Publications and round-up of 2022

It is already springtime as I write these words, trying to get the energy to put together the round-up of last year’s activities seems to have been more difficult than usual. Not quite sure why. In any case, the biggest news of 2022 was the start of a new project – The Winding Trail. This is a blog created together with my partner Katrin devoted to ‘adventures beyond the front door’… a little like Under a Grey Sky was once upon a time. We have published lots of words and pictures on the site since we launched last year, so go and take a look and an explore.

Also in 2022, we continued to keep Elsewhere: A Journal of Place ticking over. This project now enters its ninth year and I remain incredibly proud of everything we publish there, and especially the fact that we are increasingly a place where writers get there first piece of published work out into the world. It is something we will continue to work on in 2023, along with some new Elsewhere-adjacent projects that begin with a Joseph Roth evening in Berlin a few weeks ago – you can follow along on Elsewhere as we take the next steps.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We’re still in 2022… so what else happened over the year? There was the excitement of my novel Built on Sand (published in 2019 by Influx Press) getting an Italian release, published by 8tto Edizioni as Berlino Blues – including a tote bag with my words in Italian printed on it. Although no new books were published in 2022, I finished two. Harzwanderungen, for my German publishers Matthes & Seitz about a walk in the Harz Mountains following Heinrich Heine will be published in April 2023, and my next novel A Dream of White Horses will be published by the incredible Bluemoose Books in 2024.

So there was not much time for other writing, but I did have a few pieces published during the year:

For Slow Travel Berlin (essay): The Peace Race – Socialism’s Grand Cycling Tour
For ExBerliner (essay): The Panke
For hidden europe (essay): A Tale of Two Hearts: Emigration and the Azroean Spirit
For hidden europe (book review): In search of Joseph Roth
For Visual Verse (short story): Edgelandia
For Elsewhere: A Journal of Place (essay): Between the Years

What else? There were a few events over the course of 2022, including the chance to read and appear alongside wonderful writers such as Musa Okwonga, Kirsty Bell and Adam Scovell. I was also invited to Switzerland to read at Books Books Books, which has led to me becoming a judge on the Swiss Writing Prize for high school students, which should be a great experience.

There are quite a few events already in the calendar for 2023 and hopefully more will be announced soon. And I really need to crack on with the next book. I know what it is supposed to be… now’s the bit where I have to get on with it!

If you’ve read to the end, thanks for coming with me on this incredibly self-indulgent post, and I hope 2023 has started well for you and will continue throughout the rest of the year.


Publications and round-up of 2021

In attempt to keep track of things that have happened, and more importantly WHEN they have happened in these strange times, I’m once again putting together a round-up of what I’ve been up to over the past 12 months. The biggest news of 2021 was undoubtedly the publication of IN THE PINES, my novella of the forest, by Influx Press. My third book for Influx was also a collaboration, as it featured the haunting and beautiful collodion wet plate photography of Eymelt Sehmer. You can also read an interview with me about the book, from the ExBerliner, and an article and interview I wrote for Elsewhere about Eymelt and her photography. You can also read an extract from the book on Caught by the River: Ruinenlust.

Here’s what else I’ve been up to:

For Slow Travel Berlin (essay): Springsteen and The Wall, about the Boss’ famous 1988 GDR concert in East Berlin.
For The Guardian (essay): The paintings that take me back to Snowdonia, about the artwork of Rob Piercy.
For The Times Literary Supplement (review): Not all stories are for sharing, ‘The Fig Tree’ by Goran Vojnović
For Europe by Rail (essays): Reading on the Rails and A Hole in the Wall. The latter is about an opening in the north face of the Eiger, that has become part of mountaineering folklore in the Alps.
For hidden Europe (essay): Heathland: Exploring the Lüneburger Heide
For Caught by the River: Shadows and Reflections, about walking in Germany and the music of Gillian Welch.

We continued our work on Elsewhere: A Journal of Place, where I am the editor in chief, and although I wrote less for the journal this year than normal, I did contribute a couple of pieces including this review of the Adventure Podcast and an essay from Weimar about the town, Buchenwald, and how we remember the events of the past: Bearing Witness.

