A couple of years ago I was looking for a book about modern-day female adventurers and explorers as a gift for a friend’s daughter, Francie.
When I couldn’t find anything, I started to wonder whether I could write something myself, but I didn’t take the idea any further.
Then, not long afterwards, I was out on a run while listening to a programme about gender stereotyping in children. I was shocked to hear that early in primary school many once-bold little girls start to experience self-doubt. While some boys have learned to use ‘girly’ as a derogatory term (and as we’ve recently seen in politics, that’s something can long outlive the playground).
That was the catalyst and the moment that I decided I had to write the book, Fantastic Female Adventurers.
Not just for girls
The book isn’t just for girls. I very much hope that boys and grown-ups will enjoy the stories too.
And while I wanted to tell the stories of these incredible women there is also, at the heart of my writing, a wish to inspire everyone – young and old – to explore and marvel at the natural world, in the hope that they will fall in love with it and fight for it.
Happily, I’ve dedicated the book to Francie and it’s published the week before her ninth birthday, so she’ll get a little surprise in post.
How I picked the women I wanted to feature
I wanted the book to feature the adventures of modern-day women rather than historical explorers to make it more relatable for readers.
It was also important to include a range of voices from all sorts of backgrounds.
After that, I wanted to showcase a variety of activities, geographies and environments.
One exception to the ‘modern-day’ rule was Gwen Moffat, who is no longer climbing (she gave up in her 70s), but she’s still hill-walking in her 90s and is such a huge inspiration for living life completely on her own terms.
And I was thrilled to be able to include Helen Sharman because her story shows how an ordinary girl can grow up to be Britain’s first astronaut. Plus I did once harbour dreams to be an astronaut, so including her allowed me to vicariously travel into space.
What surprised me about writing the book
I learnt so many new things, for example; while I knew of the Seven Summits challenge (climbing the highest mountains on each continent), I was amazed to learn of the Oceans Seven challenge (seven swims like the English Channel swim) and even a Volcanic Seven Summits challenge (climbing the highest volcano on each continent).
I grew up in the north-west of England and as a child I wanted to be a writer because I loved to pen stories and poems.
Then, in my teens I developed an interest in astronomy and science, which led to a degree in Natural Sciences (Physics) at university and post-grad studies in Geophysics.
Following that, I had a 20-year technology career doing many things, from software developer and consultant to project manager.
Despite never being sporty as a child, in my twenties I also became a runner and outdoor enthusiast – and over the years my relationship with the natural world has grown to be one of the most important things in my life.
Five years ago I completed a distance learning journalism course and started to do some feature writing.
I left my tech job a year later and it was a chance to pursue my childhood dream of being a writer. I successfully pitched a couple of book ideas inspired by my love of running and those were published last year – Fastpacking: Multi-day Running Adventures (Cicerone) and Trail Running in the Brecon Beacons (Vertebrate).
Then followed my first kids book Fantastic Female Adventurers published this October.
I actually have another kids book coming out this autumn called Earth Heroes which tells 20 inspiring stories of people who are fighting climate change, conserving nature and protecting our environment.
The Earth Heroes are from all over the world. It includes famous names like Greta Thunberg and Sir David Attenborough, but also lesser known activists, such as Mohammed Rezwan the architect of floating schools in Bangladesh and Isatou Ceesay, the woman turning waste into wealth through upcycling enterprises in the Gambia.
I’m about to start work on my third children’s book. One day I’d love to write a memoir focused on nature and place.
An honour and a privilege
All the women featured in the book are incredible. Each one inspired me personally in different ways, and there are countless others that I couldn’t include.
It was such an honour and a privilege to tell their stories. For example, I was already a huge fan of Gwen Moffat because of her adventurous and unconventional life lived for the mountains and also her prolific writing career.
Meanwhile, Ellen MacArthur was the first ever speaker I saw at the Hay Festival over 15 years ago after returning from her Vendee Globe race. Being able to include their stories was simply wonderful. I could easily go on, but writing this book was a dream come true in so many respects.
What inspires me in many of the stories is seeing how far you can get and what you can achieve if you “just try” and give something a shot regardless of the outcome.
Failure and mistakes, if they happen at all, are simply part of the learning process. I think that many people would probably surprise themselves if they applied this approach to things that they’re daunted by.
And, as Sarah Outen’s story of her human-powered journey around the planet shows, sometimes the best things that happen in life were never part of the plan.
Try something new
Adventures don’t need to be big.
I’d encourage everyone to get outdoors and try something slightly outside their comfort zone because you never know where it may lead you.
Who knew that lacing up my trainers all those years ago and becoming a runner would set me on a long and meandering path to becoming a published author.