Sunday, 30 March 2008

Two pieces

For those who missed it, yesterday's Guardian book extract can be read online here.

And today I have a piece about the thorny old 'English question' also up on the Guardian's website here.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Keep your eyes peeled

As the tension mounts (really) in the buildup to the official launch of Real England next week, there'll be some more media this weekend to look out for.

First off, the Guardian's Weekend magazine will be running an extract from the book on Saturday 29th. Over the weekend, and on Monday, the Guardian's Comment is Free website will also be running two articles by me which pick up on subjects covered in the book.

Meanwhile, my list of speaking engagements is growing, with new events added in Oxford, London and Grasmere. Hope you can make one of them.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

The eyebrows alone would be reason enough

Following on from my various posts about pubs, below, I though I should share the heartening news that Alastair Darling is being barred from an increasing number of locals across the land.

Though something tells me he's probably a wine bar man anyway.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Institutional identity

There are very few national newspaper columnists who are regularly worth reading, but Simon Jenkins is one of them. In my view, this is because he turns his gaze often onto subjects that his peers consider beneath them. Most columnists tend to think of themselves as Very Important People. They write about what cabinet ministers said to them in corridors, what the opinion polls tell them about the latest political wheeze and what the real story is behind the PM's relationship with his chancellor.

They mistakenly imagine that this makes them not only important but relevant, and they are usually wrong. Most people, I would wager, don't give a stuff about such things. What they do give a stuff about is how political decisions actually affect their lives. On this subject, our 'opinion formers' are often curiously silent. This may because they don't actually know.

Anyway, Jenkins had a piece in the Guardian a few days ago which took on the current wave of Post Office closures with gusto. It interested me because his findings were very similar to mine: rising anger all over the nation about the destruction of local communities by an alliance of big government and big business - and a rising tide of resistance to it. Also, and crucially, a recognition that the small, the local and the everyday matter hugely to people - because it is where we all live. Jenkins, for me, sums it up nicely in his last paragraph:
The government's Orwellian hostility to the institutional identity of British communities can only promote alienation and indiscipline. It turns communities into bleak, car-reliant dormitories, devoid of places of casual association. It removes the informal leadership of the resident teacher, doctor, police officer, shopkeeper. What central government may think it saves in the general, it loses in the particular. It is in the particular that people live.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Talking points

I'm getting plenty of responses to my Daily Mail extract yesterday. There'll be another one along tomorrow, Monday 17th, so look out for that.

All of the emails and comments I've had so far have agreed with my take on the homogenisation of England. Expats from Brazil and the USA have written in sadness to agree, one saying that he left England fifteen years ago because he 'saw it coming.' Others have asked what can be done: there are some thoughts about this in the book, though I can't claim to have any comprehensive manifesto or batch of easy solutions.

Emigration is certainly tempting sometimes. I often wonder what the country will look like in another fifteen years. How many more roads, runways, power plants, housing estates? How many remaining pubs, local shops, small farms, marketplaces, hidden spaces? Will there be any sense of English folk culture remaining, or any feeling for the genius loci? Or will there just be thousands more pointless 'celebrities' being shuttled around in 4x4s proudly run on biofuels?

But emigration is no escape. One of the points I make in my book is that the forces affecting England are affecting the world. The spread of the global consumer economy leaves none untouched: in this sense I am taking up where my last book, which explored forces of resistance to that economy worldwide, left off.

One of the commenters on my Mail piece took me up on this. 'Paul doesn't seem to have grasped', he writes, 'that the Economy is a voracious, completely invulnerable monster that is ravaging everything human and humane that lies in its path.' Hopefully he'll read the book, where he'll see that I have grasped it, and all its implications. After Cobbett, I call it 'The Thing' - it stalks the world, devouring people and places and spitting out money, and I really don't know what to do about it. But I'm open to ideas.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Media whoring

Anyone out there who has not yet pre-ordered a copy of the book (shame on you) will be pleased to know you can cheat by reading some extracts in the media instead. And then buying it.

First off, the Daily Mail (yes, really) are running the first of two extracts tomorrow, Saturday 15th. I say 'extracts' - 'rewrites' would actually be more accurate. But they get the point across, which is the main thing.

If that's not quite your cup of tea, then you can buy the Guardian instead which, on Saturday 29th, will be extracting the book too.

It's interesting to me that two papers with diametrically opposed politics have bought the rights to the book - and very pleasing. I've deliberately written a book which aims, in its language and approach, to appeal across the political spectrum rather than to a specific narrow interest group. My message is a fairly radical one - certainly one that the political establishment doesn't want to hear - but it's also one that appeals to people on a local, human scale, whether they consider themselves to be left or right or neither. In that sense, the subject matter is political, but not Political.

