'Touched by genius' writer for Harrogate district festival

Interview by Ann Chadwick

More popular than Wind in the Willows! Bestselling Harrogate nature writer Rob Cowen.
More popular than Wind in the Willows! Bestselling Harrogate nature writer Rob Cowen.

Set in Harrogate, Common Ground, Rob Cowen’s second book, was voted Britain’s third favourite nature book recently, beating The Wind in the Willows in the process.

Declared “bold and beautiful” by Robert Macfarlane, and “touched by genius.”

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No pressure then.

“People always ask me, how’s the next one coming on?” Harrogate-based Rob said, walking home from his day job at the storytelling agency Untold, after spending the week knee deep in copy proofs editing a magazine.

“Writing Common Ground was like being possessed by somebody else,” he laughs, “that’s what it felt like. I was a channel for lots of different stories.

“To get back into that space you’ve got to have time and you’ve got to be ready to receive all of that. That requires hours, days, and months, years even of reading, researching, being out taking field notes.”

Born in Keighley, Rob grew up in Ilkley and went to University in Leeds and Art College in Dewsbury before working in London for ten years as a journalist.

Escaping the rat race in 2011, Rob wanted a ‘shack in the woods’ but his wife wasn’t too keen, so they chose Bilton, Harrogate to start a family.

Rob said: “The natural environment was where I was most comfortable. It wasn’t the ornate gardens and finery of Harrogate, or the vast Stray, but this weird tangle of land beyond the last housing in Bilton and the Nidd Gorge where I found it.”

Rob is appearing in a Q&A next month with the Harrogate Advertiser’s Features Editor Graham Chalmers at Pateley Bridge Playhouse as part of the fantastic NiddFest, a family-friendly festival that brings book lovers closer to nature and nature lovers closer to books in the glorious landscape of Upper Nidderdale.

Robn said: “I’m turning down all talks until I’ve written the next book, but NiddFest is important because of the correlation between words and children and the outdoor world.

“That’s the great hope for the future, if you can rekindle and provide a space for children to engage in the outdoors, in nature, then we have got a chance.”