Category: Book Musings (page 1 of 8)

An Interview with Matt Gaw

Today is the publication day of The Pull of the River by Matt Gaw in paperback. Here is the interview that I did with him when it came out in hardback and first appeared on NB Magazine.

Thank you for writing an entertaining book with a refreshing take on the natural world

Thank you for your support and kind words Paul, it was strange sending the book out into the world – like sending a child to school and hoping it doesn’t get bullied!


Of all the rivers you paddled and talked about in the book, which was your favourite?

It’s really hard to say, I know it sounds a bit of a cop-out answer, but all of the rivers were special in their own way. Each has its own character, its own history. There were definitely highlights though. When we paddled the Wye, it was glorious weather and it really is a beautiful piece of water – running through gorges and wooded valleys.

But I also have a special place in my heart for the Lark, my local river. We canoed it in December and January, sleeping in hammocks as the temperature dropped to -7 and sections of the river were really neglected – straightened, hemmed in with concrete and full of litter. But seeing it flow through my home town it is a reminder of how adventure can be closer than you think. I guess it sums up for me how rivers can be secret windows into a different world.


Have you got any other rivers in mind to paddle this summer?

Yes, I’ll be heading down to the Dart at some point and I also want to go north to find some wild water. I’ll also be paddling some of the rivers that are closer to home. There are still some in Suffolk I haven’t been on and it’s always fascinating to re-explore places you thought you knew.


Making your own canoe as James did, is not going to be for everyone; are there ways that people can try out canoeing relatively inexpensively?

Yes definitely! There are lots of clubs up and down the country where you can learn or rent canoes or kayaks (whatever floats your boat). And if you don’t want to join a club, there are many stretches of river where you can hire for a few hours or even a week – they’ll supply everything you need.


And what sort of equipment would you recommend for those who were wishing to make the investment to start off with?

We were definitely unprepared when we started out. We borrowed life vests and paddles and stowed all our stuff in carrier bags. We eventually upgraded our kit (after learning the hard way) but it doesn’t have to be expensive. In terms of essentials, life vests are a must and I’d recommend good dry bags and a swim case for your phone. If you want to hit the water in the winter I would also invest in a drysuit: it’s the most expensive piece of equipment we bought but well worth it.


 If you could canoe some of the rivers in Europe, what rivers would be top of your list?

I would love to paddle the Danube. Not only is it somewhere that John MacGregor (who pretty much founded modern canoeing) explored in the Rob Roy, but it is such a varied landscape. I’ve got my eye on some North American rivers too, places that are boundaries and frontiers I just find so interesting.


I think that you are one of the first new clutch of authors from Melissa Harrison’s excellent seasonal anthologies to have a book come out from there; who else would you like to see have an opportunity to write a book next?

It’s hard to choose as there were so many wonderful writers in those anthologies. I am so grateful to Melissa and Elliott & Thompson for including me with them. I would definitely love to see more work from Nicola Chester and Kate Blincoe – two writers who have inspired and supported me.

Do you have somewhere particular to write, or are you an author who can write anywhere?

I can, or try to, write anywhere. I guess I’m nervous about putting writing on a pedestal.  I am currently trying to sort out a better space at home but I do worry that if I only write in one place I’ll find it easier to avoid it!


If you were to recommend three natural history books, what would they be?

For me A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold was formative, and I go back to it now. That line, “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds” still resonates.

Notes from Walnut Tree Farm is probably my favourite book of Roger Deakin’s and again, something I often return to. It really evokes a wild life.

And, I’m not sure if I could call it a straight natural history book, but I often find myself thinking of Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. That sense of flight from the world, a keenness for adventure and experience is inspiring, even if does turn into a tragedy.


Do you have a second book in the pipeline yet?

Yes, I’m really excited about it. It’s a project I’m working on with Elliott & Thompson and due out in autumn 2019.


Which author(s) do you turn to for inspiration?

There are many, both non fiction and fiction. Paul Evans (Field Notes from the Edge), Amy Liptrot (The Outrun), Roger Deakin. But also Annie Proulx, Graham Swift, Andrew Michael Hurley and Daisy Johnson.


What book are you currently reading?
I’m reading a couple. Animals Strike Curious Poses by Elena Passarello, which is a wonderful collection of essays about different animals that have been named and immortalised by humans. I’m also devouring Daisy Johnson’s new novel Everything Under, which comes out this summer. I love the sense of river damp it evokes. Takes me right back to the canoe.


An Interview with Nigel Barley

Nigel Barley was born in Kingston-on-Thames in 1947 and studied Modern Languages at Cambridge before completing a doctorate in Social Anthropology at Oxford. He taught at University College London and the Slade School of Art before joining The Department of Ethnography at the British Museum in 1988 where he remained for some twenty years. After several academic works, he wrote The Innocent Anthropologist in 1983. It contradicted so many cherished assumptions that it led to calls for his expulsion from the professional body of anthropologists. He remained, however, and now the book has been translated into some twenty-five languages and is often the first work embraced by students of anthropology in their studies. He left the Museum in 2002 and is now a professional writer, living in London and Indonesia. His most recent work is Island of Demons, a fictionalised treatment of the life of the painter Walter Spies.

Eland have just re-published two more of his books, A Plague of Caterpillarss and Not a Hazardous Sport to go with The Innocent Anthropologist that they republished back in 2011

1 Have you been back out to Cameroon since the books were written?

I went back some years later when there was a prospect of making a film about the Dowayos. The film never came to anything but there had been enormous changes.


