Today is my birthday, and I wanted to share it with you.

After a quarter-life crisis where I questioned whether I could even be a writer anymore, I’ve been reflecting on how important it was to find this space to experiment with words and ideas again. Simply by being here, you’ve helped me find my way back to my craft, my passion and my creativity. I’m incredibly grateful.

I started this newsletter at the end of last year in an attempt to pull myself out of the clutches of writer’s block. I have to be honest: I had no idea what it was or if it would last when I pressed “send” for the first time. I just started thinking, writing, publishing, and trusted that the rest would follow.

It’s been six months since Counterflows was born and the number of people reading has grown fast. This humble side project has gone from a handful of supportive friends to a super-smart audience spread across 25 countries. I’m continually amazed by the generosity of those who respond with their thoughts, insights and recommendations each time I publish. It’s internet magic in action.

This note is to say thanks for sticking with me through Counterflows in beta. The newsletter will be weekly going forward, and you’ll notice some new sections and features in the editions ahead. Below is the first email in the fresh format. I hope you enjoy it.

As always, hit reply to share your feedback—I’d love to hear from you.


The Big Idea: Rogue Cities

Will cities soon break away from their nation-states and forge different paths? That’s the question on my mind this week following the release of me and Sarah Ronald’s longform story about Edinburgh’s future prospects as a rogue city.

A rogue city is a place that starts to operate independently of the country that governs it. Municipal authorities team up with investors, property developers and entrepreneurs to launch hyperlocal strategies fuelled by international collaboration and knowledge-sharing with other cities.

So far this century, we’ve already seen mass democracy protests on the streets of Hong Kong and Barcelona. Meanwhile, rebellious upcoming cities like George Town in Malaysia and Dubai in the UAE are reclaiming land from the sea to generate new, independent income streams.

As their populations swell, cities gain greater momentum, power and influence. The UN predicts that 68% of the world will live in urban areas by 2050. In this new age of urbanism, will rogue cities like Edinburgh lead the way?

📰 Read Story

Maker of the Week: Koh Yung Shen

Of course, rebellious urbanites need to fuel their creativity.

Nobody understands that better than this week's maker, Koh Yung Shen, who I met in Malaysia earlier in the year. Shen (pictured in action below) runs a speakeasy called Backdoor Bodega in George Town – also known as “an overpriced pin shop”.

To access Backdoor Bodega, you have to walk to the back of another bar and knock on the door of what looks like a supply cupboard. Then suddenly you find yourself in the hidden back room of a low-rise shop, surrounded by the most interesting, inspiring and influential people on the island of Penang.

Shen has created a vibrant community and a delectable cocktail list inspired by Malaysia's colonial history. Every "pin" you purchase for 35 MYR (~€7.50) comes with a free drink from the menu. If you want a pin, let me know – I left with more of them than I know what to do with.

🍹 Visit Website

Handpicked for You

📚 “The Science of Storytelling” by Will Storr

Why do we tell stories, and how can we do it well? I first met Will when we were running Guardian Masterclasses a few years back. My favourite of his live sessions was “The Science of Storytelling”, and last spring, he released this book on the same topic. Will’s the real deal: a brilliant writer, thinker, speaker and human. If you’re interested in the nuts and bolts of storytelling, this is the book for you.

🎧 “Song for Our Daughter” by Laura Marling

Laura’s latest album dropped early last month after the pandemic cancelled her upcoming tour dates. Her seventh record is a poetic reflection on femininity, ageing and human relationships, expressed with her tasteful and distinctive blend of old-world Americana and modern folk-pop. Laura is a self-confessed hermit, so this collection of songs is perfect lockdown listening—a starkly beautiful soundtrack for the great indoors.

🎥 How to Crush it on Twitter Workshop

How long have you had a Twitter account? For me, it's been more than a decade, and the platform has changed a lot since it started. These days, it can be difficult to navigate the noise and feel like you're actually connecting with people. In this Zoom workshop recording, David Perell and Matthew Kobach showcase how they use Twitter to enrich their businesses and participate in the global conversation.

Support Counterflows

All the content featured on and in these emails is available for free to everyone. I’d like to keep it that way, but it’s a challenging time to be a creator.

If you enjoyed this week’s newsletter and want to send some birthday love, treat me to a virtual coffee:

☕ Buy Me A Coffee

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