The Wild Frontier #6: Starry, starry night

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My latest column for Prospect looks at the joys (and disappointments) of stargazing – and why the most moving celestial experiences are usually unplanned ones.

Other times there was no particular astronomic spectacle to see—only a cloudless sky and the right frame of mind. Every night, overhead, there are a thousand run-of-the-mill marvels. Look up, and find the firmament aglitter with ametrine stars. The Milky Way billowing a trail through the sky. The smooth, unstoppable sweep of satellites—manmade but no less incredible to me.

Find the full text on the Prospect website here, or after the fold. Continue reading

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Five Books: The best books on everything

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I’m currently the deputy editor and a director of Five Books, a literary website that asks authors, academics and public figures for book recommendations in their specialist fields. Conducting these interviews is always fascinating, and it’s been a real pleasure to see our audience growing and growing over the past few years. (Last month we had a transatlantic audience of just under 280,000 readers.)

Recently I’ve particularly enjoyed a conversation about autofiction with Olivia Laing (Crudo, The Lonely City); a discussion of the best of contemporary trans literature, with Susan Stryker; and an inspiring chat with Emma Gannon (Ctrl-Alt-Delete, The Multi-Hyphen Method) about building a portfolio career around work that you love.

Before Christmas I worked on a series selecting the best books of 2018. Fiammetta Rocco (of The Economist and chair of the Baillie Gifford Prize) discussed the best general nonfiction; Charles Foster (Being a Beast) picked out five of the best new nature books; and Stephen Bush (of the New Statesman) selected five excellent politics books. I also wrote a short summary of some of the best books I read last year, which you can find here.

We have more than 1300 interviews on the site, gathered together in our archives. So, browse to your heart’s content, and please consider supporting us by way of a donation.

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Scottish Field: Wildlife through the seasons

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I continue to write a monthly wildlife column for the glossy lifestyle monthly Scottish Field. So far I’ve covered subjects as varied as seal pupping season, moths, starling murmurations and raven culls.

There was a liquid quality to the flock, its edges curving and irregular yet clearly defined. All the time smaller flights were being attracted into the larger body, or – when it stretched out thinly – breaking off as droplets, and swooping away only to return minute later. The collective took on its own personality, sweeping overhead in a breathy whisper then making a handbrake turn to swing out over the road, where it seemed to hang for a moment, pulsating.

They’re not available online, so find the text of some of the latest articles after the fold.

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The Wild Frontier #5: A world of illusions

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My latest column for Prospect magazine deals with whiteouts, polar mirages and icy illusions. Find the full text on the Prospect site here, or after the fold.

Under normal conditions, human perception works so well as to render its workings invisible to us. But in certain circumstances—extreme weather conditions or extraordinary places—we push beyond its limits, sliding into a world of illusions as our brain struggles to make sense of its surroundings.

The photo above was taken by me somewhere near the summit of Mullach Clach a’Bhlair, which would normally look something like this.

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The Wild Frontier #4: Cold, cold water

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I’m back in Prospect magazine, and warming to my wintery theme with a piece on the pleasures of wild swimming in winter. This year I’m trying to keep it up all the way through. It gets easier, as your body adapts to the physical shock of it – that is, if you go once a week or so. Wish me luck.

Then, among the waterfowl, the changing of the guard. On winter’s approach, in came the chestnut-headed wigeons and pochards, the tufted ducks with their slicked-back quiffs and walleyed stares. A regular swimmer can mark off the months by the company they keep.

Full text on the Prospect website here, or after the fold. Ably illustrated by the superlative Kate Hazell, whose portfolio can be discovered here.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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