Experiencing the dark of night can help connect us with nature and perhaps we need to tap into that animal side more often in order to respect the cycle of the seasons, renew our energy and our mental health, and help wildlife that need it to survive.
In this interview, we also talk about the attraction of pagan fire festivals and the Northern Lights, the power of light in the darkness, and how it connects to something primal deep within.
- The attraction of exploring the natural world at night and why we need dark skies
- Reconnection with our wilder selves and the importance of seasons in nature and our lives
- Pagan fire festivals and the Northern Lights
- How local exploration has increased during the pandemic
- The relationship between writing and illustration
- Recommended books on travel and nature
You can find Tiffany Francis at TiffanyFrancisBaker.com
Transcript of the interview
Jo Frances Penn: Tiffany Francis-Baker is a nature writer and illustrator. Her latest book is Dark Skies: A Journey Into the Wild Night. Welcome, Tiffany.
Tiffany Francis-Baker: Hey. Hello. Thank you very much for having me on.
Jo Frances Penn: I’m excited to talk; it’s such an interesting topic. I’ll start with the most obvious thing, which is humans are naturally afraid of the dark.
Why are you so drawn to the dark?
Tiffany Francis-Baker: Obviously, we are diurnal creatures, which is the opposite of nocturnal. Generally speaking, we tend to do all of our important stuff in the daytime and then nighttime’s for sleeping usually. And obviously, in the modern world, that is the way we need to stick to things or we’ll all be a little bit sleep deprived and nothing will get done.
But I do find just now and then, just trying to spend some time out in the night, I find it very cathartic. I feel like the modern world can be very chaotic and very stressful sometimes. And I feel like when you go out at night, you can escape everything.
You can escape all the people, you can escape the busyness of the world, you can escape day-to-day chores and life, and just have a few moments of peace and calm and just experience nature and the landscape from a different perspective as well, which I think is really important.
Jo Frances Penn: We have listeners from all over the world and you talk there about going out in England.
What might people find if they go out to explore in England at night, in particular?
You have birds in the book, you have a lot of nature, and nature’s obviously different wherever you are. What might people hear, or smell, or even see?
Tiffany Francis-Baker: This is the thing, you can see things, but it’s much more exciting, all the other things you can tune your senses into.
Owls are an amazing thing. You don’t necessarily always see them, but I have from my house had tawny owls and barn owls. So owls are a really fun thing to listen for, especially in winter, you can hear them quite well when they’re calling. And then you’ve got mammals like foxes, and badgers, and that sort of thing, lots of small mammals out at night as well.
And then you’ve also got some more interesting rare birds and animals in the summer. If you go on heathland in the nighttime, you might hear a nightjar, which is an amazing ground-nesting bird that only nests on heathlands and it makes us amazing mechanical churring noise at dusk. And that’s a really fantastic experience if you can hear one of those. That’s one of my favorite things about the night.
And actually, in autumn as well, one of my favorite things to look out for in the autumn, we have birds called red wings. They’re one of a few thrushes that migrate down here from colder countries like Scandinavian countries and Russia and that sort of thing, and they migrate at night because it means that they’re less likely to be predated by birds of prey and other things like that.
So if you go out on a nice, clear, quiet autumn night, you can hear them flying over because they make this little seep, seep, seep noise as they go over. So that’s a really, really lovely thing to listen out for on an autumn night as well. So yes, we’ve got loads of lovely wildlife out and about at night.
Jo Frances Penn: I feel like when people don’t walk at night very often … I don’t go out much at night … And I feel like the rustling that you might hear at night, we might feel afraid of that rustling or noise because we think it’s something coming to hurt us, and that is a very primal fear. But as you just said, that rustling might be a fox or something that isn’t coming for us, it’s just something that’s part of nature.
Do you think we’ve lost that sense of being part of nature? Do we feel like we’re quite separate?
Tiffany Francis-Baker: Absolutely. I love night-walking, but even I get spooked. It’s very difficult to ignore your primal instincts, as you say, we are still animals and we are designed to go into fight or flight mode sometimes.
