Robert Macfarlane – Writer

Robert MacFarlane sailing to Sula Sgeir

All of us respond to the landscape around us in our own personal way – nobody more so than Robert Macfarlane, who brings history, science, art and emotion to bear on the evidence of his senses and comes up with something wholly original

With limited space available, the following question and answers couldn’t fit in our Summer 2013 issue so we’re publishing them here.

As well as writing books, you have also done television work. Is the latter equally satisfying?
Ah! Well, it’s completely different. Filming in the field is high-pressure, companionable/collaborative, and involves lots of swearing and lots of laughing. Writing is solitary, protracted and mostly conducted in monkish silence. I spent a year working with the BBC to make 58 minutes of television (an adaptation of The Wild Places); I spent five years writing a 400-page book (The Old Ways). I’m not sure which was least efficient.

You are an admirer of Nan Shepherd’s writing. Which other Scottish authors have inspired you?
Nan Shepherd’s A Living Mountain, about the Cairngorms and much else besides, is a slender masterpiece, to the reissue of which I have written a long introductory essay, and about which I am passionate. I’m just starting work on making a Radio 4 programme about Nan’s life and writing, which we’ll chiefly record on location in the Cairngorms. Beyond Nan – so many Scottish writers. The mountaineer and essayist WH Murray; Hugh MacDiarmid; Janice Galloway; Robert Louis Stevenson; William Dalrymple; Finlay MacLeod; Duncan Ban MacIntyre; WS Graham; Ian Hamilton Finlay… the list goes on (and on).

You were born in England, but have a Scottish name. Do you have Scottish parents or forebears? Is your own family history something that interests you?
I was born in Oxford and I am very much English by upbringing. However, my paternal grandparents were from Airdrie, and my maternal grandparents spent nearly 30 years living near Grantown-on-Spey. I am back in Scotland usually two or three times a year, and probably know it better than I know England. And of course its landscape and natural history are at the heart of all three of my books. I guess I would say that I am not a Scottish writer – but that my writing is Scottish.

Want to read more? Pick up our Summer 2013 edition.

Robert Macfarlane’s best-selling book The Old Ways, in which he retraces ancient routes in places as far afield as Lewis and Palestine, is out now as a Penguin paperback

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