Q&A with Tristan Gooley, author of The Secret World of Weather

Contributed by Tristan Gooley


Fri 22 Oct 2021

This week we talk to acclaimed writer, navigator and explorer, Tristan Gooley

Q: Hi, Tristan Gooley, how are you doing? What have you been up to so far this year?

It’s been great to step away from Zoom and get back to outdoor and indoor events. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well attended literary festivals have been.

Q: You are described online as a writer, navigator and explorer’. Tell us briefly how you came to be involved in all of these things. Did one lead to the next?

It stems from navigation, and that started, as it does for all of us, long before I knew what the word navigation meant. We are all navigators, even if we don’t appreciate it. Navigation starts the moment we get out of bed. As a young adult, I loved creating and shaping journeys, starting with small local hills as a child and moving on to mountains, oceans, deserts and jungles.

Books2All blog: Q&A with Tristan Gooley, author of The Secret World of Weather
Natural navigator, Tristan Gooley, in the Arctic

In my twenties, I started to appreciate that the scale of the journey doesn’t determine how interesting it is. That was when I started turning things on their head and taking on short natural navigation challenges: one or two miles across an English wood without using any instruments or map. To do that successfully, you have to notice all the clues and signs around you, and there is a good chance that you will become the only person who has ever noticed the way a particular wildflower has grown and how it points south. At that moment, it’s about discovery, and that makes it exploration.

Q: Your latest book, The Secret World of Weather: How to Read Signs in Every Cloud, Breeze, Hill, Street, Plant, Animal, and Dewdrop is part of a series. Is it best to read your books in a particular order?

They are all written to stand-alone, and there is no ‘right’ order. If you’ve never read one of my books before, you can just see which subject matter tickles your curiosity most – weather, water, walking etc. If you’re unsure, start with The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues & Signs.

Books2All blog: Q&A with Tristan Gooley, author of The Secret World of Weather
The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues & Signs published by ‎ Sceptre (2015)

Q: These days, children spend more time indoors than ever, doing homework online, scrolling on their smartphones etc. Obviously, not everyone will have your talent for exploring, but how would you encourage kids to get outside and notice more about the world around them?

I think the trick is to make the outdoors a puzzle. Instead of telling kids that they need to find trees interesting, they can try to find north by looking at a tree. They can try telling the time by looking at the stars or work out what the tide is doing by looking at the moon. Or get them to point at the centre of a town using clouds or at home by looking at a satellite dish on a roof (most of them point close to the southeast in the UK).

Q: Climate change is the biggest threat to the natural world. Do you think our school curriculum tells children all they need to know about this?

I really don’t know. I do know children are exposed to a lot of quite scary stories, and I think that we do need to mix in some hope. Nobody likes a challenge if the situation feels hopeless.

Q: Did anyone inspire you to become interested in navigation?

The books I read about Ernest Shackleton changed my life. Not because of his heroics, but ironically because they helped me appreciate that whilst he was brilliant at some things, he was truly awful at others. This was the moment the penny dropped for me and something I now try to share when I give school talks. We don’t need to be good at everything; in fact, we only need to find one thing. If anyone ever feels they are bad at most things, they are just taking their time to find their thing.

The great news is that the longer we have to wait to find our thing, the more we appreciate it and the more grateful and passionate we tend to be. And when we do find it, it often turns out that it was hiding in plain sight. I was wandering up hills during the holidays, wishing I was better at lots of things at school, totally oblivious to the fact that I was slowly discovering my thing. I’d love to find a way to help more children to enjoy that process.

Books2All blog: Q&A with Tristan Gooley, author of The Secret World of Weather
South published by Voyageur Press (2019)

Q: 1 in 8 schools across Britain do not have a library – have you had experience of the educational inequality within the school system or met anyone who has?

I’m certainly no expert in this area, but I have given talks to a wide range of schools and age groups. Of course, finances and facilities are part of the challenge, but not all of it. I may be wrong, but I get a sense of how the education is at a school from the mood and behaviour in the classroom and how the children enter and leave it. If there is respect between the pupils and staff, the teachers have a better chance of doing a good job. I am aware that this is not entirely in every school’s control. 

Q: What book or books do you think all children in schools should be given to read?

Animal Farm by George Orwell as it is a masterclass in how a good writer can get powerful messages across without the fun stopping for the reader.       

Q: Ok, so the final question Tristan Gooley – if all the libraries in the world were burning and you could only save three books, what would they be and why?

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare can be read in so many different ways that it would be like having a mini-library. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, which is one of my favourite books, and also because it is very funny and we’d need a good laugh. Fire Dynamics for Firefighters by Benjamin Walker to stop the fire from spreading to the neighbouring buildings!

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