Waymaking - A Women's Adventure Writing Anthology Interview

© Paula Flach

An exciting new women's adventure writing anthology is due for release this autumn - this first of its kind. With contributions from adventurers including Alpinist magazine editor Katie Ives, award-winning author Bernadette McDonald, adventurers Sarah Outen and Anna McNuff, renowned filmmaker Jen Randall and many more, Waymaking is described by Vertebrate Publishing as 'an inspiring and pivotal work published in an era when wilderness conservation and gender equality are at the fore.'

Enchantment Larches
© Nikki Frumkin

The book - which was crowdfunded with over £12,000 on Kickstarter - will feature a mix of genres, including poetry, prose and artwork on adventure, landscape and nature. I sent some questions to Helen Mort - acclaimed poet, writer and one of the collection's editors - to find out more about the project...

How did the idea of a women's anthology come about?

The idea was born on a run along the Meanwood trail in Leeds! When I used to work in West Yorkshire, fellow editor Heather Dawe and I would meet up to jog and to talk about our creative work. We were both of the opinion that an anthology of adventure and wilderness writing by women would be a great opportunity to diversify the field and so - with the support and involvement of Claire Carter - we decided to pitch our idea to Vertebrate Publishing. The three of us then began our work.

The content follows the precedent set by Nan Shepherd and Gwen Moffat's work, in recognising sensations and emotions over tales of conquering peaks. Do you think women traditionally take a different approach to writing and creative work compared to men?

I don't know if you can characterise 'women's' or 'men's' writing in specific ways. But our aim was certainly to include a variety of different outdoor experiences, moving beyond narratives of mountain conquest. We received an abundance of work, from writing about perceived 'failures' to gripping adventure narratives. It certainly felt as if the women we heard from situated themselves in landscapes in novel and interesting ways.

She Collects the Puddles and Lakes She Swims Each Year.
© Paula Flach

As an editor, how did you choose what to include? What made you choose the title of the anthology: Waymaking?

Any editorial decision making process is tough and - of course - flawed. We wanted to make sure that the art and writing in the anthology was complimentary but that all the pieces were things we loved in their own right. We received a huge volume of poetry submissions which I was - of course - delighted about, but that meant we couldn't use all of them because we needed to maintain a balance with prose. The title came from our interest in breaking new trails (metaphorically or literally!).

There have been some comments on social media criticising the collection's lack of diversity with regard to race and class. Do you think it's possible to create an anthology that is wholly representative of people who climb/enjoy the outdoors? Will there be more anthologies in the future?

We very much hope that this anthology is a starting point and a gateway to a more diverse set of representations. We had an open call for submissions and publicised this widely, and we could only really make selections from the material we received in response, but of course it's also important to actively try to solicit submissions from groups who might be underrepresented, not just wait for them to come in! We hope this is very much the beginning of a much bigger conversation.

Bouldering at Ardmair beach.
© Deziree Wilson

How do you perceive the state of women's outdoor and nature writing at the moment? Are things improving - is there more interest shown by women for writing and creative work? Equally, though - is the work being shared and read by women and men alike?

I really think there is and the response that we had to the anthology shows that. Looking around at audiences at festivals such as Banff and Kendal, I also feel massively encouraged by seeing more women on stage and in the crowds too. But there's still further to go: I chaired a book event recently and, though the audience was 50/50, every single person who asked a question after the event was a man. Women in the audience seemed more likely to talk to the speakers informally afterwards. I hope that having a more visible female presence in outdoor and nature writing will give more women greater confidence to speak up (something I still struggle with myself at times).

Wilderness conservation is another theme running through the collection. What aspects of wilderness conservation are covered in the book?

There are many ways to draw attention to environmental change, but I think creative responses always have to be at the heart of wilderness conservation: by attending to a subject or a place in the way a writer or an artist does, you make it relatable, make it urgent. I was going to say 'make it human', but that kind of anthropocentrism is probably exactly what we're trying to get away from!

Waymaking - due autumn 2018

The team chose to crowdfund the project. Why did you turn to this method of raising funds?

Lorna Hargreaves, Head of Marketing at Vertebrate, responded:

If we hadn't met our crowdfunding target, the plan was always to publish Waymaking regardless. Kickstarter was a way for us to maximise the exposure and hype and ensure we had enough publicity resources available to do it justice on the lead up to and on publication. We want to inspire as many women as possible to get outdoors, write about their own experiences and continue a legacy of women's adventure writing.

Read more about the book here at Vertebrate Publishing.

Read our UKC Digital Feature with Helen about her poetry collection No Map Could Show Them.

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30 May, 2018

Looks like it could be a good read. I was wondering, when is the men's anthology coming out for the other 50% of the human race? Good for them for putting it out there.

Just look back in time and you'll find plenty of them, look forward and no doubt you'll see plenty more.

Here's to a world of (thankfully) more diverse climbing and mountaineering literature.

30 May, 2018

If the writing is half as good as the pictures in the article, this'll be amazing. Good to see stuff like this being made.

30 May, 2018

I've seen plenty of books on adventure with people in them. Many of them are men on those adventures but I don't remember the books being specifically aimed at men. Once again it feels like gender is being put into something so simple when personally I just see adventure with people in it.

My post really wasn't to dregrade women but rather I don't see the difference in gender when it comes to writing this kind of literature. I guess I don't see any difference in the sexes, especially when my main climbing partner is female.

In all good taste it's great they're putting this material out there but it's a shame we bring gender into it.

30 May, 2018

Sounds like a great project, although I'm not sure what Nan Shepherd would think about your description of her work as "tales of conquering peaks"!

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