Talking about Outskirts

On 1st June 2017 my new book Outskirts: Living Life on the Edge of the Green Belt is published in hardback, ebook and audiobook by Sceptre.


A captivating nature memoir telling the story of Britain's green belts, our national obsession with the countryside, and the author's childhood.

Coined by National Trust co-founder Octavia Hill at the end of the nineteenth century, the phrase 'Green Belt' originally formed part of an impassioned plea to protect the countryside. By the late 1950s, those idealistic Victorian notions had developed into something more complex and divisive. Green belts became part of the landscape and psyche of post-war Britain, but would lead to conflicts at every level of society - between conservationists and developers, town and country, politicians and people, nimbys and the forces of progress.

Growing up on 'the last road in London' on an estate at the edge of the woods, John Grindrod had a childhood that mirrored these tensions. His family, too, seemed caught between two worlds: a wheelchair-bound mother who glowed in the dark; a father who was traumatised by chicken and was almost done in by an episode of Only Fools and Horses; two brothers – one sporty, one agoraphobic – and an unremarkable boy on the edge of it all discovering something magical.

The first book to tell the story of Britain's Green Belts, Outskirts is at once a fascinating social history, a stirring evocation of the natural world, and a poignant tale of growing up in a place, and within a family, like no other.


'Illuminating and enjoyable . . . tolerantly and unsentimentally, he gets us close up to the green belt as it actually is today . . . what truly lifts it is the personal element, above all Grindrod's portrayal of family life.'
David Kynaston, Spectator

'Grindrod writes beautifully about nature . . . a lucid, evocative book, suffused with sadness and anger.'
Lynsey Hanley, author of Estates, Financial Times

'Grindrod's evocative and intelligent exploration of the green belt and its place in our national consciousness is part history and part memoir. He deftly weaves the two together, transforming what might otherwise have been a dry, technical discussion of planning and housing policy into a heartfelt narrative . . . One of the great strengths of Grindrod's book is his moving portrait of his late parents . . . [his] personal yet highly informative account of the origins and meaning of the green belt provides an excellent point of departure for an essential debate about its future, one that is likely to be contentious but is long overdue.'
PD Smith, Guardian

'Well-researched and engaging . . . It allows the reader to reconsider parts of the country that they might have taken for granted, and offers its own modest encomium to a part of England that seems under threat.'
Alexander Larman, Observer

'Although he declares early on that he can only "just about recognise a dock leaf and a field mouse", there is no lack of sophistication in his writing about the natural world. However, this self- deprecatory note is one of the pleasures in his understated account of "the dotted line" between town and country . . .  Another is the humour, the Londoner's gift for irony, for the witty summation ('It was like Mad Men rebooted in Brookside Close') . . . Above all, Mr Grindrod has the knack of putting an issue into precisely the right perspective.'
John Greening, Country Life

'A satisfying ramble through the green belt of past and future with a backpack full of research . . . thought-provoking [and] compelling'
Laura Waddell, The List

'Outskirts is dotted with funny anecdotes and familiar cultural references from a 1970s childhood. Grindrod segues elegantly between memoir and fascinating social history.'
BBC Countryfile magazine

'A terrific, and very moving read. Fascinating study in the emotional landscapes of cities. A hymn to the peripheral that is totally on target.'
Leo Hollis, author of Cities Are Good for You

'What better lens to view the current friction between nature and our engorged cities than the green belt? A brilliant idea, brilliantly executed.'
Tristan Gooley, author of The Walker's Guide


Outskirts: Living Life on the Edge of the Green Belt, published in hardback, ebook and audiobook by Sceptre.

Order here, or from your local bookshop:

Foyles | Hive | Waterstones | Amazon | Guardian Bookshop

If you'd like to contact me, perhaps with a media query or event request, or just to say hi, I'm on


  1. Hi John, I have read "Outskirts" but I can't remember if you mention an obscure fact I have just read in this book: Here is a sentence from the book: "Cherry Kearton recorded the first wild birds on an Edison at Kenley, in the green belt South of Croydon" I heard you talk about "Outskirts" at Hyde Park book club in Leeds last month, a very entertaining talk, thank you. Lynne Strutt


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