2 Does the Dowayo society still exist, or has it been subsumed into wider Cameroon society?

There was a refugee problem, MSF were running a big operation and warring factions from Chad had all been lumped together in one place and were killing each other. With Boko Haram now operating further north and anglophone fighters further south, I imagine those changes have continued. For anthropologists, the world is actually a much more dangerous place than it was when I was young. There are more guns and more political resentments about.


3 You mentioned in the first book that you had to post the films back to the UK. Did you loose any when you did this?

Extraordinarily, I never lost a single film – though many arrived without stamps – these having been reacquired by postal officials along the way. Since then, I have lost many myself, having left them in university slide projectors or publishers’ offices.


4  Did you ever get to witness the ceremony that you went back out to Cameroon for?

I never did get to see the actual circumcision though I saw it mimed as part of other ceremonies.


5 Was the African bureaucracy one of the worst that you encountered?

Cameroonian bureaucracy was absolutely the worst as it was conducted with extreme bad humour. In Indonesia, I once spent three weeks getting an official letter from a ministry, confirming that I didn’t need a letter from that ministry but even the civil servants thought that was funny and we laughed about it.


6 Were there any stories that you had that didn’t make it into the book?

When I went back the last time, our luggage was impounded at the airport. We finally discovered that this was because our reason for visit was described as ‘making an ethnographic film’. The officer in charge read it as ‘making a pornographic film’.


7 Have you ever been on a horse since Indonesia?

Never! And never will again. I have been on an elephant. Much better!


8 Did you ever bring other people back to the UK to experience some of our life here, or were the Torajan the only tribe?

The Torajans were the only ones I actually brought back but, naturally, I have met lots of people from distant parts who happened to be in London. I once found a family of Indonesians from one of the more remote islands lost on the Circle Line and brought them home and they stayed for two weeks.


9 Are you still in contact with any people from the villages that you visited in the three books?

Not with anyone from Africa but I am still in contact with Torajans. I added a postscript to ‘Not a Hazardous Sport’ about that.


10 In the modern interconnected world, do you think that anthropology still has things to discover?

Anthropology is no longer about finding people who are still ‘uncontacted’ but of finding better ways of understanding what it means to be human. I’ve always been obsessed with the question of why anthropologists work on people they know nothing about as professional strangers rather than acting as their own ethnographic informants on the places they grew up in and know perfectly. One of the ways I tried to deal with that is in a book called, ‘Coronation Chicken’ trying to see my own childhood (50’s and 60’s Southern England) as a foreign country.


11 Do you think that anthropology will look at the tribes that now exist in the subcultures of cities?

It’s already doing that.


12 Are there any societies that you wished you had been able to visit in an anthropological capacity?

The real challenge would be ET. That would put all our assumptions, won over millennia of exploration, back in the melting pot.


13 If you have an opportunity to travel without doing fieldwork, where do you like to go to?

I always travelled seeking to find the place where I felt I truly belonged. For me, I discovered it in Indonesia. I love it and feel very much at home there. It’s beautiful, the food is great and the people are the nicest in the world.


14 Which author(s) do you turn to for inspiration?

Nowadays, I’m more a novelist than an anthropologist or a travel writer, so I like to travel in the imagination. For anthropology, it was Claude Levi-Strauss that brought me to the subject though I ended up approaching it from a very different angle than he did. I still feel we have much to learn from his vision of the world and I wrote a piece about that for his hundredth birthday. It appeared under the heading, ‘Levi-Strauss Lives’. Unfortunately, he had died the day before. The best novelistic travel writer is Anthony Burgess who spent years in Malaya and Brunei but with a very novelistic eye. His ‘Malayan Trilogy’ and ‘Earthly Powers’ confront the difficulties of intercultural understanding as well as any anthropology ever did.


15 If you were to recommend three books, what would they be?

‘Earthly Powers’ by Burgess, Totemism’ by Levi-Strauss and ‘Primordial Characters’ by Rodney Needham.


16 What book(s) are you currently reading?

I’ve just finished ‘Pagan Light’ by Jamie James about the place of Capri in the Western imagination and some of the extraordinary characters that it attracted.


17 Do you have a favourite place to write?

At home in London. I’ve always been baffled by authors who go off to the Outer Hebrides or Tierra del Fuego to write. I’ve tried that. You spend two-thirds of the day keeping yourself fed and watered and, after writing two sides, you find you simply cannot write another word until you go and look something up at the British Library or go to one to of the major museums to see something crucial in the flesh. An exotic location is just a distraction. At home, you have everything you need already about you and you just have to have the courage to face the tyranny of the blank page without alibis.


18 Do you have another book in the pipeline?

I’ve just finished a book called’ The Ethnographic Seraglio’ about a 19th century English trader in the Indian Ocean who tried to establish himself in his own kingdom on a desert island with his 14 exotic ‘wives’. It ended badly, but I don’t need to tell you that.


Thank you to Nigel Barley for taking time to answer my questions and to Steph at Eland for arranging it all.


How is the end of the first month already! And it felt so long too. Anyway, the advantage of a long month is that there is more opportunity to read, and this month I excelled myself and managed to finish 20 books. Though to be fair there were a few that I had started right at the end of December.  A few stats first, fourteen of the books that I read were by men, and six by women so that is 30%, a little low that my target. Did read one poetry book too. Nine of the books read were review copies and eleven library books, but none of my own.

