Storytelling is an ancient craft. Since the dawn of language through the development of writing, cave artwork and digital technologies, storytelling has remained integral to human culture.
Stories, or narratives, are much more than plots retold. Stories are what poet and novelist Ben Okri calls our “secret reservoir of values” - full of lessons, insights and messages. They contain truths and lies, wisdom and foolishness and inspiration and misery - often all at once. Sometimes the stories we invent come to masquerade as the natural order of things, seemingly above questioning. Stories are ultimately powerful frames that help us make sense of the world.
This is why Adventure Uncovered exists.
We believe telling the right stories - stories that replace ideas of conquest and echoes of colonialism with diverse, progressive voices - can create change in the adventure community and beyond. But making this shift requires understanding good storytelling craft: the practices, principles and empathy that make for a healthy, equitable and inclusive storytelling culture.
Building this understanding is the aim of this Edition, and the reason we have spoken to an array of storytellers pushing new adventure narratives in important and creative directions.
Our interview with the Never Not Collective - producer of the all-women climbing film Pretty Strong - sets the tone. As a climbing film Pretty Strong is progressive, but the team found the story they told about the film drew criticism from some supporters. The resulting conversation about gender, climbing and storytelling is a case study in how openness and humility can help evolve our understanding of our communities.
We also had the pleasure of a wide-ranging conversation with traditional storyteller and travel writer Nick Hunt about his work, which revolves in interesting ways around the relationship between people and landscapes. In a similar vein Ellie Mackay chatted with James Dann, filmmaker and Director of adaptive-ski documentary Out on a Limb, about his approach to storytelling through filmmaking.
Lifelong non-swimmer and hip hop artist-cum-filmmaker Ed Acurra finally opens the conversation, and breaks the taboo, about black people and swimming with A Film Called Blacks Can’t Swim (Yes, the name is a riff on 90’s classic White Men Can’t Jump!). Earlier in the month Rosie Watson, from the New Story Run, wrote a taboo-breaking call to arms on how we can start to craft a genuinely sustainable outdoor narrative post COVID-19. We’re delighted to see it generate a lot of traction.
In a rich and thought-provoking conversation, Olympic snowboarder turned artist Meghann O’Brien tells us how she has reframed her relationship with snowboarding, her indigenous heritage and the mountains of British Columbia through her art, with lessons for the cultural frames we use to tell adventure stories.
A different account of the power of changing our personal stories comes from adventure filmmaker Neil Irwin, who writes openly about his desire to turn his skills to more impactful adventure projects - particularly those involving scientific research.
Some of the best adventure perspectives, though, come from people who don’t necessarily consider themselves adventurers. Artists who begin with ideas and use adventure as a medium to communicate spring to mind - like Simon Faithfull, who was generous enough to discuss how his fascinating, imaginative, often preposterous body of work critiques some of the classic adventure narratives by treating the world as a sculpture.
Documentary filmmaker Laura Mahler also approaches adventure indirectly, covering the way that COVID19 has led to new stories around conservation, and the sense of adventure that often supports such efforts.
As part of an ongoing effort to tap into the expertise of our wider community, this month we also asked storytellers whose work we admire - from multiple mediums - to respond to five prompts: What advice would you offer an aspiring storyteller? What is an adventure story that has impacted you? What is one item you find invaluable for storytelling? How do you find your stories and choose which to tell? How can we encourage new voices in adventure storytelling? We imposed no parameters. The result is a fascinating, if subjective, combination of timeless advice and contemporary concerns in adventure storytelling, all emerging from diverse voices placed in conversation with one another.
We also have a host of longer Q+As with some of these storytellers: artists Jazz Austin and Jen Larkin; filmmakers Danielle Sellwood, Kody Kohlman and Phillipe Woodtli (whose excellent blogpost on storytelling we have also cross-published); musician Jess Kilroy; entrepreneur and Swim Wild podcast host Karen Parry; and creative outdoor brand Millican’s Sim Warren and Jeffrey Bowman.
Finally, we spoke with Nick Watson about the phenomenal story of his family’s efforts to ensure their son’s life is as full as possible, after he was diagnosed with an extremely rare genetic disorder, known as 1q44 Deletion De Novo Syndrome.
We urge you to join us in celebrating the adventure stories and storytellers with the potential to create a better world, and look forward to hearing your responses to all of these fantastic voices in the conversations to follow over the course of the month.
The Adventure Uncovered Team.
This month we go behind the scenes and speak to storytellers breaking new ground and forging new narratives, the Edition is jam-packed with contributions from artists, photographers, musicians, filmmakers, podcasters, writers and more.
Read all of Edition 2 below...
Meghann O’Brien is a professional snowboarder turned artist from Alert Bay in British Columbia, Canada. After turning professional but becoming disillusioned with aspects of snowboard culture, her artistic practice helped her reconnect with her Haida and Kwakwaka’wakw heritage and reframe her relationship with snowboarding and the mountains.
Nick Hunt is a writer, storyteller and editor whose work explores the relationship between society and landscape. He is best known for two travel books. In Walking the Woods and the Water and Where the Wild Winds Are. Nick also continues to edit the journal of The Dark Mountain Project, a cultural movement in search of stories that can help us respond to the climate emergency with a 'hope beyond hope'.
Simon Faithfull is an artist whose imaginative and often amusing work spans many forms, but frequently involves journeys and creative interactions with geography. It has been described as “an attempt to understand and explore the planet as a sculptural object – to test its limits and report back from its extremities.”
Jini Reddy is a travel writer and journalist. She was born in the UK and raised in Canada to parents of Indian descent (who were raised in South Africa). Her second book, Wanderland, charts her search for the magical, unorthodox and Other in the British landscape, and was longlisted for the Wainwright Prize. Her first book, Wild Times, showcased extraordinary experiences connecting with nature around Britain, and won the book prize at the 2017 British Guild of Travel Writers Awards. In 2019 Jini was named one of National Geographic’s Women of Impact. You can learn more about her work at www.jinireddy.co.uk.
Jessica Lee is an Environmental Historian and Author. He first book, Turning, is about her decision to swim fifty-two Berlin lakes, no matter the weather or season, in the face of personal challenges. Her second, Two Trees Make a Forest, sees her trace her family history, and the geographical forces that shaped it, from China to Taiwan to Canada. Jessica is also the Founding Editor of The Willowherb Review, which publishes new non-fiction, fiction and poetry on nature, place and environment by emerging and established writers of colour. Photo credit: Ricardo A. Rivas, 2019.
Jen Randall is a filmmaker, photographer, writer and climber based in Glasgow, Scotland. Randall, a graduate of Jordanstone College of Art and Design and Vancouver Film School, runs a small production company called Light Shed Pictures, which specializes in short documentaries and adventure films.
James is a documentary maker and producer living in Manchester. He's been making documentaries for the past four years and, in between projects, he's worked as a video director for YouTube and as an assistant producer for BBC’s Tomorrow’s World. James's documentaries have spanned a variety of subjects, from gun crime on the East Coast of the United States to multi-faith care homes in the Middle East.
Karen Parry is CEO of The Creative Chilli and works to increase inclusion and diversity of cultural and third sector organisations. She's a passionate wild swimmer and set up the Wild Swim Podcast in 2018 to interview outdoor swimmers from all walks of life about their connection to water. Karen has lived up in the North East since 1992.
Co-Founder of Adventure Uncovered, James is an ex-Marketing Director, part-time photographer, volunteer, and writer, spending as much time as possible in the ocean or on mountains. He's obsessed with cabins, sustainability, and enjoys the intersectionality between human and environmental stories and challenging the status quo.