Welcome. I enjoy thinking and writing about many kinds of art – from gardens, churches and Anglo-Saxon elegies to landscape watercolours and contemporary non-fiction. Most of all, I love reading. I am interested in the presence of the past, and in the conversation of writers and artists across centuries. I am drawn to the power of conversations that both continue and change.
I am a Professorial Fellow in English at the University of Birmingham, and was previously Professor of English at the University of Liverpool. My academic research is currently funded by a Philip Leverhulme Prize.
In recent essays I’ve considered the art of Tacita Dean, Ivon Hitchens, and Dennis Creffield, and investigated historical attitudes to moving house. My radio work includes a series following Virginia Woolf’s walks, a ten-part ‘British History in Weather’, programmes on candlelight, fireworks, coldness, and an excursion to ask shepherds about pastoral literature. I review fiction and non-fiction, mostly for the Guardian, write cultural features, and work regularly with galleries on exhibition catalogues.
I am a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and have been a judge for the RSL Ondaatje Prize, the Royal Academy of Arts Wollaston Award, the Authors' Foundation Awards, and the Observer/Anthony Burgess Prize for Arts Journalism.
I am working on a book, to be published by Faber in 2021, about sense of place, local history and changing perceptions of landscape. I’ve taken a small area – in the Arun Valley – and I’m trying to discover how people at different times have inhabited, understood and expressed their surroundings. I’m interested in the way that memories or imaginings of places are layered onto each other; I’m keen to pay heed to unwritten lives, eclectic sources, and physical materials (wood, flint, chalk, willow); and rather than following any established cultural canon, I’m asking ‘who was here’?
Time and Place (2019) is a small book made in collaboration with Common Ground. It looks at some of the creative forms that calendars have taken, and particularly at the marking of time as a way of observing and defining place.
Weatherland (2015) is an exploration of imaginative responses to the weather in England, asking how people have felt and seen things differently. I wanted to lie on the grass and watch the sky with Chaucer, with Milton, with Turner. My first book, Romantic Moderns (2010), traces connections between artists and writers, including Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Bowen, John Piper and Eric Ravilious, whose modern work emerged from their readings of history. I have also written an introduction to Virginia Woolf and edited (with Lara Feigel) a collection of essays about modern art and the seaside.