Which of your books has more of an Essex focus?
I have published two books about the Essex landscape, in collaboration with photographer Jason Orton: 350 Miles: An Essex Journey (2005) and The New English Landscape (2013, reprinted 2014).
Which aspects of Essex do you write about?
I am particularly interested in the coastal, post-industrial landscape of Essex and its social history, particularly its political and religious traditions along with the cultural changes which occurred in the second half of the twentieth-century.
Why do you like writing about Essex?
I grew up in Essex, firstly on Canvey Island, subsequently in both Hadleigh and Thundersley, and finally in Southend. We also took family holidays on a caravan site at Mill Beach, near Maldon, on the River Blackwater. I find the estuary landscapes of the rivers Crouch, Blackwater and Colne especially memorable.
Are there books about Essex you’d recommend?
The truly great book about Essex in the twentieth-century is The Great Tide by Hilda Grieve (1959). This monumental account of the 1953 flood in all its human detail, its tragedy and bravery, is one of the major works of English social history.
Like many others I’m a great fan of J.A.Baker’s The Peregrine and, less well known, D.W.Gillingham’s Unto The Fields, both works of closely observed natural history, one around the River Blackwater, the other around The Roding.
Name your favourite Essex place, person or whatever.
I’m always happy visiting Mersea Island, which in such a short space has much to offer – fishing village, marina, rural interior, swimmable beaches, farm shops and home produce for sale in front gardens, seals to watch in the Pyefleet Channel, and easy cycling territory.
One tip for writers who want to write about people and places
It is important to know the back-story of any landscape – its history and what previous writers have thought and said. All writers are indebted to other writers for exploring the terrain, and for me writing is a form of mutual, incremental, public endeavour.