Occasionally Asked Questions
Who are you?
I am 75% English, 25% Greek Cypriot, 100% European and 0% European Union. I share 96% of my genetic material with chimpanzees and 60% with bananas. I am descended from the Viking Earls of the Orkney Isles. I live with my English-Punjabi wife and our two children in the west of Ireland, where 85% of the men are descended from eastern Mediterranean farmers.
I’m a writer. I mainly write novels, poetry and essays.
Tell me about your writing
My non-fiction takes deep dives into big questions about how we might live in a world losing its cultural and ecological bearings at a rapid rate.
My fiction is mythological, otherworldly and multilayered, and is aimed at adults with at least one underworld journey under their belts.
My books so far, in publication order, are:
One No, Many Yeses (2003) A global anti-capitalist travelogue.
Real England (2008) A journey through my home country as it changed, for the worse, in the face of economic globalisation.
Kidland, and other poems (2011) My first poetry collection.
The Wake (2014) My first novel, set during the Norman Conquest of England and written in its own language. It was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, won the Gordon Burn Prize and got near some other gongs too.
Beast (2016) My second novel. A man goes searching for truth on a wild moor and finds more than he bargains for.
Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist (2017) A collection of non-fiction essays exploring the state of the world as ecosystems, economies and assumptions collapse around us.
Songs from the Blue River (2018) My second poetry collection.
My journalism has appeared in a cacophony of places, including the Guardian, Independent, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Le Monde Internationale, New Statesman, Big Issue, Adbusters, Emergence, Orion, BBC Wildlife and the London Review of Books.
What is your writing about?
It’s been said that every writer spends their life telling the same story over and over again, in different forms. My story is the link between people and places, and what the ongoing breaking of that link means for our world and for our souls. It is also about the ongoing destruction of the world’s wild beauty, and our fatal severance from the non-human world.
Have you done anything besides write?
In the late 1990s, I was deputy editor of The Ecologist magazine for three years.
In 2004, after working undercover in the occupied tribal territories of West Papua, New Guinea, I co-founded the Free West Papua Campaign, which I helped to run for several years. It campaigns for freedom for the people of West Papua from occupation by both the Indonesian military and extractive multinational corporations. I was made an honorary member of the Lani tribe in Papua for my work there.
In 2009, I co-founded the Dark Mountain Project, a writers’ and artists’ movement designed to question the stories our culture is telling itself in a time of ecological and social unravelling. What began as a self-published pamphlet became a global network of writers, artists and thinkers, publishing books and running events. I ws a director of Dark Mountain before stepping back in 2017.
In 2018, I founded The Wyrd School, a peripatetic writing academy. We run courses which bring writers, and others, into contact with the non-human world, and help them create living art from the resulting sparks.
Through the Wyrd School I also run a manuscript assessment and mentoring service for writers.
I am also currently a contributing editor at Orion magazine.
Where are you coming from politically?
I have never found a tribe that I would want to be part of. But here are some things I believe.
I believe that the global industrial economy – what William Cobbet called ‘the Thing’, but what we might equally simply call the human empire – is destroying the life support systems of the Earth itself, razing and homogenising the mosaic of human cultures and increasingly using humans as fodder in a techno-industrial machine which may one day supplant us. This is known as ‘progress’. Its cultural arm, individualist liberalism, is meanwhile engaged in stripping all meaning, truth and traditional support structures from our lives, in a headlong plunge towards what looks to be a glorified nihilism disguised as liberation.
In opposition to this, I believe in a healthy suspicion of entrenched power, whether it is entrenched in leaders, states or corporations; decentralisation of economics, politics and culture; connection to land, nature and heritage; an attention to matters of the spirit; heterodox tolerance, freedom of expression and an appreciation of beauty. Hell, a man can dream.
What rude names have you been called?
I’m building a collection. Over the years, I’ve been called an anarchist, reactionary, communist, left-wing oikophile, crazy collapsitarian, woolly liberal, nativist, cave-dweller, Luddite, Romantic, doomer, nihilist, fascist and – my favourite – ‘lower middle-class eco toff.’
I am happy with all of these, and hope to collect more. I would like to be remembered as a writer who meets George Orwell’s description of Charles Dickens: ‘a free intelligence, a type hated with equal hatred by all the smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls.’
Name some of your inspirations
George Orwell, Mohandas Gandhi, G. K. Chesterton, William Cobbett, William Blake, William Wordsworth, Rumi, Gerard Winstanley, Black Elk, Emily Bronte, D. H. Lawrence, Lao Tzu, Subcomandante Marcos, Leo Tolstoy, Hereward the Wake, Henry Thoreau, Annie Dillard, Han Shan, Leonard Cohen, John Cleese, Emily Dickinson, Bruce Dickinson, E. F. Schumacher, Shunryu Suzuki, Bruno Manser and my children.
Are there any profiles or interviews of you which will tell me more?
This profile of me, written by Daniel Smith, ran in the New York Times magazine in 2014.
This one, by Erica Wagner, was published in the New Statesman in 2016.
Here’s another, by Peter Ross, from the Boston Review in 2017.
And here is a perceptive overview of me and my work, from The Nation.
These things are always strange. They take parts of their subject and look at them through a magnifying glass. They’re not wrong, but they are always partial.
Are you on social media?
Social media is like a giant communal toilet that everyone keeps shitting into and nobody ever takes responsibilty for cleaning. My one concession to it is this low-key Facebook page.
I write an irregular but thrilling email newsletter to my readers, containing news about my writing and upcoming work. You can sign up for that here.
If you would like to support my work and my future writing, I have a Patreon page. J. K. Rowling is hoovering up all the money in publishing and the rest of us need to eat.
How do I contact you?
My contact details are here.