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Strange Bewildering Time: An Interview with Author Mark Abley

Strange Bewildering Time: Istanbul to Kathmandu in the Last Year of the Hippie Trail, the poet and journalist Mark Abley's most recent release, has been met with overwhelmingly positive reviews. In the book, he recalls his extraordinary voyage as a young man from Turkey to Nepal. Abley delivers a charming memoir as he looks back on his experience with candidness, wisdom, and hindsight.

To learn more about the story behind the story, read A Good Book To End The Day’s interview with the author below.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

I was brought up to be a staunchly Anglican boy, and I will never forget standing for the reading of the gospel at the midnight service on Christmas Eve. The gospel began: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Tell us about Strange Bewildering Time and the inspiration behind the book.

In the spring of 1978, I traveled overland across parts of west and south Asia with an English friend from university. I kept detailed journals in tiny handwriting. In every country we visited – Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal – we had some extraordinary experiences. I finally decided to use those journals as the basis of a literary travel book, one that would also include some reflections on the changes in Asia since 1978 and on the whole meaning of the ‘hippie trail.’

Why was now the right time to share this story with the world?

As I say in the Prologue, “What we heard in parts of Asia seems like a ragged, discordant prelude to the shattering music of the future.” Some of my experiences in 1978 have faded into the silence of history. But others remain all too clearly relevant to what is going on today – especially when it comes to environmental devastation. Besides, 45 years have passed since I made the trip, so for me, it was pretty much “now or never.”

Can you share a bit about your writing process and how long you worked on this book?

Thanks to my journals, Strange Bewildering Time was easier to write than a few of my other books. Even so, it required a good deal of research – but I enjoy doing research. It took me about 18 months to produce a complete draft, not counting the later processes of rewriting and editing. I paced myself in the writing, having learned over the years that if you want to run a marathon, you shouldn’t begin by attempting a sprint.

Do you have any other projects in the works at this time?

I’m about to write an introduction to a new edition of my 2013 book Conversations with a Dead Man: The Legacy of Duncan Campbell Scott. The book sold through its initial print run and is now unavailable, but a young literary press is keen to give it a second life.

What does literary success look like to you?

Rather than concentrate on sales numbers and income levels, I would prefer to define literary success as the ability to entertain, enlighten and touch the hearts of readers.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Read, read, read. I’m always astonished at how many people think they can write a good book, or even a good short story or article, without enjoying and learning from other people’s work.

Thanks so much for being part of the A Good Book To End The Day family! Is there

anything else you’d like to add?

I’d like to put in a good word for literary travel as a form. With the explosion of travel blogs on the internet, and the popularity of travel shows on TV, I fear the genre is not nearly as popular as it was a few decades ago. And that’s a shame. I would love to think Strange Bewildering Time fits into the tradition of work by Jan Morris, Bruce Chatwin, Paul Theroux, V.S. Naipaul, Freya Stark, and so on (although in political terms, it diverges from most of their books). I think of it as a work of imaginative literature – solidly grounded in hard facts. And I’ve tried to make every sentence sing.

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