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Melissa Harrison is a freelance writer and photographer whose clients include the Guardian. She was the winner of the John Muir Trust's 'Wild Writing' Award in 2010, and Clay is her debut novel. She lives in South London and writes about her local environment on her website, Tales of the City.

How would you describe your book?

An urban pastoral; an ensemble piece about our relationship to nature; a small-scale city tragedy.

You write vividly about the implications of ignoring our natural environment. Why is this important to you?

I grew up in Britain in the 1970s and 80s, when it was still possible for kids to play outside, unsupervised, all day – something that seems like a lost paradise now. I worry that children today are losing that freedom to connect with nature, and what that might mean for all of us.

The news is often full of stories about species loss and climate change, but the problems seem so big as to be insurmountable – and can make us feel guilty about our choices. But I don’t think you change things from guilt, I think you change things through love – and for me that means starting small and building a connection to a ‘home patch’ that you love and want to protect, whether it’s a garden, a street tree near your apartment that a bird always nests in, or a local open space where your children play. That kind of connection can begin at any time. It’s never too late to start noticing.

Did a particular book inspire your style of writing?

Not one particular book, no – but I think that nearly everything you read feeds into what you produce in some way. The British tradition of ‘nature writing’ is undergoing a resurgence at the moment, but I think the sources of my style go back further: I fell in love with Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood when I was 10 or 12, and I don’t think his rhythms have ever left me. And I’ve always loved the language and cadence of writers like Cormac McCarthy and the British poet Alice Oswald; their influence is probably detectable in my writing.

What do you hope readers take away from your book?

I’d like people to come away from Clay feeling that no matter where they live, the world around them teems with life and beauty.

What is next for you?

I’ve nearly finished the first draft of my next book – watch this space!




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