All posts by Bob Fowke

Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment


Fergus The Silent by Michael McCarthy, published by YouCaxton, has won the biennial creative writing prize awarded by the British and Irish Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment, the body which represents teachers and scholars of environmental writing and eco-criticism.

The novel imagines the rediscovery of the great auk, the legendary extinct Atlantic seabird, on a remote Scottish island, and the actions of the man who stumbles upon the birds – but who then keeps his discovery secret for seventeen years, with ultimately disastrous consequences.

The great auk formerly bred in Scotland but is believed to have gone extinct in Iceland in 1844.

The book emerged at the head of a very strong shortlist, on which it was the only self-published work.  The result was announced at the ASLE conference in Liverpool on August 30th.

“This is a wonderful novel,” said the chair of the judges, Richard Kerridge, leader of the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University.

“It combines a passionate and complex and at times disastrously painful love story, with a story about species loss and extinction, of a particularly ingenious and exciting kind.  The plot structure and pace are superb. The joy, fear and greed arising for different characters from this astonishing find are beautifully worked into a moving, dramatic story.”

The author Michael McCarthy is a former Environment Correspondent of The Times and Environment Editor of The Independent, and an established writer on environmental themes. His book The Moth Snowstorm – Nature and Joy was shortlisted for the Wainwright Prize in 2015.

However, he was unable to find a publisher for Fergus The Silent and in the end published the book himself. It is his first novel.

“We are particularly delighted to award the prize to a self-published novel,” Kerridge said. “It is surprising that a book of this quality by a distinguished author didn’t find a mainstream or trade publisher.”

“Serious realist fiction that engages with these problems still has to fight for its place.”

“I have a very good agent but he simply could not find anyone to take the book on,” McCarthy said. “He received a whole series of what he termed ‘rave rejections’ – as in, ‘we think this is great but it’s just not quite one for us.’ In the end I got fed up with it just being a file in my computer and published it independently.

“I am honoured that it has received the prize.”

Fergus The Silent is published by YouCaxton Publications, ISBN 978-1-914424-38-0. It is available on Amazon, price £12.99.

For more information:
Richard Kerridge,
Michael McCarthy,

Oxford Literary Festival

Oxford Literary Festival runs from 16-24 March, events include conversation with Will Hutton, Sharron Davies and Chris Patten among a long list of names. This year’s festival will have a new hub in Blackwell Hall, Weston Library, Broad Street

(Image: Oxford High Street, David Nicholls, Flickr)
Visit: Festival website 
Visit: Pocket guide

The Glasgow Wheelers

Excellent review of The Glasgow Wheelers in The Herald (Scotland):

“One such club that has played a significant part in Scottish sporting history is Glasgow Wheelers, a cycling club that’s produced more world-class athletes than many others could even dream of.

The history of the club has been documented in a fascinating and incredibly well-researched book called: ‘The Glasgow Wheelers; A Scottish Cycling History.’ This book such a vital read. And it’s not only worth reading for cycling enthusiasts, but also for people like me who are interested in Scottish sport but are entirely ignorant of the history of a club  (…)which has played such a massive part in the sporting success of this country over the past century.

Susan Egelstaff, The Herald, 20 August 2023


ASLE-UKI Book Prize Shortlist 2023

Michael McCarthy’s latest book, Fergus the Silent, published by YouCaxton in 2021, has been short-listed for the ASLE (Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment) Book Prize, Best Work for Creative Writing. We’ll hear the results shortly.

Move Like Water, Daily Mail

Move Like Water by Hannah Stowe (Granta £16.99, 272pp), review by Natasha Poliszczuk

‘An elegant, enthralling memoir that will do for the ocean what Katherine May did for winter (Wintering) and Alice Vincent did for gardening (Rootbound).’



Sophia Plowden, British Library

This guest post on the Asian and African Studies blog of the British Library by Katherine Butler Schofield introduces her recent talk at the British Library on Sophia Plowden, Khanum Jan, and ‘Hindustani airs’, now available as a podcast “The Courtesan and the Memsahib: Khanum Jan meets Sophia Plowden at the Court of Lucknow”. It is accompanied by a collection of images forming a visual record. The podcast, produced by Chris Elcombe with music by harpsichordist Jane Chapman, is part of a series of presentations at the British Library in 2018 for Katherine’s British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship programme “Histories of the Ephemeral: Writing on Music in Late Mughal India”.  Special thanks are due to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, for permission to reproduce the images below from MS 380, Mrs Plowden’s beautiful collection of North Indian song lyrics and tunes.

Link to the blog:

Palatine, Daily Mail, Roman Emperors from Augustus to Vespasian

Review of Palatine by Peter Stothard, former editor of The Times, in the  Daily Mail:

‘Palatine tells the story of Rome between Augustus, the first Roman emperor who died in 14 AD, and the military hero Vespasian, whose rule from 69 to 79 AD brought a long period of political stability and financial expansion. With vivid prose in short, dynamic chapters, Stothard also covers the reigns of Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero, Jewish unrest at the time of Christ and the invasion of Britain, but this extraordinarily well-researched, exciting book is more a tale of increasing wealth and prosperity rather than war, as well as corruption, greed, gluttony and desire.’

Link to review: