Competition published on April 7, 2017.
From the white noise of the city to the seclusion and serenity of Britain’s hidden beauty spots, Floating charts journalist Joe Minihane’s attempt to swim the breadth of the countryside, immersing himself in fresh water while coming to terms with something beyond the swimming itself.
Taking inspiration from Waterlog, Roger Deakin’s seminal account of wild swimming, Minihane set himself the goal of swimming in every river, lake, lido and bay which Deakin visited. These excursions into wild swimming also served as a way of soothing the disquiet that life had brought him. From Hampstead to Yorkshire, from Dorset to Jura, from the Isles of Scilly to Wales, Minihane swims to explore, to forget, to find the path back to himself through nature, and in the water under an open sky he finally begins to find his peace.
Floating is the story of Joe Minihane’s retracing of Deakin’s impressive physical and mental feat, while facing up to his own struggles by diving right in. But when Minihane’s endeavour is brought to an unexpected halt and he is unable to lose his troubles under water, he must discover the means to face them head-on. Turning to professional help and relying on the support of a growing band of swimming friends and fanatics, he learns why his persistent worrying has developed into crippling anxiety and begins to develop the tools he needs to take control of his life.
**We have 3 copies of Floating by Joe Minihane to give away – scroll down for your chance to win!**
Who better that Paul Cheney, voice of BookLife and fan of Roger Deakin, to review Floating for us – and to find out more from Joe about the inspiration behind his first book?
For those that haven’t read Waterlog, then you should. In my opinion it has reached the point where it could be considered a classic tome now. Joe Minihane was one of those who has discovered the delights that the prose of Roger Deakin could offer. In the process of reading and re-reading this book, a germ of an idea grew. Twenty years after it was first published, Joe decided to recreate Deakin’s journey by swimming where he had before and to see how the wild swimming landscape had changed in the two decades.
A lot of the locations could be reached easily, either because there were close to a tube station or at the end of a ride on a bicycle. To get to some of the others in the more remote parts of the UK would take a bit more effort though, especially as Joe can’t drive! It was time to find companions who want to join him in the cold waters of the UK and perhaps rekindle some old friendships that had faded in the busyness of modern life. However, this project was going to have a much more profound effect of Minihane’s life. He was to use the rituals of swimming to fight against the black dog depression and anxiety that he suffers from, slowly opening up to friends and seeking the professional help that he needs.
But this is more than that, not only does he describe the joys and shocks of immersing himself in the cold waters in this island, often with a sharp intake of breath, but like Deakin’s original, it is a frog’s eye view of the present state of our watery natural world. He lets his worries float away downstream and develops stronger bonds with old friends. Waterlog is a tremendous book, and Floating is a fitting tribute to Deakin and his legacy. A poignant reminder of the healing power of nature. 4*
AUTHOR MEETS REVIEWER
PC: Was the inspiration to follow in the wake of Roger Deakin something that came instantly or followed from the reading and re-reading of Waterlog?
JM: It came after a few readings. I was instantly captivated by Deakin’s writing and was looking for a project that would take me away from day to day work that I was finding a bit of a drag. I knew I wanted to write a travel book, but wasn’t sure what shape it would take. It wasn’t until my second go around with Waterlog that I realised that there was something to be explored in retracing his journey. I kicked the idea about a bit before I decided that, actually, the basics of it were pretty straightforward – I just needed my swimming trunks and a way of getting to all of these places.
PC: What makes wild swimming so much more special than just going to your local pool?
JM: I love a long swim in a pool, there’s no exercise quite like it. But for me wild swimming is special because the focus isn’t solely in getting into good physical shape. It’s more visceral, you need to be acutely aware of your surroundings, yet at the same time there’s something very simple about it. You’re part of nature, part of the scene, in a way that you just aren’t when you’re in an indoor pool. It’s not sanitised, it feels very real.
PC: Of all the locations that you visited to swim in writing the book, which was your personal favourite?
JM: I struggle to pick one. For sheer beauty, it’s hard to get past Bryher on the Isles of Scilly. It’s a tiny island with tropical beaches and searingly cold water, the perfect place for long swims in bays full of swaying kelp. I went at the end of summer, when the weather was scorching, the days were long and there was nothing to do but swim.
My other favourite was at the water mill in Fladbury. I joined a whole gang of wild swimmers who owned this stunning building which stands right on the Avon and jumped from the window of the first floor lounge into the green waters of the river. It’s an idyllic spot.
