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
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?
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.
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….)
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.
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
I thought I’d pull together briefly some of the coverage of Thicker Than Water over the last few weeks:
Flyn deftly captures the looking-glass world of the antipodean landscape, so alien to European eyes… Her account is vivid with a sense of its strangeness; lyrically responsive to the odd local fauna and flora…
The urgent question, “How can things be fixed?” infuses every page. To her credit, Flyn is aware of the ugly likelihood that they can’t.
full of interest and intelligently and evocatively written. [Flyn] gives a vivid picture of the landscape and way of life, and explores the complexities and silences of Australian history… Her book is not only continuously interesting, and the author’s character as pleasing and sympathetic as her eye for detail and oddity is sharp, it also offers a salutory lesson.
Tracing McMillan’s footsteps, she conjures up the landscape of Gippsland, plaiting together travelogue, history, diaries and reflections… McMillan has come to symbolise some of the very worst excesses of Australia’s violent colonial past. So it is a tribute to Ms Flyn’s empathy for his “moral ambivalence” that when she comes to write of his death—possibly suicide—aged 54, the reader feels pity as well as relief.