Whether it is canoeing single-handedly down the Niger to Timbuktu, or walking the Pennine Way in the ‘wrong’ direction, or exploring loss on the Camino de Santiago, or following in the footsteps of dead poets, or training a goshawk, nature writing appears to be in its prime.
In an article in The Guardian published in March 2015, Jamie Doward, argued that nature writing is the vogue, the ‘new’ literary phenomenon. He suggested that the recent trend is for nature writing to move away from descriptions and facts about the environment towards meditations on consumption, on finding more meaningful ways of living and on the values of our current society. He questioned whether the genre has moved too far away from being about the natural world.
The definition of the genre of nature writing includes anything from field guides to human attempts to engage with wildlife to voyages of discovery such as those mentioned above. However, it seems, we humans inevitably end up writing about ourselves; the natural world becoming a reflection of our own preoccupations or emotional state. As ever, humans find the most intriguing story to be about themselves.
We don’t all have the capacity or the time to set off on grand adventures. But we can become inspired by roaming through our own patch of nature. It doesn’t have to be expansive, or particularly wild, to fire the imagination.
Five tips for nature writing:
- Engage with nature, open our senses and our observational capacities to what is around us. Walk mindfully.
- Be curious about everything.
- Research – good researching is experiencing not just reading about a subject.
- Read examples of the genre. Good writers are good readers.
- Move from the specific of our own experience to a general mediation or reflection. In general, the idea is that nature has something to teach us.
- Have a sufficient grasp of the facts in order to be able to be relatively knowledgeable about plant life, animals, social and geological history.
- There’s no need to romanticise, it is the grit which creates the pearl.