Author meets Reviewer: Neil Ansell meets Paul Cheney

Article published on February 19, 2018.

After reviewing The Last Wilderness, Paul Cheney posed some questions to author Neil Ansell:

Paul Cheney: Thank you for writing a beautiful book about your personal life and your trips to a wonderful part of our island. You say that you are becoming more dependent on your other senses; what is the one that you are relying on the most?

Neil Ansell: Having been hard of hearing all my life, I have always particularly valued having good eyesight. It feels like a gift.

Paul Cheney: What do you miss hearing the most in the natural world?

Neil Ansell: Birdsong… I am losing my birds one by one, and there is a terrible finality each time I come upon a new bird that I can no longer hear.

Paul Cheney: Do you find that losing your hearing means that you are not distracted by the din of modern life?

Neil Ansell: Being deaf in one ear, I find it very difficult to separate a sound I want to hear from any background noise. I can manage a conversation with one person in a quiet room, but the moment there are multiple voices I am lost.

Paul Cheney: All three of your books have had solitude as a key part of your life; how do you get the balance between having a family and having time to yourself right?

Neil Ansell: My children are growing up now so it is becoming gradually easier, but I have always tried to organise my life in such a way that I get some alone time now and again.

Paul Cheney: Have they understood your health problems now and are you getting the treatment that you need?

Neil Ansell: Yes, my heart condition is medicated now and seems to have settled down. I am still holding out against having a hearing aid, as my experience of them in the past has not been encouraging, but I may eventually be left with little choice.

Paul Cheney: What are your ‘must see’ places that you would recommend others to visit in the UK?

Neil Ansell: The places that have meant the most to me are the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, the hills of mid-Wales, and the New Forest, my childhood stamping ground.

Paul Cheney: If you were to recommend three natural history books, what would they be?

Neil Ansell: There are so many fantastic books to choose from. Here are three slightly less obvious books from round the world that have a lot to say about solitude and tenacity as well as nature… Sooyong Park’s The Great Soul of Siberia, Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, and Julia Leigh’s The Hunter (a novel.)

Paul Cheney: Do you have a favourite place to write?

Neil Ansell: I almost always walk to the library to write – it is like going out to the office and gives a little structure to my writing life.

Paul Cheney: As writing is becoming a way of communicating now, do you have another book planned?

Neil Ansell: At the moment I am in the rather luxurious phase of mulling over ideas, taking notes, and background reading. You need to be confident that your ideas are deep-rooted enough that you want to devote more than a year of your life to them.

Paul Cheney: Which author(s) do you turn to for inspiration?

Neil Ansell: In my early teens I first read Island Years by Frank Fraser Darling, set in the 1930s. It helped inspire in me a lifelong passion for being out in the wilds watching the wildlife.

Paul Cheney: What book are you currently reading?

Neil Ansell: Right now it’s a novel – The Ice Palace by the Norwegian author Tarjei Vesaas. I like to think that I read very widely, rather than just sticking with voices that are closer to my own.

Our thanks to both Neil and Paul for this insightful Q&A.

The Last Wilderness: A Journey into Silence by Neil Ansell
Tinder Press 9781472247117 hbk Feb 2018

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