“Hi, my name’s Ally and I’ve just finished reading your book Wild Hares and Hummingbirds – I really enjoyed it”. At A Focus on Nature’s 2014 A Vision for Nature Conference, I knew I’d be really mad at myself if I didn’t say hello to Stephen Moss. Like many, I had his books on my shelves, and had re-watched his wildlife programmes many a time. I had come to the conference to meet people so I had to say hi! After a couple of chats throughout the weekend covering topics from conservation to AFON and how I hoped one day to be a nature writer, Stephen offered to be my AFON mentor – needless to say I didn’t hesitate!
My first mentor meet-up with Stephen took place in his home county of Somerset, where he was running a nature-writing workshop. Along with three other course members I spent a weekend staying in Stephen’s cottage next to his house in the Somerset levels. We walked around the dykes, our breath still visible in the early spring air, then came back to steaming mugs of tea and our notebooks to write.
It was a brilliant hands-on workshop, where Stephen guided us around his favourite Somerset sites such as the Avalon Marshes and Westhay Heath nature reserve, followed by informal fireside sessions, where we would share our writing inspired by our walks, and discuss topics ranging from our favourite nature writers, ways to engage readers and the history of nature writing. It was an invaluable weekend, that brings back memories of squelching through Somerset fields, perfect poached eggs and watching waders flit through grey sky then land on the riverbank, where they left delicate illustrations with their feet in the mud.
The other big meet-up that I have had with Stephen was again centred around his nature-writing workshops. Stemming from the success of these, Stephen now runs an MA in Travel and Nature Writing at Bath Spa University (MA-Travel-and-Nature-Writing-course-flyer-2016-17), so I organised for him to come and give a talk about it at my university, Exeter, although I’m down at the Cornwall Campus. Same university, just the campus by the beach!
Firstly we held a nature-writing workshop at lunchtime. Held in the oldest building on campus, it felt like a scene from a campus brochure – students literally packed into a seminar room with gilded ceilings, and genuinely fascinated looks on their faces as the discussion ranged across topics such as gender politics in nature writing, recent authors and writing in the field. After lunch in the canteen with students and Stephen, we migrated to a lecture hall where Stephen took us through his BBC broadcasting career. From Birding with Bill Oddie to the first Springwatch, we gained first-hand insights into how some TV moments require intricate planning, while others (especially some with Bill!) are spontaneous and special.
Having an AFON mentor in science communications has allowed me continuous glimpses and practice in the field I wish to pursue. While it is not always possible to meet up, Stephen has always been available for a quick phone call or email, so keeping in touch is never a problem even if we’re in very distant places. And of course there are always occasional AFON meet-ups, alongside events such as Birdfair, to catch up.
I cannot recommend the mentoring scheme enough! It was my first insight into AFON, while also giving me invaluable experience in the field. So go on, check out our mentoring pages, or introduce yourself to a mentor at an AFON event – even if all you can think of to say is that you enjoyed one of their books!