So to the books then. First up is John Bew’s biography of the former Labour Leader and Prime Minister Clem Attlee, called Citizen Clem. Thought it was a well written and impartial assessment of  his life, from his inital work in the East End of London with the poor to being deputy Prime Minister in the War to the far-reaching changes that he instigated after World War II. Well worth reading.

I have been a great fan of Ben Aaronovitch’s  Rivers of London Series and have been collecting them too. I have the first four signed and am hoping to meet him again to get the others signed one day. I had got the new Lies Sleeping from the library and as it had been reserved then had to read it and return. It is another enjoyable one in the series, not quite as good as the Furthest Station but still has lots of life left in the series.

Only one fiction book this month, which was All Rivers Run Free by Natasha Carthew. This is a really good dystopian future about a young girl who decides to head back home across a shattered Cornish landscape. Well worth reading.

I didn’t get to read the Baillie Gifford Shortlist before they announced the prize but did finally get to another this month with the final two still reserved from the library. Stephen R. Platt has written an interesting book about the Chinese and British war called Imperial Twilight. It covers the Opium War and events leading up to it and signifies the beginning of the end of China’s Golden Age. I liked it, but it did feel a bit long.

I read three books that don’t really fit in any sort of category, really. Amateur by Thomas Page McBee is about his journey learning to box for a charity match. People have done this in the past, but McBee was a trans man and the people training him didn’t know. Really nicely written book. I had read the Book of Tides a couple of years ago, so was quite pleased to find The World of Tides in the library. This second book by William Thomson is similar to the first, lots of infographics and details on tides and waves around the world. I love books on Language and whenever Paul Anthony Jones (Haggard Hawks) writes one, you know it is going to be good. Around the World in 80 Words doe not disappoint and it will take you around the globe discovering the words that we have pilfered for our own use.


Three books that bridge between landscape and memoir. First up was The Dark Stuff by Donald S. Murray which is a celebration of the worlds peatlands and the story of his growing up next to one. Really enjoyed this. Whitney Brown is an American who ended up in Wales after seeing a man make a drystone wall. Her book, Between Stone And Sky, tells her story of learning to love in the Welsh hillsides. The Old Weird Albion is Justin Hoppers walk back through his family history and at the same time his exploration of the chalk hills that make the South Downs, culminating with him standing on Beachy Head where a family tragedy happened. Slightly surreal and very good.


I read two very different memoirs too. Swell by Jenny Landreth is what she calls a waterbiography. I this she recounts the history of women swimming and the things that they had to overcome to be able to get into the water. In amongst all this, we hear of her own story of swimming. Really enjoyable. It is the tenth year for the Wellcome book prize and I was on the book tour reading one of the books from the first year, called Illness. This book by Havi Carel is a philosophical look at long term illness and it is also a very personal diary of her own illness.


I had been sent a review copy of Vertigo & Ghost by Fiona Benson and it fits with my aim of trying to read at least one poetry book each month. It was quite a challenging read and I prefered the second half of the book to the first. Good though.

I finally finished the last of the Royal Society Books from the shortlist last year, The Beautiful Cure by Daniel Davis. in this he looks at how our immune systems work and how these natural defences keep us alive. The next was a book that my wife wanted to read and after she had read it I thought that I would before it went back to the library. In Inferior, Angela Saini looks at how men and women are different, but also how women have been marginalised in science and life in general. Though it was very well written with some solid evidence behind her findings.


January is always a travel month as it is when the shortlists are announced for the Stanford Travel Writing Awards. If you hadn’t heard, I am an actual judge for one of the shortlists, but first I had been kindly sent the two new  Nigel Barley books and also the first that have all been republished by Eland. They all look magnificent together. The first, The Innocent Anthropologist, takes us to Africa and the Dowayo tribe in Cameroon and his first experience at fieldwork as an anthropologist. In A Plague of Caterpillars, he returns to the same village to see if he can witness a ceremony that only takes place every seven or eight years. His final book from Eland takes him to Indonesia to visit the Sulawesi tribe and he brings them back to London to show their skills off.


Two other travel books this month were The White Darkness a biography of the adventurer, Henry Worsley, and his travels across Antarctica pushing his body to the ultimate limit. The final travel book was one from the Stanford Dolman shortlist, Dancing Bears: True Stories about Longing for the Old Days by Witold Szabłowski and I won’t say any more about this until the winner is announced. Reviews and an interview with Nigel coming soon.


My book of the month was Not a Hazardous Sport. It is really funny and you can see how his writing improved from the first two.

What did you read this month? Did you have a favourite? Let me know in the comments below.

2019 Reading Intentions

I know we are three-quarters of the way through January! I had meant to do this closer to the beginning of the month and even prepared a list of things to write about, but with one thing and another meant that I couldn’t get to it. So here we go.

