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A Best-Selling Novelist Talks Travel

By Sean O'Neill
updated February 21, 2017
Anna Weise
Arthur Phillips, author of the best-selling novels, "Prague" and "The Egyptologist," talks here about travel and his latest novel, "Angelica," which is a ghost story set in London.

Q: London is the setting for your latest novel, Angelica. Tell us about your research there.

A: My sister lives in London, so I'm there pretty often. I didn't do any locations research particularly for Angelica, but I did include a favorite spot: Hampstead Heath. Note well, London visitors, on or off a budget: It is free. For fresh air, good exercise, and good atmosphere, it's hard to beat. Also, when in the neighborhood, there is a great old Hungarian pastry shop, Louis, that is a long-time favorite--quirky and authentic and a little gone to seed...but still delicious and evocative. (12 Harben Parade London, NW3 6JP, Tube: Swiss Cottage.)

Q: Alain de Botton has written that it's pointless for readers to visit the cities and homes that inspired major novels. Would you be annoyed if a reader visited Budapest, say, as a way to understand your earlier novel Prague?

A: Pointless seems a little harsh - who's to say someone else might not get something out of the view? And would it be the worst thing in the world to go to the Louvre because you read The Da Vinci Code? And I certainly wouldn't be annoyed at anyone who was inspired to visit Budapest, one of my favorite cities in the world, because they had read Prague. I would be honored and proud as hell to have exposed someone to that great, under-sung city. That said, disappointment of one sort or another is probably inevitable in literary tourism. Either the author changed things to suit imagination's demands or time has changed things or, worst of all, they knew you were coming and they turned something you loved in a book into a theme-park of some sort (Dracula's castles in Romania, 221B Baker Street, etc...) Much better to keep it broad: You liked War and Peace? Visit Moscow and find your own scenery for it. I haven't traveled anywhere because I wanted to see the settings of the book, but books have certainly added to the appeal of places, making me want to visit them. Pamplona owes an awful lot to Hemingway...

Q: Has any book ever inspired you to pack your bags?

A: The Sun Also Rises. Paris seemed very cool...

Q: The popular perception of a writer's life is that it's glamorous. So please tell us about the neighborhood where you live and work. What's most worth mentioning to budget-conscious travelers?

A: Brooklyn is thick with writers - it's hard to find a coffee shop that doesn't look like an office, considering all the laptops and notebooks in action. In my neighborhood, the park to sit with a book is Cobble Hill Park. Buy that book at BookCourt on Court Street. Then walk over to 5th Avenue and visit The Chocolate Room for a plate of chocolates with a glass of wine. Angelica got hammered out in a few cafes around here, including that one.

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