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Posted by Lucy H on 1st Nov 2019

Anna Deacon Q&A

Taking the Plunge by Anna Deacon and Vicky Allan

Taking the Plunge cover

We’re very excited about your forthcoming book. What prompted it? Did it evolve from your Instagram account?

Thank you! Yes, it began life as a photography study of outdoor swimmers and their stories, I set up @wildswimmingstories Instagram page as a place to collect the stories and images. Vicky & I were introduced through a mutual friend who thought we should collaborate and create a book together, it seemed like a wild idea at the time but very quickly became a wonderful reality!

What are your influences in art & literature? You’re clearly very creative. Do you practice any other art as well as photography? If not, what would you like to try?

I loved batik and silk painting when I was younger and thought I would like to do that as a career one day, I also love drawing and have dabbled in pottery. I really enjoy creating crazy costumes for dressing up with my kids, using things we have to make wands, hats, and face painting etc. I would love to do more pottery and would love to try silverwork.

I have so many visual influences, I enjoy going around galleries and museums and getting inspired. I always enjoy the portrait awards exhibitions, and the wildlife photographer of the year exhibitions as well.

Literature wise, I’m really inspired by books about water at the moment as that is what I’m immersed in myself. I mentioned some novels I have read recently, but I also love Wild Swimming by Daniel Start, Wild Swim by Kate Rew, Waterlog by Roger Deakin is a classic, Leap In by Alexandra Hemingsley is another I’m enjoying.

Who do you think is your typical reader, if such a person exists? Who would you love to read your book?

We hope this book will appeal to people who are interested in swimming outdoors but not sure where to start, people who think the whole thing is mad but are quite fascinated by it, people who are on a journey of healing, and hopefully the already converted swimmers!

What type of weather do you prefer to swim in, and how do you cope with wild weather?

My personal favourite is a cold, crisp winter day with no wind. However the reality is that I live in one of the windiest places in Britain so my usual swims are in lively, choppy sea with a brisk north wind! The wind chill factor can make a huge difference to how cold you feel and how quickly you warm up. We have swum in all kinds of weather including snow and ice, and you quickly learn that there is little point wearing anything with buttons or laces as your hands will be too numb to mess around with those after a swim, you find little ways of laying your clothes out to make them as easy as possible to put back on afterwards etc.. A flask of hot chocolate and a cake is a great way to warm up and preparation is key!

Can you tell us about your most memorable swim, and what is your dream swim (if you haven’t already achieved it!)

That is so hard to answer as we have had some truly epic swims over the last year doing this book. We had some pretty spectacular swims on Skye, we had a swim tour guide who took us to some seriously off grid places. We swam in a waterfall inside a cave, in a turquoise healing pool, and a series of pools which looked like Jacuzzis. It was like an incredible outdoor spa area, albeit cold!

Dream swim…hmmm. I’m always tempted by some of the beautiful Cornish tide pools, they have such an incredible colour. Also I want to go to Harris on the West Coast of Scotland sometime next year to swim on Luskentyre beach which is just beautiful white sand and turquoise sea. I’m also keen to trace my family roots back to Unst which is the furthest north place in the Shetland islands and swim off the beaches there, where my ancestors swam.

How much input did you have to the text/narrative? Did the text follow the images or vice versa?

The stories evolved fairly naturally and the studies came after that, initially I gave three questions to each swimmer and many of the quotes in the book come from those. Vicky then wrote the main bulk of the chapters after all the images and stories were collated. We also spent a lot of time together meeting swimmers and often the images took place alongside Vicky’s in depth interviews but the images were definitely before the text for the most part.

Where’s your most memorable swim location? Your book focuses on wild swimmers in Scotland, but have you swum abroad? If so, where?

We have between us swum in some wonderful places abroad. I had a wonderful trip to Mexico a few years ago and swam through a whole cave system popping up in beautiful cenotes, then swimming in the dark to the next one. It was amazing, and utterly terrifying too. I visit Mallorca often as my sister lives there and the swimming there is just a wonder, the sea is so very clear and turquoise and there are so many fish, luckily she knows loads of wonderful secret beaches and we often do a sunrise hike to a hidden beach, which is one of my absolute favourite things to do.

Can you tell us about some of the wildlife you’ve encountered? Whales, seals, fish and birds are all mentioned in the book – which have you met, and what was it like?