I only managed to read eight books last year for my The World From My Armchair Challenge which was pathetic. I have though been accumulating books that I am fully intending on reading towards it this year, and have managed two so far in January. Still one of the greatest pleasures of the challenge is finding the books to match against a country, especially when you find an out of print book in a second-hand bookshop. Ones on the list to read this year include:

Facing the Congo
Red Tape and White Knuckles: One Woman’s Motorcycle Journey Through Africa
The Nomad’s Path: Travels in the Sahel
Desert Travels: Motorbike Journeys in the Sahara and West Africa
Warriors: Life And Death Among The Somalis
The Places in Between
Not a Hazardous Sport: Misadventures of an Anthropologist in Indonesia
Hokkaido Highway Blues
In Search of Kazakhstan: The Land That Disappeared
Gatecrashing Paradise: Adventures in the Maldives
Finding George Orwell in Burma
White Mountain: Real and Imagined Journeys in the Himalayas
Elephant Complex: Travels in Sri Lanka
Slow Train to Guantanamo
The Traveller’s Tree: A Journey Through the Caribbean Islands
The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas
Bitter Lemons of Cyprus
Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece
Stamping Grounds: Exploring Liechtenstein and its World Cup Dream
Journey Through Europe
The Way Of The World: Two Men In A Car From Geneva To The Khyber Pass
Sacred Sierra: A Year on a Spanish Mountain
The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind The Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia
Between River and Sea, Encounters in Israel and Palestine
Mirror to Damascus
Voyageur: Across the Rocky Mountains in a Birchbark Canoe
A Pattern of Islands
A Footnote to History Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa
Trawler: A Journey Through the North Atlantic
Sweet Honey, Bitter Lemons
The Edge of the World: A Cultural History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe
Amber, Furs and Cockleshells: Bike Rides with Pilgrims and Merchants
Jungle: A Harrowing True Story of Adventure, Danger and Survival
An Englishman in Patagonia
Living Poor: An American’s Encounter With Ecuador

Staying on the subject of travel books though, I am almost halfway through the shortlists for the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards. This year I am an actual judge so have to finish them before a meeting with the other judges on the 15th February. Need to get a wriggle on!

Last year around 35% of my reading was by female authors and this year I would like to get it closer to 40%, so far it is going well.

I am intending on reading a poetry book each and every month

I want to read more BAME authors this year because we all should and if more people are reading them, then publishers will start to look at their work. A good place to start, especially if you like nature writing, is

Shortlists and longlists to read:


Royal Society,


Ballie Gifford

Arthur C Clarke

Way back in 2017 I had intended to read the remaining Discworld books that I hadn’t read so far. Failed again to do this in 2018, so this year I will be definitely be completing the Discworld ones that I haven’t read, starting with The Last Hero, and then going onto these:

The Wee Free Men
A Hat Full of Sky
Unseen Academicals
I Shall Wear Midnight
Raising Steam
The Shepherd’s Crown

Please feel free to pester me to remind me that I haven’t read any.

I am grateful for every book I receive through the post from publishers, thank you to you all. But I am so behind on my review copies and after I have finished the Standford shortlists aim to make inroads into the seriously large backlog. Also library books, I have far too many, but this is a precious resource that this government seems to be hell-bent on destroying so I feel that we need to use them as much as possible before we lose them. It is my intention to get down to a sensible number of library books (Note, I may have a different number in mind to what Sarah thinks is a sensible number). I really need to read more of my own books that I have bought as I only read 18 in total last year. (Major Tsundoku around the house at the moment!! )

I only read seven science fiction in 2018. That will change as I have a large pile to get through! And some steampunk! This year. I promise. I have even bought two.

Somewhere in the middle of that lot, I will work, play games, watch some telly and even head to the pub every now and again.

What are you reading intentions?

Edward Stanford Travel Writing Award Shortlists

There are Lots of excellent books to read on these shortlists announced today. The scary thing is that I am an official judge for the Stanford Dolman list!:


Ottoman Odyssey: Travels through a Lost Empire by Alev Scott

Lights In The Distance: Exile and Refuge at the Borders of Europe by Daniel Trilling

The Rhine: Following Europe’s Greatest River from Amsterdam to the Alps by Ben Coates

Dancing Bears: True Stories about Longing for the Old Days by Witold Szablowski (translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd Jones)

The Stopping Places: A Journey Through Gypsy Britain by Damian Le Bas

The Immeasurable World: Journeys in Desert Places by William Atkins


Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Ponti by Sharlene Teo

The Madonna of The Mountains by Elise Valmorbida

Woman At Sea by Catherine Poulain

House of Stone by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma


The Secret Surfer by Iain Gately

Kings of the Yukon: An Alaskan River Journey by Adam Weymouth

Up: My Life’s Journey to the Top of Everest by Ben Fogle and Marina Fogle, Mark Fisher (photographer)

Arabia: A Journey Through The Heart of the Middle East by Levison Wood

Around the World in 80 Days: My World Record Breaking Adventure by Mark Beaumont

Me, My Bike and a Street Dog Called Lucy by Ishbel Holmes


Destination: Planet Earth by Jo Nelson, illustrated by Tom Clohosy Cole

Alastair Humphreys’ Great Adventurers by Alastair Humphreys, illustrated by Kevin Ward

Explorers on Witch Mountain by Alex Bell

Atlas of Adventures: Wonders of the World by Ben Handicott, illustrated by Lucy Letherland

Journeys by Jonathan Litton, illustrated by Leo Hartas, Chris Chalik, Jon David and David Shephard

Maps of the United Kingdom by Rachel Dixon and Livi Gosling


The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands by Huw Lewis-Jones

The Hidden Tracks: Wanderlust – Hiking Adventures Off the Beaten Path by Cam Honan

Wonders: Spectacular Moments in Nature Photography by Rhonda Rubinstein and California Academy of Sciences

Maps of London and Beyond by Adam Dant, foreword by The Gentle Author

Escape by Bike: Adventure Cycling, Bikepacking and Touring Off-Road by Joshua Cunningham

