Q&A with Nanou Blair Gould

In the next instalment of the Wicked Weather Watch Q&A we catch up with Nanou Blair Gould, an Arctic explorer speaker for Wicked Weather Watch.

Nanou Blair Gould is a British writer who embarked on an expedition to the Arctic as part of the annual “Arctic Circle” program, which brings together artists and scientists to explore the high Arctic while collaborating on art projects. She was so amazed by the environment that she stayed on as crew for two years after. Nanou’s writing centers around ordinary characters placed in extreme settings, and she has written and performed plays for the Edinburgh and Camden Fringe Festivals. She is a determined individual who cares very much for the environment and loves to inspire other young women do to the same as her.

What inspired your interest in the Arctic and your subsequent desire to go on an Arctic expedition?

A book I read when I was 11 called ‘Northern Lights’ by Philip Pullman. It is the first book of an incredible trilogy (His Dark Materials) about an 11-year-old girl who gets fixated with the idea of the North. One day her friend disappears and she journeys to Svalbard to rescue him. A very exciting journey follows. I didn’t realise Svalbard was a real place until much later and one day, when I was 25, I sat on my bed with my laptop and typed every variation of ARCTIC EXPEDITIONS ARTISTS into Google I could think of.

Can you tell us a bit about your experience in the Arctic?

In October 2017, I was one of 30 international artists selected to join the artist and scientist expedition to Svalbard. We spend 18 days on a three-mast tall ship called Antigua, exploring the west coast of the archipelago. As well as the artists and small crew, we had 4 guides who took us on hikes, facilitated our artistic practices on land and protected us from polar bears.

I loved how everyone worked in harmony with nature. I noticed how happy being outdoors and moving made me. 18 days weren’t enough. By promising to clean toilets and cook and join night watches, I managed to persuade the crew to let me sail with them back to Norway. I must have done an alright job- no one has cleaned a toilet with such delight- because the Captain took me on as crew over the following 2 years.

Your writing includes ordinary characters thrown into extreme natural settings, how has your experience in the Arctic influenced your writing?

I became one of my characters! At that point, I was bored and restless in London and impatient with my writing. As a child and teenager, I found escapism through reading and writing but as an adult wanted to experience something with my whole body, not just my imagination. Experience fuels stories. I’m particularly drawn to characters so meeting people in challenging settings is exciting.

How did your time in the Arctic impact your perception of climate change and the need for education on this topic?

We talk about man-made vs nature, as though humans aren’t a part of nature. It’s easy to fool ourselves that we are in control of the planet when you’re in a town or city. While we were floating around Svalbard, surrounded by rock and sky and sea and ice, very much dependent on the elements, it really struck me how we must all learn to work with the elements. Radical change should be exciting rather than scary. I thought maybe I could inspire people through stories.

Can you tell us a bit about your experience as a Speaker for WWW?

Children are an excellent audience because they want to be excited. Their enthusiasm makes me excited. WWW have allowed me to talk to hundreds of children across the UK about my trips to the Arctic. 

What kind of impact do you hope WWW will have on children and young people who participate in its programmes? 

I hope children will feel inspired to tackle climate change and talk about it at home. It’s extremely important and brave to face it now. 

Want to hear more of what Nanou has to say? Enquire about an Arctic Explorer talk for your school!

Written by Climate Change Communicator, Catrin Lewis. 

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