The prestigious Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize – which celebrates the best books about nature, the outdoors and UK travel – has included the posthumously-published Wild Woman Swimming: A Journal of West Country by Lynne Roper (the only book from editor Tanya Shadrick’s Selkie Press) in its 2019 longlist.
Celebrating its sixth year, The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize is awarded annually to the book which most successfully reflects the ethos of renowned nature writer Alfred Wainwright’s work, to inspire readers to explore the outdoors and to nurture a respect for the natural world.
You can find out more about the longlisted authors and books, and read chapter extracts, on The Wainwright Prize website.
The longlisting has attracted a new and growing readership for the book, as well as strong interest in the book’s moving backstory: its publication keeping a promise made by Tanya Shadrick to fellow West Country woman Lynne, at a single meeting at the author’s hospice in the month before she died.
You can enjoy regular short extracts from Wild Woman Swimming by following @WildWomanSwims on Twitter.
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When Lynne Roper joined the newly-formed Devon and Cornwall Wild Swimmers in 2011, she was in strong health following her recovery from breast cancer. The next five years overflowed with fun, friendship, and outdoor adventures, as described so vividly in her Wild Woman Swimming diaries: skinny-dips under full moons; sea swims that took Lynne and friends to the limits of their considerable skill and strength; beach picnics where supplies of their favourite lemon gin cake were under constant threat from Lynne’s leggy labradoodle, Honey. But after Lynne’s shock diagnosis with a brain tumour in 2016, the group undertook a quieter endeavour…
‘Our wild swimming group made its first patchwork blankets for Jackie when she got married, and then for Linda when she became seriously ill. We decide on a broad colour scheme and square size, and individuals either crochet, knit, felt or applique squares and add-ons which they post or bring to a bee for stitching together. Yesterday, a few of us met at Castle Drogo to see the Grayson Perry and Louis XIV tapestries currently on display there, and I was given the fabulous blankets made for me by my fish friends afterwards.
My beautiful blanket represents a map of friendships forged through a common love of water and nature. It’s about shared adventures, shared confidences, shared scares, shared perspectives. Some of those who made and sent squares are wild swimmers I’d only ‘met’ online.
There are all kinds of styles, interpretations, and approaches to both crafts and the world stitched in, with flashes of inspiration and unique embellishments abounding. I love them. It’s overwhelming to receive such a gift. My mum was completely overcome when I showed her and spent ages looking at each element.
Kari’s square came attached to a piece of ribbon; she made it from sterling silver and copper. It features the MRI scan of my brain tumour, [Jeremy] Hunt, replete with cerebral oedema. How Grayson is that?’
Extract from Wild Woman Swimming: Castle Drogo, 15 April 2016. Photos of the quilt taken at the book launch at Dartington, September 2018.
‘The diaries are a snapshot, a moment in a life, filled with joy and friendship, grief and cold seas. If we could all find something we are happy doing, as Lynne so clearly was in her pursuit of wild swimming, then I suspect we would all feel more content with our lot. I read this book with a smile on my face all the way through, my mind filled with the colours of Dartmoor and its rivers and seas, the laughter and shrieking of friends as they plunge into cold water together echoing in my mind. Read this book and then plan a trip with your friends to these places: I know I want to swim where Lynne swam, and see the places she wrote about so beautifully. Join me?’
Read the whole of this beautiful review by Lexi Earl over at The Outdoor Swimming Society
Jenny Landreth – winner of the Sunday Times Sports Book of the Year 2017 for Swell: A Waterbiography – gives a wonderful, long review of Wild Woman Swimming for Caught by the River. Extract below.
‘This is a tangible book. It’s as alive as weather. Everything thrusts outward from Lynne, there’s a physicality to it. It follows the years in great big footsteps and there’s a sense of everything expanding out as the weather warms and then contracting back in again as ice returns. Or it’s like the tide. Sometimes the joy is palpable, but then, so is the fear. Sometimes that fear belongs to me, the reader. When she writes ‘we find another deep cave … we’re pulled in and shooshed back; it’s like being caught in the windpipe of a living creature’ I have to put the book down, take a minute. She’s casually, devastatingly, laid out my own nightmare, and I can feel it, safely here on dry land. She is not immune to fear herself, and knows how to tell it – there are stories in here that have the pacing of a good thriller. Times where it feels really wild, where Lynne dances on ‘the edge of control’, where the water makes her afraid and unsure. Of course you know she survives this one but the adrenaline! Hers, mine! It all adds to the allure of this extraordinary woman, how she faced things some of us don’t dare think of.
