Robert Macfarlane is an award-winning author with a specialist interest in landscape, place, travel, nature and the evolution of words. His many accolades include The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award (2003) and The Scottish Non-Fiction Book of the Year (2008).
Robert's latest title, Landmarks places a firm spotlight on the dehumanization of the English language and the absence of nature in modern vocabularies.
In this Q&A he takes time out from his busy schedule to discuss his role as Warwick Prize judge, the theme of instinct and how reading informs writing.
Q/ The theme of this year’s prize is ‘instinct’. How have you seen this reflected in some of the shortlisted titles?
Two preoccupations have quickly and clearly emerged: young children and animals. Both are fascinatingly acting as concentration points for questions of how to represent in language what is by definition pre-verbal, and broadly speaking pre-cognitive (i.e. instinct as an inborn pattern of behaviour).
Q/ The Warwick Prize for Writing is uniquely open, celebrating writing in all its forms. How do you begin to compare texts across genre, style and purpose?
All criticism is comparative - when I judged the Man Booker Prize for fiction, we were testing avant-garde novellas against 600-page historical tomes; skiffs against super-tankers. Genre and form are loose-fit labels at the best of times; it seems to me unproblematic, if the judging is done carefully and confidently, to set a collection of poetry in contrast with a volume of memoir.
Q/ In the introduction to your recent release, Landmarks, you note that ‘Before you become a writer you must first become a reader’. How does your own reading inform your writing?
To write originally one must have read drastically - in order to know what you are swerving from, and by what degree you are reaching freedom. That, I guess, is a general proposition; more personally, I find my own writing to be stitched and echoed through with the work of others, both as subjects and as influences, and I welcome that.