In The Paradoxal Compass (2017) I explore certain contradictions in the West Country’s identity. An image of settled rural existence overlaps there with a quite different kind of story, in which the region figures as point of departure for many famous voyages, the first English province to globalise. The use of science by the 16th c. explorers (many of the English ones grew up in the South West), the interest they took in the unfamiliar marine wildlife they encountered, what it meant to grow up with these stories and reflect upon them today – these themes alternate throughout the book. I’ve looked in detail at one of the most famous of the voyages, Drake’s circumnavigation, asking what, if anything, it might mean to us today.
In an earlier book, Lady Chatterley’s Defendant & Other Awkward Customers (2011), I explored other paradoxes of our current condition: ‘If I had to explain to a young, thoughtful Muslim, or his evangelical Christian counterpart, why absolute freedom of thought matters to me, I would start with Samuel Butler. The New Atheists wouldn’t get a look-in, and that is not because I am from the Neville Chamberlain School of anything. It’s because I believe that clear, witty, temperate prose, in the service of true imaginative power, is the best persuader we have, and the best persuader we will ever have.’ This is from Samuel Butler, or The Art of Being Funny about Religion, an essay included in that collection.