What else? In 2020 I attended the incredible ‘eleven songs‘ sound installation at Halle am Berghain by tamtam (Sam Auinger and Hannes Stobl). For their documentation of the project, published in 2021, I wrote the essay ‘Memory Songs’. I also worked with the wonderful people at Marmota Maps on the English translation of their Book of the Alps – which is out now!

If you’ve read this far, thanks for reaching the end of this – by its very nature – self-indulgent post, and I hope you have a wonderful 2022.


In the Pines is out now!

I’m extremely pleased to be writing that my latest book, In the Pines, has been published by Influx Press. In the Pines is a novella, which tells the story of the narrator’s lifelong relationship with the forest through a series of fragmented sketches and short stories. It is also a collaboration, with the photographer (and my good friend) Eymelt Sehmer. The book includes a series of her collodion wet plate photographs, using a 170-year old technique which required her to take a mobile dark room into the forest to develop the images on site.

The stories and the photographs contained in the book are linked. Sometimes, Eymelt went into the forest with one of my stories in mind, and came back with an image inspired by it. Other times she came out of the forest with a series of pictures that triggered something in my imagination and out came another story for the book. We will be launching the book on the 20 November at Eymelt’s gallery in Berlin, where she will also be exhibiting the photographs. If you are in or around Berlin next week then we would love to see you.

Otherwise, if the book is of interest then you can get your copy via Influx Press or through your local bookshop. If you are not close to a bookshop or are being careful with shopping right now, is a website where you can both order online but also support a local or independent bookshop. You can find all my books, including In the Pines, here.

A Little Over Halfway There – #30for30 Half Marathon Challenge

The Pahar Trust Nepal team along with teachers and pupils at Sita Ram school in Nepal, where they’ve already been undertaking a number of #30for30 activities since January.

I wanted to write this last week, between my 15th and 16th half marathons for the Pahar Trust Nepal’s #30for30 fundraising campaign, but events got the better of me. So here we are, with sixteen runs down and another fourteen to go and I have to say that – for the most part – I’ve been really enjoying these weekly long runs. 

One of the main reasons has been the company. On most of the runs I have been joined by my good friend Jim for at least some of the way, and I’ve also run a half marathon with Neil and Charlotte. Unfortunately, the restrictions here in Berlin have limited me to only being able to run with one person per week, but I am hopeful that by the time we get into the twenties it might be possible to run with a slightly larger gang. 

But the support I’ve had over the past sixteen weeks has not only been from these three out on the streets with me, but also from everyone who has donated via my Justgiving page and sent me words of encouragement and support, and especially Alan and Tim from the Pahar Trust Nepal who have sent me supportive emails and a lovely fundraisers medal to mark the halfway point of the campaign. I have medals from running that include a full marathon in the forests of Brandenburg, the Mauerweglauf along the Berlin Wall Trail, and numerous half marathons and 10km runs in Berlin, Liverpool, Dresden and Leipzig, but I think this is the one that I will treasure the most.

Right now the Pahar Trust Nepal is well on the way to their #30for30 target of £50,000 and our little community that has supported me in my half marathon efforts have already donated (at the time of writing) £1,785. When I started the fundraising back in December I set an aim of £200 – my target now is ten times that (and secretly I’m aiming for more – see below). Thanks so much to everyone who has supported so far, and if you feel like encouraging me for the runs to come, you can do so here on my Justgiving page.

