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Dr Ben Smith

Lecturer in Creative Writing (E&R)

I am a Lecturer in Creative Writing and a published novelist and poet, specialising in environmental and speculative literature, focusing on future landscapes, climate change and the Anthropocene.

As a writer and researcher I have a particular interest in interdisciplinary practice and a strong track record of working with natural and social scientists to develop projects exploring the role that creative writing can play in tackling major environmental and social issues. I am on the steering committee of the Royal Society's ‘UK Future Earth Early Career Network’, where I help to organise and lead a programme of events and activities, nurturing a new generation of interdisciplinary researchers.

My debut novel Doggerland uses the lens of speculative fiction to engage with pressing contemporary issues such as renewable energy, ocean waste, climate change and the scale-effects of the Anthropocene. I use the setting of a North Sea windfarm and a flooded landmass to explore these issues, drawing on research in Environmental Humanities, Cultural Geography, Archaeology and Marine Science. It was published by 4th Estate in the UK, Atlas Contact in the Netherlands and Liebeskind in Germany, and was selected as a Guardian Book of the Year 2019. 

I am currently working on a collaboration with the artist Rose Ferraby to create maps and fictional travel accounts of journeys through the Anthropocene. Exhibitions and a publication of our project, Ghost Nets and Phantom Islands, will be forthcoming in 2022.

I teach across the Creative Writing BA and MA curriculum and have experience supervising a wide range of Creative Writing PhD projects.

Students can book a tutorial with me during my office hours via this link

Research interests

My main research interests are:

  • Environmental Literature - Climate Fiction, Ecopoetry and New Nature Writing.
  • Speculative Fiction.
  • Collaborative practice across written forms, film and visual art.
  • Climate Modelling and Earth Systems Science.
  • The Anthropocene and its renamings and reframings.
  • Representations of future landscapes and seascapes.
  • Materiality and Global Systems.
  • Environmental History and historic climate change.
  • The evolution of Climate Science and environmental thought.

I have a particular interest in interdisciplinary practice and fostering connections between the Arts and Sciences. I have worked on a number of projects with researchers in environmental and climate science to explore ways of working together and communicating our research to the public. I am on the steering committee of the UK Future Earth ECR Network, where I help to organise and lead events and activities, nurturing a new generation of interdisciplinary researchers. 

My debut novel Doggerland uses the lens of speculative fiction to engage with pressing contemporary issues such as renewable energy, ocean waste, climate change and the scale-effects of the Anthropocene. I use the setting of a North Sea windfarm and a flooded landmass to explore these issues, drawing on research in Environmental Humanities, Cultural Geography, Archaeology and Marine Science. 

Doggerland was published in 2019 as a lead fiction debut by 4th Estate in the UK, Atlas Contact in the Netherlands and Liebeskind in Germany, receiving reviews in a wide range of national and international newspapers and journals, including The GuardianThe Observer and NRC Handelsblad. It  was a Guardian Book of the Year 2019 and is currently taught on Creative Writing and Environmental Literature modules at a number of universities.

I am currently working on a project entitled Ghost Nets and Phantom Islands: Mapping the Anthropocene, in which I have been collaborating with an artist to create maps and fictional travel accounts of journeys through our changing world. Drawing on a tradition of fantastical maps and travelogues, from medieval ‘mappa mundi’ to C17th accounts of imagined landscapes, this project explores how historic travel discourses, with their tall tales and shifting truths, can provide new ways of engaging with the uncertainty and bewilderment of the Anthropocene. This project will result in a series of public exhibitions and events, as well as a book which will be published by Guillemot Press. 

Research supervision

I am very happy to work with PhD candidates interested in creative or critical projects in the following areas:

  • Environmental Literature - Climate Fiction, Ecopoetry and New Nature Writing.
  • Speculative Fiction.
  • Creative and theoretical approaches to the Anthropocene.
  • Representations of future landscapes, environments and worlds.
  • Materiality and Global Systems.
  • Environmental History.
  • New approaches to environmental philosophy and ecological thought.

I particularly encourage applicants interested in working across disciplines, forms and genres.

If you only have vague ideas in these or related areas, please feel free to get in touch. I may be able to suggest something that would build on your interests.

External impact and engagement

I have over ten years’ experience organising and delivering workshops and public events, in conjunction with local schools and organisations such as Plymouth Marine Laboratory, the Woodland Trust and the National Trust.

I am particularly interested in working with film-makers, artists and scientists to communicate issues around changing landscapes and climate. Here are a few of the projects I have been involved in:

2020 - Guest editor – The Literary Platform (No.3) Climate Change Special Issue.

Working with the creative arts organisation Stranger Collective I co-edited a special issue of The Literary Platform exploring the relationship between literature and climate change, included presenting an episode for the Lit Platform podcast and running a public writing competition. 

2017 - Crosscurrents: Poetry and Marine Science Project

Working with Plymouth Marine Laboratory, I co-organised this interdisciplinary project, bringing poets and marine scientists together to share their research and deliver public events.

2017 - Port Eliot Festival Newspaper.

I helped to organise and deliver a student-run newspaper for the Port Eliot Literary Festival, giving students the opportunity to work with local publisher Guillemot Press to produce a high-quality newspaper, which was be written, edited, printed and distributed onsite during the festival.

2012-2017 - The Clearing

In 2012 I co-founded The Clearing, an online magazine publishing innovative writing about landscape, environment and place. By 2017 it had reached a monthly readership of 5000 and become a key publication in the discovery and promotion of emerging voices in environmental writing in the UK. 

Media

 

Film Work 

2016 - The Wet Desert

Working with an award winning film maker and production company Fat Sand films I scripted and narrated a short film exploring the environmental history of Dartmoor. The film has reached over 39,000 viewers on Vimeo and has been screened at film festivals in the UK and US.

 

Public Events

  • ‘Writing the Anthropocene’ Flanor Literary Society, Groningen, Netherlands (May 2021).
  • ‘Doggerland Book Talk’ Charles Causley Festival (July 2020)
  • ‘What Might a Better World Look Like?’ Plymouth University (Nov 2019).
  • ‘Climate Change and the Novel’ Het Grote Gebeuren, Groningen, Netherlands (Nov 2019).
  • ‘Finding Your Story Through Landscape’ Novel Nights public workshop (Oct 2019).
  • ‘Crimes Against Nature: Expert Panel’ Noirwich Crime Writing Festival (September 2019).
  • ‘Stories from the Sea’. CAST Helston (July 2019).
  • Doggerland Book Talk’ Port Eliot Literary Festival (July 2019).
  • ‘Debut Fiction Salon’ The Riff RaffLondon (May 2019).
  • ‘Poetry and Environmental Activism’ New Networks for Nature (Nov 2018)

 

Interviews

  • Ben Smith’s Doggerland’ Little Atoms podcast interview (Sept 2019).
  • ‘Innhentet av Havet’ Bokvennen Litteraer Avis (Norway) Interview (June 2019).
  • ‘Stories from the Sea’ BBC Radio Cornwall (July 2019).
  • ‘Doggerland’ Open Book BBC Radio 4 (23rd May 2019).
  • The First Book Interview’ The Guardian (9th May 2019).

Teaching

I teach and lead modules across the BA and MA Creative Writing curriculum, but specialise in poetry, fiction and environmental literature.

I have a particular interest in supervising BA and MA dissertations in ecopoetry, speculative fiction, climate change and Anthropocene literatures.

Modules taught