Tag Archives: The Guardian

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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Country Diary: Wacky Races

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A brief vignette from spring-time Orkney for the Guardian’s Country Diary: a brief stand-off with a brown hare. Full text on the Guardian website here, or after the fold. Continue reading

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Country diary: the cannibal seals

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A second dispatch from Orkney for the Guardian’s Country Diary section. It’s about the darker side of nature, and a murder mystery now solved: the dead seal pups and the cannibal bulls. Full text on the Guardian website here, or after the fold.

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Country Diary: the super-pod

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Another brief postcard from Orkney, this time from the shores of the island of Flotta – a short ferry ride from where I live (in the west of what we call ‘mainland’ here on the archipelago). A super-pod of porpoises has been in residence for several weeks, as they have every autumn for the last few years during their breeding season. Full text on the Guardian website here, or after the fold. Continue reading

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The big move: now based in Orkney

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I recently moved to Orkney with my partner Richard, where he has been posted as a probationary teacher. At times like this I am reminded what a wonderful privilege it is to be self-employed – and able to up sticks easily, and work from such a beautiful and remote location. (Although it doesn’t feel at all remote, once one is actually here.)

I wrote about moving house – and how the task of packing up my belongings made me think rather wistfully of our six weeks living the ultralight lifestyle on the Colorado Trail – for Prospect, in my latest ‘Wild Frontier’ column. (Text can be found online here, or after the fold.)

I also had a nice surprise when my first Country Diary entry for The Guardian from Orkney was an unexpected hit, racking up more than 30,000 readers in its first few hours online (quite unusual for this section, which features gentle snippets of nature writing). It dealt with the arrival of stoats on the archipelago, and why conservationists believe that might be disastrous for the ground-nesting birds that live here. (Full text can be found here, or after the fold.)

Eradication and ‘population management’ of wildlife prompts important ethical questions in environmental circles – ones I have touched on in more length in the context of red deer culls (for Granta and The Guardian’s long-read section) and in a discussion of our instinctive dislike of ‘invasive’ non-native species (for the New Humanist). So, why not read more?

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Guardian Country Diary: Cairn Gorm in winter

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I recently made another contribution to The Guardian’s Country Diary. I love writing for this small regular feature, which publishes snippets of seasonal nature writing from around the UK daily.

It can be found on the Guardian website here, or (in a slightly longer form) after the break: Continue reading

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Tracking badgers with Nan Shepherd

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I wrote a short postcard from the foot of the snowy Cairngorms for The Guardian’s Country Diary, while doing a week-long residency on the Inshriach House estate with The Bothy Project. It can be found on the Guardian site here, or after the fold.

(Edit: If you’re interested in staying in this beautiful contemporary bothy at Inshriach, but aren’t in a position to apply for an artist’s residency, Inshriach House takes private holiday bookings during the summer months – find it here.)

(Edit II: The Artist Bothy is now available to buy as a pre-fab cabin, from Bothy Stores. I love it, would very happily live in it, and just need to get a patch of land to put one on….)

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Granta and Guardian Long Reads

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I’m very excited to have had an essay appear in the print edition of Granta (issue #142: Animalia). It is about the impact of red deer in the Highlands of Scotland, and the annual cull which takes place in estates across the country. It’s a complex issue, and one that causes a lot of discussion and disagreement in the Highlands. Thanks especially to my friends Julien Legrand and Iona Scobie of the East Rhiddoroch Estate, who helped me understand the issues at stake. Julien took me shooting during the hind season, where I learned the realities of stalking and gralloching.

I think of every time I’ve ever used the word ‘visceral’ and resolve never again to take it in vain. What did I know of viscera until I felt the chainlink of intestine running through my fingers? How dare I allude to this most intimate of acts: the touch of another creature’s innards, of following the transfiguration of grass to fumet as one traces digestive tract from throat to tail.

It was a primal experience, and immersing myself in the subject has totally changed the way that I look at the landscape around me. Read the full essay here (£), or after the fold.

The Guardian also kindly reprinted an excerpt from the essay as their ‘long read’ on Tuesday. It can be found online here. Continue reading

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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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The trouble with lichen

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I had another short article in the Guardian’s lovely Country Diary section a few days ago, about lichen land grabs and the slow wars waged over centuries.

Find the full text here, or after the break.

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