We began conversing and when Steve went back to play the next set, I properly met the sweet coffee-colored Labradoodle, Bertie, and his audience member owner. Turns out she is a gifted musician herself, the singer/songwriter Diana Jones, whose catalog I’m now exploring. That’s New York for you—you really never know who you might meet when you walk out your door. Her songs are Appalachian-infused ballads with a strong social conscience. She told me of a song of hers performed by Ana Egge and Iris Dement, “Ballad of a Poor Child.” Here’s a video of Jones singing her poignant song, “Pony.”

It was a treat hearing Marc Berger’s songs inspired by the American West and his lifetime of experiences on our vast continent, and meeting Diana Jones and discovering her soulful music. 11th St Bar is a comfortable venue that I hope to return to soon. They have a traditional Irish music session on Sunday nights that runs from 10pm-2pm, which must be lots of fun.

Excited for Publication Day of “The Twenty-Ninth Day: Surviving a Grizzly Attack on the Canadian Tundra”

I’m thrilled that Alex Messenger’s book The Twenty-Ninth Day: Surviving a Grizzly Attack in the Canadian Tundra will officially be published tomorrow, November 12 by Blackstone Publishing, in hardcover, ebook, and in an audiobook edition read by the author. I’ve been working with Alex since 2016, so it’s very heartening to know that his book is about to reach the reading public.

As editor and publisher in 2002 of the superb historical novel The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge by Michael Punke, later adapted for a Hollywood movie, it’s a happy coincidence for me to be involved with another book featuring the survivor of a near-lethal encounter with a grizzly bear. If you’ve enjoyed such books as Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer (where by contrast the young protagonist did not survive his wilderness ordeal), Admiral Richard Byrd’s Alone, and Great Heart: The History of a Labrador Adventure by James West Davidson and John Rugge, you’ll definitely enjoy Alex’s first-person chronicle.

The Twenty-Ninth Day is also a featured pick of the Midwest Booksellers Association.

For updates on Alex’s book tour, you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @AMessengerPhoto and at The Twenty-Ninth Day website.

If you’re in Minnesota, there’s a full line-up of author events coming up:

11/12/19, 6pm, Bookstore at Fitger’s, Duluth.MN

11/23/19 Author signing at Midwest Mountaineering Outdoor Adventure Expo, Minneapolis, MN

11/23 6pm Excelsior Bay Books, Excelsior, MN

11/30/19 Author signing at Frost River, Duluth, for Small Business Saturday

12/7/19 Scout & Morgan Books, Cambridge, MN

12/8/19 Holiday Signing at Next Chapter Bookstore 11-1pm, St Paul, MN

12/14/19 Zenith Bookstore, Duluth, MN, with two other authors

Also, here are some excellent publicity hits and below them the video trailer Blackstone Publishing did to promote the book.

Duluth News Tribune, feature article 

Minnesota Public Radio, interview with the author


Sold: Pedro Mendes’s “Ten Garments Every Man Should Own: A Practical Guide to Building a Permanent Wardrobe”

Delighted to report another sale I’ve made to a publisher from the literary agency side of my business, Philip Turner Book Productions. The sale is to Canadian publisher Dundurn Press for a useful nonfiction book titled  TEN GARMENTS EVERY MAN SHOULD OWN: A Practical Guide to Building a Permanent Wardrobe. The book, by my author client Pedro Mendes, is described in a Deal Memo I placed in Publishersmarketplace.com on Monday:

Men’s style journalist, editor of Toronto’s The Hogtown Rake menswear blog, and veteran CBC Radio producer Pedro Mendes’s TEN GARMENTS EVERY MAN SHOULD OWN: A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO BUILDING A PERMANENT WARDROBE, an illustrated guide to dressing well by building a classic wardrobe, an approach to identifying sustainable apparel that aligns with 21st-century environmental values, to Scott Fraser at Dundurn Press, in a nice deal, in a pre-empt, for publication in fall 2020, by Philip Turner at Philip Turner Book Productions (Canada).

For more background on the book, the author, and Canadian creatives I count among my friends please visit my other blog, Honourary Canadian. While we now have a Canadian publisher, I am still working to place the book rights in the States, so please reach out if you know of a US publisher who may be interested in the book.


