Patrick Leigh Fermor had the most famous case of writer’s block of the last century. Before he died, aged ninety-six, in 2011, he spent years in agony, trying to finish the third volume about his ‘Great Trudge’ across Europe in the early 1930s. He never did finish it. In the end, the last volume, The Broken Road, was published two years after his death.
But he had no writer’s block when it came to letters: this is the third volume of his correspondence, after the success of Dashing for the Post (2016) and a 2008 selection of letters between himself and Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire. And it is by no means a barrel-scraping effort. It’s clear that, while the incomplete manuscript lay staring at him accusingly on his desk in his achingly lovely home in Kardamyli, Greece, he could write dozens of long, well-thought-out letters at will. You can see the ease of writing in the letters here: breezy, funny and light, a pleasant contrast to the marvellous but heavy, sometimes overwrought prose of his books.
Leigh Fermor was a world-class gossip – I mean that as a compliment – and, at his own admission, liked staying at the classiest places. That combination makes for delicious posh anecdotage. Here he is on staying at Chatsworth in 2000 with Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles: