In the summer of 2017, I was one of five Scottish writers chosen by Edinburgh International Book Festival to undertake journeys across the Americas.
I travelled through the United States for three weeks, from north to south, beginning in North Dakota, through Appalachia, and ending in Louisiana. For much of this time I was accompanied by the novelist Jennifer Haigh. I wrote the diary posts below as we travelled.
As soon as you leave the interstate south of Charleston, you find yourself in a very different world. The road narrows and coils steeply up the mountain, trees crowding in on either side. A procession of huge trucks comes rumbling down in the opposite direction.
The houses, too, change. This part of Appalachia is coal country, and with the downturn in that industry, it is suffering. Abandoned buildings are everywhere; rundown houses and trailers, though lived in, look as though they ought not to be. The depravation here, to my eyes, is shocking.
Behind the trees, though, another kind of damage is being done. This region has one of the highest densities of mountaintop removal mines in Appalachia (there are 135 in West Virginia alone). From the road, it is all but invisible, but from above, the extent of this damage is truly astonishing.