RIP Ambassador Joseph Wilson—Proud Progressive Patriot and Friend to Many

One of my most treasured authors whom I cherished working with across three decades as an in-house acquiring editor for publishing houses was Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who died today in Santa Fe, NM, age 69. When Joe was on book tour for his 2004 bestseller THE POLITICS OF TRUTH–A Diplomat’s Memoir: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity (Carroll & Graf Publishers), he really enjoyed giving public talks, especially to students and faculty on college campuses. He would tell stories from his career as a 25-year US Foreign Service officer, with pinpoint memories of the countries he worked in, including in Niger and Iraq, which had so much topical relevance then, after America’s invasion of  Iraq was based in part on the false claim that Saddam Hussein had sought uranium in the landlocked African country. Joe extolled having a career in foreign service, and all but recruited  people to go take the State Dept’s Foreign Service exam. Of course, he also discussed what from his perspective had happened in the run-up to the tragic invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Notwithstanding the war we were entangled in, he espoused an uplifting message, a proud progressive patriotism that was a counterweight to the jingoism of his critics. Audiences found his talks very inspiring.

On MSNBC this afternoon, at the end of “Deadline White House,” host Nicole Wallace lowered her voice in respect, and offered a tribute to Joe. Relevantly, you’ll recall she had worked in the George W Bush White House. She began a little sheepishly, a nod I think to the fact that administration colleagues of hers—Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and Scooter Libby—had been in on the targeting of Joe and his wife Valerie Plame*. Nonetheless, through some surprising circumstances she didn’t specify, she said that she and Joe had become friends at some point. (She didn’t say exactly when.) Turns out, that like me over this past summer, Wallace told her audience that she’d heard from Joe in recent months, with word of diagnosis of a terminal illness he’d received.

In the years since 2004 Joe and I would occasionally be in touch via email, and more than once after I became an independent provider of editorial services, he referred authors to me, including a retired ambassador like himself. From time to time we got together when Joe visited NYC**, but this past June Joe’s outreach came as a surprising message on the answering machine of my landline phone. His voice sounded a bit weak, and I feared he might be unwell. I called him back and he took little time to tell me he was very ill, with not a lot of time left to live. He told me he was surrounded by family and was at peace. He told me how proud he remained of the book we had worked on together, and said that whenever people praised it, he thought of me with gratitude. We texted each other periodically over the summer, and he wrote me after the Robert Mueller hearings. Judging by Wallace’s moving tribute, when she read from one of his messages to her, which was also about the Mueller hearing, it seems he let many friends know that he was ill, and reached out across his broad network of friends, sometimes opining on issues critical to our democracy.

It is especially poignant that Joe died today, when the emergence of another whistleblower is having a seismic impact in the politics of the day. A fateful NY Times op-ed by Joe, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa,” blew the lid off the Bush administration’s falsification of intelligence before the Iraq War. It is galling to me that Dick Cheney is still alive, and Joe Wilson is dead, a cosmic injustice of the first order. Below is text of a blog post I published in 2013, when MSNBC broadcast a special program called “Hubris,” based on the book of the same name about the Iraq War by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. I took that occasion to write a post about working with Joe, and am happy to also share it below.


I vividly recall how the Bush administration pushed the country, and as much of the world as it could hector along with them, into invading Iraq. It was a mad, misguided rush, one that I was upset about at the time, and soon after became involved with personally and professionally. In July 2003, after Valerie Plame’s role as a CIA official was revealed in an infamous column by Robert Novak, I contacted Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, Plame’s husband. In the months before the invasion of Iraq, he had become a vocal critic of the rush to war, publishing a number of Op-Ed columns that drew on his experience of twenty-five years as an American diplomat, including his service as the last American official to meet with Saddam Hussein before the beginning of the Gulf War in 1991, and earlier, as a junior foreign service officer in Niger. In my role as an editorial executive with Carroll & Graf Publishers I was referred to Wilson by publishing friend, Barbara Monteiro. I contacted Joe and found he was interested in writing a book that would chronicle his years as an American foreign service officer; more recent events involving his fateful trip to Niger, where he was sent by the CIA to investigate the claim that Iraq had sought uranium yellowcake from that African country; and the unprecedented exposure of his wife’s CIA employment. Joe, as I soon came to know him, agreed to the offer I made, a contract was quickly signed, and he began working diligently on the manuscript.

Fortunately, when Joe retired from the State Department, a few years before the Iraq war fever, he had sat for a series of lengthy interviews with an interlocutor from State—a good custom at the government agency—setting his memories down in a proper oral history. He drew on this aide-memoir as he composed the diplomatic memoir that made up about 1/3 of the final manuscript. From the width of the spine in the attached shot of the book cover (designed by longtime Carroll & Graf colleague Linda Kosarin), you can tell it was a substantial volume, more than 500 pages, the heft aided by that oral history. As for his trip to Niger, the positions he took in opposition to the Bush administration while they were twisting intelligence and co-opting media during he run-up to the war, and events after the invasion, including the outing of his wife, he had little need of reminders. Joe delivered a very readable manuscript, and with a team of colleagues at Carroll & Graf we edited this draft on a crash schedule, and Joe quickly made key revisions to it, based on fast-moving events in the CIA leak controversy. Throughout, we kept a keen eye on breaking developments in the investigation in to how and why Valerie’s CIA employment had become a subject that administration officials felt free to discuss openly with reporters. Getting the manuscript ready for the printer was like aiming an arrow at a moving target.

