An embarrassment of Richards

Running a Charles Darwin fansite, I’ve received plenty of very odd emails over the years. But none quite so odd as the recent request from ceramicist Jo Pearl for me to pose for a series of tiny sculptures inspired by Charles Darwin’s book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. How could I possibly say no to that?

Six Selfies
Yours Truly expressing a gamut of emotions from A to B.
‘Emotional Field 2’ by Jo Pearl
Emotional Field 2 by Jo Pearl

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).

Be there, or wear flares!

Introducing Sidelines

In issue 15 of my ‘Rich Text’ newsletter, I wrote:

[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:

A face for radio

Radio interview
“Erm… I mean, erm…”

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!

The appearance of my child

‘I am infinitely pleased & proud at the appearance of my child.’

Charles Darwin, writing from just below a Yorkshire moor to his publisher, John Murray, 3rd Nov 1859, on receiving his first copy of On the Origin of Species.

I finally know the feeling, Charles.

This afternoon, I received my proof copy of On the Moor:

‘On the Moor’ proof

Not quite as ground-breaking as On the Origin of Species, perhaps, but no reason to be any less pleased or proud.

Feedback sought: Potential covers for my book

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?

Sample cover 1
Cover 1
On the Moor sample cover 2
Cover 2
On the Moor sample cover 3
Cover 3
On the Moor sample cover 4
Cover 4
On the Moor sample cover 5
Cover 5

Please feel free to leave your feedback in the comments below, or you can email me, or post comments on Facebook or Twitter.


Going physical

The popular Caught by the River website held a poetry and prose event at Machpelah Mill, Hebden Bridge, on Saturday 21st January 2017. As previously reported, I had agreed to exhibit a small selection of prints from my Hebden’s Other Bridges photo-project.

My photos
Before the doors opened.

I can’t speak for anyone else present, but it was personally most satisfying to see a collection of my own photographs hanging next to each other along a wall. In this increasingly digital age, we tend to view photos on our computer-screens and phones these days—which is fantastic, but you still can’t beat a traditional 18"x12" print made out of actual physical atoms.


It was also most satisfying finally to chat face-to-face with the physical versions of several people I’d previously only spoken with electronically, including a number of the Caught by the River crew, and the writers Ben Myers, Adelle Stripe, and Amy Liptrot.

Ben Myers and Adelle Stripe
Ben Myers and Adelle Stripe.
Adelle Stripe reading
Adelle Stripe reading.

My lasting impression of the day will be, what an awfully nice bunch of people! But it was Hebden Bridge, after all, so what else should I have expected? A yoga laughter session upstairs, you say? Strange you should mention that…

One day my prints did come!

A year later than originally planned, I’ll be putting on my first photo-exhibition next weekend. Nothing too grand; just a dozen images.

It all started in July 2015, when Jeff from Caught by the River emailed to say he would be visiting Hebden Bridge the following week, and could we meet for a beer? It turned out he’d spotted a passing tweet about my project to photograph the bridges in the local area—Hebden’s non-eponymous Bridges, so to speak. Jeff was amused by the idea and wondered whether I’d like to put on some sort of exhibition as part of a Caught by the River event in Hebden Bridge the following January. Of course I said yes.

Then came the disastrous Boxing Day floods that devastated much of the Calder Valley, and the event was postponed. A couple of months back, Jeff contacted me again to say there was to be a Caught by the River poetry and prose event in Hebden Bridge on 21st January, and would I still like to show some photos? Of course I said yes again.

Then the dithering began. How best to display twelve decent-sized photos at a reasonable price? Getting them framed would be too expensive for such a brief event, and would would mean damaging the venue’s walls to hang them. After faffing about for a couple of weeks, not sure what to do, I eventually hit upon the obvious idea of asking my local photographic printers if they had any suggestions.

Like many other businesses in Hebden Bridge, Print Bureau was badly flooded at the end of 2015, but has now recovered—and, indeed, expanded. They suggested a number of different solutions to my problem, and I quickly identified a winner: my prints would be mounted on a semi-rigid foam backing, then laminated. A cheap, light-weight, and durable solution. I have to admit, I was wary of having my prints laminated, but lamination technology seems to have moved on in leaps and bounds, the matt laminate they use being practically invisible.

I should also admit that I geeked-out over all of Print Bureau’s high-tech print-production apparatus. So much so that I asked Jamie Flear to take some photos as my prints were being processed and mounted:

Print preview
Previewing the prints.

Print roll
The images are printed on a long, continuous roll. (I'm already imagining the panoramas I might produce.)

The prints are mounted on semi-rigid foam.

…and trimmed before being laminated.

I picked up my finished prints last week, and am very pleased with the results:

Prints unwrapped
Unwrapping my prints.

Hebden's Other Bridges
My photo-book ‘Hebden's Other Bridges’ is available to order online.
More info | Buy | Preview

Year of Getting Stuff Out There

I’ve decided to make 2017 my Year Of Getting Stuff Out There (catchy acronym: YOGSOT).

The words ‘stuff’ and ‘there’ are deliberately vague to allow me some leeway. But I aim to keep publishing my work throughout the year, be it individual photographs, reviews, newsletters, articles, or more ambitious projects.

I’ve got off to an uncharacteristically flying start by having a slightly amended form of my Caught by the River article about my ‘Hebden’s Other Bridges’ photo-project published in the January 2017 edition of Dalesman magazine. And I’ve agreed to put on a small exhibition of my bridges photos for a Caught by the River poetry and prose event in Hebden Bridge on 21st January.

High on my list of priorities for this new year will be (finally) to publish my book On the Moor in both ebook, and more traditional dead-tree-book formats. Then I plan to begin work on my next book.

Of course, I fully appreciate that every year needs to be a Year Of Getting Stuff Out There, but we all have to start somewhere.

Watch this space…

Announcing my new photobook, ‘Hebden's Other Bridges’

I'm delighted to announce that my photo-book Hebden's Other Bridges is now available to purchase online.

The book arose from a personal project to photograph the many bridges in the Hebden Bridge area.

Migrant waders anthology

I'm delighted to have provided an article for a new anthology about wading birds from Dunlin Press.

As you might expect, my article involves a walk on my beloved Moor, there's a bit of science, and Charles Darwin makes an appearance.

‘The Migrant Waders’ poster 3
Migrant Waders poster