The Golden Atlas: The Greatest Explorations, Quests and Discoveries on Maps by Simon & Schuster


Pasta, Pane, Vino: Deep Travels Through Italy’s Food Culture by Matt Goulding

Copenhagen Food: Stories, traditions and recipes by Trine Hahnemann, Photography by Columbus Leth

Shetland: Cooking on the Edge of the World by James & Tom Morton, Photography by Andy Sewell

Black Sea: Dispatches and Recipes – Through Darkness and Light by Caroline Eden

Nightingales and Roses: Recipes from the Persian Kitchen by Maryam Sinaiee

Khazana: Saliha Mahmood Ahmed (Hodder & Stoughton) by Saliha Mahmood Ahmed


The Crossway by Guy Stagg

Step By Step by Jonathan Litton

Thinking on My Feet: The small joy of putting one foot in front of another by Kate Humble

In Extremis: The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin by Lindsey Hilsum

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

Skybound: A Journey In Flight by Rebecca Loncraine

More details on this link:

2018 Books of the Year

2018 has been quite a year for reading really.  Went to two literary prize events, the Wellcome Prize and the Wainwright Prize, was a member of the official panel for the Young Writer award and got the briefest of mentions in the Sunday Times.

I reached the grand total of 200 books for the first time ever, and from those 200 I had twenty-one five star reads. I have featured eleven independent publishers on my blog too, each describing the unique way that they approach publishing books and finding authors who need to have a voice in this modern, multicultural country of ours. On to the books then.


First up are my fiction books. The Gallows Pole and  Beastings. They are both by Benjamin Myers and if you haven’t read them, then you need to read them as soon as possible.

I am an engineer in real life, and Exactly: How Precision Engineers Created The Modern World by Simon Winchester is a considered look at how almost everything that you touch or use has been created by engineers.

With The End In Mind by Kathryn Mannix is a book about a morbid and in modern society and almost taboo subject. This book needs to be read by many more people as Mannix shows that our last days on this planet need not be traumatic nor painful for the people that we are leaving behind.

I have never read Ring of Bright Water (have now got a copy, so it will be read at some point next year). Douglas Botting’s biography of  Gavin Maxwell tells the story of this man and holds no punches with regards to his attitude, flaws and brilliance.

I discovered Patrick Leigh Fermor a few years ago by accident after reading his biography by Artemis Cooper. I have since acquired most of his books and read a fair number of them. The biography of his wife is worth reading too, but I was delighted to receive a copy of The Photographs of Joan Leigh Fermor which is a celebration of her talents as a photographer. Edited and curated by Olivia Stewart & Ian Collins it should be an essential part of any Leigh Fermor’s fans library.


I read a lot of travel books and one essential place for the lover of travel writing to start is Eland. I have read several of theirs this year (and have a big pile still to read!!) but two that were outstanding were Forgotten Kingdom: Nine Years in Yunnan by Peter Goullart and Old Glory by Jonathan Raban. Both are brilliant books by two outstanding authors about two very different places.

Stanza Stones by Simon Armitage is a book about where poetry meets art and landscape. Just a thing of wonder.

I read a lot of natural history books as this is a subject that interests me. The natural world is a place of refuge for a lot of people now days and we all need to take time to get outdoors and walk through woodlands and sit by a river watching the water flow by. The Nature Fix by Florence Williams is a very well-written book with lots of examples of how the natural world can help people with mental health issues.


Two essential reads this year about the state of our natural world are Our Place by Mark Cocker and Wilding by Isabella Tree. The first is the perilous state that our wildlife is in at the moment and even though it is a polemic it should be compulsory reading by anyone with an interest in politics. Wilding is a different spin on the same crisis, in this Isabella tells the story of the decision to stop farming their land intensively and let their land revert to nature once again. They chose low impact animals and let them roam and watched in amazement as species they had never seen there appeared. The changes over a decade are quite staggering.


The next two that I really enjoyed reading were collections of writings from a wide range of authors. Both Ground Work and Cornerstones offer a range of subjects and perspectives from a complete range of authors. Both are good to dip into.


Of all the books that I read over the past twelve months, three soared above the others. Two are from Little Toller and are from their Monograph series. I have been fortunate enough to be sent some of these, but have now acquired the remainder in hardback to complete the collection:

This series is full of contemporary authors and their passions. Eagle Country by Seán Lysaght and Landfill by Tim Dee are fine additions to this and both are brilliant books about very different birds. Seán’s lyrical book is his story of looking for the places that the Golden and Sea Eagles used to live before they were eradicated from the West Coast of Ireland as well as the tentative steps that have been taken to re-introduce them. Landfill is about those chip stealing feathered hooligans that most people call seagulls. It seems to involve Tim spending a disproportionate amount of time at landfill sites spotting the rarities that appear with the more common gulls as well as discovering why gulls have gone from being a coastal bird to an urban bird.  Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear? by Lev Parikian is his story of taking up the hobby of birdwatching again and setting himself the challenge of spotting 200 different species of birds over 12 months. It is a charming and very funny book.


