New book: Islands of Abandonment

tunnel-of-love-ukraineSome very exciting news: I recently confirmed the sale of my second book, which I’m currently in the process of writing. I’ll stay in the very capable hands of Arabella Pike and her team at HarperCollins’ nonfiction strand William Collins, while Emily Wunderlich at Viking Books will publish the book in the US—my American debut. The full announcement, as published in the Bookseller is below: Continue reading

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Country Diary and the jellyfish soup

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I was delighted to contribute again to the Guardian’s regular Country Diary feature, with a short postcard from the north west coast. Full text on the Guardian website here, or after the fold.

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Recently: Wellcome Collection and new columns

I’ve had my head down working on long term projects recently, but I was pleased to see my six-part series on the history of the National Health Service to mark its 70th anniversary go live over on the Wellcome Collection’s website; for it, I spoke to patients, NHS workers and historians about the service’s germination and evolution. The NHS is not perfect, but surveys repeatedly find that our health service is our biggest source of national pride, ahead of the BBC and the royal family.

(It’s a subject close to my heart. I’ve already written about my own experiences of disability, and of my extensive leg-lengthening treatments under the NHS for The Sunday Times Magazine – find that essay here.)

I was also pleased to begin writing two monthly columns; one for Prospect magazine, on ‘backcountry philosophy’ – that is, life lessons from the wilderness; and a regular wildlife slot for Scottish Field.

My first Prospect column will be out shortly, while my second Scottish Field outing is already on newsstands. So far I’ve covered the basking sharks of the Inner Hebrides and the seabird colonies of the Isle of May.

Every species takes up a place in the strata of life, a multi-storey settlement that rises vertically from the waves….the razorbills with their snubnosed beaks – gnomish and oddly proportioned, squat like penguins but with the delicate wings of terns…Then the sleek guillemots in their evening wear: silken black-brown heads set apart from starched-white breasts by their sweetheart necklines…

Columns on raven culls and mountain hares are coming soon.

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The language of twilight?

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For the past few years I’ve been making on-again, off-again attempts to learn Scottish Gaelic, a language that was spoken in my family until a couple of generations ago. It’s a difficult language to learn, and the Gaelic-community of Scotland is billingual – they all speak English already. So why do I try? The answer is, it’s complicated.

I explored my desire to learn Gaelic – and attempted to untangle my, and my country’s, strange relationship to the language for Prospect magazine this month. The full text is online here (outside of the paywall), and after the fold.  Continue reading

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Writing for the Scottish Review of Books

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I was pleased to contribute to the Scottish Review of Books for the first time, with a review of Donald S Murray’s latest book, The Dark Stuff: Stories from the Peatlands, a fascinating mix of landscape writing, memoir and history that moves from the Highlands and Islands to the ‘midlands’ of Ireland and the peatlands of Germany, Holland and Denmark.

“A depth of appreciation comes with familiarity: his father, he says, could shut his eyes and know the exact moment the car crossed the town boundary at Stornoway, when the distinctive aroma of peat smoke switched to that of coal, and with it the urban world of pavements, shops and the English language.”

The full review can be found on the SRB site here; I’ll post it on this site after the magazine comes off newstands.

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Residency at Gladstone’s Library

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I’ve loved my time so far as writer in residence at Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, north Wales. While here I’ve been working on new writing, and also held an evening book event in the chapel on the evening of 6 May which was well attended – thanks all who came. I have one more event to come – a creative non-fiction masterclass on 26 May, which is now sold out.

I’m finding it a great place to write. Being surrounded by likeminded people all hard at work on their own projects is very conducive to sustained periods of concentration. It being very beautiful – and the food being excellent – and the weather being glorious – doesn’t hurt either. I’m very lucky to be here.

If you’re interested in visiting the library, you can sign up as a day reader, or book yourself in for a stay. Rooms start from £66/night B&B (link), and there are a number of scholarships and bursaries available. The writers in residence selection process runs annually, with an April deadline. It’s for authors whose work ‘engages with liberal values.’ More information and details on how to apply here.

 

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Barns Ness: fossils and hermit crabs

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Another short postcard for the Guardian’s Country Diary, which is always a pleasure to contribute to. This time: rockpooling and fossil-hunting at Barns Ness on the East Lothian coast: John Muir country. Full text after the fold, or on the Guardian website here.

In other news, I was pleased to be shortlisted for HorseScotland’s equestrian writer of the year award for my work for EQY (a glossy equestrian annual) and The Sunday Times Magazine. While in Falkirk for their glitzy awards night I also took the opportunity to review Airth Castle hotel for the Telegraph.

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Interviews for Five Books

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As ever, I continue to interview and edit for Five Books, a literary recommendations site which asks public figures, authors and academics to discuss their desert island book choices in their specialist subject. We publish long, discursive interviews on topics from philosophy to physics three times a week. Our site’s audience is growing fast: this month we’ve had around 300,000 unique visitors.

Recently I’ve had the pleasure of talking to Daniel Goleman about the concept of ’emotional intelligence’; Will Storr, author of Selfie, on immersive nonfiction; the Scottish intellectual Alan Taylor about the best works of Muriel Spark; Lisa Feldman Barrett on the how emotions work; and the philosopher Christian B Miller on moral character.

Browse all our interviews on our homepage (www.fivebooks.com), or follow us on Twitter (@five_books) where we recently gained our 10,000th follower.

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Tracking badgers with Nan Shepherd

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I wrote a short postcard from the snowy Cairngorms for The Guardian’s gorgeous country diary feature. It can be found on the Guardian site here, or after the fold.  Continue reading

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Granta and Guardian Long Reads

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I’m very excited to have had an essay appear in the print edition of Granta (issue #142: Animalia). It is about the impact of red deer in the Highlands of Scotland, and the annual cull which takes place in estates across the country. It’s a complex issue, and one that causes a lot of discussion and disagreement in the Highlands. Thanks especially to my friends Julien Legrand and Iona Scobie of the East Rhiddoroch Estate, who helped me understand the issues at stake. Julien took me shooting during the hind season, where I learned the realities of stalking and gralloching.

I think of every time I’ve ever used the word ‘visceral’ and resolve never again to take it in vain. What did I know of viscera until I felt the chainlink of intestine running through my fingers? How dare I allude to this most intimate of acts: the touch of another creature’s innards, of following the transfiguration of grass to fumet as one traces digestive tract from throat to tail.

It was a primal experience, and immersing myself in the subject has totally changed the way that I look at the landscape around me. Read the full essay here (£), or after the fold.

The Guardian also kindly reprinted an excerpt from the essay as their ‘long read’ on Tuesday. It can be found online here. Continue reading

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