Tell us a little about your upcoming event as part of Faclan 2016 and the ideas behind it?
I am delighted to be coming to Faclan to launch my book. Its been the product of seven years of thinking, travelling and researching .. and before that 15 odd years of dreaming about it! Its been a labour of love and it begs plenty of questions. Everyone asks me do I have some ancestral connection to the Hebrides. And of course, I don’t. Some reviewers have questioned how I can then talk about these travels as a quest for home. So this book probes why and how some places have a compelling appeal for a person even if they can make no claim of belonging. It also probes questions of home and where their boundaries lie. Britain is my home country and I may live in London but that certainly doesn’t define my sense of attachment to this country. Do I reach any conclusions, ask readers. That brought me up short but I realise that unlike in my previous career as a columnist, I don’t want to offer readers conclusions which they can accept or reject; I want much more from them. I want the book to invite readers on a journey and over the course of it, to find themselves asking questions and seeing if they arrive at answers about belonging, and how we can define it on these British Isles.
Tell us a little about your work process – where do you write? What inspires you?
I write in a small study crammed with books and papers in my home in Hackney. It overlooks our small garden (which I spend a lot of time looking at and a small amount of time working in) and over towards blocks of flats and other terraced houses. My inspirations come from places, people and books; I love travelling this country.. its small but extraordinarily rich in difference. I love the long conversations with friends which spark off ideas – and I love the intimacy and power of communication incorporated in books.
Who is your favourite writer?
Impossible to answer because it is always changing. Different writers for different purposes: Rebecca Solnit, Pankaj Mishra for my politics; Pema Chodron for my soul; Kathleen Jamie for her sparseness of language; Iain Crichton Smith for how he opened my eyes to the Western Isles; recently Yuval Noah Harari for two endlessly fascinating books
How did you start writing?
I started a book of collected sayings, my own poetry etc aged about five.
How important is it to be appearing at the Hebridean Book Festival out with the large hubs of cities like Glasgow, Edinburgh or London?
I quote in my book, a comment by Ezra Pound that it is only possible to see certain things – ‘the rascalities and the big lies’ from the edge. A stay in the Hebrides always reorients me in multiple ways.
What are you most looking forward to about visiting Lewis?
The space. I will catch a walk on Uig beach, a visit to the stones and hopefully get to the Butt as well. A few hours of these three places and the drives between will set me up for the next six months with a sense of space which is profoundly restorative. After a dose, I can cope with the London tube at rush hour by calling to mind the sound of the gannets and the roar of the wind.