And alongside all of this, there’s love. So much of it, again like waves coming in and going out again. That too you can feel on the page, and it’s never cloying, always rather wonderful, actually. For her tribe and for her surroundings, an enthusiastic passion that really only wanes right at the very end, when her certainty is gone.
I don’t want to ward off hags, witches or wild women. I want the opposite of a hag stone, something that will ward them towards me. And I think this book is that thing. I’m going to carry it in my backpack, it’ll act as a talisperson, a signal. And if people mistake me for a wild woman, though I have a tenth of Lynne’s character and daring, I shall be delighted. Yes! I’ll say, I am a wild woman. What do you make of that?’
Kendal Mountain Festival Programme
Kendal Mountain Festival 18
‘Outstanding talk by Wild Woman Swimming editor Tanya Shadrick at Kendal Mountain Festival. Love of life, and loss, and the role of water in it all. And fascinating insights on editing another’s work: “I let Lynne’s life divert the course of mine; the best diversion of my life…”‘ Nancy Campbell, Author of The Library of Ice
At the Alpkit Swim Session for Kendal Mountain Festival 2017, Tanya Shadrick shared the story of Lynne Roper with a 300-strong audience, and promised to return next year with the book of Wild Woman Swimming.
It was a promise she kept to a sold-out audience in November 2018, that included Lynne’s childhood friend (who had travelled from Scotland for the event). The book also sold out in the Festival shop, where audience members were buying multiple copies to gift onwards: exactly the ripple effect Lynne wished for.
‘Beautiful and moving, funny & irreverent – Tanya Shadrick reads from Lynne Roper’s journal Wild Woman Swimming at the Green Table Cafe, Dartington.’ Totnes Bookshop on Twitter
Wild Woman Swimming: A Journal of West Country Waters was launched on 14 September 2018 to a packed room at the Green Table Cafe, Dartington, which included many of Lynne Roper’s swimming friends, as well as her parents Mike and Jenny. Also attending, and the focus of much attention, was Lynne’s dog Honey, who is a vivid presence in the diaries.
Before reading from Lynne’s work, editor Tanya Shadrick noted how strange and good it was to be sharing the book with so many people who appear in it, inviting them to sign her copy at the end of the evening. A precious artefact was the result.
Here is Wild Woman Swimming: A Journal of West Country Waters author Lynne Roper’s inspiring meditation on the soulfulness of wild swimming, and body image after serious illness:
‘In December of 2010, shortly after the unexpected and shocking death of a very dear friend, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I hadn’t swum regularly for a year or so, and following my initial recovery from bilateral mastectomy in March 2011 I began going to the pool to increase my mobility and regain my fitness. I soon became terminally bored; my mind and emotions continued to churn around in one place like a maelstrom. So I began swimming outdoors and before long I was hooked; wild swimming had become my obsession.
Why did wild swimming, which I’d done off and on all my life and always loved and taken for granted, suddenly become so central to my life and so cathartic? I think it has to do with being alive, and needing to feel alive. It’s a spiritual experience, sliding through wild water.
Initially I wore breast forms in my swimsuit, afraid of feeling wrong as much as I feared looking weird. But soon I stopped caring – my shape has different meanings and a different function in water than in air. Fish and aquatic mammals don’t have dugs that you can see. Unlike in our airified culture where breasts have assumed an inflated cartoon-porn emphasis, what’s fetishised about fish, dolphins and whales is their sleekness, variousness of form and graceful movement through the turbulent medium of water regardless of their size, blubber content, or perceived beauty.
My body is at home in water; free, wild, elemental. Worries dissolve, my mind is liberated; thoughts flow and glide and play like dolphins. My soul swims wild.’
Get your copy of Wild Woman Swimming: A Journal of West Country Waters from The Selkie Press for £8.99 (+ 1.50 P&P) or order from any local bookstore or online bookseller.