Monday, February 8, 2021

A. J. Mackinnon

I discovered A.J. Mackinnon’s travel writing this holidays and loved both of his books. Mackinnon is an Australian high school teacher, mainly in English I think - I imagine if you had him as a teacher, you’d love whatever he taught. He had some of his childhood in Adelaide and is currently a teacher in the Victorian highlands. His writing is beautifully lyrical and descriptive as well as enjoyable and great fun.

The Well at the World’s End (2014) 

This enjoyable true diary is of Mackinnon’s travels from Australia to the Well at the World’s End on a remote Scottish Island around 1990. He decides to travel with virtually no plans and avoiding all air travel. So by yacht, train, bus, car, ship and ferry, he goes to New Zealand, back to Australia, up through Indonesia into Asia and onwards to Europe. He has a similar humorous and self deprecating style to Bill Bryson, but with more a lyrical, fantasy feel, and fewer reflections on culture. It’s a funny and enjoyable read, especially if you happen to have been to any of the numerous destinations he visits.

The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow (2002)

This one charts Mackinnon’s decision to sail a small dinghy from the English / Welsh border down to Bristol in 1998. Of course, the excitement and joy of the whole exercise, plus the encouragement of others, leads him to go back up the Bath River across the canals of England to London. Not satisfied with traversing that country, he crosses the English Channel, and heads across France, Germany and finally ends up in the Black Sea. It’s fantastic. This one I read with Google Maps open in satellite view next to me so I could see exactly where he had gone, not knowing enough specific geography of the area to manage without. 

Both are treasures to read — enjoyable, clever, insightful and just plain fun.

If you just want a taste, it’s worth listening to his two part interview on the podcast “Life in Flux” from Nov 2018. There are a few different details there, as well as some additional pondering on humanity and the impact of great literature. He is a big fan of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Swallows and Amazons and Dr Doolittle, and all of these have impacted his views of life and his travels.

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