From grief and sadness to hope and comedy, Mark Jarman’s new collection of travel stories, Touch Anywhere to Begin, covers more than just physical ground.
The Brunswickan sat down with Jarman— a retired UNB professor and acclaimed writer—to discuss his upcoming book of travel stories, Touch Anywhere to Begin. After a difficult two years for travellers everywhere due to COVID, Jarman’s new collection will take readers to Europe, Asia, and North America.
Despite Touch Anywhere to Begin’s overarching theme of travelling during COVID, which may initially provoke feelings of dread in some readers, Jarman offers glimmers of hope and dry comedy in many of his stories. From a hospital room with a revolving cast of fascinating characters—not unlike a play—to ninety-year-old nuns rolling across a river boat in Venice—à la Monte Python—Touch Anywhere to Begin remains engaging and thoroughly entertaining.
When discussing the first story in the book, “Drunkards I Molest You!”—which ends with the nun incident—Jarman expressed a desire for optimism. Especially when the story is set in Venice during the first few weeks of the pandemic.
“I ended it with laughter because I wasn’t sure what would happen in the future.”
When asked about his process, Jarman revealed a knack for finding “refuges” where he can regroup before striking out to find more stories.
“I have to have that place I can go hide.”
This home base system lets Jarman wander around and pick up pieces he glues together. Interestingly for UNB students, Jarman said he uses exam booklets to jot down ideas and observations as he sees them.
“Because you can bend them, wreck them, they’re lined paper … if I get a nice Moleskine diary I’m always worried about the first line.”
When asked what advice he would give to aspiring travel writers—and creative writers in general—Jarman emphasised being attentive and looking for pieces everywhere.
“See the possibilities. Someone else might think ‘well that was weird’ but not think of it as a story.”
As such, the travel writing in Touch Anywhere to Begin seemingly exemplifies Jarman’s method, as this collection contains stories reference everything from the Spanish Armada’s retreat from the British Navy—”Anchorless and Gutted on Stromboli Rock”—to a sign apologizing to the pork served in a Viennese restaurant—”Vienna’s Apology to the Pigs.”
Jarman’s new collection also touches on the more sombre side of the human experience, with a piece about a UNB writer in residence who died several years ago. Jarman expressed his distaste for messages that are too black-and-white or one-sided. As such, the stories in Touch Anywhere to Begin do not all include comically rolling nuns or colourful characters floating in and out of a hospital room.
For both UNB students who are sad to see Jarman retire and lovers of travel literature—or creative writing in general—Touch Anywhere to Begin is well worth reading.