A former foreign correspondent-turned-garden designer, beekeeper and literature festival director, Nidderdale-based Kit Peel can now add novelist to his impressive CV with the publication of his debut Young Adult novel Snow Summer.
Three years ago Peel and his wife Megan, who live with their two young daughters in Pateley Bridge, established Niddfest, a literary festival that connects literature and the natural world.
As well as showcasing the very best in nature writing and the work of world-class poets and authors, the festival seeks to encourage people to engage with nature, the environment and the landscape. So in addition to the literary programme there are a number of family-friendly outdoor events such as bird-watching, star-gazing, wild swimming and den building, all in the stunning surroundings of Upper Nidderdale, designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
It is no surprise then, that Snow Summer has a strong environmental theme, telling the story of young teenager Wyn who discovers that she holds the key to bringing an end to the long winter that has engulfed the world due to climate change. The novel pits the forces of nature against humanity – and it is all set in Nidderdale.
Wyn lives there with her foster family, is apparently happy but has always felt like a bit of an outsider. It is a beautifully lyrical, literary novel that incorporates folklore, myth and fantasy, as well as close observation of flora and fauna.
Peel cites Ursula Le Guin as an influence. “Those are the kind of books I am drawn to – they can be very poetic and quite magical. I also liked the idea of using nature spirits, something I haven’t seen in English literature very much. That led me into the story and into the characters.” The local landscape plays a big part in the story and Peel’s own affection for it shines through in the writing.
Apart from anything else, though, it is a cracking adventure which also weaves in perennial teenage preoccupations – feelings of difference, rebellion, frustration – and a touching romance.
“I wanted to write a gripping story but at the same time write about the natural world in detail,” says Peel. “As a society I think we are less connected to nature, particularly children and young people.” He mentions the recent report by the World Wildlife Fund which revealed that global wildlife populations have fallen by a shocking 58 percent since 1970.
“In the past people would know the names of trees, plants and local wildlife and the myths and stories attached to them,” he says. “And if you want to do something about the environment, you need to understand nature.”
Although he is passionate about environmental issues, which was part of the reason for setting up Niddfest, Peel was mindful that he didn’t want to write a didactic book – his purpose was primarily to entertain and engage younger readers. “First and foremost it had to be a good story, but if it has the added benefit of encouraging people to think about, and care more about, nature, that’s great.”
Snow Summer is published by Groundwood Books and is available in some local bookshops and online.