The above piece is part of Jo’s installation of ceramic heads, currently on display at her degree show at Central St Martins (University of the Arts, London) until this Sunday (23rd June 2019). Opening hours are 12–8pm (12–6pm on Sunday).
[T]o keep my juices flowing, I’ve begun writing regular short pieces about things I’ve seen, or stuff I’ve been thinking. I’m steadfastly refusing to call this a ‘Diary’, and it certainly won’t replace my Writing Journal. So, for want of a better name, I’ve decided to call these short pieces Sidelines: lines that I write on the side, so to speak. I suppose they should rightly have been blog posts, but I’m finding writing stuff without the pressure of intended publication rather liberating. Who knows, perhaps some of my Sidelines might make it out into the wider world some day. It seems a shame to write stuff and not put it out there.
Since the newsletter went out, I’ve continued to write my Sidelines, and I’ve continued to wonder what on earth (if anything) I should do with them.
I meant it when I said writing without the pressure of intended publication was liberating. And I definitely don’t want to get into the blogging mindset, publishing each new sideline as soon as it’s written, then moving on. I much prefer to mull things over for a while, and to tinker.
So, by way of experiment, I’ve decided to try publishing my Sidelines retrospectively, in batches, as and when I feel ready to put them out there. I’m thinking, most likely, of publishing them once a month for the month just gone—although this might well change.
Obviously, I have a bit of catching up to do. So, without further ado, let me take you back six months to my very first Sidelines:
I took part in a unique (to me) and bizarre exercise earlier this week, when I was interviewed for a ‘radio’ documentary. I put the word radio in scare-quotes, because the documentary will actually comprise the dissertation of a masters student studying Radio at the University of Sunderland.
The subject of the documentary is Robert FitzRoy, descendant of Charles II, captain of HMS Beagle, friend of Charles Darwin, surveyor, religious fundamentalist, inventor of the weather forecast, Governor of New Zealand, suicide, and a bunch of other stuff. Robert FitzRoy was an interesting chap.
I’m relieved to say the documentary will include contributions from a number of interviewees, so will not rely entirely on my shambolic, rambling contribution. No, this is not my incorrigible, self-deprecating modesty kicking in: I really was dreadful. Performing live has never been my forté; I much prefer to work asynchronously, brainstorming ideas, getting them down in draft, tweaking them to within an inch of their lives, then tweaking them a whole lot more.
I dare say giving interviews is something you get better at with practice. I used to be pretty dreadful at reading out loud, but improved dramatically when writing On the Moor, having discovered that reading your writing out loud is by far the best way to work out what’s wrong with it. But I reckon I’d have to go through a hell of a lot of interviews before the shambolic rambling turns into something half-usable.
Still, though, at least I know what to expect next time—in the unlikely event there ever is a next time!
158 years ago today saw the publication of my hero Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Darwin was staying on the edge of Ilkley Moor at the time, just 13 miles as the curlew flies from where I type these words.
What better excuse could I possibly need for choosing today to launch my own medium opus inspired by another Yorkshire moor…
On the Moor shows how a routine walk in the countryside is enhanced by an appreciation of science, history, and natural history. It covers an eclectic mix of topics, with each chapter being inspired by something I encountered or was thinking about during one of my regular walks over the last 25 years on the Moor above my home. These topics include:
Charles Darwin’s weird experiments and ailments;
the 17th-century skeptic Sir Thomas Browne;
Bronze Age burials;
evolution’s kludgy compromises;
where Earth got its water;
the mapping of Great Britain;
Scott of the Antarctic;
how to define a species;
Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath;
the Laws of Thermodynamics;
why the sky is blue (and sunsets red);
the Greenhouse Effect;
the songs of skylarks;
the best way to cook a wheatear.
…Oh, and there’s even a plane crash!
I appreciate I’m a bit biased, but I think you’ll like it.
But don’t feel you have to take my word for it. Here’s what nature writer Neil Ansell had to say about On the Moor:
Richard Carter’s fascinating exploration of his local grouse-moor in West Yorkshire digs deep into natural history, human history, prehistory, and the history of science. His writing is grounded, insightful, and frequently hilarious, and he shows how falling in love with your own local patch can be a gateway to the whole world.
I’ve been experimenting with some different cover designs for On the Moor. I’d be interested in hearing any feedback you might have. The advice from Amazon is to use big text on the cover, so it can still be read when reduced to a minuscule thumbnail image in their store.
I don’t consider any of these potential covers to be finished yet, but I’ll be very interested to hear what you think. In particular, which, if any, of these covers might tempt you to take a peek inside the book to find out more?
Please feel free to leave your feedback in the comments below, or you can email me, or post comments on Facebook or Twitter.