When I’ve been out on a walk and seen an interestingly shaped shrub or something, I can convince myself it’s someone waiting to attack me or something, all sorts of stuff goes through your head. And I think with that sort of thing, it’s actually when we fear things like that, it’s more the fear of the unknown.
It’s what the darkness is concealing rather than the darkness itself. We do hear those rustles and we see shapes that aren’t quite clear what they are, we basically imagine the absolute worst rather than being rational and thinking, ‘Oh, it’s probably just a fox having a good time.’
I definitely think we have lost that connection with nature a lot. We do forget that we are just animals, evolved animals and we’ve obviously done certain things that most other animals haven’t done. But when we think about our core day-to-day lifestyles, and our behaviors, and our mental health and everything, I find that the more aligned we can be with the natural world, the more happy and well we are as people.
I think personally my little passion is the more we can align ourselves with nature and the seasons and the cycles of day and night and all that kind of thing, the happier we will be, which I do find I am a lot calmer and happier when I can get out at night now and then.
Jo Frances Penn: You talked about being spooked, and there are aspects of the book where you go into some places that are even more spooky. You write about Dartmoor where I’ve also walked.
If people don’t know Dartmoor or the moors in general, what’s special about the moors and why do they evoke such fear and legend?
Tiffany Francis-Baker: It’s interesting, isn’t it? It’s one of these places, if you haven’t been to Dartmoor, you can’t quite understand what an amazing place it is. I would definitely call it beautiful, but it’s also very bleak. It’s this weird juxtaposition of it is creepy, but it’s also very beautiful.
I think maybe it’s just the shape of the landscape, those rolling tors, a lot of the moorland, it’s like rugged and rocky. And, of course, it’s got associations with Dartmoor prison and things so you can very easily imagine a prisoner on the loose or it’s also got associations with smugglers back in the day. You can imagine all sorts of dastardly deeds, and crimes, and all sorts going on.
If you’ve been to Dartmoor at night and especially like a foggy night or lots of moonlight, it’s just one of these amazing places that…I don’t know why it is. It just really captures this ghostly, spooky ambiance. I absolutely love it as I’m sure you do as well. It’s one of these places, once you go, you can’t wait to go back again. It’s a really good place to go night walking.
Jo Frances Penn: As you said it’s beautiful. I would say more stark. It’s a stark beauty, but I wonder how it helps us almost to almost have a spiritual aspect of nature when it’s not so Instagrammy beautiful. There are places really, on Dartmoor, you wouldn’t be taking pictures because it’s not what you would normally call ‘beautiful.’ You feel like your place in the wild space is almost more basic when it’s not so Instagrammable.
Tiffany Francis-Baker: Absolutely. I do, actually. And I think that’s another really interesting point, that nature isn’t always Instagrammable. It’s not always ‘beautiful’ because actually nature is this amazing complete wheel of life that is sometimes a beautiful wildflower and sometimes it’s like a dead animal on the floor.
There are all sorts of aspects of nature and we need to love and respect and connect with every aspect of it. Maybe that is why Dartmoor’s so alluring because it does draw us in from our wilder selves to every aspect of that.
And, yes, some parts of it are stunning and there are these very pretty aspects of it, but actually, a lot of it makes us look into ourselves a bit more and think about things that aren’t quite so Instagrammable, is the best word. I think that’s such a good word to describe the vibe of, ‘Oh, this will look nice on my grid.’
Jo Frances Penn: I wonder also about a lot of being alone in a place like that and maybe facing up to these fears. And I remember mist, like a lot of mist, and feeling, not in a religious sense, but almost are their spirits in the mist, that kind of slightly supernatural aspect of almost not knowing where you are.
It’s almost like a sea fog where you can feel very lost and yet you’re still standing on the land.
Tiffany Francis-Baker: Absolutely. And I think that’s the supernatural element. I’m one of these people where I’m not a particularly religious person. I don’t particularly strongly believe in ghosts or anything like that, but I wouldn’t trust anyone who didn’t go walking somewhere like Dartmoor at night and, like you say, be surrounded by that fog and mist and know about the historical context of the place and not be spooked.
