Highlands-based writer Melanie Challenger to talk about last year's book at Edinburgh Book Festival

This article is from 2012

Melanie Challenger

Reconnecting with the natural world

Highlands-based writer and poet Melanie Challenger acknowledges that last year’s On Extinction, a weighty book which muses on humanity’s often fraught relationship with the environment, isn’t a work based in specialist knowledge. ‘It’s a personal effort,’ she says. ‘In fact, it’s a book based on growing up as part of a generation which is much less intimate with the natural world, and the kind of grief and nostalgia that people feel for that knowledge. It’s a cultural history of how we’ve reached this stage of environmental crisis.’

In chronicling both this and what she calls the ‘bio-cultural crisis’ (the dissolving of diverse human cultures and ways of life), the book took her on a journey through the debris of human progress, from the tin mines of Cornwall to the whaling stations of Antarctica and old Inuit camps, all lost and abandoned now.

‘The mines are a symbol, if you like, of the processes of industrialisation and increased technical knowledge which are primary drivers of the degradation we’re experiencing now. But they’re also a romantic image on the landscape, a tourist attraction where people find beauty. Why are ruined old buildings points of a strange, almost indescribable poignancy? And why does their potential loss ignite our imagination?’

10-19 Aug (with TC Smout), 4pm, £10 (£8).

Melanie Challenger & T C Smout: Nature Calls

Exploring Environmental History is a kind of greatest hits compilation of T C Smout’s articles and essays in which he ponders our exploitative attitudes to wild nature and whether this will lead to inevitable disaster. Melanie Challenger’s On Extinction puts our destructive tendencies down to modern human lifestyles…

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