The blurring of landscape, natural history and memoir writing is very common nowadays and there have been lots published this year. Three that are outstanding are Under The Rock by Benjamin Myers, 21st Century Yokel by Tom Cox and The Light In The Dark: A Winter Journal by Horatio Clare. Myers writing is quite something and his descriptions of Scout Rock in Mytholmroyd in West Yorkshire, around where he lives is something else. Tom Cox does unconventional in a very unconventional way and this is his book about all manner of subjects, so if you want to read about cats, scarecrows and hear about his VERY LOUD DAD, this is a good place to begin. Lots of people find the darker nights of autumn and winter very hard to cope with; Horatio Clare is one of those. The Light In The Dark is a diary of how the long nights one winter almost consumed him and how with love from family and friends and the appropriate medical care got him out the other side.

So far I have only mentioned 20 books, which leaves one more which is my Book of 2018.

The Last Wilderness: A Journey into Silence by Neil Ansell is about him returning to the same part of Scotland. Each visit is in a different season and you feel the changes that have happened since he was last there. It feels like a spiritual journey too, as he connects deeply to the landscape each time he visits, but it is tinged with the remorse that he has of no longer being able to hear the birdsong. It is a beautiful book to read, he has a knack of teasing out all that he sees around him into the most exquisite prose.

2018 Book Stats

This past year has been my best ever for reading and I finished 200 books. This was eight more than last year. So here are my stats:

There is a slightly staggering total number of pages – 59181, and my monthly average was 16.7 books and I read this many each month:

January – 16.0

February – 17.0

March – 17.0

April – 20.0

May – 18.0

June – 17.0

July – 15.0

August – 17.0

September – 16.0

October – 18.0

November – 18.0

December – 11.0

Of those 200 books read:

Male Authors – 131

Female Authors – 69 i.e. 35%

I am aiming to get the number of female authors that I read up to nearer 40% in the future.

The split of books read

Review – 109 – 55%

Library – 73 – 37%

Own – 18 – 9%

I really need to read more of my own books that I have bought. (Major Tsundoku around the house at the moment!! )

As I say in my bio, travel and natural history are my favourite reads and this is shown in my totals at the end of the year. I have read more fiction this year thatn in 2017, too.

Genre                          Number of Books Read

Travel                          27

Natural History     27

Fiction                        25

Science                      13

Books                         12

History                     10

Biography               8

Miscellaneous      8

Science Fiction     7

Landscape              7

Fantasy                    5

Memoir                   5

Mental Health    5

Humour                 4

Poetry                    4

Weather               3

Language             3

Woodlands        3

Technology        3

Food                      3

Politics                2

Social History  2

Transport          1

Motorsport      1

True Crime        1

Photography    1

Engineering      1

Economics        1

Architecture    1

Cycling                1

Britain                 1

Dorset                 1

Maths                  1

Spying                 1

Craft                    1

Sport                   1

I read books from a  total of 92 publishers! Which slightly staggered me

Publishers                                       Number of Books Read

Bloomsbury Publishing        10

Canongate                                    8

Gollancz                                         7

Faber & Faber                            6

Unbound                                       6

Vintage                                          6

Eland                                              6

Little Toller                                 6

William Collins                         5

Head of Zeus                             5

Picador                                         5

Elliott & Thompson               5

Jonathan Cape                        5

Ebury Press                              4

Duckworth Overlook         4

Granta                                         4

Penguin                                      4

Doubleday                               3

The AA                                       3

Sandstone Press                  3

4th Estate                                3

Viking                                         2

Allen Lane                                2

National Trust                       2

Oneworld                                2

Transworld                             2

Haus Publishing                  2

Virago                                       2

Patrician Press                    2

Self Published                     2

Bluemoose Books            2

The Bodley Head              2

Hodder & Stoughton      2

Black Swan                           2

Profile Books                      2

John Murray                       2

Rider                                       2

W & N                                     2

Salt Publishing                  2

Bodleian Library              2

Modern Press                   2

Pan Macmillan                 2

W.W. Norton                    1

W&N                                     1

Serpents Tail                     1

Bloodaxe Books              1

Acorn                                    1

Paladin Books                  1

Yale                                       1

Fourth Estate                 1

Enitharmon Press        1

Full Circle                         1

Igloo Books                     1

Galileo Publishers       1

Macmillan                         1

Piatkus                               1

WH Allen                         1

Carcanet Press             1

Eye Books                        1

Profile                                 1

Influx Press                     1

Chatto & Windus        1

Dovecote Press            1

Random House            1

Yale Press                       1

Hamish Hamilton       1

Ikon Books                     1

Harvard University   1

Boxtree                           1

Constable                    1

Michael Joseph        1

Saraband                     1

WF Howes                1

Aurum Press            1

British Library        1

September Books  1

Yellow Jersey Press 1

Short Books            1

Bodleian Library    1

Simon & Schuster  1

Particular Books     1

Square Peg                1

Harvill Secker         1

Ballentine                 1

Orion                          1

I.B. Tauris                 1

Quadrille                 1

Tinder                       1

Scribner                  1

Titan Books          1

Nicholas Brealey 1

TOR                           1


Favourite 2018 Book Covers

These are my favourite covers of the books that I have read over the course of 2018. They are in no particular order, more of a celebration of the importance that the cover of a book has to get noticed in a bookshop or library when people are browsing. The use of foil blocking on them makes some of these below, sparkle and glisten, so do take a moment to find them as the images are a pale shadow of the actual covers.


Much Anticipated 2019 Releases

I have been through all the catalogue that I can lay my hands on and these are the books that I am most looking forward to reading next year. I even have a couple of them already! Any take your fancy?