The Important Bit:

But what’s the money going to be used for? I thought I would use the halfway report to go into a little more detail on the Pahar Trust Nepal’s work and in particular their early years education projects, as this is the main focus of the #30for30 campaign. On their website, there is an overview of the importance of early years education by Sue Green, the Pahar Trust Nepal President:

“A child’s brain develops more than at any other time during the first five years of life and the experiences that a child has during this time shapes their brain development. The basis of a child’s social behaviour, capacity to learn, ability to problem solve, communication skills and motivation skills develop during these early years. Without appropriate age related stimuli and loving care development will be inhibited…” (Read the rest of Sue’s post here)

On the website they also present a couple of case studies, to give anyone who supports the Pahar Trust Nepal the chance to understand how the funds raised via the #30for30 campaign and through their other activities will be used. This includes a story from the Thaprek School in Tanahun, where volunteers visited in 2019 to support the refurbishment of the school to provide an improved Early Childhood Development classroom, a new kitchen and dining area, and a safe, reliable water supply.

The team repainted the classroom to make it brighter and more engaging, installed new furniture and learning resources, and constructed a new toilet so that children did not need to go outside – especially beneficial during the monsoon season. The improvement works cost around £4,200, and the impact for the children was clear to the teacher, Muniraj Gurung, who said: 

“The new room has provided much more space for the children to play and they have lots of learning materials to use now. We are also able to provide snacks to the children which is good.  We have seen an increase in attendance and we are almost full which is good for the children. They can play with each other and learn many things while playing. They are improving their habit of helping each other also. I would like to thank the donors for their support because before there was a very narrow room; there weren’t many things to read and play with. Now we have a room and resources which makes the children happy and their learning becomes even more meaningful.”

Each penny that we raise for the #30for30 campaign will go towards projects like the Thrapek School, and even modest amounts make a massive difference. For example…

£20 could provide a bag and educational materials for a student
£100 could repaint a classroom
£500 could provide new resources such as stationery & toys
£1,200 could provide new flooring, a whiteboard & furniture
£3,000 could provide the complete refurbishment of an existing room

I don’t know how realistic it is, but if by the end of the thirty weeks and the thirty half marathons we can get close to the £3,000 needed to complete refurbish an Early Child Development classroom then it would certainly make every one of 632.7 kilometres worth it, and all the aching muscles that come with them!

One more for luck: 30 Half Marathons in 30 Weeks Fundraising Page

You can find out more about the Pahar Trust Nepal, sign up for regular newsletter updates and discover more details about the various projects they’ve undertaken and supported over the last thirty years on their website: Pahar Trust Nepal.

#30For30 – Half Marathon Challenge for the Pahar Trust Nepal

I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions, but as we approached the end of 2020 – possibly the most strange and anxious year many of us will have ever experienced – I decided to set myself a running challenge that would be doable regardless of lockdowns and other restrictions that might be in place. My idea was to do something for the Pahar Trust Nepal, an organisation that I’ve long known about thanks to the involvement of good friends of ours. It turned out that, as I thought about what it was I might do, they were in the process of announcing a fundraising campaign to mark 30 years since the first school funded and built by what became the Pahar Trust Nepal was opened.

And so, with #30For30 as their campaign slogan, it seemed only right to come up with a challenge that fit this theme and so the idea of running thirty half marathons in thirty weeks was born. At the time of writing I have completed the first four – you can read about them on my fundraising page, or follow me on Instagram – and despite Berlin’s cold winter they have been going well, although I am beginning to get used to having nearly permanently tired legs. I’m hoping this will get better the longer the challenge goes on.

About the #30For30 Campaign

From the first school opened in Pokharithok, a tiny village in the Himalayas, the Pahar Trust Nepal has completed more than 200 projects, including building and renovating 159 schools, 51 libraries and 38 other essential projects such as health centres and toilets. For the #30For30 campaign throughout the whole of 2021, the PTN is aiming to raise £50,000 to help 30 schools in Nepal improve their teaching provision and facilities for pre-primary school children aged 1-5 years old.

This might include the total refurbishment of a classroom, or more resources such as stationery, toys and other educational materials. From the PTN website:

When children attend pre-primary education, they are more likely to stay in school and attain minimum reading and mathematics competencies. It also supports economic growth, as it enables mothers and other caregivers the opportunity to work and increase their earnings.

Research also shows that children who receive safe, quality education at this age are significantly more likely to have more successful outcomes as adults.

