Review: Waymaking: An Anthology of Women’s Adventure Writing, Poetry and Art

Waymaking: An Anthology of Women’s Adventure Writing, Poetry and Art, ed. Helen Mort, Claire Carter, Heather Dawe & Camilla Barnard, Vertebrate Publishing, ISBN: 9781-9102-4075-5. £17.99 All royalties to be split between Rape Crisis and the John Muir Trust.

A recent facebook photograph of the Kendal Literature Festival launch of Waymaking showing an all-female panel of writers provoked an immediate and not wholly surprising “What, no men?” response. In fairness, the guy concerned accepted his error, but it does expose the public expectation of male input into any literary or artistic endeavour that bears a reference to ‘adventure’.

Waymaking is not a “girlie” version of the traditional “Boy’s Own Adventure Story”. It responds to earlier works by women, such as Gwen Moffat’s Space Below My Feet (1961) and Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain (1972), both of which broke new ground in writing about wilderness. Not content with the conquering approach – ‘move faster, take the harder route, reach higher’ – Moffat and Shepherd both wrote about the experience of living and breathing the landscape in their quest for adventure. The writers and visual artists included in this anthology take on their legacy and explore it with particular emphasis on the senses: the scent of heathered fells after rain, the texture of rocky outcrops, the quality of light beneath pine trees.

There is interaction between some of the pieces, for example Camilla Barnard in describing her relocation to Yorkshire discusses how her mother’s sketch came about and why it holds specific significance for her. There is contextual writing for some of the paintings: “It was so cold my paint froze as I applied it to the canvas”, writes Nikki Frumkin. And for the photographs too: “It’s the simplest images that can be the toughest to take” writes Krystle Wright, describing the moment she captured her startling image of an Inuit sled crossing a vast ice plain. “I wanted to convey the unique sensation of climbing,’ writes Deziree Wilson, explaining her unusual perspective and focus. For any writer or visual artist these brief glimpses into another’s process are a particular delight.

Some of the writing too crosses boundaries more often associated with visual art: Judy Kendall’s Murmuration offers us an analysis of these incredible phenomena in words that swoop and dip before finally tumbling to the foot of the page. Penelope Shuttle threads roads and granite walls through the peaks of the Mountains of Mourne. Joanna Croxton’s Falling tumbles across the pages as it captures a physical and emotional watershed in her life. Creative non-fiction, poetry, memoir – all testing the edges of form.

This is a stunning book. No surprise, given a list of contributors which places such accomplished landscape writers as Jean Atkin, Geraldine Green, Helen Mort, Polly Atkin (how churlish to name so few!) alongside visual artists and photographers capable of instantly dropping us into remote and challenging landscapes. As Caroline Eustace writes: “It’s about the looking, the gentle breathing, and the pleasure of watching and responding….”  In developing a range of creative technique to express their relationships with their surroundings, these women have inspired me to look more carefully, breathe more deeply and take greater pleasure in these wild environments.


Angi Holden



You can buy Waymaking here.

Angi Holden is a freelance writer, creative writing tutor and former editor of the NFFD anthology. Her published work includes adult & children’s poetry, short stories & flash fictions. She brings a wide range of personal experience to her writing, alongside a passion for lifelong learning. Her pamphlet Spools of Thread won the inaugural Mother’s Milk Pamphlet Prize. Her short story Painting Stones for Virginia was a runner-up in the 2018 Cheshire Prize for Literature.

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