We underestimate how difficult it is to live in remote areas, says travel writer Dan Richards. He tells Kirsty Wark how he trekked to high mountain huts and distant snowy cabins for his new book, Outposts. Richards followed in the footsteps of Virginia Woolf, Roald Dahl and Jack Kerouac, who all found inspiration in the wilderness. But just as Kerouac went temporarily mad living on a remote mountainside, so today’s tourists in the Scottish Highlands and Nordic isles underestimate “hard nature’s indifference”.
Icelandic model turned sheep farmer Heida Asgeirsdottir knows how challenging countryside life can be. After an early career as a model in New York, she returned to Iceland to take over her parents’ sheep farm in a region of volcanoes and elemental storms. But even this distant region needs modern power and infrastructure, and this means a new hydro-electric plant whose owners want to flood her farm.
A family feel stuck in the middle of nowhere in Chekhov’s searing play Three Sisters. Rebecca Frecknall is directing a new production at the Almeida Theatre, exploring the thwarted ambitions and dreams of a provincial Russian town. Sisters Irina, Olga and Masha long to return to Moscow, but become bogged down in dead-end jobs and trapped by mortgages and marriage.
Chekhov’s play could easily be set in a British town today, says Sarah O’Connor from the Financial Times. She looks at the stark problems facing our seaside resorts and post-industrial towns. In her Orwell Prize-winning study of Blackpool, she challenged the idea that our seaside towns lack aspiration and are destined to fail. Now she explains why terms like “the Left Behinds” are dangerously misleading.
Producer: Hannah Sander
Ian McEwan talks to Andrew Marr about his new novel, Machines Like Us, and reflects, at the age of 70, on a career which began more than four decades ago.
Machines Like Us is set in an alternative Britain in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher has lost the Falklands war and the scientist Alan Turing has made a breakthrough in artificial intelligence leading to a series of synthetic humans. The love-triangle at the heart of the book forces the reader to confront ideas about what makes us human and what happens when we lose control of our creations.
Ian McEwan published his first book, a collection of short stories called First Love, Last Rites, in 1975. It won critical acclaim, as well as comment about the sometimes shocking subject matter. Since then, he has published 15 novels, and won the Man Booker Prize in 1998. He is a literary writer who has also enjoyed great popular success, with his novel Atonement selling well over a million copies in the UK alone.
Producer: Katy Hickman
850,000 people in the UK are thought to be living with dementia. The writer Nicci Gerrard tells Andrew Marr about her father’s slow death from the illness. She explores issues around memory, language and identity, as well as asking how society will cope as the population ages and the number of people suffering with dementia rises into the millions.
But why and how do we age? The science journalist Sue Armstrong has been investigating what happens to cells when the body gets older, and whether ageing really can be treated like any other disease waiting to be cured. Life expectancy has risen sharply in the last half century globally, but can it keep on rising?
The street theatre performance, Bed, involving elderly actors lying in beds in town centres around the country, was devised by older members of Entelechy Arts who wanted to make a statement about isolation and invisibility. The Artistic Director David Slater says the arts have an important role to play in improving people’s lives no matter how old.
The poet John Agard is 70 this year. In his latest collection, The Coming of the Little Green Man, he explores the world from the stance of the outsider. In a series of mischievous, satirical fables he gives voice to the political and spiritual, comic and poignant.
Free Thinking Festival
At the Free Thinking Festival at Sage, Gateshead Tom Sutcliffe presents a special edition exploring the art and science of communication. The American diplomat William J Burns played a central role in American foreign policy from the end of the Cold War to the collapse of relations with Putin’s Russian, and including secret talks with Iran. He explores the language of diplomacy.
Harriet Shawcross is an award-winning filmmaker and journalist. She reflects on how as a teenager she stopped speaking for almost a year. In her book Unspeakable she considers the power of silence.
The musician and composer Kathryn Tickell roots her work in in the landscape and people of Northumbria. She is the foremost exponent of the Northumbrian pipes, and tells the story of Northumbria with - and without - words.
Thomas Dixon studies emotional outbursts as the director of the Centre for the History of Emotions. He unveils the scientific and philosophical underpinnings of anger and weeping.
Producer: Katy Hickman
Art for all
The prize-winning author Karl Ove Knausgaard explores the life and work of a fellow Norwegian artist, Expressionist Edvard Munch. He tells Tom Sutcliffe that Munch’s work extends far beyond his iconic painting The Scream. Knausgaard brings together art history, biography and personal memoir to reflect on what it means to be an artist.
Munch is known as a painter of the inner life and even his landscapes are infused with personal reflection. But at the turn of the twentieth century, while he was looking inward, art schools across Europe were forging new philosophies and were engaging with the wider world. In Germany the Bauhaus movement, founded by Walter Gropius, stood for experiment and creative freedom. Fiona MacCarthy’s new biography of Gropius re-evaluates his intellectual and emotional life. She depicts him at the heights of Bauhaus fame and through his post-war years in London to his architectural successes in America.
Back in the UK, Charles Rennie Mackintosh was at the centre of a movement based at the Glasgow School of Art. Curator Alison Brown explains how that city became the birthplace of the only Art Nouveau ‘movement’ in the UK. The style and influence of Mackintosh and his disciples has since spread throughout the world.
Both Bauhaus and Art Nouveau designs became commercially successful and mass produced. But the earlier Arts and Craft Movement of William Morris championed the principle of handmade production. In an extraordinary find, the social historian Tamsin Wimhurst, came across a terraced house in Cambridge owned by a working-class Victorian decorative artist who reproduced the work of Morris for his own pleasure at home. The David Parr House is opened to the public later this year.
Producer: Katy Hickman