The campaign supports the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal to ensure all children have access to quality early childhood development (ECD) so that they are ready for primary education.

I have set my own fundraising goal to £800 and as of today thanks to some generous support I am already at 81% of the target. To get an idea how the fundraising can help, here is an overview of how the money collected can be used:

£20 could provide a bag and educational materials for a student
£100 could repaint a classroom
£500 could provide new resources such as stationery & toys
£1,200 could provide new flooring, a whiteboard & furniture
£3,000 could provide the complete refurbishment of an existing room

I’ll add some updates here on the blog as the campaign continues, both about my runs but also the projects in Nepal that the campaign will help, and once the weather improves and I can strike out a bit from running only from home, I’ll also post some route ideas for anyone planning to come to Berlin and would like to explore by running a half marathon through the city. And if you feel like supporting me in this 30-week challenge, then please visit my Justgiving page. I know that things are tough financially for many people right now, but anything you can donate will make a very real difference and is greatly appreciated. And if anyone fancies keeping me company on a long run between now and July, just let me know.


Publications and round-up of 2020

At the end of this strange and anxious year, I’m once more looking back at the last 12 months to create a round up of some of the things I’ve been up to. In March, my first book in German (translated by Ulrike Kretschmer) was published – AM RAND: UM GANZ BERLIN. In December, we launched STORIES FROM THE SQUARE, a series of short stories commissioned by The Circus in Berlin and which you can listen to me read if you follow the link.

Here is what else I have been up to:

For Lit Hub (essay): ‘What can the artist do in dark times‘, on the life and legacy of Käthe Kollwitz.
For Metamorphosen 27 (short story): ‘Walking to remember‘.
For Stadio (essay): ‘Six weeks in Springtime‘.
For hidden europe magazine (essay): ‘Carried on the wind: Walking with Rilke in Duino‘.
For Caught by the River (obituary): ‘Caught by the Reaper: Jan Morris‘.
For the exhibition BERLIN.LOKAL-ZEIT (essay): ‘Berlin Springtime‘ (audio version).
For Lit Hub (essay): ‘Can the German Path to Truth and Reconciliation Work in America?‘.
For Caught by the River (essay): ‘Shadows and Reflections‘, on the artwork of Rob Piercy.
For hidden europe magazine (essay): ‘The 21.48 from Aachen‘.

For Europe by Rail I wrote a monthly short essay from March to December. You can see the archive of pieces here, but I wanted to  flag up the August essay ‘A Little Train in the Mountains‘, a tribute to Tony Judt on the tenth anniversary of his death.

We continued our work on Elsewhere: A Journal of Place, and I was privileged to work with wonderful writers throughout the year. My own pieces for the journal are here and a couple of my favourites are:
Irreplaceable – An interview with Julian Hoffman‘.
Jenny Sturgeon, Nan Shepherd and The Living Mountain‘.
At Grunewald station: Memory and the danger of forgetting‘.

There are a couple of videos of events we managed to do during this strange year, including this one (in German) about my book AM RAND, and this one (in English) about Wanderlust and Memories of Elsewhere. I was also very honoured to be invited to Dortmund to take part in a panel discussion as part of the ‘The Other Side‘ exhibition at the Dortmunder U. 

What of next year? I’m currently in the middle of writing a book about Germany’s Harz mountains and Heinrich Heine, tentatively to appear in 2022, and October 2021 will see the publication of my novella IN THE PINES, accompanied by photography from Eymelt Sehmer. It’s being published by Influx Press and all the details are here.

Finally, and in connection to Influx. Early in the first lockdown we made some short films featuring readings from our books. Here’s mine for my Berlin novel BUILT ON SAND, which was published by Influx in 2019.