I can’t possibly imagine how you could go walking there and not find yourself a bit shivery and a bit twitchy now and then. And, again, I think that’s great. I think one of the things I like about night walking and getting a bit spooked is, I think, humans we tend to be a little bit arrogant and we’ve kind of gotten used to the world revolving around us a bit. We’re kind of in charge of everything.
And actually, one of the nice things about going out at night is it feels like you’re on someone else’s territory because our best sight is our vision. So we’re already stripped to that. We are very much the lesser animal when we’re out at night because we are not as well adapted to it. We do find ourselves a bit spooked and freaked out.
It helps you put yourself in the mind of other animals and other species that maybe we just take for granted that they’re there and we take for granted that we’re top of the food chain, but actually going out and being a little bit more vulnerable like that is a very healthy thing to do, I think, and definitely helps me connect with the ecosystem I’m a part of.
Jo Frances Penn: And then, of course, one of the things we do as humans is we build fires because they help us feel safer. We have the light, we have the warmth. And you have a great chapter on The Wicker Man, and some people might have the horror movie in their brain.
Tell us about that folklore and why pagan fire festivals are so powerful.
Tiffany Francis-Baker: It’s funny because The Wicker Man Festival, Beltane, I did some historical research on it, and there’s actually very little evidence. We associate it with people putting human sacrifices and that sort of thing. There’s actually very, very little evidence for that.
And actually, I think that a Roman authority wrote it down, but it was a bit biased because he wanted to make the Celts look like absolute savages. So it’s a little bit biased and a bit inaccurate.
The wicker man, the basis of that is the Celtic wheel of the year which is divided into four, and in every season they have a different fire festival and Beltane is in May and it welcomes in the summer months. So it’s a very positive thing.
It’s not really to do with burning people alive or anything like that. It’s actually all about celebrating fertility, and life, and warmth, and the beautiful days ahead.
So they built a big wicker man. Again, apparently, because it’s actually very little evidence for anything to do with this, but the idea behind it is they built this big wicker man and they burnt it down at dusk and they also did a few other fire rituals so they would walk their cattle between two other bonfires to cleanse them of things, and again, encourage this happy fertile period ahead and please the ancient gods.
So it’s actually a really wonderful, positive experience. And if anyone ever goes to a Beltane Festival, Wicker Man Festival, you’ll notice it’s a really wonderful thing. Lots of cider, and dancing, and music, and all that sort of thing. It’s the highlight of my year. In fact, I’m really sad. It’s not on properly this year and it wasn’t on last year and I’ve really missed it because of, obviously, COVID.
Jo Frances Penn: Hopefully, that will come back. England is a secular place, the United Kingdom is pretty secular, in general, and it feels like there’s almost been an embracing of these pagan festivals, but almost reclaiming some of the emotional aspects of the changing of the seasons, for example, and just feeling like they’re more special, perhaps because they’re not necessarily associated with religion. Do you think so?
Is there a reclaiming some of the emotional aspects of the changing of the seasons?
Tiffany Francis-Baker: Absolutely. Maybe it’s just me being optimistic, but I really do think we’re having this resurgence in people just reconnecting with our wilder, more nature-influenced selves. And I think pagan festivals like that are just a really great gateway into that because it’s this perfect hybrid of humans and nature.
You collaborate into these amazing festivals where you’re celebrating the seasons and celebrating life. I definitely think these revivals and this kind of thing are a part of a wider resurgence. We’ve stepped so far away from nature now that I think personally, having looked at research and that sort of thing, we are suffering from that now.
We’ve got huge mental health problems, all kinds of other wellbeing problems. We’ve got obviously the environmental destruction that’s going on and it all comes from the separation from nature.
I hate even saying that because we’re not separate from nature, we’re part of nature, but this mental separation from nature that we can’t do because no one will survive if we do that. So I feel like everything that’s happening at the moment is this very beautiful and slow movement back to a closer relationship with nature and nurturing that primitive side of us and nurturing how we should be living in tune with the seasons.
It’s so strange when you think about it, we’re one of the only animals in the world that treats every month of the year exactly the same.
