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Ariel: A Literary Life Of Jan Morris

Derek Johns

An appreciation of the work and life of the great historian and travel writer.

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Jan Morris is one of the great British writers of the post-war era. Soldier, journalist, writer about places, elegist of the British Empire, novelist, she is best known to many for her candid memoir Conundrum, which described the gender reassignment operation she underwent in 1972. But, as Ariel demonstrates, this is just one of the many remarkable facts about her life. Derek Johns was Jan Morris’s literary agent for twenty years, and Ariel is a literary life, an appreciation of the work and achievements of someone who besides being a delightful writer is known to many as a generous, affectionate, witty and irreverent friend.

Critic Reviews

An affectionate tribute to one of the finest and most sympathetic writers alive.

Colin Thubron
Critic Reviews

Johns is good at shedding light on Morris’s inimitable, evocative, highly descriptive style . . . this book also reminds us that Morris was, fundamentally, a bloody good journalist.

Nigel Farndale, The Times
Critic Reviews

Those unfamiliar with Morris's life will enjoy Ariel . . . Johns quotes copiously from the Morrisonian oeuvre. He catches his quarry well with adroit turns of phrase.

Sara Wheeler, Observer
Critic Reviews

An elegant little volume, which is as much an anthology of excerpts from Morris's writings as it is a "literary life". . . Derek Johns, who was Morris's agent for 20 years, has written an affectionate portrait, although not a hagiography . . . Her writings should be celebrated and enjoyed, and Ariel provides an admirable introduction to them and to Morris's peripatetic life.

Nick Rennison, The Sunday Times
Critic Reviews

Johns, a novelist in his own right, knits his materials elegantly, adroitly and with affection.

New Statesman
Critic Reviews

Full of insight . . . Johns describes her as 'generous, witty, irreverent and affectionate', and suggests that, if she has a religion, it is kindness. He has shown skill and sensitivity in chronicling Morris's brave and cheerful journey through life, where travel has often been a vehicle for an expression of inner transformation.

Andrew Lycett, Literary Review

Derek Johns has been a bookseller, editor, publisher and literary agent. He is a former trustee of English PEN and a member of the Advisory Committee of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction. His novel The Billy Palmer Chronicles was published in 2010. He lives in London.

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