Tag Archives: Scottish Field

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 (“Mackintosh’s book, like all good speculative fiction, reminds us of a truth in the real world. Choice, onerous or not, is a luxury.”).

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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Ongoing output

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With a big book deadline approaching on the horizon, I’ll be cutting down my freelancing in an attempt to focus the mind. But I still maintain a trickle of regular publications which you might be interested in.

As well as my Prospect columns (entries passim), I continue to conduct literary interviews and edit for Five Books, a fast-growing book recommendation site that I’ve contributed to on and off since its launch in 2009. We have around 300,000 readers a month, from both sides of the Atlantic. Last year I became a director of the company. I love this work – it’s consistently fascinating, and has come to form a very useful resource for autodidacts. Recent highlights include a discussion of forensic psychology with the criminal profiling expert Prof David Canter, a snappy chat with marketing guru Seth Godin about the best books on his industry – and how marketers deeply impact our way of thinking about and talking about the world around us, plus a vivifying discussion of the Booker International Prize shortlist with chair of the judging panel Bettany Hughes.  There’s more: have a browse of my interview feed here.

I also still write my monthly column on wildlife for the glossy lifestyle magazine Scottish Field. Recently I’ve covered subjects including the regeneration of oyster beds in east coast firths and west coast glens; the annual descent of gannets upon the Bass Rock, the largest colony in the world; the wacky racers dashing across the island in search of orcas in Shetland; and conservationists’ attempts to return golden eagles to the soaring updrafts of the Southern Uplands in the borderland between Scotland and England. These are not available online, so find the text of some of my latest articles after the fold. Continue reading

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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.

Continue reading

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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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On the cover of Equestrian Year

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It’s been an exciting week, what with the launch of Thicker Than Water, and the first, great review in The Times, so it was an extra bonus to find myself on the cover of the Scottish magazine EQy (Equestrian Year), interviewing Game of Thrones actor Clive Russell on horseback on the beach at St Andrews.

I also had the pleasure of interviewing Olympian and cross-country course designer Ian Stark — from his hospital bed! — for the same issue. It’s on newstands until the new year, but I’ll post the text online after that.

Last year, I interviewed Zara Phillips for the same magazine at Blair Castle ahead of the European Championships.

 

UPDATE: full text follows after the break Continue reading

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EQy: Scotland’s new equestrian magazine

EQY cover

I was very excited to have joined the launch team for EQy, the new luxury equestrian magazine from the same stable as the Scottish Field.

The first issue came out earlier this month. I have four features in the mag, including an in-depth interview with Olympian eventer Zara Phillips, who I met in a very snowy Blair Castle. I also interviewed the showjumper and coach David Harland; had a good nose around at the Solaris Sports Horses stud in Dunblane, home of the incredible Kambarbay, a perlino Akhal Teke; and scoped out the friendly rivalry between top young eventers Emily Ryder and Stephanie O’Neill.

EQy will be on newsstands for around 6 months; after that I’ll post versions of my articles online. If you would like to get your hands on a copy, you can order it here.

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