I have a copy of On the Nile. Just the one, mind. It’s an advance copy, couriered to me direct from the printing house in China. The bulk of the books are now making their way slowly by sea to Egypt from where they will distributed internationally. I’m not sure when they make land at Suez, but I think it’s probably early April, which means it should be in the bookshops later that month. Meanwhile, you can place advance orders on Amazon.
Category Archives: Book news
To reflect the fact that Grand Hotels of Egypt will soon by joined by On the Nile – which has now gone to print, although I don’t as yet have a publication date – I’ve changed the name of the site: you are now reading ‘Egypt in the Golden Age of Travel’. The website address stays the same though. I’ve also added a new page devoted to the forthcoming book, with a link posted up above: if you click there you’ll see some sample pages.
To tell you a little more about On the Nile, or to give it its full title On the Nile in the Golden Age of Travel, the book traces the evolution of the Nile cruise business, starting in 1869 with the very first tour to Egypt led by Thomas Cook. One of the passengers on this maiden voyage was a Miss Riggs of Hampstead, England, whose unpublished diary survives and who serves as our guide from London Bridge to Calais via Paris and Turin to Brindisi and across the Mediterranean to Alexandria in Egypt. From there the party of 30, led by Cook himself, continues on to Cairo to board a pair of belching steamers leased from the khedive. And so they set off up river for Luxor and Aswan, sailing in the wake of the Prince and Princess of Wales, who coincidentally happen to be on the Nile at the same time (and are not at all happy at being pursued by ‘tourists’).
The second chapter backtracks to the time before steam, and describes the passage of earlier travellers up the Nile aboard the graceful sailboats known as dahabiyas, an era when goats (for milk) and pianos (for evening entertainment) were considered essential bits of river kit.
We then jump forward again to Thomas Cook’s equally historic, second organised tour to Egypt, which was to the inaugural celebrations marking the opening of the Suez Canal. The book then charts the growth of Cook’s business in Egypt, to the point where, within ten years, his company – now managed by his son John – enjoyed a monopoly on all Nile passenger traffic and the subsequent temporary loss of that business as Cook’s fleet is diverted to the task of ferrying an Anglo-Egyptian army tens of thousands strong in an effort to rescue General Charles Gordon in Khartoum.
Chapter five deals with the aftermath of the Sudan campaign, when Cook & Son set about building itself a fantastic new Nile fleet of (largely) Scottish-built steamers, finer than anything ever seen on the Nile before – ‘floating palaces’ is how they were described. A subsequent chapter explores what life was like aboard for those with money and leisure time enough to book a cabin. This is the period from the mid 1880s through to the first decade of the 20th century, when a three-week voyage from Cairo up to Aswan and back was just about the most exciting and luxurious thing imaginable. From the comfort of a wicker chair on the sun deck, passengers could observe a scrolling panorama of palm groves, desert, and mountains, not to mention the magnificent monuments of the ancient pharaohs, many of which were conveniently sited right on the banks of the river. And if one should tire of the landscapes, temples, tombs and donkey rides, there were always one’s fellow travelers to provide distraction and amusement.
There was the interruption of the First World War but normal service resumed soon after when tourism to Egypt received a huge boost from the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. The glamour and intrigue were heightened in the 1930s thanks to the role of the Nile steamer in Agatha Christie’s best-selling Death on the Nile.
Although the Second World War and the turbulence in Egypt that followed brought to an end the era of the Nile steamer, there were survivors. The final chapter of the book discovers what happened to the boats when they were retired from regular service. Some became floating homes, others floating hotels; some were used in the Nubian Salvage Mission to aid in the rescue of ancient monuments from the rising waters of Lake Nasser, created by the construction of the Aswan dam in the 1960s. Many were left to decay on the banks of the river. Just one survives as a working passenger steamer.
The very last section of the book is an appendix that takes the form of an A to Z (from Amasis to Zinat al-Nil) of all the boats there were at one time or another in the Nile fleets of Thomas Cook & Son and the Anglo-American Nile Company.
I’ve had great fun researching and writing the book, and my partner and collaborator Gadi Farfour has done a brilliant job of sourcing images. It contains a lot of never-before-published photography and some stunning illustrations. I can’t wait to see it in print.
Back in July I posted about my new book, On the Nile (in the Golden Age of Travel) and accompanied it with snapshot of the book’s cover. Well that was just a working cover, a dummy. It was a very fine image but it was based on a poster that we had already included as a full page in Grand Hotels and we felt we’d be shortchanging readers if we were to run it again. More significantly, it shows locals sailing in feluccas, whereas the book is all about foreign visitors cruising the Nile on steamers and dahabiyas, which is something entirely different. We (we being myself and the book’s designer, Gadi Farfour) were able to find several posters depicting steamers, but none of them quite worked as a cover. So we commissioned an illustrator to have a go at coming up with something suitable.