Burning The Sky: Project Argus, The Most Dangerous Scientific Experiment In History by David Sumpter

Around The World In 80 Trains: A 45,000-Mile Adventure by Monisha Rajesh

A Vicious Wonderland: Travels In Burma by David Eimer

Mudlarking: In Search Of London’s Past Along The River Thames by Lara Maiklem

Coastal Britain: England And Wales – Celebrating The History, Heritage And Wildlife Of Britain’s Shores by Stuart Fisher

Tracking The Highland Tiger: In Search Of Scottish Wildcats by Marianne Taylor

The Gentle Art Of Tramping by Stephen Graham

Mountain Man: 446 Mountains. Six Months. One Record-Breaking Adventure by James Forrest

Take The Slow Road: England And Wales by Martin Dorey

Clearing The Air: The Beginning And The End Of Air Pollution by Tim Smedley

Superheavy: Making And Breaking The Periodic Table by Kit Chapman

Skateboarding And The City: A Complete History by Iain Borden

The Wind At My Back: A Cycling Life by Paul Maunder


Bodley Head

Now We Have Your Attention: Inside The New Politics by Jack Shenker

In Praise Of Walking by Shane O’Mara



Salt On Your Tongue: Women And The Sea by Charlotte Runcie

Quicksand Tales: The Misadventures Of Keggie Carew by Keggie Carew

When: The Scientific Secrets Of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink

The Chronology Of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch

Unspeakable: The Things We Cannot Say by Harriet Shawcross

London Made Us: A Memoir Of A Shape-Shifting City by Robert Elms

Outpost by Dan Richards

The Story Of Looking by Mark Cousins

A Human’S Guide To The Cosmos by Jo Marchant



A Road For All Seasons by Harry Bucknall

A Walk Across The Rooftops by Dom Joly


Ebury Press

Earth From Space: Epic Stories Of The Natural World by Michael Bright And Chloe Sarosh

I Never Knew That About Coastal England by Christopher Winn

This Nation’s Saving Grace by Stuart Maconie



The Innocent Anthropologist: Notes From A Mad Hat by Nigel Barley

A Plague Of Caterpillars: A Return To The African Bush by Nigel Barley

Not A Hazardous Sport: Misadventures Of An Anthropologist In Indonesia by Nigel Barley


Faber & Faber

The Universe Speaks In Numbers: How Modern Maths Reveals Nature’s Deepest Secrets by Graham Farmelo

All Together Now: One Man’s Walk In Search Of His Father And A Lost England by Mike Carter



The Shadow Captain by Alastair Reynolds



The Way To The Sea: The Forgotten Histories Of The Thames Estuary by Caroline Crampton

Choked: The Age Of Air Pollution And The Fight For A Cleaner Future by Beth Gardiner

Not Working: Why We Have To Stop by Josh Cohan

Island Song by Madeline Bunting


Hamish Hamilton

Underland by Robert Macfarlane

Irreplaceable: The Fight To Save Our Wild Places by Julian Hoffman


Head Of Zeus

Cage Of Souls by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Money For Nothing: The South Sea Bubble And The Invention Of Modern Capitalism by Thomas Levenson

The Royal Society And The Invention Of Modern Science by Adrian Tinniswood

The Book Of Kells by Victoria Whitworth by Female by

The Making Of Walnut Tree Farm by Rufus Deakin And Titus Rowlandson



The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things And How To Avoid Them by David Robson

The Science of Fate: Why Your Future Is More Predictable Than You Think by Dr Hannah Critchlow

The Supernavigators: How Creatures, Great And Small, Find Their Way by David Barrie


Icon Books

Six Impossible Things by John Gribbin

ArtArtificialtelligence by Yorik Wilks

Survellience Valley by Yasha Levine

Beyond Coincidence by Martin Plimmer & Brian King

The Big Ones by Lucy Jones

The Spy In Moscow Station by Eric Haseltine


Influx Press

Mothlight by Adam Scovell

Built On Sand by Paul Scraton


Jo Fletcher

Lost Acre by Andrew Caldecott


John Murray

The Human Tide: How Population Shaped The Modern World by Paul Morland

The Stonemason: An Insider’s History Of Britain’s Buildings by Andrew Ziminski

Unthinkable: An Extraordinary Journey Through The World’s Strangest Brains by Helen Thomson

The Brief Life Of Flowers by Fiona Stafford


Jonathan Cape

Time Song: Searching For Doggerland by Julia Blackburn


Little Toller

Woods Of The Helford River by Oliver Rackham

Living With Trees by Robin Walter


Little, Brown

Cold Warriors by Duncan White



The Warship by Neal Asher

Children Of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I Spy: My Life In MI5 by Tom Marcus by Male


Michael Joseph

The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea

A History Of Britain In 12 Maps by Philip Parker



Weirder Maths At The Edge Of The Possible by David Darling And Agnijo Banerjee

The Way Home: Tales Of A Life Free From Technology by Mark Boyle



The Rosewater Insurrection by Tade Thompson



Agency by William Gibson by Male

A Fistful Of Shells: West Africa From The Rise Of The Slave Trade To The Age Of Revolution by Toby Green

The Demon In The Machine by Paul Davies by Male

Humble Pi: A Comedy Of Maths Errors by Matt Parker

Upheaval: How Nations Cope With Crises (Or Don’t) by Jared Diamond

Licence To Be Bad: How Economics Corrupted Us by Jonathan Aldred



Nature’s Mutiny: How The Little Ice Age Transformed The West And Shaped The Present by Philipp Blom



