Here at Golden Hare Books, we definitely think of ourselves as an adventurous bunch, but we are the first to admit these adventures mostly take place through the pages of a good book while safely ensconced in a sofa. Putting our more sedentary lifestyles somewhat to shame, two of our Book Fringe authors – David Grange and Dan Richards – actively searched excitement out, travelling to the wild ends of the world and chronicling their experiences in two of our favourite volumes of recent travel literature: The Frayed Atlantic Edge and Outpost.
Having kayaked down the Atlantic coast of Britain and explored wildnerness in Desolation Peak, Washington State and Svalbard, Norway (no, really), they joined us last Friday evening for a conversation with Golden Hare manager Julie Danskein about what prompted their expeditions, their literary influences, and what they learnt from writing these two incredible volumes.
David’s desire to kayak his way down Britain’s Atlantic Coast, from remotest Shetland to sunny(ish) Cornwall, was largely motivated by a desire to annoy other historians, he informed us. So much of the history of place in the UK is entirely focused on London; even when historians do expand beyond, David explained, they still tend to centre on other large cities. David wanted to move beyond this limited approach and think of the island from a new perspective, as a place where many people live in remote villages, where the sea is a day-to-day part of life, and where English isn’t necessarily the most spoken language.
For Dan, his exploration of extreme wilderness was catalysed by a similar – albeit more personal – curiosity. Dan recalled being told during his childhood how his explorer father returned from a trip to Svalbard with a polar bear pelvis in his luggage. Dan became interested in this juxtaposition between the mundane and the extraordinary: through Outpost, he told us, he wanted to consider what constitutes the idea of the wilderness, to explore the everyday life of the extreme.
Having established why both David and Dan turned to writing the wilderness, we dove deeper into the writing itself. For both David and Dan, it was not only their encounters with these dramatic landscapes that were deeply formative, but also the stories, poems, and memoirs about these places. From the poetry of Christine Evans to William Morris’ account of travels through Iceland, David and Dan stressed how a much broader literary engagement with wilderness was a deliberate part of their writing process. David emphasised that for him, it would have been irresponsible to write about these places without referencing the people who know them intimately and Dan was in complete agreement, explaining that his use of intertext was a means of removing him as a writer from the centre of the story and allowing the book to act as a window.
Both The Frayed Atlantic Edge and Outpost are extraordinary examples of contemporary nature writing: politically engaged, ecologically responsible, and full of the depth and complexity of the wilderness. We had an amazing time listening to David and Dan in conversation and are so pleased to have hosted them for Book Fringe! Make sure to check out the rest of our programme for plenty more fascinating author events and discussions.