In August 1947, with wartime travel restrictions having been lifted, John Minton and Alan Ross set off for Corsica to escape the austerity of postwar Britain, thanks to the invitation and sponsorship of John Lehmann. Lehmann had suggested to Ross that he and Minton travel around Corsica to produce not a travel book but, as he outlined in the third volume of his autobiography, The Ample Proposition, ‘more a poet’s notebook on holiday’. The result was Time Was Away, which has become a classic of 20th-century book making.
The book’s title is borrowed from the opening line of Louis MacNeice’s poem ‘Meeting Point’: ‘Time was away and somewhere else’. Minton’s fusion of image and hand-rendered lettering perfectly captures the languor and timelessness of the island of Corsica in high summer. His mastery of the mechanics of the letterpress printing process allowed him to create a blaze of colour inside the book, in the form of eight full-page colour plates, which were interspersed among over eighty line drawings. Designed by Keith Vaughan and published by Lehmann in 1948, in the midst of rationing and paper shortages, this incongruously lavish production must surely have seemed an extravagant and seductive anachronism in the bookshops of the time.
Lehmann’s broad brief was to ‘come back with a book’. The writer and the artist were already acquainted, both renting accommodation at 37 Hamilton Terrace, St John’s Wood, along with Vaughan (Ross later recalled that, with his naval gratuity running out, his own accommodation was in the boiler