Front cover of The Bookseller!

I’m honoured to have made the front cover of The Bookseller in an exclusive pre-publication interview with Caroline Sanderson about my forthcoming book I BELONG HERE!

In May 2019, Manchester-born writer and journalist Anita Sethi was on a Trans Pennine train from Liverpool to Newcastle when she became the victim of a race hate crime, a male passenger attacking her with words that, she wrote later, “hurt the very heart of me”. Sethi bravely reported the racial abuse to the conductor who took statements from passengers and ensured the police were waiting on the platform to arrest the man on arrival on Newcastle (he was later convicted). In the aftermath however, Sethi experienced panic attacks, along with a crushing sense of claustrophobia which made her long for wide open spaces, just as she did as a child growing up in inner-city Manchester.

Now, in an act not just of defiance but of asserted identity, Sethi has transmuted this trauma into the writing of her first book. In a powerful blend of memoir, current affairs, travel and nature writing, “I Belong Here: A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain” charts her solo journeys on foot through the Pennine Hills – through the open spaces she had been longing for -on a mission to reclaim the landscapes of her beloved north country from the racist who had told her to “get back on the banana boat”. When we speak via Skype, Sethi explains why his words were such a powerful catalyst for her book. “I’ve been racially abused before; and told so many times where I do and don’t belong. But when this man told me to go back to where I’m from, I thought: enough is enough. This is my home! Also us northerners have a very close connection with where we’re from. So no-one tells me I’m not from the north!”

This imbued sense of “northern-ness” is one of the most striking qualities of “I Belong Here”. Sethi riffs beautifully on north country vernacular with place names, and the names of geological features providing the starting-point from which to discuss a broad range of issues. For example, the chapter called “Scars” in which she writes about climbing Pen-y-Ghent via the high cliff known as Horton Scar is also a reflection on loss and PTSD and on healing. Arriving in the North Yorkshire town of Settle prompts her to ask questions about what it means to have a home, to belong, and what it is to lack or be displaced from these things. In fact the entire book is structured in a similarly allegorical way as an activist journey around the human body, from Mouth (“Speaking Up” & Bearing Witness”) to Feet (“Walking and Witnessing). And the fact that the Pennine Hills are popularly known as the backbone of Britain inspires a meditation on what it means to have backbone in a metaphorical sense – what we mean by strength, what people need in the way of social support structures. 

In fact, just like the limestone strata of the Pennine sedimentary landscapes she so evocatively describes, “I Belong Here” is a work of many layers and our wide-ranging Skype conversation reflects this, with Sethi excavating everything from the mental health crisis, systemic racism, isolation, and what it means to have a voice, to the protected characteristics of the 2010 Equality Act. But the book also beautifully expresses her love of the natural world, and her joy at the renewed sense of embodiment that comes from putting one foot in front of the other. “When you walk, you’re very aware of yourself physically. I’ve had high anxiety since childhood – and both anxiety and depression make you feel disassociated from your own self. But 

the act of walking gave me such a feeling of belonging in my own body – my brown skinned body”, she tells me. “And a feeling of belonging in the beautiful countryside of this green and pleasant land as much as any white person does”.

Alongside her debut, the first in a trilogy acquired in a three-book deal by Bloomsbury, Sethi has launched the I Belong Here foundation to promote equality in writing about nature & the great outdoors through free writing workshops for those from low-income backgrounds. Post-pandemic she plans “walk-shops” as well. “I did a pilot series of workshops last year which worked really well. My ultimate vision is to create a storytelling centre in the inner-city neighbourhood in Manchester where I grew up in – I have to do something to make the world a more equal place, and I want the Foundation to be a backbone of activism. I’d really appreciate hearing from anyone who can offer sponsorship and help me make the dream a reality”. 

Sethi’s desire to use her writing skills to enable others to find a sense of belonging in creativity is rooted in her firm belief in the power of language to help mitigate against systemic inequalities. “I’ve loved books and reading since childhood: the local library was a home for me. But I didn’t really feel my story had been reflected before.  Toni Morrison said ‘If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it’.” The process of writing “I Belong Here” has undoubtedly been a therapeutic one. “When you experience abuse it can close you off from everything, but healing comes from keeping open to the world and to other people. Writing and walking, walking and writing have helped me bear the seemingly unbearable”, she asserts.

At a time when so many have someone to grieve for, “I Belong Here” is a book about bearing loss too. Addressed on its the title page “To everyone who has ever felt like they don’t belong”, it is also dedicated to the memory of Sethi’s friend Sophie Christopher, the Transworld publicist who died suddenly in June 2019 at the age of 28. “It was just so shocking”, says Sethi who came to know Christopher after chairing an event with Markus Zusak, author of “The Book Thief”. “She was one of those genuinely lovely people. One time we went for coffee and afterwards she sent me a beautiful handwritten card with the words “A Little Card Full of Magic and Joy” on it. Every time I look at it now, I’m in awe of how her words live on”.

Throughout our conversation, Sethi frequently expresses her concern for the welfare of others at this time, and this is all the more laudable given what she herself has been through over the past 18 months. Evicted from her London flat in the summer of 2020, she lived for a time in a budget hotel in Manchester, and is currently in Fuerteventura in the Canaries where she went for the cheaper cost of living when travel there was still permitted. It might sound idyllic, but she will soon have to return to the UK, with no fixed abode awaiting her.

