Ness – a new(ish) book

Hello. Ages ago I wrote on here somewhere about a project that I’d started with Robert Macfarlane when we wandered the strange landscape of Orford Ness, a long shingle spit of longshore drift on the coast of Suffolk, in eastern England. We decided to make a book; he would write the words and I’d draw the pictures. I began working with sea-coal, mud and clay to make the pictures, working on the beach of an East Anglian estuary. The pictures were big and messy. When I started to figure out how to actually make the book that I realised I would have to start again; my original plan had been to photograph these chaotic, smeared and scratched drawings, work on the photos by adding other elements digitally and then print the pictures lithographically before adding gilded copper. This would have been quite nice, but when I costed it all it would have meant that the book, when it was eventually a thing would have been a very expensive object. So I had to think again. Which meant I had to start again.

My new plan was that the entire book – text and pictures – would be printed letterpress at Richard Lawrence’s workshop in Oxford; so the pictures would have to be converted into etched magnesium plates, meaning black and white, no grey, which in turn meant that I would have to work in pen and ink. Meanwhile Robert’s writing was approaching completion and it was unlike anything he had written before. I spent the summer in an isolated hut along the coast from Orford Ness with pens and paper and drew the pictures. Such as the one above.

Eventually all of the many strands that had to be found in order to make a book from scratch were woven together, a plan was formulated and a number of beautiful books – 525, in fact, for reasons I can’t quite recall – were printed, bound, jacketed and despatched to a phalanx of readers. Great, hey? But no. Not great. It transpired that in a moment of haste and inattention the books had been printed with the pages in the wrong order. The feelings of the creators of the book cannot be described here as language is insufficient to do so.

And so the process was repeated. Never mind, never mind. All this happened nearly a year ago now.

Another edition, a ‘popular’, ‘mass-market’ edition was proposed by the proper publisher Hamish Hamilton, which is an imprint of Penguin. There were no mistakes with the page order this time. That edition was not limited to 525 copies (sorry, I still can’t remember why it was that number – possibly something to do with the latitude of Orford Ness?) and is available from all good bookshops and also Amazon.

27th November 2019