We’ll work just as hard in, say, February as we do in August. And it doesn’t make any sense because every other animal in the animal kingdom uses the rhythm of the year to do different things.
We do this crazy power through the year if it’s all the same and then we wonder why we’re so stressed out and tired. I feel very optimistic that we are slowly recognizing now what we’ve done and we’re going back to it where we can. And I know in my experience being closer with nature has massively helped my wellbeing.
Jo Frances Penn: Obviously, there are a lot of terrible things about the pandemic, but one of the silver linings is that people have had to spend more time in nature, like a lot of people are walking more, seeing their local area.
My husband and I live near the Kennet and Avon Canal. So we walk along the canal almost every day. We live in Bath, so we walk around here and walk up the hills and just getting to know the places where you are because we haven’t been able to travel further.
Do you think that local exploration has accelerated in the pandemic?
Tiffany Francis-Baker: Definitely. I’ve got two dogs, so I go out walking every day and I’ve noticed a real increase in the number of people who are walking on my regular dog walk, which I’m absolutely fine with.
I love the fact that more people are outdoors. I don’t mind sharing. But I’ve definitely noticed a big increase still. It has fluctuated throughout the pandemic, but I definitely have seen more people just out and about in our local area. You’re right. Because we can’t get to other places, we are exploring where we live. And, for example, just this week, our car’s broken at the moment, so I can’t even drive across town to another place. So I’m actually doing the same route with them every day.
Yesterday I decided to just go down this little track that I’d seen that I’d never been down before and I found a completely new loop of the walk I usually do. And it was great. I was like, ‘Oh, this is brilliant. I found a whole new little bit.’
I was looking around at it, what trees were growing and the blackthorn blossom was coming out. It was amazing actually. And I think, generally, the pandemic, you’re right, it’s obviously been an awful thing, but there have been some silver linings.
I think it is very much about appreciating what we have on our doorstep, appreciating how much nature makes us feel better when we need it, and just appreciating small things, little mindful moments where you can just notice the season change.
When I saw the blackthorn blossom yesterday, I was like, ‘Oh, great,’ another little sign of spring, we’re slowly getting there. We’ve had the sun recently I just thought, who knows if I would notice that if I was in the middle of doing a job or visiting all the places, or normal life was going on.
Going for a walk every day has been a bit of a highlight for a lot of people through the pandemic. So you do just tend to take more notice of what’s going on around you.
Jo Frances Penn: Absolutely. I lived in New Zealand for seven years and then Brisbane, Australia for five years and we moved back from Brisbane back to the U.K. A lot of people think you move to Australia and that’s it forever, but one of the things we missed the most was the changing of the seasons because in Queensland, it’s basically either hot and wet or hot and dry, with flooding and fires.
And I was like, ‘Do you know, I really miss the seasons.’ Being British, I feel like as soon as the sun comes out, I should be outside, which in Australia will kill you! So it’s so interesting how the seasons make a difference. I also feel like I’ve never spent a whole year before essentially taking pictures of the same area across all the seasons, like I have this year walking the Kennet and Avon canal.
Tiffany Francis-Baker: I know exactly what you mean. I’ve heard other people say that actually, we often complain about the British weather and the rain and everything, but the rain and the cold is part of the whole beautiful cycle. I totally agree.
I think I do get to the end of February and I’m a little bit done with winter, but most of it, and this is where seasonal living comes in because you get to the colder months or you get to November and it gets a little bit cold and a little bit rainy. And I found myself rather than being like, ‘Oh, great. Can’t sit in the pub garden anymore, can’t do this.’
Now I’m just trying to think like, ‘Right. Well, what is this telling me about what I should be doing? What are other animals doing?’ They’re preparing for hibernation. I’m going to embrace that. I’m still going to get my fresh air every day, but I’m going to cozy up the house and I’m going to focus on this little bit of the house that I’ve been meaning to do for ages.
You can change it in your mind so that you connect more with what your body’s telling you, to rest and reflect on things. And that’s what I’m trying to do more now. I know other people are doing that too. I think it does help, like I said, rather than just smashing through the years if it’s all the same.