Publications and round-up of 2019

As we reach the end of 2019 I wanted to bring all the different things I have been up to over the past twelve months into one place. It has been a busy, exciting and exhausting year, not least because it saw the publication of my debut novel BUILT ON SAND (Influx Press) as well as a number of other short stories and essays that have found their way out into the world:

For the New Statesman (essay): ‘How Joseph Roth saw Europe’s future’.
For Lit Hub (essay): ‘How Berlin Reckons with Its Past Each and Every Day’.
For SAND Journal (short story & interview): ‘Trans Europa Express’.
For hidden europe (essay): ‘A Walk in Grumsin: The Forest and the German Imagination’.
For BLA Bokvennen Litteraer Avis (essay): ‘Against forgetting’.
For The Lonely Crowd (short story): ‘The Haunted Land’.
For Caught by the River (essays): ‘Field Notes from High Fläming’ and ‘Shadows & Reflections’.

We also continued with Elsewhere: A Journal of Place, which is now an online journal and for which I wrote the following articles and essays:
‘On Potsdamer Straße (to see an old friend)’.
‘Postcard from Rüdenhof, Moritzburg’.
‘Between the villages’.

As the editor in chief of Elsewhere, I also previewed the fine album ‘Chalk Hill Blue’ by Will Burns & Hannah Peel, and had the privilege to edit and publish far more fine writing than I have space for here. One particularly proud moment was to publish a series of literary tributes to writers at risk around the world, in collaboration with English PEN – archive here.

Earlier in the year I was interviewed by Nothing But The Rulebook about my writing, while in November, I was interviewed for the Monocle podcast ‘The Urbanist’ about borders, memory and the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. There were also readings in Germany, the UK and Ireland, all of which were a lot of fun and are listed here.

The end of the year also saw the first time my work has appeared in German. Ulrike Kretschmer translated my essay about a night walk in Berlin for the anthology PSYCHOGEOGRAFIE, edited by Anneke Lubkowitz and published by Matthes & Seitz.

So that was my 2019 in writing. Let’s see what 2020 brings…

Joseph Roth and the Schiller Park in spring

The parks of a city reflect their surroundings, not so much in how they look but in who can be found wandering their pathways or lounging on their green spaces. In Berlin, many of the parks were created with the expansion of the city – ‘People’s Parks’ intended as a patch of nature, a communal garden, for those who lived in cramped tenement blocks and worked the red-brick factories of the industrial age. With their trees, lawns and gravel paths, the parks of Friedrichshain, Wedding, Mitte and even the grand old Tiergarten in the heart of the city, have always shared much in common, but since the beginning they got their local character from their local characters.

In 1923 the writer Joseph Roth visited the Schiller Park in Wedding for an article published in the Berliner Börsen-Courier. It was autumn, and he reflected on the falling leaves and the poetry in the sound of their rustling, that symbolised a spirit of ‘mournfulness and a sense of transience’ that fitted the time of the year. Or at least, it did in the Tiergarten, preserve of the promenading well-to-do of Charlottenburg. In the Schiller Park, things were different:

‘…the locals from the working-class district of Wedding gather up the leaves every evening, and dry them, and use them for winter fuel. Rustling is strictly a luxury, as if poetry without central heating were a luxury.’ (from What I Saw, translated by Michael Hofmann, Granta)

On a Saturday morning in spring I run from my flat in Gesundbrunnen (once part of Wedding) through the backstreets of my neighbourhood until the Schiller Park opens out in front of me. There are no leaves on the ground of course, and even if there were, most of Wedding’s apartments now have central heating. But in the people on the benches and playing football on the open space, the neighbourhood is still reflected, as it was when Roth was here. This scene is Wedding. The park is rooted in its community.

The football pitches are both makeshift and yet impressively organised, with thin ropes and plastic training cones to mark the sidelines. Each team has a different coloured bib, and there is a referee, identifiable as the only person on the pitch without a day-glo vest and by the whistle hanging around his neck. There is a small crowd off the the side watching on at the halfway line, and I stop with them for a moment as I catch my breath. Encouragement is shouted in a number of different languages. A young child plays in the piles of discarded jackets and tracksuit tops of the players. I chat with a man doing keepy-uppies, waiting for his substitute appearance. We speak in English. He was born on another continent. He lives around the corner. He asks me where I am from. I tell him I was born on an island that seems to wish it was another continent. And that I also live around the corner. He laughs.

