Ty Newydd

I’ll be doing a Starting to Write course with the ever-wonderful Tiffany Murray from March 22-26. Online obviously, not at Ty Newydd; but then, Ty Newydd has its own fine feel, so with luck it will be infused with some of that… If it appeals, please take a look here. Lovely. Back to Sarn Helen

Sarn Helen

As, if I was any good at all at writing anything on this website, I would have said ages ago, I am really delighted to be writing a new book for Granta – this one nonfiction, which is a first for me. Its title is Sarn Helen. It’s an account of a long walk I have made over the past few months (when lockdowns have permitted) along the one-time Roman road, Sarn Helen, from Neath in South Wales to Caerhun (near Conwy) in the north. At least, that is the spine of the book. It is about all sorts of things, though centrally about the future of Wales – and the world – under climate change and what we might learn from the attitudes to the natural world of, particularly, the 6th-century saints. Given which, I’ve been laughing a lot while doing it. This may be because of being locked up with children, or perhaps it is actually sometimes quite funny. In any case, how great to be back with Granta. They are a fine bunch indeed.

Extinction Rebellion

I came to London eight days ago with a reading ready for the XR Writers event in Trafalgar Square on Friday night, but that afternoon, while blockading the BBC, I decided to scribble down something else. I could have refined it, added, tightened, but it has a certain rawness, I think, which may give some sense of what the past week has been like:


When I was handcuffed in the police van on Wednesday morning, having spent nine freezing hours lying out in the middle of a junction, locked to a man who is now and will always be my friend, being subjected to what little torture, thankfully, is more or less permissible in the UK – ceaseless questions, kicks, abuse, torches held in front of our eyes, for hour after hour after hour. When we were in the van, crossing Westminster Bridge, with London alight in the first of the dawn, on the police radio a discussion struck up: how were they to deal with 100 protestors who were coming to parliament to present 100 trees to 100 MPs – including Ed Miliband, as for some reason they emphasised ceaselessly – who were coming out in an expression of solidarity.

It was my son’s 10th birthday, and I wasn’t with him. In fact, I was arrested at the exact time he was born.

The woman in front of me in the van, who had just endured the same nine hours, locked to a suitcase filled with concrete, which, as it happens, I had helped to build, at the talk of the trees and of the MPs, her eyes filled with tears and, let’s be honest, mine did too.

The madness of this situation. That we should be forced to break the law just to make our government, our representatives, listen. But the fact as well that they are listening – or starting to – because they must. Because we are right. We are right like the sun is bright. There are no shades at all.

So. What are we to do, as writers?

Climate change, ecological breakdown, the inevitability – if we keep this course – of societal and economic collapse. These are the truth. And if, as writers, we are to write truthfully, they must be fundamental to our work.

But, let’s be clear, these are symptoms. They are not cause.

And it is not for writers, in their fiction, to serve a movement – not even this. That is to say, it is not for us to go into our work knowing in advance what that work will say. Do that, as Alan Garner says, and “literature is lost”. It is not for us to blame. It is not for us to promote. It is for us to understand: why and how we have arrived here, how we have become so out of balance – above all, perhaps, with ourselves.

But, first of all, this is an emergency. Climate change is the greatest threat that humanity has ever faced. Extinction Rebellion, the school climate strikes – these are, by definition, the greatest, the most important movement in history. I say this without the slightest hesitation.

So, really, I have only one thing to say. If you are to write, you must first survive. If you are scared or equivocal. If you don’t feel ready to put your head above the parapet. Put these things aside.

Get on the streets. Join the Rebellion. The need to act could not be more urgent.

Please. For all of us. Do it now.

Extinction Rebellion

The climate/ ecological crisis is a symptom, not a cause. I suppose I think my sort of writing is about the causes, in large part, so I figure I should include something about Extinction Rebellion, since it takes up much of the rest of my time:


Largely because of our use of fossil fuels, we are on course for catastrophe: mass starvation, mass displacement of people, inundation by sea level rise, conflict over food and water, and societal and economic collapse. We are currently experiencing a 1.1 degree rise in average temperatures above pre-industrial levels. Already, 75% of Arctic sea ice is gone. Coral reefs are disappearingFloodsheatwaves, and wildfires have become routine. And, meanwhile, we are logging 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest daily. Animal and plant species are dying out at a rate up to 1,000 times the background average. We are living through the sixth mass extinction event.

Scientists have provided multiple warnings of our need to cease using fossil fuels. In 1992, some 1,700 leading scientists, including the majority of Nobel laureates in the sciences, issued a Warning to Humanity. Since 1990, CO2 emissions have risen by 60%.

Our governments have not acted. The Paris Agreement and the IPCC 5th Assessment Report both profess aims of preventing the global temperature from increasing to more than 1.5 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels. Studies suggest that our chances of limiting heating to 2 degrees are now as low as 5%.

