Waymaking was published in October. In the weeks running up to and since, it has been both interesting and exciting to see the response it has got. It is an amazing book, one I am very proud to have had a role in making.
The idea for Waymaking came about not long after my first book, Adventures in Mind, was published. Adventures in Mind explores the drive I have to spend time in the mountains, throughout it I quote from a number of other books. It was not a conscious thing but I realized that only one of the books I quoted from was written by a woman. Where were they all? It’s not like we don’t enjoy spending time in the mountains as much as men.
For a while four years ago, when we were both working in central Leeds, I used to meet Helen Mort once a week to go for a lunch‐time run. We started to discuss these ideas during our runs and Waymaking began to take shape. When we shared our thinking for the project with Claire Carter, her enthusiasm for it helped it to grow, soon after we had a website together and put out a call for contributions.
A few years down the line and now our ideas have become a reality. We got a great many responses to our call out. Camilla Barnard and the wider team at Vertebrate Publishing have edited, designed and put together a beautiful book. Vertebrate boss Jon Barton has been highly supportive of the concept from the start, when we first put it to him in the autumn of 2014. Publishing innovative work always carries a risk; although I think Jon could immediately see what an opportunity this was to shine a light on a so far under‐published area of mountain and adventure literature.
My own motivation for Waymaking came about as I wanted to explore what other women’s creative work, inspired by mountains and other adventurous, wild places would look like. As a team of editors we went out of our way to not be prescriptive ‐ contributions could take any form as long as they could be published in a book. Waymaking is a highly diverse anthology; poetry and prose rub shoulders with paintings, photography, prints and cartoons, all of them high quality and each reflecting their creator’s love for wild or high places.
Within the first few weeks of its publication, Waymaking topped Amazon’s poetry chart. The first Amazon review of described Waymaking as an ’endless box of delights’. Dennis Gray writes of ’a veritable cornucopia of interest expressing an enjoyment in living.’ In her review for UKClimbing, Natalie Berry makes some interesting and thoughtful observations:
’With tales of big peaks and even bigger egos, the focus of male narratives has typically revolved around daring summit attempts and feats of endurance rather than sensation and emotion’
’Waymaking to me signals a renaissance of the art and appreciation of writing about our experiences in the outdoors; writing in which essence replaces ego.’
Waymaking has given us a view of what modern adventure and mountain literature can look like when there is not a focus on conquering a mountain, winning a race, breaking a record or similar escapades. I think this can broaden mountain and adventure literature, not seek to replace or compete with the established genres, within which many great books exist.
For me, after its publication, the obvious question is what comes next?
A few weeks ago I went to see Mary Portas at the Ilkley Literature Festival. She was there to promote and discuss her new book Work Like A Woman. Portas calls it a manifesto for change, and discusses how, if the workplace environment was less driven by what she calls ’alpha’ ‐ the typically male mentality that we all have to work long hours and behave in a dog eat dog fashion to get on ‐ and was more what she regards as female in its behaviours then we would be both far happier and more productive in our work.
I agreed with pretty much all of what Portas said at the event. When I have built, led and managed teams of people in my work over the years, I have striven to implement much of the working culture she espouses. It isn’t easy! The established alpha culture is deeply engrained.
When I got home and starting to extol the virtues of what Portas had been talking about that evening, my partner Aidan got annoyed. He told me that it’s not a woman thing, that many men also wish to work in the ways Portas is advocating. To be fair to Mary Portas she does kind of say this in the background, but I think Aidan is right. Making it a gender issue and solution is confounding the problem, as many men would like to see these workplace changes too.
If you are still me with ‐ thank you :o) ‐ I think the same could be true of Waymaking. We went out to create a women’s anthology and that is what was achieved. While it has been liberating to do this, and fascinating to see the outcome, I think it also runs the risk of confounding the gender and genre for too long. Perhaps women are more likely to create the kind of artistic work found in Waymaking, but that’s not to say that men cannot, and do not want to.
Given that the mountain and mountaineering genres have been dominated by hero stories for their entirety, maybe I am being over‐optimistic. One new book to add to a relatively small number of others is no way near enough to balance things out.
Despite these misgivings, I still think that the next step for Waymaking is to move beyond gender, to become inclusive for all. I think it is telling that a significant proportion of the most favourable reviews of Waymaking have been written by men. At least some of them are as hungry to extend the boundaries of the mountain literature genre as the women who contributed to this book.
For that to happen I think there needs to be a collective freeing of minds. We are so used to reading of conquering mountains, beating records, going ever faster, it is hard to look beyond these themes. Waymaking has given us a peek at what else is out there. Writing and art that explores and celebrates being in the mountains and other wild places, rather than trying to beat them.
Writers need to feel less pressure to conform, readers could try something new and wouldn’t it be great if publishers could look beyond established genres. Hopefully that last sentence does not sound patronizing or naïve! Paradigms exist because of established ways of thinking and doing. It takes a shared effort to move beyond them.
I should say that this blog is my own view. I do not presume to write on behalf of any of my co‐editors or fellow contributors to Waymaking. We are a wide and varied bunch, amongst us there will be different views, all of which I wholly respect. I wrote this blog to share my own thoughts and hopes that the movement behind Waymaking continues and grows. Maybe sometimes we will move in different directions ‐ hopefully we will continue to push at the boundaries and get more new writing and art out there that share the same themes and intent as Waymaking.