I know what you mean about enjoying watching the changing seasons because they really do transform a space. You look at one place in Britain over the four seasons and it looks just completely different from one month and the next. So that is one of the really lovely things about living in a very rainy country.
Jo Frances Penn: As you were talking, that reminded me of the lovely Mary Oliver poem, Wild Geese. ‘Let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.’
It feels like we, as you say, get out of touch with that and we have to just respect that more and understand that we are animals and hibernate when we need to.
I really appreciate that because I feel like this year we have got much more into cycles. And as a writer, we’ve had cycles of not being able to write because of various mental health issues, generally, but then the energy to write again. And obviously, you’ve been through that too.
These periods where you can have great creative energy and then periods where you need to be fallow.
Tiffany Francis-Baker: Absolutely. It’s amazing. I try and look at it every year. I generally tend to find that, weirdly, you’d think summertime I’d be like great loads of energy, loads of motivation, but I actually dry up creatively in the summer and it’s only the autumn that I really start.
Every year without fail, autumn time, I get a real wave of inspiration and motivation and I can find I can write again. I definitely find that.
I’ve had a weird year anyway because I had a baby. Talk about crazy cycles, and rhythms, and all that sort of thing. But in a lot of ways, like you say, relating to your animal self, nothing’s made me do that more than having a baby. I’ve never felt more mammal than I have in the last year.
It’s really nice because I’ve just tried to give into it. Another silver lining of the pandemic is I’ve been able to just focus on just becoming a mother and resting and not having to rush out doing stuff. So that has actually been the nice thing.
It’s amazing, this year I’ve really, really recognized how animal we are and it’s a good thing not to resist that and just to embrace it.
Jo Frances Penn: You’re a writer, but you’re also an illustrator, and the book contains your gorgeous illustrations and then you do things for other people as well.
Does your visual art help you see in a different way and express yourself in a different way than writing words?
Tiffany Francis-Baker: It’s a really interesting question. They’re definitely very intertwined, my writing and my illustration.
I do love it if I can do a piece of work that incorporates both, that really satisfies me a lot. I think I am quite a visual writer. Especially as I write about nature, I tend to just have this visual idea in my head, and then it’s almost like I have to write out the idea to fill it up.
I do find that doing illustrations alongside, or afterward, or whatever, it does all help, it solidifies my head until when it’s finished and like, ‘Oh yes, that’s literally my thought.’ It’s become something I can see now, which is good.
It’s really interesting, the relationship I have between writing and illustration because I think for a long time I know a lot of people have felt this as well. We still have a little bit of a hangover from maybe the past when you did one job, you were either a writer or an illustrator.
For a while, I struggled with the idea of being both. I thought, ‘No, I need to commit to one or the other. I need to be a writer or an illustrator.’ And for ages, it was really weird. I don’t know why, I just built this obstacle in my head where I couldn’t be both and it’s taken a few years to relax that obstacle, and I do now accept very happily that I am both.
Writing really helps my artwork and vice versa. I’m really lucky that I can do both, especially as I get quite distracted and bored quite easily, so it’s really nice if I get fed up with writing, I just draw something, and then I can switch back again.
Jo Frances Penn: I think that’s great. I’m also a multi-passionate creator and spent way too long, also, like you, thinking, ‘I must be one or the other.’ I write with several different names and have different brands and write in loads of genres and it’s like, okay, seriously. But now I accept it.
And part of this, perhaps this getting more in touch with our animal selves is just the acceptance of who we are without trying to fit into someone else’s view of who we should be.
Tiffany Francis-Baker: Absolutely. And all these labels, I think, we tend to give each other, and that’s a bit of a societal thing, I think, ‘You are this and I am that.’ And sometimes I feel like it’s almost down to social media having to fill in a Twitter bio. What do I put? I don’t know what to put. So silly, isn’t it? And if you could just let go of that, you’re a lot better off.
Jo Frances Penn: That’s a good point. Now, I did also want to ask you, because I feel like one of the iconic trips that a lot of us have, I haven’t seen them yet, but the Northern Lights have this mythology about them.