Because we are not acting to stop emissions; they are continuing to rise.

On current trends, we are likely to experience temperatures 3-5 degrees above pre-industrial levels by 2100. That’s a higher average global temperature than any human has known.

Food farmers all over the worldincluding in the UK, are already going out of business because of the unpredictability of weather patterns.

That’s climate breakdown. Already happening.

Studies suggest that, at 2 degrees, there is going to be mass starvation – of people everywhere, including us. They suggest, by 2100, we may see a rise in sea level in excess of 2 metres, which could lead to the mass flooding of coastal towns and cities and the displacement of hundreds of millions of people, including us. 

But it could be much worse than that, because the effects of climate and ecological breakdown are exponential; they feed into each other, speeding each other up.

“The scientific evidence,” as David Attenborough has warned, “is that if we have not taken dramatic action within the next decade, we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies”. That means no food in the shops. No welfare payments from the Jobcentre. No salaries for publicly funded posts – teachers, social workers, policemen, third sector workers, refuse collectors… Not for a day or two, but permanently.

Unless we take action, wars over land and food will become unavoidable. And that’s before we start to talk about water shortages. 

And still, we keep pumping out CO2 and the other greenhouse gases, because we’re locked into a system that is predicated on doing so, that can only be changed, on the scale and with the immediacy required – it’s an emergency – by government.

Is the UK government making announcements about carbon rationing? Is it cancelling road-building programmes? Is it cancelling the third runway at Heathrow (which will cause the emission of an additional 7.3 million tons of CO2 annually)?

Is it cancelling the mass prosecution of 1300 people who peacefully protested for 11 days in London in April out of desperate grief for all that we’ve lost, terror about the futures of their children and helplessness in the face of the absolute failure of all available democratic measures to bring about change?

The window of opportunity is tiny. We need you. Now.  Please prioritise this fight above – or at least level with – everything else that you think is important. It is the fight of all of our lives. Every last one of you has something to offer.

The time is now. Later is too late.

Please join Extinction Rebellion.


I am not blessed, obviously, with being good at updates. But here at least is a photograph proving that I have not been lazing around. These are the drafts so far of another novel; it’s called Llananno at the moment, but has also been SoHelenium and A Bird Is Born Twice, and many wind up any or none of these. I gave a first reading from it at Arvon (Totleigh Barton) last week, which went better than I had expected, so perhaps it is not so many moons away. Addlands, incidentally, was two such boxes. Three full by the end, I’m going to guess…

Any case, it is the result of the cogitations I mentioned once in a post on this site about the extraordinary rood screen at Llananno Church, Radnorshire.

Should it be of interest, I will read some more one of these boxes on Saturday 15th June at Montgomery Literary Festival. One session with Horatio Clare and Myfanwy Alexander. Another alone, as I understand it.

Perhaps I should mention, while I’m about it, and having failed to mention the Arvon course last week, that I’m doing a Writing a Novel course with Rebecca F. John at Ty Newydd on the 16th-21st September. Reading from the boxes there too, probably.

Some events

Three, in fact:

One. Sunday October 22nd. The Bleddfa Centre have a day of events called You’ve Written a Book, Now What? Helena Attlee, KJ Whittaker (I’m immersed in her marvellous False Lights at the moment) and I will be talking about… that sort of thing from 10:55. But there are all sorts of speakers all day: agents, experts of every stripe.

Two. Thursday November 2nd. An evening at Waterstones Trafalgar Square with Fiona Mozley, Daisy Johnson and Danny O’Connor discussing “literary writing, nature and life, and the intriguing connections between rural landscapes and language”.

Three. Friday 10th November at the Malvern Book Cooperative. An evening of Addlands, that one. Starts at 7:30pm.


So there we go. More things presently.


Well, this is such a fine poster I had to put it up. Caerleon, July 8th. I’m doing an event of some sort with Cynan, who is always good value. Hopefully we’ll get to talk about Arthur Machen, whose The Hill of Dreams haunts me as much as ever.

MOMA and Radio 3

A couple of things worth knowing about perhaps. One is the Sound Walk to Hay-on-Wye: a four-hour walk/ meditation on the Welsh borders landscape, led by the incomparable Horatio Clare. It went out on Monday on Radio 3 but is safely on the iplayer. I turn up on it, I think, about halfway through, talking about remote farms and odd bits of dialect. Christopher Meredith also shows up to read, among other things, his magnificent poem ‘Borderland’, which played a big role in my Addlands thinking.

The other thing is the Landscape to Abstraction Conference, which is taking place at MOMA in Machynlleth on Saturday June 17th. It’s a day of many interesting things, but the subject is ‘the transformation of place in art, music and literature’ and I’ve done a fair bit of children juggling to be able to take part. I’ll be in discussion with the painter Kate Corbett-Winder and the composer Piers Partridge at 2:45. Do come along if you can…