Award-winning author Lewis Blackwell is known for publishing books that inspire ideas, evoke passion and embrace nature. His latest book, The Life & Love of the Forest, takes you on a visual tour of some of the world’s most majestic woodlands. We spoke to Lewis about his dynamic career, his love for nature and what he hopes readers will take away from the book.
You have worked as a leading author, the creative head of Getty Images, the editor in chief and publisher of Creative Review magazine, and much more. What has been your career highlight so far?
What a tricky question. Perhaps I should give that honour to getting the first job, fresh out of university, when I really wanted to be writer but didn’t have much of a clue. I wanted to be a writer of… whatever, as long as it meant interesting people in interesting places. I sent off a lot of letters — this was pre-internet! — and almost all of the targets politely replied. And said they had no jobs. But then I struck lucky, and an excellent editor on a local evening paper in Devon saw something in me. In no time at all, I was writing masses of stuff that was getting published. Almost all of it instantly forgettable. But I learned a lot. And even then, I was sometimes engaging with environmental stories, and good photography (not mine, my friend Martin, the trainee photographer).
You are currently director of the Cresta Awards. Can you tell us a bit about your role and how it intersects with environmental issues?
The awards are about creative standards and we have work entered from more than 70 countries — all kinds of creativity in communication. It’s interesting how strongly environmental issues are a key and growing part of how brands express themselves around the world. I guess it is reflection of a rising consciousness that the environment needs protecting. One thing I want to do with Cresta is to find a way of channeling some of the great support we get from entrants into more long-term communication that can support environmental conservation.
Where does your passion for nature stem from?
I roamed around the English countryside a lot as a child, with friends. It was either idyllic or neglect, perhaps a mix of both. We were scarcely environmentalists, but I did ‘take in’ nature. And I grew up on a fairly remote small farm for a while, where the natural world was much of what I spent time encountering. ‘Nature’ was entertainment. I’d take a day or two of school to read a book, go for a walk, take the horse for a ride. Trees and unkempt near wilderness, and so on, were everyday matters. I went back to the area recently and discovered quite a lot of the low-yielding land was now covered in small glittery rows of solar panels, farming the sun. Nothing had changed to improve the environment, although I guess the feed-in power helped the rural poverty. So, my passion now perhaps comes out of a sense of loss, of not taking opportunities earlier to fully appreciate and act in a stronger conservationist way. That’s a personal loss, and also a sense of a much wider communal failure.
The Life & Love of the Forest is a follow-up to your best-selling books The Life & Love of the Sea, The Life & Love of the Trees, The Life & Love of Cats and The Life & Love of Dogs. Why did you feel compelled to capture forests next?
Forests are inspiring beautiful subjects to show… and also a way into an important story. We all need to have a much stronger sense of the connectedness of our natural world. We need to better understanding how soil, light, water, bacteria, fungi, plants and animals, etc., all work together to make a healthy forest, and that the complexity of the forest is a key part of what makes our world liveable. It’s increasingly not a ‘nice to know’ but a fundamental, something that should be part of how we all sense our part in the world.
There are plenty of important messages evoked throughout the book – if readers can take one thing away from The Life and Love of Forests, what would you like it to be?
If there is one thing I would like people to do as a result of reading The Life and Love of Forests, it would be to share some of the knowledge with others. Particularly young people. You can inspire a young person with interest about plants, animals, fungi — just find the bits that excite them. There are endless options. So if there’s one thing I want you, dear reader and (I hope) forest lover, to do it is to sign up some more forest lovers who have a long life ahead of them to love, protect and grow healthier forests.
Do you see a future in which we can co-exist with nature long term? How has the pandemic changed your outlook on this?
I think we have to believe in a future where we can co-exist with nature. The alternative is that we don’t exist. Nature will come back in some form, but we might not. If we have wiped most of it out, then the resulting hellish world will wipe us out. And nature will start to recover. If we work together to protect and support species diversity, which is a big ask but is entirely do-able, then we can feed ourselves better and yet not eat up the planet. We can create massive natural reserves in the ocean and on land and yet have more produce. It is all possible, but it takes joined-up thinking and a different kind of politics than we are seeing today. But it could change quite quickly. The pandemic has taught us that much: things can change very quickly and we can respond quickly.
What’s next for you?
I’m looking to create more books — one or two ideas are in development — and do more with Cresta. I want to keep learning, keep discovering and do this while meeting interesting people in interesting places. Right now, I’m trying to write something for an environmental film. I’ve a lot to learn and hopefully some skills to flex while doing the learning. It is fascinating. And answering these questions have reminded me that, up next, or very soon, must be a return walk in one of my favourite forests, a royal one indeed, here in Scotland where I am currently spending time.
The Life & Love of the Forest is out now. Text by Lewis Blackwell, cover image copyright © TonyFeder and design by Blackwell & Ruth.
November 5, 2020