Catherine Munro – Q&A

Catherine Munro’s book, The Ponies at the Edge of the World, was published by Rider on 19 May 2022.

Catherine kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about The Ponies at the Edge of the World.

The ponies at the edge of the world tells the story of Shetland ponies and the people who love them. It tells three interconnected stories.

The first is the story of people, ponies and landscape and how these relationships are connected to ideas of home and belonging. I describe the history of Shetland ponies and how their story, and the story of Shetland, is one of love and survival against the odds. When people work with ponies today they seek to preserve historic characteristics in ways that keeps the breed relevant into the future. Through their daily lives with ponies people connect to island histories, ponies living in the hill and with hopes for sustainable island futures.

I consider this in relation to ideas about domestication and critique traditional narratives of domestication which emphasise human control and domination over animals. Instead I consider how domestication relationships in Shetland are part of an ongoing process of communication where both humans and animals are active participants and are both affected by their shared lives

The third theme is my story about moving to Shetland. Before starting the PhD I had been living in Glasgow, I had been in a cycle of low paid, temporary contracts and the PhD was a way to do something different with my life. I write about how there is no one place that is home to me and my family- such a contrast to the extended networks of roots I found in Shetland, where memories of places, people, flocks and herds stretched back for generation. A landscape of history and connection. I write about how home is a journey, even for people who know their roots and can trace their connections, home is a daily practice of cultivating, creating and maintaining connection.

2. What inspired the book?

I moved to Shetland to conduct research for my PhD. I was part of a project called Arctic Domus that studied domestication in northern places. After I had finished the PhD I really wanted to share the story of Shetland, and its incredible ponies, with a wider audience.

3. How much planning went into the book?

A lot! When I started I had lots of data and the PhD thesis but this book was a complete rewrite and rethink of all of that. I was advised at the start of the process that publishers would only consider it if it was done as a memoir. So I decided to make the book about the year I moved to Shetland and my experiences conducting research. I have kept all the main themes and findings from my PhD but the non-academic format has given me a lot more freedom to share more of the wonderful stories about people and place. Initially I found the more personal style of writing difficult after previous academic writing but it became easier with practice. It still feels a little strange that some very personal stories are now public.

4. Is there anything about the process of publishing a book that surprised you?

I had very little idea what to expect so it has all been a bit of a surprise! In general though it has been easier that I thought it might be. I am very lucky to have a wonderful agent, Jenny Brown, who has helped me through the journey. The publishing team at Rider have been lovely and very supportive at all stages of the process.

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

In addition to writing I work as a tour guide and have an admin job. I have two children, Rohan age 6 and Finn age 3 so a lot of my time is spent going out on adventures with them. Shetland is an amazing place for kids with lots of beaches, hills and historic sites to explore. To relax I like to go on walks and go horse riding.

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?

This is such a difficult question! But I think it would be Robin Wall Kimmerer Braiding Sweetgrass. It is such a beautifully written reflection on our relationships with the more than human world. There are so many layers to this book that I think you could keep learning something new with each read through.

7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

It isn’t so much a question but I always want to acknowledge my gratitude to everyone in Shetland who shared their stories with me and made me feel so welcome I travelled across the Shetland mainland and visited the islands of Unst, Fetlar, Whalsay and Foula, working with a total of twenty five different studs and also spending time with crofters and other folk who kept animals. Without their help, time and patience I would have had nothing to write about and I am so grateful to everybody involved.

About the Book

Catherine Munro transforms her life when she moves to Shetland to study the hardy ponies who call this archipelago home. Over the course of her first year, she is welcomed into the rhythms and routines that characterise life at the edge of the world.

When faced with personal loss, Catherine finds comfort and connection in the shared lives of the people, animals and wild landscapes of Shetland. The Ponies at the Edge of the World is a heartfelt love letter to the beauty and resilience of these magical ponies and their native land. This is a stunning book on community, hope and finding home.

You can buy a copy of the book here.

(This is an affiliate link so I may earn a small amount should you purchase through it. You can also buy The Ponies at the Edge of the World from your local independent bookshop).

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