The aliens in our midst: invasive species

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I wrote a feature on the ethics of invasive species for the New Humanist’s ‘migrations’ special issue. The beautiful picture above, which ran with the article, comes from Martin Rowson’s comic strip ‘Migration’ (Seagull Books).

Full text can be found on the New Humanist’s site here, or after the fold. Continue reading

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The Wild Frontier #3: Winter’s Approach

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My third column for Prospect is now out on newsstands. It talks about the wonders of winter, and why we shouldn’t dread the coldest months. It’s no secret that I love snow and ice and frost and everything that goes with it (see my previous diaries of working at a husky kennels in Finland back in 2012/13); it’s always a surprise to me to find that I’m in the minority.

At noon on the very darkest days, the red sun still cast its rays into the very lowest reaches of the sky, washing it in blood and burgundy. In the twilit hours on either side, the snow shone blue and brighter than the sky, and the bare and stunted pines, candied with hoar frost, stood out black against it. It’s difficult to grieve the loss of the day if the night is so beautiful.

Give winter another chance! Here’s why.

Full text on the Prospect website here, or after the fold.

Continue reading

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New book in progress: 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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The Wild Frontier #2: Fighting your fears

My second Prospect column is out now – again, beautifully illustrated by the wonderful Kate Hazell (hire her!). It’s about sleeping alone in the woods, and facing the things that go bump in the night.

I lifted myself on to the mattress and slid the axe carefully into the gap between mattress and roof, above my pillow…I dared not imagine the sort of desperate, protracted battle in which a splitting axe might come in useful overnight. But the suggestion of it suffused the cabin anyway

Text can be found on the Prospect website here, or after the fold.

Continue reading

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Prospect: Twisted firestarter

The first of my monthly columns has appeared in Prospect magazine – the series is called ‘The Wild Frontier’ and will deal with all aspects of nature, wilderness and outdoor living. The brilliant Kate Hazell is producing a sequence of accompanying illustrations.

Full text on the Prospect website here, or after the fold.

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.

When we lose a language we may also lose the ability to describe the landscape it lives in. The land becomes less readily characterised, less gradated, more difficult to read. And so do we: what it means to be a Highlander, for example, becomes diffuse when there is no language to mark you apart.

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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