Strange Labyrinth

Outlaws, Poets, Mystics, Murderers and a Coward in London's Great Forest

Will Ashon

Published: 6 April 2017
Hardback, Demy HB
138x216mm, 416 pages
ISBN: 9781783783434

Other Editions


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Published: 1 February 2018
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 416 pages
ISBN: 9781783783458

Ebook Available


In litter-strewn Epping Forest on the edge of London, might a writer find that magical moment of transcendence? He will certainly discover filthy graffiti and frightening dogs, as well as world-renowned artists and fading celebrities, robbers, lovers, ghosts and poets. But will he find himself? Or a version of himself he might learn something from?

Strange Labyrinth is a quest narrative arguing that we shouldn't get lost in order to find ourselves, but solely to accept that we are lost in the first place. It is a singular blend of landscape writing, political indignation, cultural history and wit from a startling new voice in non-fiction.

About the author


‘[A] twisting, [...] deeply satisfying exploration of the intellectual terrain covered by artists, writers and performers who share a connection to this place... with remarkable scope, unconstrained by boundaries of genre or style... a clever piece of work, a joy and an education... This is at heart a book about anxiety and fear, and our prospects of breaking through the enclosure our fears impose upon us... [Ashon]shows courage in taking on this ambitious project and deserves acclaim for pulling it off in such style’ Keiron Pim



Strange Labyrinth is a wonderful exploration of the tangled undergrowth of the psyche. Ashon is an anarchic Green Man; a puckish punk of the forests and here he has invented a new genre: Gonzo Romanticism’ Jon Day

Strange Labyrinth treads its own path. It is a literary provocation, a defence of the disorderly narrative, and a call to get more lost’ Nina Lyon

Strange Labyrinth, a reckoning with the "outlaws, poets, mystics, murderers" of Epping Forest [...] is interwoven with other elements in an account that soon shifts from documentation - a cultural guidebook [...] - to a delirious fiction of doctored memory and free association... [A] timely survey that honours some of those [characters of Epping Forest]’ Iain Sinclair, Book of the Week

‘An anarchic hymn to the scruffy edgeland of Epping Forest, the ancient wood that sits on the boundary between London and Essex... Fascinating... [A] glorious book you'll enjoy getting lost in’ Jon Day

‘Ashon [writes] with verve and a winning candour about his own fearful nature, as he makes his meandering way between the trees’

‘Ashon's acclaimed book ranges far and wide, from poets to punks, from the sculptor Jacob Epstein to the highwayman Dick Turpin... Roaming from memoir to nature writing, cultural history and psychogeography’

‘Extensively researched and hilariously self-deprecating, Strange Labyrinth takes us on a journey that is funny, moving and fascinating’ Cathleen Mair

‘From John Clare to Crass, Will Ashon unearths magic in a forest that is more than mere harbour and hide-out for dissidents, poets and outlaws, but which represents an entire narrative strand of an ever-changing England. Here is deep questing into both person and place, masterfully delivered’ Benjamin Myers

‘I can't begin to tell you how intrigued I am by this book... Ashon's strange brew of nature writing, memoir, psychogeography and punk history has a very exciting anarchic feel to it’

‘I found it mercilessly lucid, wildly expansive yet down-to-earth, and misanthropic as only books with real heart can be. There's tendency to treat psychogeography as a form of archaeology but he bypasses anything resembling fossils for a more intriguing, irreverent and animated approach. These are fragments of the past brought to life in the present, and a fascinating, cynical yet wide-eyed and inspiring, despite itself, present set in the greater scheme of things. A journey into the dark and terrible maze that is England with a guide as much Minotaur as Theseus’ Darran Anderson

‘I was hooked, enchanted even... [An] intensely personal, magpie's jewel box of a book... Extraordinary and entertaining... a splendidly erudite but engaging book. Ashon is a self-deprecating and discursive guide, often very funny... A wonderfully idiosyncratic, somehow very British book which delighted me from start to finish’

‘Magnetic reading... There's a joy to the book's outrage against systemic control’ Sean Preston

‘This book made me so happy. A mind-expanding journey, fiercely researched, expertly constructed and ultimately life-affirming. I was underlining every singly line’ Luke Kennard

‘Unlike any book about a landscape that I have read recently; it has a certain rawness and vulnerability to it as Ashon faces his fears... [His] interviews with those that have sat on the fringes of society are enlightening as they are interesting. It was well worth scrabbling through the understorey with Ashon to discover the ghosts of the past, the sounds of the present and the possibilities of the future of Epping Forest’ Paul Cheney

‘Wilder than Macfarlane, funnier than Deakin and more emotionally engaged than Sebald, Will Ashon turns getting lost in the forest into high art, and great entertainment. By the end you'll probably be looking for a berth up a tree alongside him’ Matt Thorne

‘Will Ashon, like most of us, is frightened of many things. But unlike us, he confronts his fears in a deep, dark forest. Strange Labyrinth explores the many layers of Epping Forest, revealing a world of magic, a secret hiding place, and a home to outcasts, fugitives and misfits. Combining expert research with wonderful self-deprecation, it is a brave and very funny account of modern anxieties, confronting the things that leap out at us, as if from behind a tree, in a forest’ Paul Ewen


20/09/2017, 19:45 - 22:00

Will Ashon in Conversation at Kenilworth Arts Festival

Will Ashon is a novelist, former music journalist and founder of the Big Dada imprint of Ninja Tune Records. His debut non-fiction book, Strange Labyrinth, was published by Granta in April 2017 and has been described by The Guardian as a "glorious... anarchic hymn to the scruffy edgeland of Epping Forest". Strange Labyrinth is a quest narrative arguing that we shouldn't get lost in order to find ourselves, but solely to accept that we are lost in the first place. It is a singular blend of landscape writing, political indignation, cultural history and wit from a startling new voice in non-fiction. We are delighted that Will is going to be joining us to talk about Strange Labyrinth, his journeys through the forest and the "outlaws, poets, mystics, murderers" that he met along the way. We will be announcing further details about this event shortly!
Warwickshire, UK, Kenilworth, Warwickshire

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