Alastair Bennett is a professor of Social Geography at Newcastle University and author of numerous academic texts. Intrigued by off-beat locations around the world he has recently published a non-fictional work on the subject which is great for anyone looking to visit off-grid locations.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I was born in Epping, an old town on the fringes of London, in 1964. The big city was always encroaching, remorselessly gobbling up what I felt was unique about my little town. Years later I became a geography professor, teaching and researching about almost anything but our relationship with place. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve turned back to what, I now realise, was what first drove me towards geography. I began asking myself how can we find ways to re-enchant our increasingly dis-enchanted relationship with place?
If you could describe the storyline of your latest novel to someone in just a few sentences how would you entice someone to want to read it?
Unruly Places is a book of remarkable, secret, dark and enchanting spots on the planet, each of which talks to us about our powerful love of, and need for, real and distinct places.
When and why did you begin writing?
I started writing bits for magazines and bad poetry when I was at University … but I think keeping a diary when I was a teenager was how I actually started writing; without that I don’t think I’d have ever got to know that covering a page with writing needn’t be a pain or even feel like hard work.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Unruly Places is my first book to have reached anything like a big audience. I’ve written a variety of academic books and it’s kind of like spending a year on something then tipping into a deep, black well; no one reads them! They cost something ludicrous to buy to boot. Ironically Unruly Places is just as intellectually challenging, just as stuffed with ideas, as any of my academic books and now I have the amazing and new pleasure of hearing people engage with those ideas.
What is the hardest thing about being a writer?
For me it is having the pressure to produce academic work AND write for a bigger audience. If I don’t do the former I get fired, if I don’t do the latter I get bored. But it’s kind of like having two jobs, so not easy!
What inspires you to write?
Well I do non-fiction and I don’t see much point in telling people stuff they know already. So if I get a new idea, or angle on the world, something that genuinely excites me, and then material starts cropping up – examples from the news, from friends, from anywhere – that flesh out this idea; well it’s hard not to start thinking, that would make a great book.
When working on a new novel, what is the first thing you do?
Did I say I don’t do novels? I think it’s completely different with non-fiction. The first thing for me is capturing the argument; playing around with it in one or two sentences, again and again. From that, hopefully, perfect kernel a whole tree can grow.
Which Writers do you admire and can you name a favourite book?
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino is one favourites but the morbid intensity of J.G. Ballard’s early work, The Drowned World fascinates me even more; there is something about his idea of humans being dragged back to a primal, aquatic state that has really got under my skin.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Simply, try and find an area you are in some small way good at. I love poetry but I can’t do it (took me a number of years to work that out!), but I do OK at non-fiction.
What are your plans for the future?
Well I do have plans for another book that explores the wilder shores of geography. I know now that it isn’t just me that is interested in this stuff, so I’m encouraged! What it will be quite I’m not sure … I’ve also got a couple of academic books coming out this year.
If you are interested in reading Alastair’s book for yourself you can find it on two different geography sites:
Atlas Obscura, which has all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff
VerySpatial.com, which has a podcast and blog coming up soon on Unruly Places .
Or on Amazon – Buy Now
We would like to thank Alastair for taking part in our Author of the Week Series.
Disclaimer: The link to Amazon in this post is an affiliate link. That means that if you were to purchase a book by using it we would earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Income earned this way is used to keep Travelling Book Junkie up and running.