I am tempted to stay in the Schiller Park, to watch the rest of the game and wait for the time that the beers are opened from the crates that mark the halfway line. The sun is warm and music plays, a rhythm from portable speakers that mingles in the spring air with the sound of shouts, the referee’s whistle and the thud of a hoofed clearance out from the back. Elsewhere in the park, morning drinkers occupy the benches that line the path around the edge. I re-join the stream of joggers circling the park. Away from the football pitches, a family have arrived to set up for a picnic, laying out blankets between the coolboxes. It is the first warm Saturday of the year and you can feel the happiness in the air. The Schiller Park is still the neighbourhood’s backyard. It was a mild winter, but a winter nevertheless, and we all survived it. Now it’s time to play.

Words & Picture: Paul Scraton

By the river

It is a cold morning down by the river, on one of those days when it doesn’t really get light. If there is activity here, it is to be found inside. In the red-brick workshop where, behind high windows, a blonde woman with paint beneath her fingernails hammers at a lump of stone. In the library where, among the shelves, staff move with soft footsteps as tandem partners trade languages in low voices across circular tables and children search for stories they can read, listen to or play. In the apartments that look down on the river, the library and the workshop, and the spaces in between.

Outside, the football pitch is empty. The playground too, and the benches where drinkers gather on warmer days than this. They are part of the strange community down by the river, with their dogs and their brown bottles, and the arguments which can be heard over the laughter of kids on the playground or the shouted appeals to fair play in the direction of non-existent referees. They are all someplace else today. As are the young people who follow desire paths down the embankment to smoke and drink in the sanctuary of the bushes.

But there is life and movement beneath the sullen skies. A grey heron stalks the shallows, stepping elegantly over the latest shopping trolley to have been dumped from the embankment. A woodpecker scurries around the truck of one of the older trees. Wait until dusk, and a family of foxes can be spotted trotting along the embankment where, last summer, tents were pitched, tucked beneath overhanging branches of trees. The encampment moved on when the winter winds began to blow. A presence by the river for months, they left no trace when they departed, except a sodden blanket, curled at the water’s edge, waiting to be swallowed by the brambles in spring.

At the window she
stands, staring at the river
and recalls his face

Words & Picture: Paul Scraton

Out of season

The year starts slowly. Around the back of the boathouse, the vessels have been lifted up out of the water and tied to the chain fence in preparation for the winter freeze that can come at any moment. The road runs down the back of the properties that line the western shore of Plötzensee, this lake that has been here since the retreat of the glaciers and is now flanked by a children’s home and a youth hostel, the facilities of the swimming beach, football pitches and tennis courts, and a stonemason’s where they’ll keep your name alive for as long as someone has paid the cemetery fees.

Christmas decorations still hang and flags advertising ice cream flap in what breeze there is, but beneath dull Berlin skies it feels as if the weather too is taking its time to get going this early in the year. The wooded paths around the lake are filled with joggers and strollers, but what action there is takes places on solid land. The playground is empty and there is little to encourage anyone to linger on the empty park benches. There is a need to keep moving.

In the summer the water will be alive with swimmers from the beach and those too tight to pay the bathing fees and who have jumped the lake’s perimeter fence, as the rowers strike out from the boathouse in varying degrees of expertise. Later in the winter a different type of action will come to the lake, after the snow and the temperatures have fallen and a rink can be cleared just offshore from the nudist section of the beach and the air will be filled with the sound of sticks on pucks and skates on ice.

Somewhere, in the apartments and houses of the city, ice hockey players wait for the cold to come, so that the lake freezes and the games can commence. Today, it feels like they might be waiting a while. On the Plötzensee there are no swimmers and there are no hockey players, just a cormorant flying low across the lake, wings beating down towards the water, a black bullet moving fast until that too is just a memory. The lake is still once more.

Beneath the jetty
Swans paddle without fear of
Divers from above

Words & Picture: Paul Scraton