Four years ago during a cycling holiday to Cornwall, Nick Hand pondered how long it would take to ride his bicycle around the coast of the British Isles and return to the same spot he was standing. 137 days and 6,325 miles later, Nick finished his journey and recorded his experiences on the saddle in Conversations on the Coast.
However, if you expect any romantic notions of weather-beaten journals, lengthy descriptions of exotic cities, and overindulgent diatribes on self-discovery that is proliferated in today’s travel literature in this book, then think twice. Conversations on the Coast breaks the rules of conventional travel literature, to the point where one questions whether it even belongs in the travel genre. Yet it is what every travel novel should be.
Throughout his cycle around the British Isles, Nick Hand interviewed over 100 artisans who employ a vanishing craft in their work. Conversations on the Coast is a selected compilation of twenty interviews and photographs from his travels that capture the life, inspiration, and diverse work of these people, from flute maker Martin Doyle to boat builder Pat Tanner.
Whilst the concept of his book seems simple enough, it is essential to read the introduction in order to avoid any misleading and to make sense of the narrative and structure. From the foreword, Nick Hand explains he left his voice out of the book in order ‘to just leave them (the artisans) telling their story…as well as give an insight into their personality’. His unorthodox narrative approach is intended to allow the reader to experience his journey by introducing the artisans in the same manner that he met them. The narrative style is reminiscent of Laurie Lee’s As I Walked out One Midsummer Morning, whom Nick openly cites as his source of inspiration for interviewing the artisans.
Continuing the nonconformist trend, Nick Hand also ditches the phonetic spelling style that many travel writers seem to think equates regional British accents. Instead, he relies on subtle changes of grammar and sentence structure to imitate the voice of the interviewee. For some this might cause confusion, but it lends his interviewees a more authentic voice and insight into their personality.
What sets Conversations on the Coast apart from conventional travel literature is its union of technology and written world to complete the discourse of Nick Hand’s journey. C.O.T.C. acts as a short introduction to www.slowcoast.co.uk, Nick’s website featuring video recordings of all the interviews he conducted, his photography of the journey, and the blog. This combination of traditional writing and technology enables his readers to have greater access and intimacy with his travels than could be achieved through literature alone. Prior to his ‘Slowcoast’ travels Nick Hand had never published a novel, until as director of The Department of Small Works he self-published Conversations on the Coast.
Overall, Conversations on the Coast offers a refreshing alternative perspective to the excess of ‘staycation’ travel novels that currently flood the shelves of bookstores. The determining factor of whether you will enjoy Conversations on the Coast depends on your motivation for reading travel literature in the first place. If you read travel novels for armchair escapism, or to gain ideas for your next holiday, then chances are you will not find it endearing. However, if you read it to gain fresh perspective or enjoy reading others’ extraordinary experiences, then you will love it.
Conversations on the Coast, by Nick Hand, The Department of Small Works, 96 pages, £14
You can buy copies of the book here: http://www.departmentofsmallworks.co.uk/shop/conversations-on-the-coast.aspx