Today’s guest on What Cathy Read Next is David Smith, author of Letters to Strabo. Well, to be accurate, David has handed over the task of telling us about the book to its fictional narrator, Adam Finnegan Black…
About the Book
Set in the late 1970s, Letters to Strabo is the fictional autobiography of Adam Finnegan Black, or ‘Finn’, an innocent young American who is insatiably curious about life. He made a promise to his mother before she died: to find out what really happened to his father… Finn’s ambition is to be a travel writer, like his heroes: Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and the ancient Greek ‘father of geography’, Strabo.
Along the way, he’s inspired through a series of adventures by the landscapes and people he meets travelling round the Mediterranean, but especially by the Letters to Strabo, written by Eve, his long-distance pen pal whom he dreams, one day, will become his wife… Through these letters, Finn gradually learns more about himself but also about how Eve is, in turn, struggling with an emotional trauma that she won’t fully reveal.
This is both a love story and coming-of-age tale, painted on the canvas of the radiant literary, cultural and physical geography of the Mediterranean. It is funny and provocative as Finn recounts, with disarming honesty, the excitement and mistakes of youthful energy, but ultimately life-affirming in the emergence of new hope from personal tragedy.
- Format: Hardback, Paperback, eBook
- Publisher: Troubador
- No. of pages: 400
- Publication date: 28th November 2016
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
To purchase Letters to Strabo from Amazon.co.uk, click here (link provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme)
Find Letters to Strabo on Goodreads
Publicity Interview at Shakespeare and Company, a bookshop in Paris, with best-selling author Adam Finnegan Black for his latest novel, Letters to Strabo
(with apologies to Before Sunset)
Bookstore Manager: So Adam Black, welcome back to Shakespeare and Company, it’s been almost thirty years, hasn’t it?
Adam Black: It has indeed, but it’s great to be back. I see you still have the famous sign upstairs.
Manager: “Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise?” Yes, of course. Now, tell me about the title of your latest novel Letters to Strabo. Well, my first question is: who is Strabo?
Adam: Strabo was a Greek scholar, writing at the time of Tiberius. He wrote the most comprehensive geography of the Roman world, but it was hardly used until translations in the fifteenth century. I came across it by accident when researching the opening of my book which is set in Olana, the amazing house of the American painter, Frederick Church, in the Catskills. His wife gave him a copy in 1879 and they named their house Olana after a location cited in the book.
Manager: And I see you replicated both Strabo’s chapter structure but also a similar journey Mark Twain made for his own travel book, The Innocents Abroad.
Adam: Yes, Twain was a friend of the Churches and a great travel writer too. There are some fascinating stories about him and his daughters that I’ve weaved into the plot.
Manager: And why did you call your protagonist Finn, exactly?
Adam: Well, my middle name’s Finnegan and it sort of has a Mark Twain link with Huckleberry Finn and to James Joyce too with Finnegan’s Wake. Strabo often referred to Homer and The Odyssey, which is the inspiration for Joyce’s other masterpiece Ulysses.
Manager: I see, so is it actually a travel book or a book about literature?
Adam: Well, partly both, but it’s mainly a romance, a sort of coming-of-age story. Finn falls for Eve, the archivist at Olana and they correspond throughout his journey round Europe. He has quite a lot of adventures along the way and relates them more or less faithfully to Eve. Her replies are the Letters to Strabo, in which she gradually reveals more about herself. Some of it increasingly disturbing I’m afraid, but you’ll have to read it to find out more about that. I don’t want to spoil it for you.
After some more background, the bookshop manager opens the floor up to questions
French Journalist 1: So do you consider the book to be autobiographical in any way?
Adam: Well I guess everything is autobiographical in a way. There are bits of me in there, but bits of a lot of other people I’ve met too.
French Journalist 1: And the section set here in Paris, in this very bookstore. Was that about you?
Adam: Well, I was here about the same time as Finn visited yes, but the events are of course completely fictional…
French Journalist 2: So there was never a girl called Françoise that you met in Spain and travelled with by train to Paris?
Adam: Well, that’s not important; it’s just a story after all.
French Journalist 1: Do you think they ever met again after they split up in Venice? In real life I mean?
Adam: No. I’m afraid that I don’t think they ever did, sorry, would have done.
French Journalist 2: Maybe a subject for your next book?
At the back of the room he notices a face in the crowd, a beautiful woman wearing dark glasses. He leans over to the bookshop manager and whispers.
Adam: Look, I’m terribly sorry but I will have to leave now. I have a plane to catch and still have to shop for my wife.
Manager: No problem…Well thank you Adam, we really appreciate you coming here today. I hope you won’t leave it so long next time!
Adam gets up, talks to one or two admirers and then goes over to the woman waiting patiently.
The woman: I said you’d include me in one of your books one day.
Adam: And I said I wouldn’t ever do that.
The woman: Menteur, I think you already did. Do you want to go for coffee somewhere?
Adam: I think I’m gonna miss that plane.
Intrigued? Grab a copy using the purchase link above
About the Author
David Smith was born in Warwickshire in 1961. He studied Economics at Cambridge and has worked in industry for over 30 years, including periods in Switzerland, the USA and Turkey. He has now published four works under the Troubador imprint. His first novel Searching For Amber was described as “a powerful and notably memorable debut” with a review describing it as “masterly and confident” and another as “extraordinary, poetic, enchanting, sublime”. His other novels are Death in Leamington, Love in Lindfield and, his latest, Letters to Strabo.
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