In the book, you’ve explored the night in different countries and you do talk through the Northern Lights. So why do you think they are such a thing?
Why do people long to see the Northern Lights? And when you did go, what did you think?
Tiffany Francis-Baker: It’s really interesting, isn’t it? I’m sure there is more to it than they’re just beautiful because there’s nothing really quite like it anywhere else on earth.
It’s this amazing display of electromagnetic curtains of color, it’s just absolutely unique. I had never heard of them before I read His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman and I remember being like, ‘What are these Northern Lights? What is this?’ I remember finding out and being like, ‘Wow. How have I known about this before?’
I think when I went there I was so lucky because plenty of people book a trip to see the Northern Lights and they don’t get to see them. And I had this little app on my phone that told me electromagnetic activity nearby so I was tracking it obsessively, ‘Oh, am I going to get a good one?’ I was so lucky because I had an absolutely amazing display a couple of times, actually.
Talk about cliché, but it was amazing. I’m so happy I’ve seen them and I beg anybody to go and see them in their lifetime because there is just nothing like it. I was on this Aurora hunting minibus and we were scooched into this minibus and we were chatting and not really looking where we were going because of the dark.
And then we all tumbled out of this minibus after this guy pulled over and we hadn’t even noticed, we looked up and there were these just, ah, just the whole sky was just covered in these Northern Lights. And we all just stood there in absolute silence, ‘Oh, my, how have we only just spotted this and didn’t see out the window when we were driving?’
It was an absolutely magical experience. And it was really good researching about the night. I was really interested in how these Arctic countries live in darkness for three months of the year. That’s really why I went. It was more to see the polar night.
That actually answered the question for me a bit because I thought, ‘Well, if you’re used to living in the darkness for three months of the year, you get used to it, but actually maybe it’s these amazing lights that you get as part of that maybe makes up for it and gives you a little bit of light in the darkness.’
That’s my conclusion I came to because I think I could probably live in three months of darkness if I got to see the Northern Lights now and then.
Jo Frances Penn: I wonder if it’s a similar feeling to having the fire and the flame. It’s this, as you say, the light in the darkness, the hope, the flicker, and maybe a spiritual aspect. I think there are myths of the spirits of the ancestors being up there and in the lights.
There’s a lot of meaning that we ascribe to something as reductive as electromagnetic forces or whatever, but it’s far more than that.
Tiffany Francis-Baker: Absolutely. I think there’s some really amazing folklore behind the Northern Lights and you can see how they became a very important part of the cultures of these countries, and it definitely does make up for the endless darkness.
Although I have to say, I loved visiting. It was in Tromsø, Norway. I was very happy there, but when I got back, I was very happy to see the sun. I was like, ‘Oh, it’s December, I’ve never been so happy to be in winter in the U.K.’
Jo Frances Penn: I want to ask you about the International Dark-Sky Association, which I had never heard of before. As I said, I live in Bath in the U.K. If I go outside at night, I’m not really in darkness. I would have to get quite a way away.
Tell us about the International Dark-Sky Association.
Tiffany Francis-Baker: The International Dark-Sky Association is the governing body that designates dark sky areas around the world. So it’s, as it says, international. It’s all over the world. We are so lucky in the U.K. We have 16 certified sites. I actually live in one.
I live in the South Downs National Park and a few years ago it was designated an international dark sky reserve. So it basically has to do with light pollution. They do loads of amazing work and they try and reduce the amount of light pollution going into the sky so that it means that you can better see the stars.
Obviously, indirectly, what that means is that we have better levels of darkness, which is really good for wildlife because they can carry out their natural behaviors without being bothered by artificial lighting. So it’s really, really important.
And it’s also just culturally important; the privilege of being able to see the stars is something that we should never take for granted because it gives us so much perspective on our place in the universe and our place in the world and that sort of thing.
Jo Frances Penn: It was about if we go exploring at night, the temptation is just to take a torch, but does that miss the point?
