What is the connection between Bruce Chatwin and cycling? And you thought the exams were over now? The answer is that he pops up on next week's (27th July) episode of Britain by Bike, a series in which presenter Clare Balding follows in the footsteps (or is that pedals in the groove of?) a 1950s classic bicycle tour guide. The series opens tonight on BBC 4 at 20.30 and next week's show at the same time has Clare striding across a lawn in the Welsh borders to encounter me just about to spout on the subject of Chatwin (about whom I wrote a book in 1993) who stayed at the house in the Welsh Marches where the filming took place, while writing his novel On the Black Hill.
[You can now see this in BBC iplayer for a limited period. Click here
Yesterday I had a call from the BBC World Service to appear live on their early evening news programme to be interviewed about the controversy surrounding the Kafka archive. Ten boxes of material formerly owned by Esther Hoffe, secretary to Kafka's friend, Max Brod, who left them to her and who famously defied Kafka's request that all his unpublished writings be destroyed, are being currently fought over. Hoffe's two daughters are engaged in legal battles to stop the boxes being opened but no one knows what they contain. Yesterday one of the boxes, in a bank vault in Zurich, was being examined by a scholar under the instruction of the court so we may still not know for some time what is on the inventory. On the programme I suggested that it is unlikely that they will contain any major unpublished work, since Brod dedicated himself to promoting and massaging Kafka's reputation and would surely not have missed a chance to publish more of it. Probably, they will contain Brod's own diaries and letters, though "drawings" have been mentioned in the press. There is bound to be much of interest but we will have to wait. Meanwhile both the Jewish National Library in Israel and the German Literary Archives in Marbach are fighting to acquire the eventual material. As I suggested on the programme, Kafka's body is spread out on a table, all four limbs being tugged in different directions: born in Prague in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1883 and thus an Austrian, waking up in 1918 to find himself a citizen of the Czech Republic, a Jew, and a master of modern German prose. According to the Israelis his archive belongs as of right to them, but the Germans surely have an equal right since language is always the defining issue when considering a writer, and what about the Czechs?
We will have to be patient.