(Occasionally Asked Questions)
Could you puff yourself up in a few paragraphs of third person prose please?
Certainly. Paul was born in 1972. He studied modern history at Oxford University, where, as well as studying, he edited the student newspaper and was politically radicalised by his involvement in the road protest movements of the 1990s.
After graduating, Paul spent two months in Indonesia working on conservation projects in Borneo and Java. Back in the UK, he worked for a year on the staff of the Independent newspaper, which he hated. Following a three year stint as a campaign writer for an environmental NGO, he was appointed deputy editor of The Ecologist, where he worked for two years.
He left the Ecologist in 2001 to write his first book One No, Many Yeses, a political travelogue which explored the growing anti-capitalist movement around the world. The book was published in 2003 by Simon and Schuster, in six languages across 13 countries.
In the early 2000s, having spent time with the tribal people of West Papua, who continue to be brutally colonised by the Indonesian government and military, he was one of the founders of the Free West Papua Campaign, which he also helped to run for a time.
Paul’s second book, Real England, was published in 2008 by Portobello. An exploration of the changing face of his home country in an age of globalisation, the book was quoted in speeches by the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury, helped inspire the success of the hit West End play ‘Jerusalem’ and saw its author compared to Cobbett and Orwell by more than one newspaper.
Are you showing off?
I haven’t finished. In 2009, feeling increasingly uncomfortable both with the state of the green movement and a literary culture that didn’t seem connected to the realities of its age, Paul launched, with Dougald Hine, the Dark Mountain Project – a call for a writers’ and artists’ movement which would question the stories our culture was telling itself. What began as a self-published pamphlet has become a global network of writers, artists and thinkers. Paul is now the Project’s editorial director.
In 2011, Paul finally realised his very first literary ambition, when he had a volume of poetry published. Kidland was published by Salmon, and it has sold into three figures, which honestly is quite good for a book of poetry. Since the mid-1990s, Paul’s poetry has been published in various little magazines. He has been awarded the BBC Wildlife Poet of the Year Award, the Poetry Life Prize, and the 2012 Wenlock Prize, and has read his poetry at sevral festivals and other events.
In 2014, Paul’s first novel, The Wake was published. So far it has been described by novelist Adam Thorpe, reviewing it for The Guardian as ‘a literary triumph,’ by Philip Pullman as ‘extraordinary’, by Heathcote Williams as ‘an astonishing feat of imagination’, and by Lucy Mangan as ’the most glorious experience I’ve had with a book in years.’
Paul’s journalism has appeared in all sorts of places, including in the Guardian, Independent, Daily Telegraph, Daily Express, Le Monde, New Statesman, New Internationalist, Big Issue, Adbusters, BBC Wildlife and openDemocracy, for which he once briefly worked as a commissioning editor. He has appeared on various TV and radio programmes, most shamefully ‘This Morning with Richard and Judy.’ He is also the author of ‘Your Countryside, Your Choice’, a report on the future of the countryside, published in 2005 by the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
That was longer than I expected. What’s the gist?
Paul is a writer. He has …
You can use the first person now, if you like.
Thanks. I’m a writer, mainly. My writing is both a strange obsession and a kind of tool, with which I seek to understand things, to explain them (to others and myself) and sometimes to try to change them too.
Looking back on my work over the last fifteen years or so, I think that my writing is primarily about two things: connection and loss. The connections are those between people and places, people and power, people and nature. Here in the West, we have built (or, more likely, accidentally slid into over time) a strange culture of disconnection: increasingly cut off from nature, from our history and provenance, from each other, from the wild reality outside the bubble of our civilisation. We have built a culture of consumer isolation, and I am haunted by the losses which this has brought about. I want to know what has been lost, what is left, what it means.
Has anyone ever written a great big profile of you for a major international newspaper?
Strangely, the answer is yes. This profile of me, written by Daniel Smith, ran in the New York Times magazine in April 2014.
Are you on Wikipedia?
It looks like it. I promise I didn’t write this, though I can’t promise I have never edited it to make myself look more interesting.
What are your politics?
Oh dear. I can feel my mind narrowing just thinking about this one. But let me have a go at answering anyway.
I am left wing. That is to say that I am opposed to obscene concentrations of land, power and wealth, I instinctively favour the underdog and, like anyone else who is paying attention, I am anti-capitalist. Capitalism is the name applied to an economic and cultural machine which makes paper profits for agglomerations of private individuals by externalising its costs onto nature and the weaker bits of humanity. It functions by turning living things into dead things and calling this process ‘growth’. Capitalism is like a tank: it’s a death machine which feels safe and warm as long as you’re sitting inside it rather than in its way.
I am also right wing. That is to say that I am suspicious of ‘progress’ when that word is used to denote the onward march of the industrial machine (see above), and I think that a feeling for place and locality, history and human community, are things worth paying close attention to. I think that the State as an institution is the root cause of many of the world’s problems, and I have little time for the progressive, ‘liberal’ consensus in the West, which seems to me to be growing more illiberal every day.
More broadly, though, I think that what we call ‘politics’ is a means of clumsily rationalising deep psychic impulses and then fighting about them. There is very little that is more fruitless than this kind of behaviour. You’re more likely to find truth in science, poetry or the caves of a desert hermit, and I’d suggest you look in all those places first.
Are you religious?
I’m a Zen Buddhist. That may or may not answer your question. Here is another answer, in case it doesn’t.
Can I use, reprint or share your work?
I used to publish my work under a Creative Commons licence, but I’ve come to think that Creative Commons nibbles away at the principle of copyright, and I’ve seen their spokespeople openly attacking that principle. I think copyright is a good thing, because I think that creators should have some control over what happens to their work, and I think they should be protected from exploitation. If you’d like more background on this issue, I recommend this website.
That was a long way of saying that if you’d like to reproduce my work, please ask me first. I’m usually very amenable. Flattery can help.
Could you come and speak at my event/festival/conference/etc?
I’ve done a lot of public speaking over the years, and it’s always nice to be asked. My forthcoming events calendar is here. Please note that I live in rural Ireland, which is quite far from everything, so I need to be booked well in advance. And I will ask for payment and travel expenses – this is how I make a living, after all. If that hasn’t put you off, please do get in touch.
Do you have any advice for aspiring/young/beginning writers?
Some of my thoughts about the writer’s life can be found here.
That advice looks excellent. How would I go about employing you to help me with my own writing?
What a good question! Have a look at this page for the answer
Can I connect with you through social media?
I’d like to make a major motion picture about your exciting life. Where do I send the contract?
All my contact details are here
Do you have a mailing list to which I can sign up, swiftly and easily, to receive occasional fascinating email updates about your work?
I’m glad you asked! You can do that here.
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