I have swum with seals a few times, the first encounter was in Kintyre and we suddenly saw these big dark eyes watching us through the waves, then it would disappear then reappear somewhere else. It was amazing, and slightly disconcerting too! I also swam on Skye near a seal colony and it was hilarious, they kept popping up in all sorts of directions! We have seen Golden Eagles, amazing sea birds, a dolphin once, loads of fish. It is always an amazing experience and many birds come much closer to you if you are on eye level with them in the water.

Can you tell us about some adventures, near misses or mishaps you’ve had on a swim?

We have had many adventures, but also a few mishaps. Notably we did a bit of wave jumping a few months ago and a huge one caught me unawares as I was walking out, only knee deep. It knocked me over onto some rocks and I was really deeply bruised and battered for several weeks afterwards. It took a while to get my confidence back up after that. Also once I swam and stayed in a little too long one December and just lost all my energy, I was really struggling to get back to shore against the wind as well. It is an important reminder to have massive respect for the sea.

What do you like to eat or drink to prepare for a swim, and what do you look forward to afterwards?

I don’t really have anything specific to eat or drink before a swim, but a hot chocolate and some cake is an idea post swim pick me up. I’m sure for a lot of people we swim with this is the best bit! It certainly tastes much better after a cold dunk!

Is there any music which comes to mind whilst wild swimming?

For my regular swims I walk to the sea which is about a 15 min walk and back and I have a playlist which really gets me in the mood. I’m a big fan of 90’s indie so I’ll often listen to the Pixies or The Cure, but more recent stuff like Birdy, Tom Odell, Ben Howard as well.

Hypothermia is covered in the book – do you have any additional useful tips?

Firstly listen to your body, don’t stay in too long. Get dressed quickly and wear loads of layers, have a hot drink and let your body return to normal temperature before having a hot shower or bath.

Pollution and environmental issues are mentioned in the book – what can we do to help?

Swimming in the sea often, you can feel utterly brokenhearted at the sheer volume of crap that washes up every single day on our beaches. We always try and pick up what we can on a swim, and a

Always leave no trace of having been there. We both try to avoid single use plastic as much as possible and are slowly but surely eliminating plastic from our lives. We can all help by recycling, using less plastic, not dropping litter, picking up litter from the beach, but also the pavements as those items often will go into drains and end up in the sea too. Small steps taken by many can have a huge impact.

What do you read? What are you reading at the moment? What was your favourite book as a child?

I’m a total bookworm and I currently have a pile of around 30 books teetering beside my bed. I have recently finished The Outrun – by Amy Liptrot which I absolutely adored. Also I Found My Tribe – by Ruth Fitzmaurice which made me weep ugly tears but also feel joy and a sense of survival through the odds, and The Salt Path – by Raynor Win which was such a beautiful book. All three came about as they all touch on wild swimming in some way, and I have enjoyed them all. I am also partial to a good thriller and some classics, Wuthering Heights is probably my all time favourite book.

As a child I loved Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, and also the Willard Price stories about adventure. I pretty much read everything in my local library, I have always been a devourer of books.

The impact of swimming on mental health seems profound – do you think it will ever take a place in the formal management of mental health?

We have seen in Scotland that GP’s beginning to prescribe nature as a cure for mental health, and we think wild swimming/cold water swimming will start to filter through and become part of this. We know that being outdoors in nature is great for our mental and physical wellbeing and there has been a few medical papers about the impact cold water swimming specifically can be helpful for depression and post operative pain relief. The cold water has an amazing anti inflammatory effect which can be helpful in many pain related conditions, but also on our mental health. I would like to think that as these medical research papers continue to take place that eventually it can be seen as a viable alternative, or complement to anti depressants and pain relief.

Where do you see the Wild Swimming movement in the future?

The movement has enjoyed a huge surge in popularity in recent years, and we do hope it continues. After all in this country our Grandparents didn’t call it wild swimming, just swimming and it is how we always used to do things before swimming pools were a thing. We are essentially going back to how things were in the past, a wonderful, free, and beneficial thing to do that is available to all.

You have a great cover quote from Miranda Hart – is she a swimmer? What’s her connection with the book?

Miranda and I struck up a conversation as she is following our stories on Instagram and asked if I could point her in the direction of a local swim group as she was keen to get into it. We continued to chat and I sent her an early proof of the book and she kindly offered her words of support. 

Thank you very much indeed - we wish you all the best with the book, and plenty more glorious wild swimming!