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 a 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 Shepard

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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. (£)

The Guardian also kindly reprinted an excerpt from the essay as their ‘long read’ on Tuesday. It can be read online here, or full text (of the edited extract, which is less gory) after the fold. Continue reading

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The Sunday Times Magazine and Radio Scotland

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I wrote a short-ish article about our adventures along the Colorado Trail for The Sunday Times Magazine last week, which alas I missed seeing in hard copy because I was doing a mini-residency at a cabin in Inshriach Forest, on the edge of the Cairngorms, for The Bothy Project. (It was a joy. Look into it, if you are a writer or artist and enjoy solitude / chopping wood / working by lamplight / cold water washing.)

But here’s a PDF – and I’ve gathered together all my posts about our Rocky Mountain summer here. So far I’ve transcribed 4 of 6 weeks’ worth of trail diaries (1/2/3/4) – I’ll get the final two up shortly – and also published some tips for packhorse use.

Rich and I also discussed our journey with BBC Scotland presenter Fiona Stalker for her Friday afternoon show Out for the Weekend, which is available to listen to here.

Full text of the article after the fold Continue reading

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Thru-riding the Colorado Trail: Week Four

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I spent the summer of 2017 riding 500 miles through the Rocky Mountains with my partner Rich and three horses called Pinto, Pepper and Numero. I’ve been posting information about the trip online, as well as my trail diary, for anyone with an interest in the journey or backcountry horsemanship more generally. All previous entries on this subject can be found here.

At the close of week three we’d crossed the halfway mark, both in terms of the distance we had to cover and the time we had budgeted to do it in. But some tragic news from home, and a nasty bout of heat exhaustion on Rich’s part, had dimmed our sense of celebration. Week four was a late honeymoon in comparison, as we upped our mileage (covering up to 23 miles per day) and found peace and contentment in our long summer evenings in the wild. Continue reading

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Thru-riding the Colorado Trail: Week Three

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I spent the summer of 2017 riding 500 miles through the Rocky Mountains with my partner Rich and three horses called Pinto, Pepper and Numero. I’ve been posting information about the trip online, as well as my trail diary, for anyone with an interest in the journey or backcountry horsemanship more generally. All previous entries on this subject can be found here.

By the end of the second week we had adjusted to the rhythms of life on the trail, and felt our relationships with the horses – and our collective relationship, as a herd – solidify. By now we didn’t like to be out of sight of one another for more than a few minutes, a psychological quirk which worked to our advantage: no need to lead the packhorse, unless dealing with rare road crossings, as he or she would simply run loose beside us like a dog. (More here on the use of packhorses.)

Week three would be a section marked by steep gains and losses in elevation as we passed through the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness – skirting a prominent group of ’14-ers’ (mountains of >14,000ft), and enjoying some of the most beautiful vistas we’d yet seen. As we reached our half-way point, I also received some bad news from home, which shook me deeply.

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Thru-riding the Colorado Trail: Week Two

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I spent the summer of 2017 riding 500 miles through the Rocky Mountains with my partner Rich and three horses called Pinto, Pepper and Numero. I’ve been posting information about the trip online, as well as my trail diary, for anyone with an interest in the journey or backcountry horsemanship more generally. All my previous entries on this subject can be found here.

Our second week in the Rockies saw us hitting some serious elevation for the first time, reaching 11,874ft at Georgia Pass, and later 12,495ft at the crest of the Tenmile Range (for context, Ben Nevis stands at 4,411 ft). We also reached our first rest stop, the mountain town and ski resort Breckenridge, where we gave the horses a well-earned day off. I’d felt pushed to my limits during week one, so it was a welcome surprise to find it becoming easier in our second week as our sore muscles eased and we all – humans and horses both – began to hit our stride.

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Thru-riding the Colorado Trail: Week One

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I spent the summer of 2017 riding 500 miles through the Rocky Mountains with my partner Rich and three horses called Pinto, Pepper and Numero. I’ve posted logistical information about the trip online for anyone with an interest in the journey or backcountry horsemanship more generally. All previous entries on this subject can be found here.

Just before my partner Rich and I set off on our 500-mile adventure, a problem with transport left us scrabbling to find a new arrangement at short notice. We were overwhelmed by how the trail community rallied round to find us a friendly local with a horsebox (especially Bill Manning, chief executive of the Colorado Trail Foundation, who made a lot of calls on our behalf). In the end, we received two offers of help – from Richard Johnson, an excellent horseman who came to pick all five of us (two nervous people, three unknown horses) up the following morning and dropped us at the trailhead, and from Pam Doverspike, a true trail angel who we would finally meet a month later at Spring Creek Pass. (Hikers call this ‘trail magic’. this generosity from strangers one meets along the way.)

Both were proven CT experts, Richard having thru-ridden the trail twice and Pam, a trail sponsor, having also completed the trail (on horseback) in sections multiple times. They passed on a huge amount of hard-won advice, which was much appreciated – setting off for a six-week expedition, unsupported, was a daunting prospect for both myself and Rich. I’d love to pay that favour forward, so have typed up extracts from the diary I kept throughout our journey in case it might assist anyone planning the same or a similar long-distance journey by horse. Entries from our first week on the trail can be found below. It was our wettest and perhaps our most challenging week, as we grappled with the basics of backcountry horsemanship and life in the outdoors.
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