What is nature writing?

What we talk about when we talk about nature writing.

“Nature writing can be defined as non-fiction or fiction prose or poetry about the natural environment.” This is actually its definition on Wikipedia.

For the purposes of this prize, we're accepting only non-fiction prose submissions (see last week's resources on breaking down the brief), but in general, nature writing can mean many more things and cover lots of different ideas. As such, there’s a whole variety of approaches to writing a book in this genre. Different types of nature writing books can include: factual books such as field guides, natural history told through essays, poetry about the natural world, literary memoir and personal reflections.

Typically, nature writing is writing about the natural environment. Your book might take a look at the natural world and examine what it means to you or what you’ve encountered in the environment. You could frame this idea through a personal lens.

Perhaps you want to take a more focused or factual approach and look at individual flora and fauna in detail. Recent books that we’ve enjoyed have looked at topics such as beekeeping, owls, social and cultural history, trees, swimming, cows and have offered personal observation and reflection on their chosen topics.

You might be writing about the landscape, from farming to remote islands or city life. You may want to write about the fauna and flora of a whole region, or just one animal or a single tree. You don’t need to go out into the wilderness to write about nature and you don’t need to be hiking for three months in a remote area either. Most importantly, we believe the best books on nature writing convey a clear sense of place and mainly focus on the natural world and our human relationship with it.

The Nan Shepherd Prize aims to find the next big voice in nature writing from emerging writers, and we can’t wait to read about what nature means to you.

  1. Read an academic paper on New Nature Writing here.
  2. ‘Land Lines’ was a two-year project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and is a collaboration between researchers at the Universities of Leeds, Sussex and St Andrews. The project carried out a sustained study on modern British nature writing, beginning in 1789 with Gilbert White’s seminal study, The Natural History of Selborne, and ending in 2014 with Helen Macdonald’s prize-winning memoir, H is for Hawk. You can look at their website here.
  3. Read about nature writing throughout history (this is a US perspective) here.
  4. Read about which nature books have inspired today’s contemporary nature writers here.
  5. Read this guide to nature writing from Sharmaine Lovegrove, publisher of Dialogue Books, who teamed up with the Forestry Commission to find undiscovered nature writers here.

Over @NanPrize we’ve been sharing examples of our favourite nature writing books, so if you want to see some specific examples of recent favourites, that might be a good place to start. We’ve also got a collection here which will give you an idea as to what books we like to publish in the nature writing genre.