Caught by the River

The Roger Deakin Archive

8th May 2010

Press release:

Nature writer’s archive donated to University of East Anglia

More than 100 personal notebooks and unpublished poetry by the acclaimed nature writer, environmentalist and film-maker Roger Deakin are among a new archive collection at the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Deakin, who died in August 2006 aged 63, was a regular contributor to newspapers and magazines, TV and radio, and played a vital role in the emergence of what has been called the ‘New Nature Writing’ trend in British literature. He found critical and popular success with Waterlog: A Swimmer’s Journey Through Britain (1999), which recounted his mission to swim across Britain’s rivers and waterways.

The collection had been stored in dozens of crates in the top floor of a barn and then a container at Deakin’s home, Walnut Tree Farm in Mellis, Suffolk, and was donated to the university by his son Rufus. Now cleaned up and catalogued, it includes book and broadcast proposals, manuscripts and proofs, scripts, correspondence and other papers, photographs and film and audio recordings – even a pair of Deakin’s swimming trunks.

The material spans his education at Haberdashers’ Aske’s and Peterhouse, Cambridge, where he read English under the supervision of Kingsley Amis, and his careers as an advertising copywriter, teacher, environmental campaigner and writer, as well as his involvement in arts and environment organisations such as the charity Common Ground, which he co-founded in 1983.

Prof Jon Cook, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at UEA, said: “The archive is a wonderful gift to the university. The documents in it give a unique insight into the work of a writer and activist whose concerns match many of our commitments at UEA. We are delighted to be able to give a home to this collection, which offers many different routes into Roger Deakin’s inspiring life and work. We hope it will be used in ways that continue that inspiration.”

Author Dr Robert Macfarlane, Deakin’s friend and literary executor, said it was fitting that the archive should come to UEA. “Roger’s association with East Anglia could not be stronger. He lived on the Norfolk-Suffolk border, and everything he wrote returned to that landscape in some way, or arose from it. It’s also in keeping with the university’s reputation as a creative writing centre, and its strong reputation for environmental thought and study. This archive will give the collection a long-term home, making it accessible to researchers, pilgrims, biographers, literary critics and the public alike.”

Many of the 130-odd handwritten notebooks and diaries in the collection formed the basis for Waterlog and later Wildwood: A Journey through Trees, which explored the enduring connection humans have with wood and trees. Originally entitled Touching Wood, Deakin managed to complete the book before he died and it was published posthumously in 2007. Also in the archive are poems written by Deakin, many of them unpublished and reflecting his passion for the natural world. Film and video material, including television documentaries Deakin made, has been deposited with the UEA-run East Anglian Film Archive.

For the last six years of his life Deakin recorded his daily thoughts, feelings and observations and the archive includes the resulting 45 notebooks, which provided the material for Notes from Walnut Tree Farm, edited by his friend Terence Blacker and Alison Hastie and published in 2008.

Mr Blacker said: “Roger was one of those rare people whose character and passion is to be found in everything he made, collected, drew or wrote. His notes, written to himself, provide an insight into a beautiful mind and a sweet man. This archive will capture what it was like to be a passionate, engaged, subversive country intellectual living through a time of profound change. It is very appropriate that Roger’s papers will remain within his beloved East Anglia.”

The Roger Deakin archive is the latest addition to a growing literary collection at university. The UEA Archives are also home to a major collection of personal papers donated by Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing, as well as papers relating to the teaching and career of award-winning writer and critic Lorna Sage, who was professor of English literature at the university until her death in 2001.

More information about the Roger Deakin archive can be found at