I recently ran a series in my monthly newsletter, Letters from the Lake District, called Inspired by the Lakes, where I interview people who have lived, worked or were inspired by the Lake District.
This was my Q&A with author Ellie Wood, who grew up in the Lake District and last year released her debut novel, The Wildwater Women, a heartwarming and uplifting story about four women who came together through a shared loved of wild swimming in the Lake District.
1. Tell us a little about you (where you live/work) and your connection to the Lake District and any early memories
I grew up in the Lake District and spent my childhood walking in the hills and swimming in the lakes and tarns. I began my career in London, where I worked as an editor at two big publishing companies, but I’d yearn for Cumbria like it was a lost love. I came home for weekends, but they evaporated like mist. The fresh air and light were things I couldn’t pack in a suitcase. Then I decided to go freelance, and pursue becoming an author, and I eventually moved back. Now I live in Kendal, and my writing desk looks out towards the fells a few miles from where I was born.
2. Tell us a little bit about your writing journey
I’ve been writing stories since I could hold a pen, but it’s been a long road to publication and it’s taken a lot of perseverance! I began writing in earnest five years ago, and although The Wildwater Women is my first published novel, it’s actually the fourth full-length book I’ve written. HarperNorth read the previous manuscript I had out on submission, and loved my descriptions of the Lake District, and asked me to write about wild swimming.
3. How has the Lake District shaped your writing journey?
There are lots of lessons I’ve learned from the Lake District landscape. Its timelessness helps put things in perspective. Tinkling streams that trickle over stones not only remind me that obstacles are part of life’s journey but also that the musical sound is in fact made by the rocks obstructing the smooth flow of the water. It’s also very invigorating to be immersed in the countryside which is constantly bursting with life. Getting outside was an integral part of planning this novel, because seeing the natural world in motion inspired me to think of new ways to describe it on the page. I often come up with my best ideas when I’m walking or swimming and my mind can really run free.
4. Your new fiction novel, The Wildwater Women, is set in the Lake District and tells the story of four women who embark on a wild swimming journey together.
Can you share a little about your own journey with wild swimming (when/why you started) and your favourite places to wild swim in the Lakes?
I went wild swimming all the time when I was little – back then it was just ‘swimming’ to me! Then when I worked in London, this stopped. It’s easy to lose touch with nature when we’re surrounded by phones and computer screens, but as humans, we’re part of it. Since moving back to Cumbria, I’ve been enjoying wild swimming again. It’s the perfect way to reconnect with the landscape and I find it incredibly life-affirming. It’s also good for giving you a different perspective – when you’re in the water, you’re looking at the view from an entirely different outlook, one it’s impossible to gain from dry land, and this is very refreshing.
It’s hard to choose a favourite place as all the lakes and tarns have different personalities, but I like to go to Beacon Tarn, which suddenly seems to appear out of nowhere like glittering treasure, or Coniston and Rydal as they’re both full of fond memories from when I was small.
5. Which hill, mountain or lake holds the most significance to you – the one you can return to time and time again?
This is a tough one! I’d have to say Loughrigg Fell, for its views over Rydal and Grasmere. As children we spent so much time lugging bags laden with picnics and swimming things over Loughrigg Terrace to the lakeshore, where we’d stay until dusk. Nowadays, I often walk from Ambleside to Grasmere, doing a ten-mile loop of both lakes, and the sweeping horizons always make me smile.
6. Share some past and present Cumbrian authors or poets who help inspire you
I found Melvyn Bragg’s book Land of the Lakes to be a great inspiration as it describes Cumbria’s rich history and really illustrates how special the Lake District is. Beatrix Potter has been a favourite author of mine for my whole life. She also did a lot of work to conserve the Herdwick sheep, a Cumbrian breed which I liken one of my characters to!
7. The place you go to escape the Lake District summer crowds
I’m lucky that if I go up the hill opposite my house, I can see several Lakeland fells and the Langdale Pikes in the distance, without having to go near any tourist hotspots. I’m always really grateful for this – it’s a very uplifting sight, straight from my front door.
8. What are your current writing plans?
I’ve been coming up with ideas for another novel, but I can’t share what those are just yet! I’ve also been enjoying writing articles about The Wildwater Women and interacting with readers and book bloggers. There really is nothing better than when someone says the story felt real and they believed in the characters and their world. Putting your work out there makes you feel vulnerable, but it’s worth it when people say something you’ve written has made them feel understood.
Images from Ellie Wood
If you’ve enjoyed reading this and would like more of the same, you can sign up for my monthly Letters from the Lake District below: