Robert Macfarlane (writer)

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Robert Macfarlane, (born Halam, Nottinghamshire,[1] 15 August 1976), is a British author, often writing about the landscape and nature. He was educated at Nottingham High School, Pembroke College, Cambridge, and Magdalen College, Oxford. He began his PhD at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in 2000, and in 2001 was elected a Fellow of the College.

Books[edit]

Macfarlane's first book, Mountains of the Mind, was published in 2003 and won the Guardian First Book Award, the Somerset Maugham Award, and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. It was shortlisted for the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. It is an account of the development of Western attitudes to mountains and precipitous landscapes, and takes its title from a line by the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Macfarlane's book combines history with first-person narrative. He considers why people are drawn to mountains despite their obvious dangers, and examines the powerful and sometimes fatal hold that mountains can come to have over the imagination. The book's heroes include the mountaineer George Mallory, and its influences include the writing of Simon Schama and Francis Spufford. [2]

Macfarlane's second book was Original Copy: Plagiarism and Originality in Nineteenth-Century Literature, which was published in March 2007. Exploring the difference between creation and invention, the book surveys the "borrowedness" of much Victorian literature, focusing on the writings of George Eliot, Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde, among others.[3]

His third book The Wild Places was published in September 2007. In it he embarks on a series of journeys in search of the wildness that remains in Britain and Ireland .[4] The book explores wildness both geographically and intellectually, testing different ideas of the wild against different landscapes, and describes Macfarlane's explorations of forests, moors, salt marshes, mudflats, islands, sea-caves and city fringes. A condensed version of the book was broadcast as Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4 in September 2007.[5] In November 2007, the book won the Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature, and in June 2008 it won the Scottish Arts Council Non-Fiction Book Of The Year Award. In November 2008, it was joint winner of the Grand Prize at the Banff Mountain Festival, North America's equivalent of the Boardman Tasker Prize.[6] It became a bestseller in Britain and The Netherlands, and went on to be shortlisted for six further prizes, including the Dolman Best Travel Book Award, the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, and North America's Orion Book Award, a prize founded "to recognize books that deepen our connection to the natural world, present new ideas about our relationship with nature, and achieve excellence in writing." [7]

The Old Ways: A Journey On Foot, the third in the 'loose trilogy of books about landscape and the human heart' begun by Mountains of the Mind and The Wild Places, was published in June 2012 by Hamish Hamilton/Penguin UK, and in October 2012 by Viking/Penguin US. It was acclaimed as a ‘tour de force’ by William Dalrymple in the Observer.[8] The book describes the years Macfarlane spent following ‘old ways’ (pilgrimage paths, sea-roads, prehistoric trackways, ancient rights of way) in south-east England, north-west Scotland, Spain, Sichuan and Palestine. Its guiding spirit is the early twentieth century writer and poet, Edward Thomas, and its chief subject is the reciprocal shaping of people and place.

The Old Ways entered the Sunday Times Bestseller Chart for non-fiction at number three, and stayed in the top ten for 12 weeks. It was chosen 18 times as a Book of the Year for 2012, including by John Banville, [9] Philip Pullman,[10] Jan Morris, John Gray, Antony Beevor, and Dan Stevens. In the UK it was shortlisted for The Samuel Johnson Prize (the ‘non-fiction Booker’), [11] the Duff-Cooper Prize for Non-Fiction and the Waterstones Book of the Year Award.[12] In the US it was shortlisted for the Orion Book Award. An abridged version was broadcast as Book of the Week on Radio 4 in June 2012.

Macfarlane is presently writing Landmarks, a book of essays about language and place; and Underland, an exploration of subterranean worlds and cultures, which includes among its subjects limestone, claustrophobia, the baroque, cataphilia and urban exploration.