The launch for the book, was in early May 2004, less than a year after Novak’s fateful column. Joe went on the TODAY show, Charlie Rose, and he did a ton of public radio shows. I went with him to many of those interviews, sat in green rooms with him, fancy and plain settings. It was as cool when he did Democracy Now with Amy Goodman, as when we went to Rockefeller Center one morning before 7 AM, to do the TODAY Show. His most interesting TV appearance was on “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” when Keith shared with Joe and the audience White House talking points supposedly rebutting the book. These had been sent to virtually all news outlets, including even to programs like Countdown, ones that weren’t having any of the BS from the administration. Olbermann held up the sheaf of talking points and tossed the papers around his set, as mockery of the Bush administration. The book became a bestseller on the NY Times, Washington Post, and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists. With Joe’s opposition to the war, and most of all the fact he’d been to Niger and vigorously debunked the fraudulent yellowcake claim, Joe had stepped across a tripwire that loosed Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby like a pack of dogs, with Karl Rove and Ari Fleischer chasing close behind. None of their talking points actually refuted Joe’s claims. John Dean gave the book a great review in the New York Times Book Review and it became a national hardcover bestseller in the Times and Publishers Weekly for about six weeks. This was Dean’s opening paragraph:

“THIS is a riveting and all-engaging book. Not only does it provide context to yesterday’s headlines, and perhaps tomorrow’s, about the Iraq war and about our politics of personal destruction, but former Ambassador Joseph Wilson also tells captivating stories from his life as a foreign service officer with a long career fostering the development of African democracies, and gives us a behind-the-scenes blow-by-blow of the run-up to the 1991 Persian Gulf war. As the top American diplomat in Baghdad, Wilson was responsible for the embassy, its staff and the lives of other Americans in the region – not to mention the freeing of hostages in Kuwait. He goes on to relate his eye-to-eye encounter with the wily sociopath Saddam Hussein; his return home to be greeted as a ‘true American hero’ by President George H. W. Bush; his stint advising America’s top military commander in Europe; and his time as head of the African affairs desk of Bill Clinton’s National Security Council, where he assembled the president’s historic trip to Africa while the ”Starr inquisition” into the Monica Lewinsky affair developed. Along the way he fell in love with and married a C.I.A. covert operative – a ”’willowy blonde, resembling a young Grace Kelly.”’

I should add the book was also a plea for Americans to be actively engaged in their citizenship, and to be unafraid if it became necessary to call one’s government to account. In 2010 The Politics of  Truth and Valerie’s 2008 book Fair Game: How a Top CIA Agent was Betrayed by Her Own Government, were jointly adapted for the feature film, “Fair Game,” with Sean Penn and Naomi Watts. I saw Joe and Valerie in NYC for a premiere reception and we have remained friends, more so than other authors I’ve published over the years. Joe and Valerie played a significant role in the events of our times, bringing the Bush administration before the judgment of history for its deceptions. I am proud of the role I had in bringing their story before the public. To read about other aspects of this case, especially the federal trial of Scooter Libby for his obstruction of justice, and the book I brought out in 2008, The United States v. I. Lewis Libby, along with Patrick Fitzgerald’s legacy as a federal prosecutor, please see this post.

Valerie Plame is currently a candidate in the Democratic primary campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives from New Mexico for the 2020 election and I have contributed to her effort.

In 2010, when Joe Wilson appeared at the NY Times Center for a panel discussion pegged to the 40th anniversary of the newspaper’s op-ed section, he invited me to come as his guest, and arranged so that I could share the green room with him, and the other panelists, Nora Ephron, Anna Deavere Smith, Roy Blount Jr., and Garrison Keillor. It was quite a heady night. Joe’s contribution to the Times op-ed page had come on July 4th weekend in 2003, with “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.” Here’s a NY Times video of Joe talking about how he came to write the op-ed.



Philip Marsden’s Solo Sail Along the Irish and Scottish Coasts

Just got this beauty of a book in my mail chute from Granta Books in London. It’s written by British writer Philip Marsden, who is quite an able sailor. For his new book, he set out from near his home in Cornwall, sailing northward between the east coast of Ireland and the west coast of Scotland, then on his return journey southward hugging the west coast of Ireland. His destination was the Summer Isles across from the scenic village of Achiltibuie in Scotland. I’d read the first third of the book in a bound galley, but waited for the finished book which I knew would have good, detailed maps.