Tiffany Francis-Baker: I would say that going out at night, you can take a torch. And I would recommend having a torch in your bag, but obviously it does miss the point because for one thing, you can’t really appreciate the beautiful, velvet night and night darkness if you’ve got a torch shining around.
It’s good to have one just for safety, but I would try, if I were you and I wanted to go for a night walk, I would take a torch with you, find a good spot, then put the torch away, and just sit and let your eyes adjust and really tune in to all your other senses while you’re out there.
And the thing I always say is if people are a little bit frightened, just go with a friend. That’s the best thing. You don’t have to go off on these intrepid silo adventures into the darkness. Just go with a friend, take your dog and make a really fun trip of it.
Jo Frances Penn: I love that. So, this is the Books and Travel podcast.
Apart from your own books, can you recommend a few about travel or nature that you love and recommend?
Tiffany Francis-Baker: I’ve got three to recommend today. You said fiction or nonfiction, which made me think. The first one I picked is a fiction one and it’s one of my favorite books ever because it’s one of these books that really makes me want to go on an adventure and it’s actually Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne.
Jo Frances Penn: Good one.
Tiffany Francis-Baker: Which I obviously love. He goes to I think it’s Iceland and goes underground and there are all sorts of bizarre creatures and everything in it, but it’s a bit of an older book now, but every time I read it, I’m a kid again. Especially right now, it’s a very frustrating book to read because you can’t go anywhere. But it just makes me desperately want to go to Europe or go climbing a mountain somewhere or just go and see the world and maybe look at some rocks or something. I absolutely love that book and that was my first little pick for you.
And then the next one I’ve got, a quite different, but a really amazing book that I read recently. Now, I’m going to probably butcher his name because he’s French, Sylvain Tesson, and it’s called Consolations of the Forest: Alone in a Cabin in the Middle Taiga.
If you have heard of it, it’s basically this writer does something I couldn’t do and he goes off to, I think it’s Russia. He goes and locks himself in a cabin in Russia, six months all by himself. He occasionally sees someone else, but he very much wants to just be alone for six months.
It’s a quite difficult read in parts and it’s very much an exploration of the human mind, but his writing of the landscape in Russia and this very solitary existence. I found very captivating and it was a really, really, really interesting book. But like I said, I couldn’t do what he did.
Jo Fransec Penn: Nor me.
Tiffany Francis-Baker: I need people around me sometimes.
And then the last book I wanted to share was a really new one. It only came out in February and I was very lucky, I reviewed it for ‘Resurgence’ magazine, but it’s by Cal Flynn and it’s called Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape. And this book is just fantastic.
She basically goes to some of the eeriest and most desolate places on earth. And they’re generally places that humans once inhabited, but have now left either by choice or by force. So, you know, typically Chernobyl. But she goes to all kinds of really amazing, fascinating places.
And you’d think it would be a very depressing book, and in parts, it is because there are places that sometimes humans have just absolutely destroyed the environments and they can’t live there anymore. But actually, it is an uplifting book somehow.
It’s optimistic and how the earth repairs itself and how these places have taken on a new, weird identity of their own, and how things are still living and growing. That was such an interesting and different book and I really recommend that for people who are interested in a human-landscape relationship.
Jo Frances Penn: I love that. I’m going to have to get that last one, in particular, because dark travel fascinates me. And like, obviously, Chernobyl, and all the pictures I’ve seen, it is now run by nature. It really is overgrown and there are creatures there and nature comes back and in that way, it’s pretty hopeful, right? Is the book got that?
Tiffany Francis-Baker: Yes. That’s definitely the vibe. Like I said, there are some bleak parts, but overall, I finished it and I felt uplifted. It definitely gave me hope for the future.
Jo Frances Penn: Great.
Where can people find you and your books online?
Tiffany Francis-Baker: I have a website with everything on it, so it’s just www.tiffanyfrancisbaker.com. And on social media, I do have Twitter, but I hardly ever use it. So if you want some good old social media content, I’m best on Instagram, which is @tiffany.francis, and they are the two best places to find me.
Jo Frances Penn: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for your time, Tiffany. That was great.
Tiffany Francis-Baker: No worries. Thank you very much for having me.