Chasing The Sun: How The Science Of Sunlight Shapes Our Bodies And Minds by Linda Geddes

A Farmer’s Diary A Year At High House Farm by Sally Urwin

Keirin: War On Wheels: Inside Japan’s Cycling Subculture by Justin Mccurry

The Forager’s Calendar: A Seasonal Guide To Nature’s Wild Harvests

Working With Nature Saving And Using The World’s Wild Places by Jeremy Purseglove



Empty Planet by Darrell Bricker & John Ibbitson

10 Women Who Changed Science, And The World by Catherine Whitlock & Rhodri Evans

All The Ghosts In The Machine by Elaine Kasket

Talking To Robots by David Ewing Duncan


Square Peg

Wild London by Sam Hodges And Sophie Vickers

How To Catch A Mole: And Find Yourself In Nature by Marc Hamer


The Bodley Head

Origins: How The Earth Made Us by Lewis Dartnell by Male



Sunfall by Jim Al-Khalili

Still Water: Reflections On The Deep Life Of The Pond by John Lewis-Stempel



Walking: One Step At A Time by Erling Kagge



Out Of The Woods by Luke Turner

Syria’s Secret Library by Mike Thomson

Monthly Muse – November

How is it December already? Time is definitely speeding up each and every year.  Anyway, you’re here for the books really. On the 19th November, I was supposed to be heading up into London to meet with the others on the shadow panel for The Sunday Times / Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award, in association with The University of Warwick. Except, thanks to Network Rail overrunning on engineering works, there were no trains running. I thought I was going to be on the 7.40 and there was nothing until the first train came through at 9.40. Missed the meeting and have to participate over the phone! It was a close thing and we picked a winner which you can read about here.

Every year I participate in the Good Reads reading challenge. I set mine to 190 every year and normally complete it with a few days to spare. This year for the first time ever I finished a month early:

I think that I might crack the 200 for the first time ever. On to what I read last month. For those of you that don’t know, November for bloggers is often Non-Fiction November where people expand their reading from fiction into the wonderful world of non-fiction. I read a lot of non-fiction and in a certain irony, I ended up reading seven fiction books this month! But we will start with a book on cities by Darran Anderson called Imaginary Cities. In this, he roams through space, time and possibility, mapping cities of sound, melancholia and the afterlife, where time runs backwards or which float among the clouds. I quite liked it, but I did have some reservations.

Read one on cycling as I was meeting a publicist who I was going to pass it to after I had read it. William Manners book, Revolution: How the Bicycle Reinvented Modern Britain is about the Victorian craze on cycling and how this simple =, efficient machine changed society. Really enjoyable and had some amazing period photos.
These are the fiction books that I read, two were for the Young writer’s award. I read The Word For Woman Is Wilderness as I was going to hear Abi talk at the Bridport Literary Festival. The Maltese Falcon was a book group read and the others were some that I had been sent as someone thought that I might be interested in. Quite a varied selection, but I think my favourite of those was Elmet closely followed by Upstate.
Apart from road atlases, not many people think of the AA as a publisher of books but they have a small and varied selection of other books that they bring out each year. Bognor and Other Regises: A Potted History of Britain in 100 Royal Places by Caroline Taggart is one of those books. It is an interesting read of 100 places around the UK that have some royal significance. One for your regal aficionado.
I wasn’t quite sure how to categorise Morning by Alan Jenkins, so it got dropped into my miscellaneous books. This is his call to persuade people that rising early can be a wonderful thing. It is made up from interviews with others that are up at the crack of sparrows and a diary of his early mornings. I really liked it in the end.
Managed to read four natural history books this month:
John Lewis-Stempel needs no introduction, twice winner of the Wainwright prize and one of the UK’s top Natural History writers at the moment, this short book is a eulogy to the oak. I had read Susan Casey’s book on Waves and found Voices In The Ocean: A Journey Into The Wild And Haunting World Of Dolphins at the library. Not quite as good as Waves, none the less it is a fascinating guide to the sparklingly intelligent dolphins.  Wilding: The Return Of Nature To A British Farm is the story of Isabella Tree and her husband’s farm after they decided to stop farming it intensively and let the natural world return. An excellent book, as well as showing how much impact even small effects can have. The Hedgehog Handbook by Sally Coulthard is about one of the nation’s favourite mammals that is suffering a catastrophic collapse in numbers and how doing simple things can help it.
I don’t read many poetry books, but this I saw on Twitter and my library had a copy. Stanza Stones is Simon Armitage’s project to bring poetry to the Pennines. This place is raw and elemental and his worth with Pip hall to carve beautiful poems into ancient rocks through the patina and grime is a wonderful thing.
I have two teenage daughters and one son who will become a teenager next year. They are wonderful in their own way, but can also be challenging at times. Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life Of The Teenage Brain  Science by Sarah-Jayne Blakemore and the winner of the Royal Society Prize this year, is a summary of her work looking at how the teenage brain is very different from children’s and adult brains. Very interesting and explains a lot!
The final book to mention this month was the final one for the Young Writers Award and was Kings of the Yukon: An Alaskan River Journey by Adam Weymouth. This tells his journey down the Yukon River in a canoe, meeting the people who inhabit this wilderness and following the trail of King Salmon to the mouth of the river. An accomplished debut travel book and well worth reading.
So that was it. Eighteen books. Any of those that you have read? Or take your fancy?
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