PC: What insights did you get into the character of Roger Deakin?
JM: I found that Deakin had a sense of joie de vivre and anti-authoritarianism which made retracing Waterlog both joyous and challenging. I’m not much of a rebel, Deakin was, which made stealing swims in private rivers a bit difficult for me. But his writing and his character taught me to loosen up and relax a bit.
I also found that Deakin looked for a sense of the bucolic, the Arcadian, in everything. Or certainly he did in Waterlog. This was largely true when I went to many places he’d been, not so in parts of Somerset where I swam in the shadow of the A303, a road Deakin doesn’t mention in Waterlog, perhaps because it doesn’t tally with his idea of a green and pleasant land.
Most of all, I learned he was a gentle, caring, open–hearted person, who loved life. His writing is infectious.
PC: Is swimming helping you keep that necessary balance in your life still?
JM: It is, and I do still go swimming a lot, although I tend to mix it in with running and yoga a lot more these days. The latter has become particularly important since the journey following Waterlog finished. It has a similar meditative aspect as wild swimming for me, which comes in handy in the winter months, when my urge to swim regularly outdoors tends to dissipate.
PC: Where do you normally swim, and how often do you go there?
JM: I live in Brighton now, so I swim in the sea on Kemp Town beach, which is just a five minute walk from my front door. I’ve managed to get in about once a week so far this year, although as spring arrives I find myself going a lot more regularly. And with sunnier weather, there are plenty more people happy to join me rather than watch and shiver.
PC: Are you heading back to Jura to complete what you couldn’t at the time?
JM: I’d like to, but there are no plans to do so at the moment. It’s a bit of a logistical challenge and I travel a lot for my journalism work. But hopefully it won’t be long until I get back.
PC: Wild swimming is gaining in popularity; do you have any tips for those wishing to start?
JM: Find a safe local spot and go for it. Invest in some neoprene shoes so you can wade in and out without hurting your feet and, most importantly, take it slowly. There are no medals for staying in for longer than feels comfortable. You’ll get that same endorphin rush and dopamine hit from a short dip as you will from a long one, although the physical benefits may not be as acute. Make sure you assess the water before get in and try and do it in company.
PC: Do you have another book in the pipeline?
JM: I’m tentatively looking into something about my Grandad’s time in New York during World War II. But that’s a long way off. At the moment I’m focusing on shorter travel pieces.
PC: Which author(s) do you turn to for inspiration?
JM: Like anyone writing about place in modern Britain, I’m a massive fan of Robert Macfarlane. The work he’s done in popularising authors such as Nan Shepherd, as well as producing consistently dazzling books of his own, are a constant inspiration for me to write with a more curious eye.
In terms of travel writing, Paul Theroux remains my abiding obsession. I love his approach of stripping away the bullshit that surrounds a destination, whether it’s a tourist trap or the official line about a war zone, and writing about it by experiencing the everyday. His interest in normal people, learning about their lives and why they make a place worth (or not worth) visiting is refreshing and never tires. He never fetishises the journey. I always get the sense he feels compelled to travel to the places he goes to. Deep South, his most recent book, is a spectacular piece of journalism.
PC: Which book(s) do you turn to for comfort?
JM: Waterlog, undoubtedly. It’s joyous and finds happiness in simplicity. It’s the perfect read if ever I feel lost or in need comfort. Likewise, Kerouac’s Dharma Bums. I was obsessed with it as a teenager, and while it doesn’t quite stack up as well almost 20 years after I first read it, its passages about climbing in the High Sierras are still the best he ever wrote. They burn with urgency and love, but never feel meandering like some of his less accessible novels.
PC: What book are you currently reading?
JM: The Catastrophist by Ronan Bennett. I’m on a bit of a jag with books about central Africa and this happened to be sitting unread on my book shelf. It’s a superb piece of historical fiction and a meditation on love, power and loss.
Thanks to both Paul and Joe for their time.
We have 3 copies of Floating to give away – for your chance to win, simply fill in the form below:
About the author
Joe Minihane is a journalist and copywriter specialising in travel and adventure pieces. Based in Brighton, he studied History and Journalism and has written extensively for a wide variety of publications including the Guardian, London Evening Standard, Lonely Planet, the Independent and CNN Travel, and has appeared on BBC World Service, Sky News and 5 News. Floating is his first book.
Floating by Joe Minihane, published by Duckworth on 6 April, 2017, in hardback
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