2ND NOVEMBER 2018
I’ve been immersed in research and writing since my last newsletter. Well, semi-immersed, at least. Darwin-related stuff for my next book, mostly. I’d forgotten just how much I enjoy research. Finding stuff out is fun. My approach is uncharacteristically haphazard: I pick a topic that sounds interesting, begin to delve into it, but allow myself to become easily distracted, wandering off on all sorts of diversions. Those of you who’ve read On the Moor will no doubt recognise traces of my research technique in my finished work. Subjects I’ve been delving into lately include foxgloves, pollination, pigeons, and dogs. Oh, and while I was finally getting to the bottom of a dubious anecdote about Darwin, I ended up transcribing a previously unpublished ‘autobiographical fragment’ by his daughter Henrietta. Then, to cap it all, I gave a shambolic, rambling interview about Darwin’s captain aboard HMS Beagle, Robert FitzRoy.
It’s early days with my Darwin book, and I still haven’t quite found my voice, but I’m sure I’ll get there in the end. In the meantime, to 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.
Some stuff I thought worth sharing:
A milestone in history revitalised
A charming short video about Rowan Denton, a man whose hobby is refurbishing the mile markers which dot the byways and towpaths around here in Yorkshire.
Anthea Bell, ‘magnificent’ translator of Asterix and Kafka, dies aged 82
I was saddened to hear of the death of the wonderful translator Anthea Bell. I devoured Asterix books as a child, but it was only as an adult that I began to appreciate just how clever her translations were. They brilliantly adapted the French children’s books for a British (adult) sense-of-humour, incorporating clever puns galore. The fact that she later translated W.G. Sebald was just the icing on the cake, as far as I was concerned.
A lovely idea for a continuing photo-project. Over the next few years, Alex Ingram plans to re-visit remote UK islands, spending more time with the wardens who have chosen to spend their lives there.
A group of academics has produced an interactive, online map of Britain’s ancient hillforts. (Meanwhile, Ramiro Gómez has produced a far simpler, but strangely compelling map showing all the pubs in Britain and Ireland—and nothing else.)
Hundreds of previously undiscovered ancient oak trees have been found in the English countryside
This interesting article explains the likely historical reasons why England has more ancient oak trees than rest of Europe combined.
It’s been a wondeful few months for re-discovering old ships. Captain Cook’s HMS Endeavour might have been found in US; high-resolution geo-radar has detected a Viking ship in Norway; and the world’s oldest intact shipwreck has been discovered in the Black Sea.
A characteristically thoughtful video by photographer Sean Tucker, about how you should stop comparing your own endeavours unfavourably with those of people much better than you. Instead, you should compare your latest work with your other recent work. The important thing is to keep improving.
by Mark Cocker
An important book, but a depressing read. For a nation that prides itself on its love of the natural world, we Brits have let things slip in our own backyard. Things are far worse than they seem. Our green and pleasant land is struggling, and we are to blame.
In My Mind’s Eye
by Jan Morris
A gentle book by the veteran writer. It comprises 188 short diary entries, covering all manner of topics, ranging from the former British Empire to getting the car valeted, from model ships to observing passers-by from a local tea shop.
All Among the Barley
by Melissa Harrison
This initially seems to be a simple tale of country folk going about their business in early 1930s East Anglia. There are cart-horses and scythes and hayricks and corncrakes. It all seems very idyllic. But therein lies the assumption challenged by this enjoyable novel.
Apologies for the delay in getting this latest newsletter out there, but, as I say, I’ve been at least semi-immersed in my Darwin book. I’ll try not to take quite so long next time.
As always, I welcome any feedback about this newsletter. It can only improve if I know what people like about it, and what they don’t.
Have a fab November.