Luke Turner: 'I'm excited to see what happens in the grey areas of life and sexuality'

This article is from 2019

Luke Turner: 'We live in a world that's full of binary thinking but those boundaries between the city and the countryside are breaking down'

Memoir, history book, coming-of-age story, nature writing – Turner's new book takes on multiple journeys. He shares a few ahead of his Book Festival appearance

For having written one of the best nature books of the year, Luke Turner doesn't see his book, Out of the Woods, as having all that much in common with the genre. 'I've read a lot of nature writing and I've always found it strange that nature writing is so asexual when the natural world is driven by sexuality,' Turner explains over the phone. 'Historically, our ancestors were all living in rural places before the industrial revolution. The rural and the forest would have been the place where the nation was born or created. So I find the asexuality of nature writing quite strange.'

Veering away from the stuffy 'asexuality' of traditional nature writing, Out of the Woods is part memoir, part coming-of-age and part history book. Inspired to write a history of the ancient Epping Forest on the outskirts of London – where Turner grew up – the book became more personal as he continued to write. 'I was writing a column at the time and it was the personal stuff that struck a chord with people and with me. I've always liked writing about how places and culture interact with peoples' lives... Maybe I'm just a big exhibitionist,' he laughs.

In Out of the Woods, Turner uses nature writing to tell multiple journeys: one is of his mental health after a traumatic breakup and the other is his bisexuality. 'There's a repetitiveness to the story's journey that was quite deliberate because it's realistic,' explains Turner. 'It was this constant journey of going to a place and trying to find this nature cure we're always told about but never finding it. I think repetitiveness is quite a common experience if you're in a bad space. Depression is horribly repetitive. You get stuck in a loop and that's replicated for me with trips to the forest.'

Out of the Woods' lack of an obvious narrative path was also a conscious decision by Turner to move away from the romanticised idea of the 'lone tormented man' in nature. 'That image is such a recognisable one in nature writing but it just doesn't feel right to me,' he admits. 'There's something about the romanticisation of nature that's very exclusionary and didn't chime with me and I think doesn't chime with a lot of people. It can be quite a difficult thing, thinking you should have this specific relation to nature and then when you don't, it's hard to know what your relationship is to the environment around you. I wanted to write a book about returning to a place in this repetitive way and things not clicking immediately. I think that's more honest.'

Turner found that repetitiveness of trying to find a relationship with the natural world similar to the journey of coming out. 'That was something I really wanted to get across,' says Turner. 'A lot of the prejudice around bisexuality says that it's a secret journey where you either remain closeted, or bisexuality is a service station on the way to coming out as gay. That's not true. It's something that's been neglected in discussions around being LGBTQ+: what bisexuality actually is. I really wanted to dive into that because it's a complicated trip and a grey area because it's a fluid space and there's not a fixed point. I think that's the same with nature. We live in a world that's full of binary thinking but those boundaries between the city and the countryside are breaking down. I'm excited to see what happens in the grey areas of life and sexuality.'

Kate Charlesworth & Luke Turner, Charlotte Square Gardens, 19 Aug, 8.30pm, £8 (£6).

Kate Charlesworth & Luke Turner

‘I can’t wait to get my hands on it,’ Val McDermid says of Sensible Footwear. Cartoonist Kate Charlesworth’s illustrated lesbian history dates back to the 1950s, charting her experiences growing up in the north of England. In Out of the Woods, Luke Turner blends visceral memoir and nature writing to tell a story of…