Tag Archives: Five Books

Recent writing

The last few months got away from me, so here’s a quick summary of some of my recent published work:

Guardian Country Diary
I continue to contribute regularly to this short daily feature in the Guardian newspaper. I’ve written recently about curlews, seasonal birdsong, snorkelling the shipwrecks of Orkney’s Scapa Flow, and the purple heathered uplands of late summer.
Probably my favourite of these pieces are the more personal ones: on walking the same paths again and again through lockdown (“Every day I look at these same hills, these same shores, and every day they show me something new. Over time, these daily walks build up, one upon the other, to create a long view: a portrait of a place through time…”), and my latest effort, in which I begin to recognise Orcadian seasonal signposts as I pass into my sophomore year as an islander (“Knowledge of the land builds up in layers. I will never be from here, but, over time, these windswept hills might come to feel like home.”)

Prospect
I continue to write my monthly column ‘The Wild Frontier’ for Prospect magazine. Expeditions of any kind have obviously been curtailed during lockdown, so I’ve been writing more about island living. Since I last updated you, my columns have been on
Lockdown in Orkney (“Our containment on the island is a source of comfort and claustrophobia, both.”),
Why everyone has been getting into birdwatching during the Covid crisis (“In empty streets, birds have felt more present than ever.”),
What keeping tadpoles taught me about change (“I feel it in the air now, sense it moving in the wind. Change is coming. But what kind of change are we facing?”
a paean to Britain’s county recorders, our invaluable newt counters (“In the Orkney Islands, we have 26 of them, including recorders of cetaceans, molluscs, algae, sawflies, bats, and slime moulds.”)
I’ve also been book reviewing for Prospect on occasion. Recently I wrote about David Farrier’s intriguing Footprints: In Search of Future Fossils and Sonia Shah’s The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and the Terror of Life on the Move, which I found thought-provoking and readable, even if I found myself picking holes in her argument.

New Humanist
I wrote a long feature on the danger and promise of genetically modified humans for this monthly magazine published by the Rationalists Association – and why we find the idea so horrifying. It led me to Philip Ball’s fascinating book Unnatural: The Heretical Idea of Making People (2011), and some of his more recent writing on the subject, which explored concepts of ‘anthropoesis’, or the making of artificial people, in literature and mythology.
The New Humanist is a great, unashamedly intelligent quarterly publication, run on a shoestring by the brilliantly clever Samira Shackle, and I love writing for it. She also gave me the opportunity to review my favourite new book of 2020 so far, Sophie Mackintosh’s Blue Ticket. The review was published in the summer issue but is yet to go online – I’ll put a link here when I can.

Five Books
I continue to review and interview for this literary website, where I am the deputy editor. I’ve written round-ups of the most notable novels of summer 2020 and fall 2020, plus recommendations of very short books for the chronically distracted, and interviewed experts on subjects as varied as the best sci fi novels of 2020, books on Handel, forensic science, and diet books.
Five Books continues to go from strength to strength; we now have a monthly readership of around 700,000 (which reached 800,000 during lockdown!) from both sides of the Atlantic, plus significant reach on our social media channels and our biweekly newsletter.
I love to hear about significant book publications, so if you are a book publicist, please consider getting in touch. I’m particularly interested in the environment, psychology, natural history, and literary nonfiction in general, plus literary fiction and literary-crossover genres like literary sci fi or literary horror. (NB. My colleagues Sophie and Ben tend to concentrate on history, business and economics, while Nigel Warburton heads up our philosophy section and Casper Henderson sometimes mans our hard science coverage.)

Scottish Field
I continue as the wildlife columnist for this monthly glossy magazine. Recently I’ve written about beavers and their detractors, the wild boar breeding and spreading through the west Highlands under cover of night, and efforts to save rare Scottish butterflies. I love to get tips on what to cover next – drop me a line if you’re involved in an interesting wildlife project in Scotland. There’s a lead time of 1-2 months.

Forthcoming
I look forward to seeing two major pieces of work in print in the not too distant future – including an essay for Isabella Tree’s guest-edited issue of Granta, which should be out very soon.

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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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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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Book interviews and country diary

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I’ve still got my head down working on a longer term project, but in the mean time I continue to conduct interviews and edit for the literary site Five Books, which you should visit and follow if, like me, you like to keep a to-be-read pile larger than your bedside table or to hear authors/academics/public figures talking about their areas of expertise in depth. Recently I’ve spoken to author Matthew Green about post-traumatic stress, journalist and memoirist Bryony Gordon about depression, and academic Philippa Levine about eugenics.

I also contributed another short entry to the Guardian’s Country Diary, this time about horse-riding in the Black Isle during pheasant shooting season. Text at the Guardian website here, or after the fold.  Continue reading

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