Robert MacFarlane at Edinburgh Book Festival with The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot
Finding a calling in nature writing
This article is from 2012.
A new generation of authors is bringing an incredible range of skills to nature writing: literary style, social observation, memoir, geology, cartography and psychology amongst them. All of which can be found in Robert Macfarlane’s remarkable third book, The Old Ways. Subtitled ‘A Journey on Foot’ it sees the award-winning writer setting off along the ancient highways and byways of the country, and is full of subtle revelation.
‘It’s about walking old paths and tracks and routes,’ Macfarlane explains. ‘It has many origins, but the most obvious was an unforgettable journey I took with Roger Deakin [the late filmmaker, environmentalist and author] to a holloway, a sunken path of long use, in south Dorset, which I wrote about in The Wild Places. After following that holloway I decided to write a bigger book about the paths we take through landscapes and through our lives. That became The Old Ways.’
Reading The Old Ways, packed as it is with resonance and insight, it feels like Macfarlane was born to this kind of writing, but he happily reveals it took him a long time to realize that himself. ‘I wrote a shockingly bad series of nature poems as a teenager, about ecologically impossible things like cougars stalking penguins,’ he says. ‘That was a bad start; it took me ten years to recover and realize that I wanted to write a book about why people were willing to die for the love of mountains. That became Mountains of the Mind and each of the next two books has grown out of its predecessor.’
Having found his calling, though, he’s now leaving it for a while. ‘I’m currently completing a short libretto for a performance with the jazz musician, Arnie Somogyi,’ he reveals when asked about future projects. But fear not, another nature book is in the pipeline.
27 Aug, 5pm, £10 (£8).