Island Story Short-listed

Dan Taylor

Orwell shortlist

Remarkably, Island Story: Journeys Through Unfamiliar Britain has been shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for best political writing, 2017. There has obviously been some confusion or administrative error with my inclusion, but it is an honour to be in the company of some truly excellent titles. I am grateful for all the support of my friends, family, loved ones, and my publisher Repeater.

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Island Story tour

Dan Taylor


The United Kingdom appears less politically or socially stable than at any point in living memory. The confusion caused by a seemingly impossible Brexit vote has left the island with no obvious political direction or gravity. Incoherence is the watchword of the moment. The feeling of defeat that was so palpable in people’s conversations and gestures two years ago during the journey of Island Story repeats itself: failed promises, broken infrastructure, the universality of public dishonesty, and the retreat of many back into familiar pessimism and frustrated anger.

High time to hit the road then. Over ten days I’ll be cycling through and giving talks in Nottingham, Wakefield, Manchester, and Liverpool. Findings from Island Story will be contrasted with talk of today’s politics of island identity. These will be lively, open discussions, and I hope for open-minded participation. All events are free.

Nottingham: Thurs 11th August, Nottingham Contemporary at…

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Another Island

Day 20 058

So Island Story is out! You can order it from your local bookshop or via this good non-Amazonian website:

I’ve written a little about the book and the wonderful people I met on the road for my publisher, Repeater. It’s also a comment on Brexit and its aftermath:

I’ll be back on the road in August, cycling through Oxford, the Midlands and North and doing talks in various places – more news on that to come.

Thanks as always to everyone for the support and reassurance, and to those who made it to the enjoyable, upbeat launch last night at Housmans, with the brilliant Jeremy Seabrook.

Island Story

Dan Taylor

Island Story - cover (2)

The write-up of my epic ride around the country will soon be available in print. Island Story: Journeying through Unfamiliar Britain will be published with Repeater Books in June 2016.

Pre-order your copy here.

To celebrate the launch of the book, I am raising as much money as I can for Headway East London. Please visit my profile and find out more about this ace organisation:

There will be a book-launch at Housmans in June. I will confirm the date soon on Twitter.

If you’d like a review copy of the book, email If you’d like me to come to your community centre, working men’s club etc. and talk about my cyclo-philosophical findings around Britain, please message me. I’m interested in visiting the Midlands and North of England around mid-August.

Thanks again to everyone who helped me on this trip, a very large number of you. Don’t…

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Island Story – out with Repeater Books next year

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Island Story: Journeying through unfamiliar Britain will be out next year with new imprint Repeater Books. Read an excerpt of my rides through the North-East here.

It’s a concise and fresh write-up of the journey meticulously detailed here. Readers will be familiar with what happens (all the beer, breakdowns and renegade tents…), but the analysis and reflection on those extraordinary conversations and adventures is new. I hope it’s a fitting tribute to the generosity and friendship I encountered out on the road.

Further news on publication date and launch will appear here soon. Special thanks to the readers of this blog, and those kind and thoughtful comments and messages of support that kept me riding through.

Dan – August 2015.

Setting off


What does a person take to live out in the world for a couple of months? Seemingly too much.

William Cobbett seemed to relish going out on his Rural Rides without a map and ignoring the directions of locals. Two centuries later, J.B. Priestley heads out with ‘the minimum of clothes, a portable typewriter, the usual paraphernalia of pipes, notebooks, rubbers, paper fasteners, razor blades, Muirhead’s Blue Guide to England, Stamp and Beaver’s Geographic and Economic Survey, and, for reading in bed, the tiny thin paper edition of the Oxford Book of English Prose.’ So, too many books and not enough clothes.

I’m in good company then. I’ve a compass in place of a map, and a phone whose battery will no doubt fail at opportune moments. But it all depends on how you go. Priestley travels England by coach; Paul Theroux and Bill Bryson prefer trains; Cobbett, Celia Fiennes and Gerald of Wales go by horse; William Gilpin and Thomas Pennent rely on boats; H.V. Morton takes the car, as many people would. I prefer the bike, though the bike does not prefer me. With a malfunction rate of once per few miles, I need the tools. And without a warm hotel or inn awaiting me, the stove may seem a luxury but will keep me going during the tougher mountain stretches.

In around twenty minutes I’ll head through Elephant and Stratford to Kelvedon Hatch, and from there to Basildon, and then Canvey Island. This is it!

O clouds unfold…


Strange ideas have hatched in my mind many times before, and yet nothing has gripped me like this.

It occurred to me about six months ago that I knew virtually nothing of Britain. A native of south London, I’d scarcely ventured beyond the M25 except for the occasional day visit to some town, or kids’ holidays to Butlins or the Cornish coast. Rarely had I the money or the motivation to go further. The popular media gave the impression that it didn’t even exist, beyond TV soap studios and bread adverts. And until recently, that ignorance didn’t bother me.

Maybe it was hearing an aspiring politician talk about poverty, or housing, or class, that first got to me, plum-voiced and brashly bellicose, private school fees spent well. No first-hand experience of it, I thought. Or maybe it was the continual dismissal of inner London, my home, my places of work, first by the chattering classes of the Home Counties, then by their children moving in, fretting about crime, drinking craft ale and then protesting against gentrification. I couldn’t bear it. So much lived experiences erased or denied.

I began to doubt my right to hold an informed perspective of the cultural and political features of Britain. If these people are so off the mark, what about me? Isn’t my own writing riddled with the same cocksure ignorance, just with a more anti-establishment tang? What good is writing for the converted, protesting with the persuaded, and debating with those who share the same views?

That’s why I decided I had to see for myself, talk to people with an open mind, and properly explore the land.

Being a doctoral student, I’m one of the few with the time to do it. I’ve got a scholarship from my university that keeps me fed and watered. With a bike, and a tent, I might just about manage it. It might take six months, I’m not sure. I’m leaving in less than a week, heading anti-clockwise, aided by a compass, inexplicable dreams, and a bottle of scotch.

What I see and encounter will be reported here, where possible. I want to uncover a pattern of Englishness out of the terrain, conversations, experiences and stories I encounter. There’s more details on the other pages about this. When I talk of ‘Albion’, it’s no nod to Pete Doherty, haughty jingoes or luckless football clubs. It’s a ruse and a question wrapped in one, ripped from William Blake. The England of UKIP or the English Democrats is not one I recognise. What of the England I know, open-minded, generous, cooperative, tolerant of others, with an indefatigable sense of humour and a love of fun?

I’d be glad of help along the road – a place to rest, a drink in your local boozer, a companion to share the path. Get in touch if that’s you,