In an interview with Katy, we get to the heart of her passion…
Katy, could you tell us a bit about the books on your list of women’s mountaineering literature (link below) – what does a book have to do to qualify itself and get on The List?
It just has to be an interesting book about women’s mountaineering that tells us a ‘story’ about women’s climbing. Not all the books are written by women, as you can see and not all of them are about mountaineering in itself – there are some great histories about women’s travel and other adventurous women in the list. The climbing history that really got me started into women’s mountaineering was Birkett and Peascod’s 1989 history on women climbers and it’s always amused me that one of the ground-breaking books on women’s climbing was written by men! Well done you Bills!
What inspired you to start this expansive catalogue?
Living in the north of England in the 80s and 90s I was into pot-holing, mountain-biking and rock-climbing with friends and became interested in adventurous women. There weren’t many of us at the time, particularly women cavers. Most of us, I have to admit, got into outdoor stuff because our blokes did. Things are different now – young women are doing it for themselves. I started collecting books and read them and discovered we have a fantastic history of adventurous women, going back to the sixteenth century. I was teaching on women’s studies courses at the time (yes, I’m quite old) and I started to drop some of the books I was reading into my teaching and lectures – my students loved them and started to look for their own copies. We are blessed now as the internet makes searching for second-hand, out of print and antiquarian books much easier. Bookfinder.com is a good place to start. There are also some great second-hand mountaineering dealers like Glacier Books and Jarvis Books amongst others who also have a website presence.
Why is the topic of women in mountaineering worth investigating in more depth?
Two reasons I think. Firstly because it helps us understand the present. It helps us to understand how fortunate today’s women are to have better freedom to really do as they want. These days, there’s no limit to what women can achieve. Secondly, because we need today’s ladies to write their own stories in the future and hopefully, some of these books will inspire them. There are some truly inspiring stories out there at the moment – Barbara Swindin’s is just one example. We need more!
What areas of women, climbing and mountaineering have yet to be covered in a book or would benefit from further research and writing?
I’d like to see more international histories emerging, of women mountaineers from different countries – to get that truly international voice. Back in 1992, Rachel da Silva edited a book which brought together voices of many women mountaineers and climbers. It’s great and one I’d recommend. Also – women writing short stories, poems, even songs about their mountaineering. Anne Sauvy, Rosie Smith and Kym Martindale are great pioneers in this area, among others.
How long have you been working on this project?
It’s evolved, I would say over a 25+ year period. Jill Neate’s bibliography on mountaineering literature is still a classic. We need that to be taken into the twenty-first century as so much more has been written by women since that was published in 1978.
If you had to choose just one book from the list to take with you, to be your only book for the rest of your days, which would it be?
Aarghhhh, that is such a hard question! Let me think. I’d probably have to say that it’s the one you did your review on – Gwen Moffat’s Space Below My Feet, published in 1961. There’s something about it – it is such an enduring read ‘warts and all’ and stands the test of time. I’ve bought many second-hand copies and given they away as presents. Everyone I’ve given them to has loved them. I’d recommend people read her second volume of autobiography On My Home Ground as an accompanying volume. I see that you’ve recently published an interview with her – she’s almost 90 and remains an iconic figure in women’s mountaineering. I hope she understands the legacy she’s left women’s mountaineering. By the way, Space Below My Feet has just been re-published by Orion, so here’s a little plug for Gwen and that book.
Are you a climber???
Back in the 80s and 90s I did a bit – nothing harder than V Diff, so in terms of today’s lady tigers, I’d have to say no! I was always happier underground!
What should someone do if they know of a book which isn’t on the list that they think should be?
Add it! Write a review on it and publish it on the Women Climb website! It’s not an exhaustive list and sure as eggs are eggs, I will have missed something.
If you’d like to see the list, here it is:
Thank you so much to Katy for contacting Womenclimb and sharing her wonderful list. If you would like to submit some writing to Womenclimb to share with other women, we will start a ‘Women’s Mountain Writing’ section on the website.