Cunard presents... Damian Barr.

Damian Barr is The Sunday Times best-selling author of ‘Maggie and Me’ and founder of ‘Damian Barr’s Literary salon’. He talks to Cunard about his experience on Queen Mary 2, plans for 2021, and his most treasured travel gift. Barr lives in Sussex with his partner Mike and chickens Blithe and Dolly.

What is the one book to get ‘lost in’ when traveling?

I don’t believe there is one. I think it’s fun to match books with the destinations you travel to. But if I had to choose one, I would recommend Diana Athill’s memoir of a trip to Florence with her cousin after the war. They didn’t have two pennies to rub together but it’s just so glamorous. Their enthusiasm, sense of culture, and extreme youth lend a charm they fully exploit. Diana was a wonderful writer and edited greats such as Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Rhys. Jean was a close friend of mine and I miss her greatly. The book in question is called, quite simply, ‘A Florence Diary’.

What challenges have you faced moving the literary salon to online?

Lock down happened a week before our event at the Savoy. Our 400 guests joined us on Facebook, and we featured Polly Samson (with a cameo from husband David Gilmour), John Niven, and Pete Paphides. 

It was chaotic... but we mastered it quickly!

What I’ve found interesting about taking the salon online is that people feel more confident asking questions when they don’t have to put their hand up in a big room. And the questions they ask are better!

Which authors should we look out for in 2021?

I adored the memoir All The Young Men by Ruth Coker Burks  and the novel Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan. Everybody is going to be talking about the memoirs Heavy Light by Horatio Clare and The Madness of Grief: A Memoir of Love and Loss by Reverend Richard Coles—two heart-searching stories.

Where are you most looking forward to traveling to, when we can?

I am very lucky to have had a lovely place to live during lock down, but I’d like to go anyplace that isn’t the kitchen to the zoom to my couch. My best friend has just moved to San Francisco so it’s likely I will visit there. I feel much happier returning to America now that Trump is out.

What is your most treasured item you have bought or been given on your travels?

I tend to remember people and experiences as opposed to things...but if we are thinking things, I have a pen that was used by the writer Paul Auster who I admire. It ran out when I was interviewing him for The Times – I had asked him to sign a book for me. So I let him use my pen and he kept it and I kept the empty one and I treasure it to this day because of all the genius it made.

And finally, what did you enjoy the most about traveling with Cunard?

I sometimes dream of being on the ship.  Before we traveled, I feared I would be seasick – really feared it but I wasn’t, not for a second. In fact, hangovers seemed miraculously eased by the imperceptible motion.

I adored the sense of space on board, the stars at night, the cocktails, everybody dressed up. It was bliss. 

Highlights of the 2019 Literature Festival at Sea.

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