Over the Border

Borders. I’ve always been drawn to borders, to the horizon, to the place just out of sight. I want to know the next valley, the next country, the next moment. I reach for it, and if it’s beyond my grasp, if it’s a place lost in time or yet to come, then I imagine it.

Imagine. In my writing I tread the border between observed and imagined worlds. To tell my stories I develop characters, select and tailor experience, arrange the action to give the narrative shape and momentum. My aim is to make places and people more accessible, to engender empathy, to enable readers to step over a border and so to draw together – on the page at least – our divided worlds.

I do not pretend to be an impartial observer. All my stories begin with a feeling, a memory, a quest or an obsession. I start each book by digging into myself. My beginnings are intuitive rather than intellectual. I pair emotion with curiosity, the inner world with the outer world. I feel myself into another place, another time, another life.

Like most writers, I want to catch hold of the present moment, to acknowledge our one-and-only life by marking it, both to live it and to observe the living of it. For the last twenty years I’ve had pinned above my desk a quote from Lawrence Durrell’s ‘Justine’ about the role – and consolation – of his work. ‘Only there, in the silences of the painter or the writer can reality be reordered, reworked and made to show its significant side. Our common actions in reality are simply the sackcloth covering which hides the cloth-of-gold – the meaning of the pattern.’

Connect. On these pages you can find excerpts from my books and explanations as to why I wrote them. You can click on Contact to email me a question, read my once-in-a-while blog, sign on to my mailing list or join a creative writing workshop in Dorset, Berlin or Monaco. You can also follow me on Facebook or Twitter. This site is here for you – for readers, listeners, fellow writers and travellers. So click on to motor through eastern Europe in a Trabant with a pig named Winston. Or to sail across the Atlantic in search of a promised land. Or to meet Aung San Suu Kyi and ride shotgun with a Burmese hill tribe warlord. Or to fly solo into the blue Cretan sky. Or to catch the Magic Bus from Istanbul to Kathmandu along the hippie trail. Or to meet the remarkable men and women who imagined Berlin.

Come and join me on a journey.


Rory MacLean is the author of more than a dozen books including the UK top tens Stalin’s Nose and Under the Dragon as well as Berlin: Imagine a City, a book of the year and ‘the most extraordinary work of history I’ve ever read’ according to the Washington Post. He has won awards from the Canada Council and the Arts Council of England as well as a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, and was nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary prize. He has written about the missing civilians of the Yugoslav Wars for the ICRC, on divided Cyprus for the UN’s Committee on Missing Persons and on North Korea for the British Council. His works – which have been translated into a dozen languages – are among those that ‘marvellously explain why literature still lives’ wrote the late John Fowles. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he divides his time between the UK, Berlin and Toronto.

“MacLean must surely be the outstanding, and most indefatigable, traveller-writer of our time.” – John le Carré

“This is a tremendous thing that MacLean is creating; a new kind of history, in several dimensions and innumerable moods, that adds up to — across the span of his books — a great and continuing work of literature.” – Jan Morris

“There is, to my mind, no one who writes quite like Rory MacLean. If I were forced to reach for a comparison, I would pause over Bruce Chatwin as a possibility, but then probably stretch far, further back: to John Mandeville, to St Brendan and to Marco Polo. These men made their ‘wonder-voyages’ and returned bearing tales that were not to be submitted to the usual tests of verifiability and falsifiability, but in which the actual and the miraculous rubbed shoulders, and in which genres and forms promiscuously coupled and bred. They told piebald, pidgin, patchwork, mongrel stories, then: but books whose unreliability was not mere whimsy, but aspired to a different kind of truth-telling. They sought, in their inventiveness, to pattern reality into a greater clarity… I think of MacLean’s stories not as ‘tall’ but as ‘high’; a category difference. Tall stories are exaggerations, distortions. High stories take flight, gain fresh perspective, occupy a different atmosphere.” – Robert Macfarlane

“Rory MacLean is more than a gifted writer. He is a man whose artistry is underpinned by a powerful moral sensibility.” – Fergal Keane

“In robustly original works, the philisophical travel writer Rory MacLean… joyfully elides the boundaries between fact and fiction; moreover, the notion that one might sustain such boundaries is dismissed as the most improbable fantasy of all.” – Joanna Kavenna (TLS)