Overview[edit]

Macfarlane is seen as the inheritor of a tradition of nature writing which includes John Muir, Richard Jefferies and Edward Thomas, as well as contemporary figures such as John McPhee, Barry Lopez and Roger Deakin. He is generally grouped with a number of recent British writers who have provoked a new critical and popular interest in writing about landscape.[13]

Macfarlane's interests in topography, ecology and the environment have been transmitted through his books but also through newspaper and magazine essays, notably his Common Ground series which was published in The Guardian in 2005.[14] He has also published many reportage and travel essays in magazines, especially Granta and Archipelago, as well as numerous introductory essays to re-issues of lost and neglected classics of landscape and nature writing from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

In 2004 Macfarlane sat on the panel of judges for the Man Booker Prize, which selected Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty as that year's winner, and in 2005 he guest-edited and introduced The Mays anthology of new writing. In November 2012, he was named as chair of the judges for the 2013 Man Booker Prize.[15]

Macfarlane presented "The Wild Places of Essex", an episode of the BBC Two Natural World series broadcast in February, 2010; the film later won a Wildscreen Award.[16] He is the patron of the Outdoor Swimming Society, the Outlandia Project and Gateway To Nature, a Lottery-funded mental-health initiative designed to improve access to nature for vulnerable groups and individuals. In 2011 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Collaborations[edit]

The paperback cover of The Old Ways was designed by the artist Stanley Donwood, known for his close association with the band Radiohead. Macfarlane also collaborated with Donwood and writer Dan Richards on Holloway, published in an edition of 277 by Quive-Smith Press in 2012,[17] and a trade edition by Faber & Faber in May 2013.

In June 2012, Macfarlane wrote the libretto to a ‘jazz opera’ called Untrue Island, composed by the double-bassist Arnie Somogyi, and performed in a former nuclear weapons storage site on Orford Ness in Suffolk. [18]

He also worked with the natural history sound-recordist Chris Watson to produce a performance of ‘Sea-Road’, released on vinyl by Rivertones/CBTR.[19]

The chapter of The Old Ways entitled ‘Silt’, describing a walk along the off-shore tidal path known as The Broomway, was in March 2013 published as a stand-alone micro e-book. It was also the subject of an exhibition of photographs by David Quentin, and two sound-works (‘Silt’ and ‘The Grey Sink’) by The Pale Horse, released on vinyl by Brainlove Records.[20]

Awards and honours[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

Books[edit]

Books with introductions by Macfarlane[edit]

Peter Davidson, "Distance and Memory" (Carcanet Press, 2013)

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Robert Macfarlane wins book award". BBC. December 2003. Retrieved 2008-12-31. 
  2. ^ Cabinet Magazine interview
  3. ^ Grovier, Kelly (18 March 2007). "I could write that at a pinch". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  4. ^ Macfarlane, Robert (2007). The Wild Places. Granta Books. p. 340. ISBN 1862079412. 
  5. ^ BBC Radio 4 schedule for 3 September 2007 Retrieved 2 October 2007.
  6. ^ "2008 Book Awards". The Banff Centre. Retrieved 2008-12-31. 
  7. ^ http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/mag/3003/ orionmagazine.org
  8. ^ http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/jun/10/old-ways-robert-macfarlane-review
  9. ^ http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/nov/25/books-of-the-year-2012
  10. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8tT_VvxXv4
  11. ^ http://www.thesamueljohnsonprize.co.uk/node/239
  12. ^ http://blog.waterstones.com/2012/10/waterstones-book-of-the-year-shortlist-announced/
  13. ^ Boyd Tonkin (2008-07-18). "Call of the wild: Britain's nature writers". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2008-12-31. 
  14. ^ "Common ground". The Guardian (London). 21 July 2008. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  15. ^ "Robert Macfarlane to chair the 2013 Man Booker Prize for Fiction" Retrieved 21 November 2012
  16. ^ Natural World Retrieved 14 February 2010
  17. ^ http://www.slowlydownward.com/ahway.html
  18. ^ http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2012/jul/08/untrue-island-orford-ness-macfarlane
  19. ^ http://thequietus.com/articles/10777-listen-robert-macfarlane-chris-watson-the-sea-road-caught-by-the-river-rivertones-2
  20. ^ http://silt-exhibition.com/
  21. ^ John Ezard (5 December 2003). "Mountain man wins Guardian book prize". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 November 2012. 
  22. ^ Alison Flood (5 October 2012). "Six books to 'change our view of the world' on shortlist for non-fiction prize". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 October 2012. 
  23. ^ "Edition 2013". Jan Michalski Foundation. Retrieved September 14, 2013. 

External links[edit]