“So I think, be out, get out, look up, walk where and when you can, and be curious, and be astonished by the world.”

— Robert Macfarlane talks to Krista Tippett about his book, Underland. Read or listen to the conversation at the On Being Project.

“[A] walk is only a step away from a story, and every path tells.”

— Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

An illustration of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast by Alan Lee.

Robert Macfarlane has written a series of short pieces reflecting on literary representations of space. Among them, he includes a thoughtful discussion of Mervyn Peake‘s labyrinthine Gormenghast novels (Titus GroanGormenghastTitus Alone), and in particular the eponymous castle setting that will be etched into the minds of all its readers. At one moment, Macfarlane draws parallels between Peake’s castle and a modern city:

“Cities are, like Gormenghast, excessive and connective. They spawn, proliferate, self-generate: and they are sites of encounter and overlap. For every story you overhear in a city, every conversation you catch, myriad more are in the making at that moment. This is the affront that cities offer to reason, and the excitement they provoke in the mind: that they surpass all possible record. They are places of—to borrow again from Peake—intense ‘circumfusion’.”

— 1843 Magazine

Macfarlane concludes, “At such moments—in such places—it feels as if Peake has not mimicked the real but anticipated or supplemented it.”

What is it like to read a literary work in the place where it is set? To read John Steinbeck‘s The Grapes of Wrath in the Oklahoma panhandle? Or Bruce Chatwin‘s In Patagonia in Patagonia? Robert Macfarlane recently asked followers on Twitter for their personal experiences of what he calls “in situ reading”, and has managed to collect all kinds of examples:

“So the thread grew and spread into a glorious scatter of micro-geographies, a many-sited memory map of located readings. I only joined Twitter in March, after a lifetime in social media purdah. I don’t know why I waited so long. The small region of Twitter-terrain into which I’ve wandered is, so far, a place of community spirit, exchange, kindness, good humour and hope.”

— Robert Macfarlane, The Guardian

I caught up with Katie Gramich to talk about a conference she is co-organizing to celebrate the life and work of poet Edward Thomas

In April 2017, Cardiff University will be hosting a conference to celebrate the Welsh writer Edward Thomas. Can you say a little bit about the timing of the conference? Do you think it’s time for a revaluation of Thomas’ life and work?

Edward Thomas died in the Battle of Arras at Easter 1917, so the conference at Cardiff University in April 2017 is a centenary conference to commemorate a distinctive and unusual writer whose life was cut short in the First World War. Thomas wrote all of his poetry in the last two years of his life – between December 1914 and December 1916 – prompted to do so partly by his friendship with the American poet, Robert Frost, whom he met in the summer of 1913,  and partly by the new and pressing circumstances of the war. It is so sad to think that only six of his poems were published in his lifetime – a small pamphlet under the pseudonym ‘Edward Eastaway’ in 1916. (more…)

4th Estate releases beautiful contemporary editions of Ballard’s novels and short stories


4th Estate have collaborated with the artist Stanley Donwood, known for his work with the rock group Radiohead, to produce a series of luminous, beautiful, surreal, and contemporary designs for 21 of J.G. Ballard’s works. Donwood is known for the way he playfully manipulates the signs and symbols of modern life, in colour and collage, and his signature style is ideally suited to Ballard’s aesthetic. The new editions, which come complete with a series of illuminating introductions, will welcome a whole new generation of readers to Ballard’s fantastical and prophetic worlds. Extremely impressive.