Reading a new book by Philip Marsden is a special treat because in 1995 I had the pleasure of publishing an early book by him as part of the Kodansha Globe trade paperback series. In his travel narrative The Crossing Place: A Journey Among the Armenians, Marsden crossed seventeen national borders, encountering Armenian communities throughout Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East, and Central Asia to meet monks in Venice, auto mechanics in Damascus, mercenaries in Beirut, and tailors in Transylvania, all in the shadow of the calamitous genocide of 1915 committed by the Turkish government.

I’ll add that I also have a personal connection to the eponymous Summer Isles of Marsden’s voyage. As chronicled in this blog post about the Scottish novelist Neil Gunn, with my wife, painter Kyle Gallup, we rented a sweet vacation cottage in Achiltibuie and took a boat trip through the magical isles. It will be a joy to dive back in to Marsden’s book this weekend, who another favorite author, Robert Macfarlane, has dubbed “a truly remarkable writer.”

An Award from the Peace Corps for Amb Vicki Huddleston’s “Our Woman in Havana”

As I learned when I edited Tales of a Muzungu, a memoir by former US Peace Corp worker Nicholas Duncan (Uganda, 2010-12), there’s a tight community of Peace Corps veterans who support each other’s work and cheer their colleagues’ career achievements. The latest example of this relates to a book I developed with Ambassador Vicki Huddleston, which I also represent as literary agent, Our Woman in Havana: A Diplomat’s Chronicle of America’s Long Struggle with Castro’s Cuba. Huddleston launched her foreign service career when she was a Peace Corps volunteer in Peru from 1964-66. Her book has been awarded the Special Peace Corps Writers Award for 2019, with the citation below. Her book, and her whole career, has been a testament to the foreign service. I’m proud of her for winning this award from her peers, and pleased to congratulate her here on my blog. If you want to read a great book about Cuba and the history of US policy toward the island nation, I heartily recommend her imperative book. You may also visit the author’s website.

Our Woman in Havana: A Diplomat’s Chronicle of America’s Long Struggle with Castro’s Cuba
By Vicki Huddleston (Peru 1964-66)

Ambassador Vicki Huddleston (Peru 1964-66) served under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush as Chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. She also served as U.S. Ambassador to Madagascar and Mali. Her report for the Brookings Institution about normalizing relations with Cuba was adapted for President Obama’s diplomatic opening with Raúl Castro in 2014. She has written opinion pieces in the New York Times, Miami Herald, and Washington Post. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Our Woman in Havana chronicles the past several decades of US-Cuba relations from the bird’s-eye view of State Department veteran and longtime Cuba hand Vicki Huddleston, our top diplomat in Havana under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush. After the US embassy in Havana was closed in 1961, relations between the two countries broke off. A thaw came in 1977, with the opening of a de facto embassy in Havana, the US Interests Section, where Huddleston would later serve. In her compelling memoir of a diplomat at work, she tells gripping stories of face-to-face encounters with Fidel Castro and the initiatives she undertook, like the transistor radios she furnished to ordinary Cubans. With inside accounts of many dramatic episodes, like the tumultuous Elián González custody battle, Huddleston also evokes the charm of the island country, and her warm affection for the Cuban people. Uniquely qualified to explain the inner workings of US-Cuba relations, Huddleston examines the Obama administration’s diplomatic opening of 2014, the mysterious “sonic” brain and hearing injuries suffered by US and Canadian diplomats who were serving in Havana, and the rescinding of the diplomatic opening under the Trump administration. Huddleston recounts missed opportunities for détente, and the myths, misconceptions, and lies that have long pervaded US-Cuba relations. With Raúl Castro scheduled to step down in 2018, she also peers into the future, when for the first time in more than six decades no one named Castro will be Cuba’s leader. Our Woman in Havana is essential reading for everyone interested in Cuba, including the thousands of Americans visiting the island every year, observers who study the stormy relationship with our near neighbor, and policymakers navigating the nuances and challenges of the US-Cuba relationship.

Appreciating Hebridean Landscapes and the Work of Scottish Novelist Neil Gunn

For lovers of Scotland and the Hebrides, just offshore from the stunning isle of Mull, is an even smaller island, equally beautiful and shimmering in the silvery distance, called Ulva. This post kicks off with a memorable picture I took of Ulva from Mull during a solo Scottish sojourn I made in 1986, the first of five visits I’ve made to the country. In those pre-digital days I took the photograph with film and a .35 mm Minolta camera I still own, though now use only rarely.

