Category Archives: Features

This land is our land, this land is your land

Who owns the Lake District - Cumbria life coverWho owns the Lake District - Cumbria Life - Sept 2014_Page_2

My eight-page special report “Who owns the Lake District?” made the cover of this month’s Cumbria Life magazine. It explores the special responsibilities that comes with land ownership in an area of great natural beauty, where public access and commoners rights must be protected by law.

It was prompted by the media outcry over the Earl of Lonsdale’s decision to sell Blencathra, the saddleback mountain, earlier this summer for £1.75m – sparking a local campaign to bring the beloved landmark under community ownership.

British national parks vary from the American system in that the national park authority does not own the land it oversees, rather acting as a planning authority. Around 60% of the Lake District national park is under private ownership.

Full text and PDF clippings are available after the fold. Continue reading

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Gàidhlig gu bràth!

Scotland issue cover NS Springtime for Gaelic - New Statesman

I was delighted to be asked to contribute to the New Statesman’s recent special issue on Scottish independence.

I wrote about how a burst of enthusiasm for Gaelic-medium education looks set to halt the language’s centuries-old decline. My 2-year-old nephew’s enrolment at a Gaelic-medium pre-school on Skye has sparked new interest in learning (or relearning) Gaelic among my own family members. 

The same issue included a rallying call for the Yes campaign written by first minister Alex Salmond and a fun essay on the joys of the Caledonian sleeper train by Kirsty Wark.

My article was made recommended reading on Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish blog. Full text is available on the New Statesman website here, or after the fold.

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The bloodthirst of fungi

I’ve recently had an essay published by Aeon magazine, an online journal “of ideas and culture” recently mooted as “the best magazine on the internet” by Pando Daily. If you haven’t come across Aeon before, please spend some happy hours browsing their previous offerings.

My favourites include Mary HK Choi’s tribute to her mother My Foreign Mom which made me cry and laugh out loud (sometimes at the same time) and Olivia Laing’s ode to loneliness Me, Myself and I. My friend Samira Shackle also wrote a great essay for them on Pakistan’s young generation, I’m No Terrorist.

My own essay, The Last Supper, was on the wonders and dangers of foraging for fungi, after a summer spent picking berries, herbs and mushrooms in the Lake District. Early forays into mycology only served to show me how much there was to learn about mushroom hunting, where one false identification can lead to death or a life on dialysis. Is the risk part of the charm?

It made Real Clear Science‘s daily reading list and picked as one of Pilcrow’s best longreads of 2013. Full text can be found on the Aeon website here, or after the fold. Continue reading

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The call of the wild

Arctic winter cover - Telegraph magazine

My diary of the time I spent working on a husky farm in the Arctic Circle made the cover of the Telegraph Magazine shortly before Christmas.

My words were accompanied by some beautiful images taken by the up-and-coming Norwegian photographer Anki Grøthe who spent a week with us in Hetta, and was not at all phased by the sub zero temperatures or the boisterous dogs.

Full text of my article is available on the Telegraph website here, or after the fold. I’ll also post some more of the images later, if I can. Continue reading

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Scottish friction, Scottish fiction


I’ve written an essay on Scottish literature and the independence movement for the American online journal The New Inquiry. It was made recommended reading by 3 Quarks Daily.

What could be more inspiring than the grandest of narratives: the struggle for freedom? It provides a framework for everything from the kitchen sink drama to the most sweeping of visions. Braveheart sentimentality or hoarse-throated socialism; freedom or self-determination. However you like to write it.

Novelist Alan Bissett, poet Magi Gibson, playwright David Grieg and Ross Colquhoun of the National Collective were all generous with their time & views.

Full text of the article is available here, the full PDF of the issue can be accessed for $2 here, or read on. Continue reading

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Oil islands: a trip to Azerbaijan

oil rocks

I’ve recently returned from a trip to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. This is the first of a couple of articles I wrote during my trip, a piece for the New Statesman, which contrasts two island utopias off the Caspian coast: one a 1940s Soviet city on stilts for oil workers, the other a fantastical series of new artificial islands inspired by capitalist Dubai.

Azerbaijan is a newly oil-rich state, which gained independence in 1991 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. While it has modernised at a fantastic pace, it still faces major problems of corruption and inequality.

The country’s rebrand is all pervasive. In Baku, whole districts have been bulldozed to make way for shining glass skyscrapers. In others, Soviet-style apartment blocks have been simply concealed under glossy veneers, like bad teeth.

Full story is up on the New Statesman’s website here, or after the break

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Download an ounce of Self Control

Time saving apps News Review

I had a short piece in the News Review section of The Sunday Times last weekend, reviewing apps aimed at reducing time wasted on the internet.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have spent countless panicked afternoons spent desperately catching up on the time lost earlier in the day to directionless internet meandering. It’s the scourge of the millennial generation.

I found an app called SelfControl to be very effective – stopping me in my tracks every time I automatically clicked on my Facebook, Twitter or email bookmarks. Zadie Smith reportedly uses it while writing her novels. Others – like TimeOut and FocusBooster – I found completely infuriating.

Full text is on The Sunday Times’ website here, or after the fold.

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Aye, have a dream: Scottish artists to vote yes

Via Scottish Political Archive on Flickr

I’ve written an article for the New Statesman which profiles the pro-independence campaign National Collective, and discusses why Scottish artists are overwhelmingly declaring for the Yes campaign when support among the general public has hovered around 30 – 35% in the polls for months.

The novelist AL Kennedy and the playwright Alan Bissett were kind enough to contribute their thoughts on the issue.

The original article can be found on the New Statesman website here, or after the fold. Continue reading

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The ghost in the machine

Last week I wrote a ‘how to’ guide to ghostwriting for IdeasMag.

Ghostwriting is a useful way for writers to subsidise their income, and for some it grows into a successful career. I spoke to established ghosts to ask them for their advice, including  Andrew Crofts, a ghostwriter so successful that it is known in publishing as ‘the Crofts effect’. He has written more than a dozen Sunday Times bestsellers, including Zana Muhsen’s Sold.

Full text is available on the Ideastap website here, or after the fold.

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The Bot Wars: why the silicon whizz kids are beating you to it

Don Solo/Flickr

I’ve written a long-form article for the New Statesman, about the arms race between online sellers and the bot-makers who try to jump the queue. The use of bots (automated programs) has become an enormous problem for the music industry, where many highly sought-after concerts sell out within seconds – with a sizeable number of tickets skimmed off by touts using special software, then sold on immediately for a profit.

The phenomenon is spreading. One computer programmer I spoke to had turned to bots when he realised that without one he would never again get a booking at his favourite restaurant.

My article was recommended by The Browser, Reuter’s Counterparties blog, BBC Worldwide’s Future blog, the Nieman Journalism Lab’s Fuego blog, and made the front page of Digg.

The full text can be found on the New Statesman’s website, here, or after the fold. Continue reading

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