My name is Jo Woolf, and I’m a writer and editor. If you already follow my other blog, The Hazel Tree, you will know all about my passion for unearthing historical gems about people and places.
In 2015, the Royal Scottish Geographical Society made me their Writer in Residence – a great honour.
It all began when I was asked by the Society to write a series of short stories about their medal holders, past and present.
The list was a long one! Beginning at the present day, it stretched right back to the Victorian gentleman-explorers. Here were heroes of mountain, desert and ice, with plenty of names that I recognised and lots more that I didn’t. Scott, Shackleton, Amundsen, Hillary, and alongside them people like Wilfred Thesiger, Alan Cobham, Frank Kingdon Ward, Hubert Wilkins, Mildred Cable, Francesca French. Little did I know that within a few short months I’d feel as if I’d met each one personally.
When I took a deep breath and dived into the Society’s archives I found a fantastic, half-forgotten treasure chest of stories. They told of heroism and courage, determination and humour, with a deep sense of humanity throughout. Regardless of their era, all these explorers had a motive – they were driven by curiosity, by faith, by an elusive vision, or even by something that they were trying to escape. I was completely, utterly fascinated.
And the thing is, I’ve only just scratched the surface. The path that I set out on is drawing me deeper into the world of these incredible men and women. I’m finding anecdotes that root me to the spot with delight, and I’m following my own instincts and weaving them into stories that are worth the telling. I feel like an archaeologist in an ever-expanding trench – and luckily for me, the Society is happy for me to do lots more digging.
In addition to the articles that I write, I’m putting together a fact file for each explorer which will build up into a comprehensive resource. Meanwhile, I’m working on more material for a book, showcasing a selection of these amazing people and highlighting their unique involvement with the RSGS.
I will share my progress with you in this blog. Join me as I blow the dust off old volumes and examine mellowed pages that were written a hundred years ago, in beautiful copperplate script; but be prepared to zip forward to the 21st century at short notice, because geography is a living science and the Earth continues to inspire a new generation of explorers.