Sethi at least has the certainty of knowing that “I Belong Here” has already received advance praise from a host of fellow writers, including Nikesh Shukla, Melissa Harrison and Robert Macfarlane who describes it as a “brilliant, brave and important book”, and Sethi herself as a “vital and resonant voice”. And indeed she is. In one memorable passage, she describes how Sophie Christopher’s inky blue writing on the card she sent haunted Sethi’s dreams during her journey, merging with the inky blue Pennine rivers she had walked alongside by day. “To me ink is like life blood, just as rivers are. Having a pen and ink and putting words on a blank page is a way of saying: I’m still here”.

For further information on the I Belong Here Foundation: or email:

News! My book chosen as Waterstones’ 2021 Highlight

I BELONG HERE: A JOURNEY ALONG THE BACKBONE OF BRITAIN by Anita Sethi has been chosen as a Waterstones Best Book to Look Forward to in 2021.

“A brilliantly accomplished mix of powerful memoir and revelatory nature writing, Sethi’s account of finding solace in the Northern countryside following a traumatic racial attack is a defiant act of reclamation and an astonishing piece of testimony.” – Waterstones blog, Best Books to Look Forward to in 2021.

I BELONG HERE – my debut book

News: Front Cover of The Bookseller in exclusive pre-publication interview.

News: Chosen as a Waterstones’ Best Book to Look Forward to in 2021

News: Selected for the Guardian’s Literary Highlights of 2021

News: Selected as Book of the Month in The Bookseller

I Belong Here: A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain (Bloomsbury, 29th April 2021)

“I knew in every bone in my body, in every fibre of my being that I had to speak up. I knew I could not stay silent or still. I knew I had to keep walking through the world”

A journey of reclamation through the natural landscapes of the North, brilliantly exploring identity, nature, place and belonging. Beautifully written and truly inspiring, I Belong Here heralds a powerful and refreshing new voice in nature writing. 

Anita Sethi was on a journey through Northern England when she became the victim of a race-hate crime. The crime was a vicious attack on her right to exist in a place on account of her race. After the event Anita experienced panic attacks and anxiety. A crushing sense of claustrophobia made her long for wide open spaces, to breathe deeply in the great outdoors. She was intent on not letting her experience stop her travelling freely and without fear. 

The Pennines – known as ‘the backbone of Britain’ runs through the north and also strongly connects north with south, east with west – it’s a place of borderlands and limestone, of rivers and ‘scars’, of fells and forces. The Pennines called to Anita with a magnetic force; although a racist had told her to leave, she felt drawn to further explore the area she regards as her home, to immerse herself deeply in place. 

Anita’s journey through the natural landscapes of the North is one of reclamation, a way of saying that this is her land too and she belongs in the UK as a brown woman, as much as a white man does.  Her journey transforms what began as an ugly experience of hate into one offering hope and finding beauty after brutality. Anita transforms her personal experience into one of universal resonance, offering a call to action, to keep walking onwards. Every footstep taken is an act of persistence. Every word written against the rising tide of hate speech, such as this book, is an act of resistance.


I Belong Here is a brilliant, brave and important book, which tells the story of two intertwining journeys: one made on foot and the other made in the heart; one across the rock and rivers of the Pennines, and another traversing the hard ground from hatred to forgiveness. Both challenging and beautiful to read, it is a book that calls out wrongness and is full of openness and hope. The cries of curlew and lapwing, the slow growth of lichen, the tending of flowers, the clarity of running water; these are formidably evoked against the forces of discrimination and prejudice. Anita’s is a vital and resonant voice in the writing of place and nature in Britain, and here she powerfully and movingly reclaims the landscape of the North as hers to love and belong in.” – Robert Macfarlane, author of Underland

‘In gorgeous prose that rolls along like the uplands, Anita Sethi opens our eyes to the beauty of our countryside and the hurt and healing found therein. It is rare to find writing that evokes landscape so finely but also conveys our inner world with such power, emotion, vulnerability and truth. I Belong Here deserves its place alongside the Macfarlanes and Macdonalds as a classic of modern British nature writing‘ – Patrick Barkham, author of The Wild Isles

“Anita Sethi invites her reader to walk, not just at her side, but in her shoes, and to feel for themselves both the exhilaration and the chagrin of travelling the backbone of her home country as a woman of colour. By turns joyous and humbling, ‘I Belong Here’ is an urgent and necessary addition to the canon of contemporary writing about place in the island of Britain.” – Katharine Norbury, editor of Women on Nature 

Excellentpowerful…A brilliant writer” – Nikesh Shukla, author of Brown Baby and editor of The Good Immigrant.

“A brilliantly accomplished mix of powerful memoir and revelatory nature writing, Sethi’s account of finding solace in the Northern countryside following a traumatic racial attack is a defiant act of reclamation and an astonishing piece of testimony.”   Waterstones blog, Best Books to Look Forward to in 2021.

A magnificent and redemptive achievement. Manchester-born Sethi achieves a powerful blend of memoir, travelogue and natural history as she reflects on nature, place and belonging; and at its beating heart, her book is a stirring love letter to this troubled country of ours. I find it so moving that such a beautifully written, hate-defying book has been born from such a horrific experience. I Belong Here is a shining example of how books, at their best, can be an act of resistance and a communal force for good.”

Caroline Sanderson, The Bookseller Book of the Month/ Spring Highlights

Further endorsements

“A brilliant writer” 


On the Seasons nature writing anthology contribution:

 “Beautiful, really moving”


On forthcoming piece in Women on Nature

 “Very powerful”