Visually, I was struck by the recognition that headlands such as these on Ulva could almost mirror each other in their profiles and their contours. I remember the silvery cloud-filled day I made this image, and a very warm day some years later, when I took more photos of Ulva; each time I felt as if the landscape had set in motion a kind of rhyming action, with cliff shapes echoing each other as they receded into the distance.

On that trip, a bookseller in Edinburgh recommended a novel, Young Art and Old Hector,  by a Scottish novelist he thought I would enjoy reading. The author was Neil M. Gunn (1891-1973), and the recommendation set up a reading passion that I still cherish. I learned Gunn was a key figure in a mid-20th century flowering of Scottish writing, a kind of Celtic renaissance, that also included the poet and critic Hugh MacDiarmid. Gunn’s many novels were good, engrossing stories, often set in villages and the countryside, featuring characters—sometimes country folk, sometimes people leaving the country for town life, with young people and older folk—all of whom find they must contend with a changing social fabric, as longtime customs are giving way to a more modern society.

Then an editor with the small US publisher, Walker & Company, I found that very few of Gunn’s books had been published in the States, so I set about reading his work and acquiring rights to as many as I could get for Walker. My favorite was Blood Hunt, originally published in the UK in 1952. When I brought it out in the US in 1987 I added the reading line, “A Highland Adventure”. It seemed an apt tag line because in plot it resembled Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, with a sympathetic fugitive being pursued by a single-minded, obsessive  police official. Harboring the fugitive is old Sandy, who, as I wrote on the flap copy, “after a lifetime at sea has returned to the land of his ancestors to enjoy his remaining years in the peaceful isolation of his Highland croft. His chief companions are his collie, his cow, a few hens, and his precious library. He’s also a friend to the village lads who quickly learn they can trust him with their secrets.” Sandy is a soft touch with sympathy for the young fugitive, Allan Innes, to whom he provides sanctuary.

When it came to select an image for the cover of the Walker edition, I was delighted to offer my art director colleague the chance to review my Mull photos, and that’s how the cover ended up as it is, also shown here. Included with this post are the picture I took that first occasion; portraits of myself and my wife, painter Kyle Gallup, taken when we visited the same locale together in 1992; the book jacket of Blood Hunt in multiple views with the book’s flap copy.

On one of two visits we made to Scotland in the 1990s, Kyle and I also visited the Summer Isles*, off the west coast and further north than Mull. The Summer Isles lie roughly across from a wee village on the mainland called Achiltibuie, where we rented a self-catering cottage for two weeks; the accommodation came with two bicycles for our use, and we rode all over the area. We also bought passage on a pleasure boat journey, sailing out to and around the Summer Isles, and were enchanted by them—they are populated mostly by birds, and we saw astonishing quantities of puffins, gannets, cormorants, and skuas (as is their way, the latter species dive-bombed us, going right for our caps, which we were glad to have on our heads).

During this visit to the northwest highlands, we made a gorgeous drive on a single-track road from Achiltibuie to the nearby larger town of Ullapool—where we shopped for groceries and found a bookstore—and then motored back to Achiltibuie at sunset. The light and colors setting in to the ocean to the west were staggeringly beautiful. At the bookstore I saw a biography of Neil Gunn, which I bought and began reading during our stay. I learned that for many years Gunn had a day job as an excise inspector, that is a government official making sure that whisky** distilleries were running ship-shape and paying their taxes. F.R. Hart and J.B. Pick, co-authors of Neil Gunn: A Highland Life, wrote that in his job, Gunn was obliged to drive hundreds of miles every week all over the highlands calling on distilleries. Amid that gorgeous landscape, the biographers report that he had one favorite drive above all others: the ride between Achiltibuie and Ullapool. It was a thrill to discover we had the same taste in sublime scenery!

If you have an affinity for naturalistic writing steeped in landscape and compelling characters, I suggest you look at the work of Neil Gunn.

*An upcoming post on this site will be about a forthcoming book, The Summer Isles: A Voyage of the Imagination by Philip Marsden (Granta Books, London, October 2019), an engaging writer by whom I published in 1994, The Crossing Place: A Journey Among the Armenians, in the Kodansha Globe trade paperback series. In his new book, Marsden chronicles a mostly solo sailing voyage he made from his home in Cornwall in southeast England up between the east coast of Ireland and the west coast of Scotland to the Summer Isles. I’m reading a galley now, and enjoying it very much. Once I get a finished copy, with the maps included, I will write about it.

**In 1935 Neil Gunn published a nonfiction book titled Whisky and Scotland: A Practical and Spiritual Survey.
blood hunt 4 inside flap