Occasionally Asked Questions
Who are you?
I am an English writer, living in rural Ireland with my English-Punjabi wife and our two children. I write novels, poetry and non-fiction.
Tell me about your books
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.
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 two books a year and running events around the world. I continued to run Dark Mountain before stepping back in 2017.
My journalism has appeared in a smorgasbord 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.
Where are you coming from politically?
Nowhere that is easy to categorise. 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 capitalist economy – what William Cobbet called ‘the Thing’, but what we could equally simply call ‘Empire’ – is destroying the life support systems of the Earth itself, razing and homogenising the incredible 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 removing all meaning, truth and traditional support structures from our lives, in a headlong plunge towards what looks to be a glorified nihilism, with adverts.
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; heterodox tolerance and freedom of expression; the hard work of human kindness; and an ongoing search for spiritual meaning in increasingly barren lands.
I’m not sure what this makes me, and I am happy being unsure. The most frightening thing on Earth is somebody who is certain they’re right.
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 (I’ll accept those last two), 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, Henry Thoreau, Annie Dillard, Li Po, Leonard Cohen, 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 partial.
Can I use, reprint or share your work?
I know it’s unfashionable on the internet, but all my writing is copyrighted. If you’d like to reproduce anything you find here, please ask me first. I am often amenable. Flattery can help.
Tell me about the Wyrd School
The Wyrd School – which you can visit here – is a home for the courses and I events I run, sometimes alone, sometimes with other teachers, for writers, artists and other creative folk. My teaching, like my writing, explores how to bring humans back in contact with the non-human world, and create living art from the resulting sparks.
Through the Wyrd School I also run a manuscript assessment and mentoring service for writers.
Are you on social media?
I think ‘social’ media is a toxic miasma which makes the world worse in every way. My one concession to it is this occasionally-updated Facebook page. I also write an irregular 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 now have a Patreon page.
How do I contact you?
You’re welcome to drop me an email. It sometimes takes me a while to reply, as I am not online any more than I have to be.
If you want to talk about rights, translations or other such businessy things, please get in touch with my agent, Jessica Woollard.
If you’d like an occasional newsletter about my writing, events and related things delivered to your inbox, you can sign up to my mailing list.