Trees early morning in the Calcutta Botanical Gardens

I first came across the Victorian botanical artist and traveller Marianne North over a decade ago when, while wandering around Kew Gardens with a friend, we stumbled into her gallery to seek shelter from the light autumn rain.

When I visited the Marianne North Gallery for a second time, a few years later, I realised that in the interim I too had travelled to many of the places she depicts.

I’d also moved to Norfolk, where Marianne spent much of her childhood at the family home in Rougham.

I’ve visited Japan a number of times over the years.

During a trip to Tokyo in spring 2014, I visited Hakone, in search of the lakeside hotel my grandmother’s China-based missionary friend Freda stayed in during her honeymoon in 1937.

In winter 2018, I visited Kinosaki Onsen, the mountainous spa town where Shiga Naoya wrote his short story At Kinosaki.

In spring 2023, I travelled to Tokyo, Kyoto, Matsue and Izumo, spending all my spare time in gardens, temples and shrines.

Letter written in 1937 from The Hakone Hotel

While travelling for work, I’ve written blogs for the National Centre for Writing.

During my trips to Japan in November 2018 and March 2023, I explored literary museums in Tokyo, Kinosaki, Kyoto and Matsui. Some were dedicated to specific writers: Ikenami Shotaro, Higuchi Ichiyo, Haruki Murakami, Natsume Soseki and Lafcadio Hearn. The museums in Tabata and Kinosaki, both places that artists and writers had settled, highlighted the literary history of their local area.

In August 2018, I travelled to Lithuania for the Nordic Summer festival in Biržai, where I educated myself about recent Lithuanian history through art and writing.

In May 2019, I visited the Hungarian Translators’ House, by a windswept lake in Balatonfüred.

The image on the left is from my Dublin diary, written during a visit in October 2019 when I discovered the city’s literary heritage and bought a suitcaseful of books by contemporary Irish writers.