It works for me. But does it work for anyone else? I am about to find out.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Preserve beerdiversity

As predicted by others on this blog (see below) the Chancellor decided to use his budget to raise over a billion from new alcohol duties. Apparently this is to tackle 'binge drinking', by making drinks more expensive.

This might be more convincing had the government decide to tackle the places and the drinks that cause genuine problems in towns on Saturday nights. That'll be the vast corporate booze sheds known as 'high volume vertical drinking establishments' (for reasons I go into in the book); the cheap supermarket booze; the mega-cheap shots and those who encourage mass drinking of them for quick profit before they turf the drinkers out into the vomit-stained streets.

Instead they've decided to hit every drink going, and the impact on the traditional pub will be great. CAMRA reckons it will add up to 20p to a pint of real beer. Cue more pressure on landlords, in addition to those catalogued in the post below and in chapter 2 of my book. Cue more pub closures.

The irony being that a traditional community pub is the last place you will get hordes of anti-social 'binge drinkers'. Real pubs foster community spirit; closing them destroys it. But the government seems to have its heart set on finishing off the traditional English local. Where will we drink then? Yate's Wine Lodge? Mine's a triple Bacardi Breezer. And a fight. With Alastair Darling.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Summer tour

The Real England sumer book tour is beginning to take shape, as you can see here. I've just added a fun date at Camp Bestival in Dorset in July, on top of events in Devon, Bristol, north Wales and Herefordshire already announced. Grasmere, Oxford, London and a few other places are looking likely too. Keep popping back for updates.

It's fun this. If I close my eyes I can pretend to be a rock god. If you're lucky you may even get some extra dates due to unprecedented public demand. Though you would have to demand them first.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

The death of the English pub

A landlord activist I know (how many of them can there be?) today sent me this link to a deeply depressing story about the current fate of the English pub. Chapter 2 of my book focuses on the decline and potential fall of the English pub and it's not a cheery story.

Forget the monarchy, the church, the House of Commons - if you want an institution which truly represents and distills England, it's the pub. But for how much longer? This article suggests that the anti-democratic (and classicly NuLabour) smoking ban has added to the ongoing woes of the local boozer - woes that include inflated beer prices, changing demographics, an increasingly puritanical culture (how the English love to revert to their Roundhead tendencies every few decades) and predatory pub companies. As a result, a shocking 27 pubs are going out of business every week. It's enough to make you turn to drink

Read more about this in the book - but don't forget to do something about it too. For starters you could lend your support to CAMRA and to Freedom For Pubs. But you should also take direct action by going down to your local and drinking as much beer as possible. Real beer, mind. Carling or Fosters will only make things worse.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Hurray for the media. No, really.

Good news for people who'd like to read some of my book but don't want to buy it (hang on, why would I be telling you this?) Towards the end of this month, two separate newspapers will be running extracts from it.

Even better, these newspapers cover the entire political spectrum, so you can buy whichever one you feel least embarrassed being seen with in public. First off, the Daily Mail will be serialising the book over two weeks, sometime between the 15th and 24th of March - I'll let you know if and when I have something more specific. After that, the Guardian will also be running an extract in its magazine on Saturday 29th March.

There is more media stuff in the pipeline too, and I'll let you know when it comes out of the other end, as it were. The theory behind all this is that excited newspaper readers, having been tempted by my silky prose, will then rush out and buy the book. Naturally, I like this idea. Let's see if it translates into reality.

Monday, 3 March 2008


My name is Paul Kingsnorth, and I'm a writer, environmentalist, journalist and poet. My new book, Real England, is published on 10th April, and this site is its cyberspace companion.

The book is an account of a journey I took through my home country - a country that is being colonised and homogenised by corporate power, an over-centralised state, money and indifference. It's a nation of clone towns, second homes, superstores, privatised streets and disintegrating local cultures. But it's also a nation of people resisting these trends, and of places that stubbornly refuse to have their character erased in the name of progress. I went searching for the real England: I found it, and my book is about how it can survive and why it should.

I'll be updating this blog regularly - not just with news about the book itself and accompanying events and articles, but with discussions, arguments, links and doubtless a few rants relating to the issues covered in the book. I'd like it to turn into a place to talk about all things English: political, cultural, geographical, historical. Come and help make it happen.

In the meantime, the links on the left allow you to read an extract from the book, have a look at some of the early reviews (many more to come I hope), catch up with events planned around it (ditto) - and, of course, buy it (which is obviously the most important bit).

More from me soon as this blog gets up to speed.