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What Can Jan Morris’ Work Teach Us About Cities and Places? Paul Clements

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Historian, author and travel writer Jan Morris had a life that was as interesting and multifaceted as her career, but how was she able to paint such a complete picture of the cities and places she visited through her writing? Biographer Paul Clements investigates.

Since the death of the historian, author and travel writer Jan Morris in 2020, there have been many efforts made to assess her contribution to the literary world.

Morris was prolific in all aspects of her writing life, having penned more than 40 books and contributed reviews, diaries and articles to The Times, The Manchester Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement, among others.

But her life was just as interesting and varied as her writing portfolio. Born in 1926, she grew up in Clevedon, before going on to attend the University of Oxford. She then entered military service in Italy and the Middle East, later embarking on a career as a foreign correspondent. She was the only journalist to join the first ascent of Mount Everest. In 1972, she transitioned genders to become a woman in her late sixties.

Her biographer Paul Clements joins us at Bristol Ideas to outline his process for writing a biography on Jan Morris, the interviews he undertook and archival and previously unpublished material he sourced. Clements knew Morris for three decades, having spent time with the author and carried out several long interviews with her over the years. He touches on Morris’s daughter Suki’s 2022 Times article about her complicated relationship with her mother, and how it was important for him to explore these aspects of Morris’ personality and relationships.

Clements also explores Morris’ relationship with the cities she wrote about, including her opinions on Bristol, a city she spent time in as a youngster. He explains how Morris was able to dig out the stories, history, psychology and culture of a place, which would be brought to life in her books and lengthy essays about cities.

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Paul Clements is a journalist, broadcaster and author of five travel books about Ireland, as well as biographies of both Richard Hayward and Jan Morris. A former BBC assistant editor, he is a recipient of the Reuter Journalist’s Fellowship Programme, a Fellow of Green Templeton College, Oxford, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and a member of the Royal Society of Literature.

Jan Morris: Life from Both Sides by Paul Clements is published by Scribe Publications. Buy a copy now from If you buy books linked to our site, we may earn a commission from, whose fees support independent bookshops.

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