Christmas is here again, which means it’s time to reflect on what I’ve achieved in 2019. I still have a long way to go before I can really call myself a freelance writer, but I’m so proud of the progress I’ve made this year.
A particularly significant event was the Grant Arms Wildlife Book Festival in April, where I travelled to the beautiful Cairngorms National Park to stay in what is undoubtedly the coolest hotel in the UK for wildlife lovers like me. I attended some fascinating talks, met many established writers and was thrilled to see my first pine marten. However, perhaps the most influential moment was meeting author Stephen Moss, who runs the MA in Travel and Nature Writing at Bath Spa University. We sat down for a chat and spoke about my work so far, and after our talk I began to think seriously about doing a masters. I was sad to leave the beautiful wilderness of Grantown-on-Spey behind, but I was also intrigued by the possibility of further study and what it could do for me.
In the summer I visited Madrid – my first solo trip to a non-English speaking country. I don’t think it occurred to me how daunting that prospect could be until I arrived and realised that my A Level Spanish was a lot rustier than I had anticipated. Nonetheless, despite the language barrier and the most intense heat I have ever experienced, I really enjoyed my stay and learnt a lot about my resilience when travelling alone. Madrid is a beautiful city that I would love to return to some day, just in a slightly cooler season! The highlight was undoubtedly the flamenco show on my last night – that experience will stay with me for a very long time.
Not long after Madrid it was time to drive up to Rutland Water nature reserve for Birdfair, which has now become a yearly tradition. I caught up with good friends from uni, met the lovely Lucy McRobert and finally christened my new tent in the campsite. As always, Birdfair was a fantastic networking opportunity and I met some lovely authors and conservationists who were keen to share their advice. I also saw Stephen Moss again and bought rather too much wildlife art…
September saw some more networking at the AFON conference – I’d never seen so many young naturalists in one place and I felt proud to be part of that community. During the weekend I introduced myself to author and illustrator Tiffany Francis, who is one of the loveliest people I’ve ever met. I swapped Instagrams with lots of inspiring writers and conservationists, many of whom I’ve stayed in contact with since. Events like the AFON conference are such a great way of reaching out to like-minded people and I was so happy to build my network further.
In October there was a very big change: beginning the MA. The week-long residential in Corsham was a chance to meet my fellow students and be introduced to the way the degree was run. I’m sharing the year with a diverse and enthusiastic group of people and I already feel close to them after so little time. An unexpected achievement has been my rekindled love for drawing and painting, which has proven to be a great tool for inspiration. So far I have submitted two assignments for the course and have been really pleased with my results. The second term will begin in the new year and I can’t wait to tackle the next module – a trip completely organised and funded by me where I need to try and get writing commissions from professional publications. Naturally I’m apprehensive about it, but I’ve done this before with the Isles of Scilly so I know once I begin my research I’ll be away.
Finally, the end of 2019 saw my first official commissions – two for Blue Sky Wildlife, two in Hertfordshire Life magazine and the completed annual report for SEZARC. The team in Florida loved what I’d done and have now asked me to make the next report for 2019, which I can’t wait to get started on. In fact, I’m excited to announce that I shall be visiting Florida again in 2020. Not only will it be a chance to see my friends and work colleagues, but also a fantastic opportunity to gather new images to use in the next report. I don’t know when it will be yet, but I’m so excited to get the details in place.
I began this year feeling a little shaky and unsure of exactly where I planned to go. I still don’t have everything figured out, but the commissions have given me a real boost of confidence. It has been great meeting other naturalists including young women like Tiffany Francis and Lucy McRobert, as well as everyone on my course who are all making amazing contributions to wildlife writing. I have a great feeling about 2020, and I can’t wait to see where I am this time next year.