In my mid-twenties, I walked away from a career as a BBC radio journalist, in search of another way of telling stories. What I learned in the years that followed led to a series of projects which have caught people’s imaginations – and a collection of writings which set out to redraw the maps, to help us find our bearings in a time of loss and disorientation.
In the summer of 2019, after ten years with Dark Mountain, I handed on my editorial and organisational responsibilities. I am currently focusing on writing – and on my latest project, the collaboration with my partner Anna Björkman to create a school called HOME.
I write to make sense of things, to remember, to reassemble the pieces of experience. An essay is an attempt – that’s what the word means – so it seems the most accurate name for this kind of writing.
There are themes to which I keep returning. The dark knowledge of climate change and the wider tangle of the mess the world is in. The role of art in a shadowed time, the role of the sacred and experiences of liminality.
Drawing on these themes, I’ve found myself writing about how we reimagine politics, ‘the art of the possible’, in a time whose defining events were meant to be ‘impossible’ until they happened. As ‘impossible’ events go, it seems tame now, but this thread in my work began with a blogpost that went viral the morning after David Cameron’s unexpected victory in the UK general election of 2015.
Other longstanding themes include the politics of the commons, the cultural logic of progress and the ongoing presence of the past. Now and then, I get to write about the lasting influence of the three writers who most shaped my early thinking: John Berger, Ivan Illich and Alan Garner.
Aside from essays (and the occasional book review), the other form which has been a constant for me is the ongoing series of published conversations with writers, thinkers, artists, scholars and activists whose work has inspired me. Often, these texts represent a moment within an ongoing friendship and collaboration.
Occasionally, I get invitations to work in other forms. In 2016, I was one of four writers commissioned by the Royal Dramatic Theatre, Stockholm, to collaborate on Medan klockan tickar (While the Clock is Ticking), a play about what it’s like when the Anthropocene is your day-job.
I am represented by David Godwin Associates.
Books & publishing
When Paul Kingsnorth and I wrote Uncivilisation: The Dark Mountain Manifesto, we crowdfunded the costs of self-publishing it as a pamphlet, printed by Christian Brett at Bracketpress. The original print run of 300 copies soon sold out and we found ourselves the editors and publishers of a journal in the form of a book series. We learned how to do this as we went along – and over the years, I took Dark Mountain from a startup that lurched from crisis to crisis to an established journal, funded entirely through sales and subscriptions, now in the capable hands of Charlotte Du Cann, Nick Hunt, Mark Watson and Ava Osbiston.
In 2013, I worked with the artist duo Performing Pictures to make The Crossing of Two Lines, a book about art and the sacred, migration and homecoming, drawing on their work in villages in Croatia and Oaxaca. Along with images documenting their artwork, the book included an essay, four conversations and twelve poems.
In February 2012, Keith Kahn Harris and I edited and published Despatches from the Invisible Revolution, a collection of writings in response to the events of 2011, the year when it seemed to be ‘kicking off everywhere’.
In 2008, I worked with the artist Anne-Marie Culhane to produce COMMONSense, a celebration of the commons, commissioned by Access Space community media lab in Sheffield and funded by Arts Council England.
Between 2004 and 2006, I was one of the editors of Pick Me Up, an email zine founded by Charlie Davies, who has been one of my longest standing collaborators.
Projects & collaborations
Together with another recovering journalist, Paul Kingsnorth, I founded the Dark Mountain Project, which grew from a self-published manifesto to an international network of writers, thinkers and artists which the New York Times could introduce to its readers as ‘changing the environmental debate in Britain and the rest of Europe’.
In early 2009, I started a meet-up group in London for anyone interested in rethinking the way we use space in our cities. Within six months, that became an agency called Spacemakers whose first project was the takeover of twenty empty shops in an indoor market in Brixton.
In 2012, I left London and moved to Sweden. I handed over the running of Spacemakers to a team led by Matt Weston, but continued to be closely involved in the running of Dark Mountain (until 2019), while developing new collaborations in the country which has become my home.
A talk at ArkDes, Sweden’s National Centre for Architecture and Design, led to an ongoing collaboration with the Dutch-Serbian architecture duo STEALTH.unlimited, exploring the logic of the commons and the failure of the future.
A call from the artistic director of Riksteatern, Sweden’s touring national theatre, led to a two-year appointment as leader of artistic and audience development, where I had the chance to bring together collaborators from within and beyond the dramatic arts to explore the role(s) of art under the shadow of climate change.
I’ve been a guest lecturer at many institutions across Europe, but nowhere has come to feel more like home than the Centre for Environment and Development Studies at Uppsala University. Other places that have become a home away from home include the Kaospilots school in Denmark, Schumacher College in Devon, and Newspeak House: The London College of Political Technologists.
After ten years with Dark Mountain, I handed on my editorial and organisational responsibilities in the summer of 2019 – and I am currently focusing on my writing and the development of a school called HOME, a gathering place and learning community for those who are drawn to the work of regrowing a living culture, created with my partner Anna Björkman.