Wintering: Learning How to Welcome in the Cold with Kindness

I recently placed an order for the biggest haul of books that I have done in a long, long time. It was especially exciting because this order was packed full of hardback, beautiful and newly-released books.

Previously, I would wait months for books to come out in paperback, to reduce in price or to buy them secondhand, and whilst I still love buying secondhand, it felt great to support an independent online bookshop and to have a parcel of new books to indulge in.

One of these books was Wintering by Katherine May. I was immediately drawn to May’s writing style, but it also appeared to be an extremely serendipitous book to have stumbled upon.

Sitting, snuggled up in bed with a cold breeze blowing through the window, a mug of coffee in hand and a warm bowl of porridge resting on my lap, it felt nothing short of luxurious to read Wintering.

This was not only because of its soothing tone, but because the ideas beautifully depicted in Wintering allow us to look at the current situation, or any tough period in our lives, with a sense of kindness and opportunity. The opportunity to welcome feelings like malaise and sadness, and allow them to exist within the overall timeline of our lives because they have a space, or purpose, to fill.

Wintering is a love letter to winter. An ode to the quiet, contemplative season. Musings on the power of the harshest months to bring a soft, gentle acceptance of ourselves and our most basic needs. Poetic, romantic, slow and steady, May’s writing is comforting and enjoyable, a cosy read that creates great imagery and a quiet mindfulness.

Through studying different aspects of humanity and the natural world, the book encapsulates, honours and celebrates the necessity of the downtime we all experience during each year and throughout our whole lives, our own personal winters.

The Wintering Workshop

Wintering is a book that I can see myself returning to over the years, especially during the colder months or when I want to get lost in a comforting read. Honestly, I was a little sad when the book ended, but fortunately, I was (again, rather serendipitously!) invited to join in with an online workshop being run by Katherine May and Clean Prose, all about how we can learn to ‘winter’ well, particularly during this strange time of social isolation.

Clean Prose is a workspace for the writing community, which also offers free online workshops and events that provide the chance to meet, talk to and learn from professional writers, agents and editors. You can see more of their upcoming events on their Instagram here. It’s a great time to get involved with online book chats, live streams and workshops. I’m packing my diary full of them!

It was so interesting to hear Katherine talk more about the ideas of the book, and the work, trips and discussions (as well as those that didn’t happen due to her own ‘winter’ coinciding with the writing of the book – such is life!) that went into creating it.

It was a really engaging talk as attendees were able to ask their own questions, and hear directly from Katherine. I love the idea of being able to ask an author about your own questions that pop up when reading the book! So, I thought I would share some of the great questions that came up during the workshop, and Katherine’s responses.

The Q&A: How to Winter Well

How did you put this book together? What kind of research and development did you do to write the book?

I did some really fun research – for example, visiting the Wildwood Trust to hold a sleeping dormouse and going to Stonehenge for the winter solstice. I also interviewed some fascinating people, including Chief Druid Phillip Carr-Gomm. But I also drew on experiences I’d already had – trips to Norway and Iceland, for example. I pulled together my lifelong obsession with the cold into one place.

As a person who has struggled with anxiety – worrying about something apocalyptic happening – I suddenly find myself oddly calm! It helps that I’m an introvert. My husband, however, is a confident, optimistic extrovert and is really struggling. Do you have any insight about supporting others – specifically extroverted people – with their wintering?

This is happening to a lot of anxious people – me included – it’s like we’ve been preparing for this moment all our lives! For some, though, it’s making anxiety worse and like your husband, some people are experiencing anxiety for the first time.

Firstly I’d tell him to take it seriously and seek any treatment he needs. But my guess is he’d benefit from connecting to others as much as possible – online anxiety support groups, for example.

But I also think it’s important to actively self-soothe – step away from the news, learn to recognise anxious patterns of behaviour (like ‘doomscrolling’), get outdoors as much as possible, and don’t feel guilty about seeking joy and relaxing. It’s self-preservation.

Would you recommend keeping a journal at this time, as a way of piecing together the narrative?

Sure! If you feel drawn to it, do it. But don’t put pressure on yourself to write loads every day, or to say anything particularly meaningful or literary. Have it to hand if you want to write. But if you don’t feel like it, let yourself off the hook.

I think scrapbooking is a great idea too – finding a way to record the sheer weirdness of the world right now, even if you don’t have words yourself.

To what extent is our enforced ‘wintering’ contrasting with our individual freedoms and democracy? Where do we draw the line, if we have a choice?

We’re seeing huge tensions around that right now, but I think the important point is that we will winter either way, either by mass illness or mass restrictions.

I have huge respect for the way that most people have kept at home to protect others. It’s hard and it shows great compassion. My personal line is the daily exercise – I think we should fight hard to keep that because it has huge side-benefits for mental health. 

Will you be reading Wintering?

I highly recommend picking up this book if you’re a fan of the colder months, enjoy comforting reads, need something to relax with at the moment, or if you’re struggling with the current pace of life. Wintering is a warming, welcoming read at any time of year.

Let me know if you’ve read it or you’re going to give it a go! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

2 Comments

  1. “A love letter to winter.” That does sound like a great book; I think I’d like it. Lately I’ve only been reading what I can find locally, and we are limited. Maybe I should branch out and order this book. Great review.

    1. Local is great! But this is definitely a good one to add to the list – the whole haul of books I ordered was quite different for me so it’s been pretty fun exploring different types of writing. Thank you!

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