He was Ross Murray, a talented Kiwi who does a lot of work for the magazine-publishing company where I’m editorial director. One of the things he did earlier this year was a set of four illustrations (below) for a story on the romance of travel. One of these, as you can see, depicted a Nile cruise and Gadi and I thought that with some tweaks it would make a perfect cover for our new book.
We sent Ross a photo of the cover of Grand Hotels and asked him to match the style, plus swap the sail for a steamer’s rail and replace the Pyramids (which feature on Grand Hotels) for a temple. This he did, along with plenty of changes of his own, and the resulting image is amazing. I’m sure that anybody who didn’t know otherwise would assume the finished work is an original vintage poster.
The two books look fantastic together.
Right now we’re playing around choosing the correct colour for the spine, back cover and flaps.
These are the absolute final stages in the preparation of the book and it will be going off to print (in China) in about four weeks time. The publication date is now next March. I can’t wait.
It has been quite a while since I posted anything here for which I do apologise. There was good reason. I have been busy writing the follow-up to Grand Hotels, which is to be titled On the Nile in the Golden Age of Travel. It tells the story of tourism on the Nile, from languorous expeditions in dahabiyas to the coming of the steamer, and the heyday of Cook’s Nile services in the early 20th century. I’m pleased to say the manuscript is now with the American University in Cairo Press, which will be publishing the book in Spring 2015. There’s still plenty to do: for the next couple of months I will be working with Gadi Farfour, my wife, on the design of the book (like Grand hotels it will be heavily illustrated in full colour), and then there’s captioning, editor’s corrections, proofing and a whole heap of other things. However, we’re very much on the home straight and life outside of writing now starts to get a look in once again, including, hopefully, more posting here.
There’s been a distinct slowing down on the new-post front on this site of late. Well, there’s good reason for that as I am currently immersed in writing the follow-up to Grand Hotels. The new book is all about the Nile steamers. It’s mainly concerned with the period from the 1860s to the decline of Nile cruising during World War II – although there are a handful of steamers that survive until today and I will be tracking them right up to the present date. As with Grand Hotels, the story will be told using contemporary accounts and journals, accompanied by huge amounts of vintage photography, posters, advertising graphics and other memorabilia. I’m well into the writing and I aim to deliver the book to my publisher, the AUC Press, next summer; it should be in the shops late 2014/early 2015.
In the meantime, if anybody has any information relating to Nile steamers, I’d love to hear from you – you can contact me at andrewhumphreys [at] btinternet.com.
For those of you with an iPad, Grand Hotels of Egypt is now available as an iBook. It’s not an abridged version, it’s the whole text and all the images. All the images and more, in fact, because we’ve added some expanded picture galleries and a handful of new old photos. Everything can be blown up to full-screen and, what, with the backlighting, the pictures look fantastic. Another bonus is that the book is fully searchable. It’s available exclusively (they won’t have it any other way) on iTunes.
So Grand Hotels of Egypt is out. We had the launch party last Sunday at the Windsor Hotel in Cairo and I’m sorry if you weren’t there because it was a terrific evening (thank you Neil, Trevor and Nabila at the AUC Press). First reactions to the book were fantastic – although, at this point nobody had, of course, read any of it and it was all based on appearances. A lot of people, in particular, said how much they liked the cover. But the praise wasn’t unanimous. Word was someone had objected to the fact it shows a dark-skinned waiter serving white folk. I thought nothing of this until the following morning when Gadi (the book’s designer) and myself were interviewed by a local journalist. He and I had a straightforward chat about the subject matter of the book but when it came to Gadi’s turn to talk about the design the very first question was, ‘Why did you chose to show a black servant on the cover?’
The cover was chosen because it’s a striking and appropriate image. It’s a genuine poster from the 1930s and the scene is of the terrace at the Mena House, one of the hotels covered at length in the book. The original poster (above) was designed by the graphic artist Ihap Hulusi Gorey. Born in Cairo in 1898 to a Turkish family, Hulusi left Egypt to study art in Munich before setting up his own studio in Istanbul in the latter half of the 1920s. He was one of the first graphic designers of modern Turkey and a fervent supporter of nationalist leader Kemal Atatürk. He was hugely influential, initially producing endless propaganda and educational posters for the new republic, later doing a lot of work for major international brands such as Cinzano, Haig whisky and Fernet Branca. At some point he was also commissioned to produce a series of posters for the Egyptian government and Misr Air, some of which are below.
The poster we used for the cover of my book is an artfully executed portrayal of the hotel life of the time: the dignified sufragi in uniform bearing tea things on a silver tray past a table of pale-skinned foreigners enjoying afternoon refreshments. A bit of a cliché perhaps, but beautifully done and very evocative of the era covered by the book. Ironically, the Thirties graphic style aside, the thing that really dates the image is the clothing and accessories of the Westerners – the pipe, trilby and ladies’ suit hat. The fancy garb worn by the waiter – or a variant of – is still uniform in plenty of upmarket hotels in Egypt today, where serving staff are still often Upper Egyptians starting careers on the lower rungs of the ladder. Is this racism? I don’t think so, I think most people would just recognise it as tourism.