Occasionally Asked Questions
Could you puff yourself up in a few paragraphs of third person prose, please?
Certainly. Paul was born in the early 1970s, and grew up in the suburbs of the English southeast. In the early 1990s, he got in to Oxford University to study history, which surprised him. While he was there, he became involved in the road protest movement, and through that in green politics and activism, which determined the course of his life for a long time.
After graduating, Paul worked for a year on the staff of the Independent newspaper, which he hated. Following a three year stint as a campaign writer for an environmental NGO, he was appointed deputy editor of The Ecologist.
He left the Ecologist in 2001 to write his first book One No, Many Yeses, a political travelogue which explored the growing anti-capitalist movement around the world. The book was published in 2003 by Simon and Schuster, in six languages across 13 countries.
In the early 2000s, having spent time with the tribal people of West Papua, who continue to be brutally colonised by the Indonesian government and military, he was one of the founders of the Free West Papua Campaign, which he also helped to run for a time. Paul was made an honorary member of the Lani tribe in Papua for his work there.
Paul’s second book, Real England, was published in 2008 by Portobello. An exploration of the changing face of his home country in an age of globalisation, the book was quoted in speeches by the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury and saw its author compared to Cobbett and Orwell by more than one newspaper, which he enjoyed.
Are you showing off?
A bit. In 2009, Paul dreamed up and launched 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 has become a global network of writers, artists and thinkers, publishing two books a year and running events around the world.
In 2011, Paul’s first poetry collection, Kidland, was published by Salmon. He has won various prizes for his poetry, including the 2012 Wenlock Prize.
In 2014, Paul’s first novel, The Wake was published. It was longlisted for the Man Booker, the Desmond Elliott and the Folio Prizes, nearly won the Goldsmiths Prize and did actually win the Gordon Burn Prize and the Bookseller Book of the Year Award. In 2015, it was published in the US by Graywolf Press.
Paul second novel, Beast, was published in July 2016 by Faber and Faber.
Paul’s journalism has appeared in all sorts of places, including in the Guardian, Independent, Daily Telegraph, Daily Express, Le Monde, New Statesman, New Internationalist, Big Issue, Adbusters, BBC Wildlife and the London Review of Books. He has appeared on various TV and radio programmes, most shamefully ‘This Morning with Richard and Judy.’
In 2017, Faber published Paul’s first essay collection, Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist.
That was longer than I expected. What’s the gist?
Paul is a writer. He has …
You can use the first person now, if you like.
Thanks. I’m a writer, mainly. Looking back on my work over the last twenty years or so, I see that my writing is primarily about two things: connection and loss. The connections are those between people and places, people and power, people and nature. In the modern West we have built (or, more likely, accidentally slid into over time) a strange culture of disconnection: increasingly cut off from nature, from our history and provenance, from each other, from the wild reality outside the bubble of our civilisation. We have built a culture of consumer isolation, and I am haunted by the losses which this has brought about. I want to know what has been lost, what is left, what it means.
What are your politics?
I am left wing. That is to say that I have an instinctive suspicion of authority, a sympathy with the underdog and a real, if sometimes awkwardly expressed, compassion for any people or creatures who seem to be under the thumb. In short, I like things to be fair. I don’t like capitalism, because capitalism is like a tank – it’s warm and safe if you’re on the inside, but hellish if you’re standing in its way. Also, I don’t like the cupidity, greed and vulgarity that the system fosters.
I am also right wing. That is to say that I have a strong connection to place and nature, a sense of obligation and community, a belief in individual genius (not mine), and a lot of sympathy with the notion that we are all products of tradition and time, and can learn from both. I dislike the state as much as I dislike the corporation, I am deeply suspicious of the march of technological ‘progress’, and I think that liberal individualism in the West is shading into nihilism.
I’m not sure what this makes me. Over the years I’ve been called an anarchist, a Tory, a communist, a liberal, a nihilist, a romantic, a misanthrope, a utopian, a crazy collapsitarian, a left wing oikophile, a deep green reactionary, a fascist and – my favourite – a ‘lower middle-class eco-toff’. I’m sure there are some other names I have forgotten.
I used to be a political obsessive. These days, I tend to see what we call ‘politics’ as a slightly more respectable form of primate tribalism: a means of clumsily rationalising deep psychic impulses and then fighting about them. There is very little that is more fruitless than this kind of behaviour. You’re more likely to find truth in science, poetry or the caves of a desert hermit, and I’d suggest you look in all those places first.
Are you religious?
I’m a Zen Buddhist. That may or may not answer your question. Here is another answer, in case it doesn’t.
Has anyone ever written a great big profile of you for a a major media outlet?
Curiously, yes. This profile of me, written by Daniel Smith, ran in the New York Times magazine in April 2014. This one, by Erica Wagner, was published in the New Statesman in summer 2016. Then there’s this one, by Peter Ross, from the Boston Review, in which I sound like an idiot. All three take little slices of who I am and what I’m doing and examine them under a microscope. Neither are fully me, but they’re not wrong either.
Are you on Wikipedia?
It looks like it. I promise I didn’t write this, though I can’t promise I have never edited it to make myself look more interesting.
Can I use, reprint or share your work?
I know it’s unfashionable on the internet, but I am a supporter of copyright. Copyright protects artists and creators from exploitation, allows them some modicum of a chance to profit from their work, and allows them to keep producing that work, which benefits us all. If copyright is undermined, the beneficiaries will be big corporations and ‘pirates’ who don’t want to pay artists for their work.
Here is a ‘declaration of principles for an ethical and sustainable internet’, which I rather like.
This is a long way of saying that, if you’d like to reproduce anything you find here, please ask me first. I am usually very amenable. Flattery can help.
Could you come and speak at my event/festival/conference/etc?
It’s always nice to be asked. My forthcoming events calendar is here. Please note that I live in rural Ireland, which is quite far from everything, so I need to be booked well in advance. And I will ask for payment and travel expenses – this is how I make a living, after all. If that hasn’t put you off, you can get in touch.
Do you have any advice for aspiring/young/beginning writers?
Some of my thoughts about the writer’s life can be found here.
Can I connect with you through social media?
My sole connection to social media currently is this Facebook page, which I’m constantly almost deleting, and probably soon will. More reliably, I write a monthly email newsletter to my readers, containing news of my writing, random thoughts and other ephemera. You can sign up for that here.
I’d like to send you an expensive bottle of champagne. Where should I post it to?
All my contact details are here.
I’d like to keep up with what you do. Do you have, say, a monthly email newsletter I could sign up to?
I’m glad you asked! You can do that here.