Exploring The Planet We Share – NSSM2020

Guest Post by Jess Butterworth

One of my most
favourite things to do is explore the planet that we share and when it comes to
writing, it is always the settings that spark the stories for me. Today I want
to share with you some of the wonderful places I love and the moments that have
inspired my books.

The Himalayas


When I was a child, my grandparents and dad lived in the Himalayas on a foothill, surrounded by jungle filled with leopards, bears and langur monkeys. My dad was a trek leader and I would walk with him over the mountains, stopping to say hi to shepherds or collect porcupine quills. Once, I had the idea to slide down a glacier on my sleeping mat, only to find it wasn’t quite as fun to walk all the way back up again.

I’ve encountered a bear twice. The first time it scratched at the door during the night to get to the dog food, and the other time I accidentally ran up to one in a tree. I froze and slowly backed away until I was all the way home. From that moment, I would sing loudly to let the wild animals know I was there; I didn’t want to sneak up and surprise one.

Back in England I often missed the mountains and my dad and grandparents who still lived there and I would write about it: the smell of the native deodar trees, rhododendron flowers in spring, the butterfly migration, even being in a cloud and dodging leeches in the monsoon. I would talk to my grandma and she would tell me stories of how my uncle rescued and rewilded a leopard cub, and how she travelled to India from Australia by boat and land with four children, a border collie dog, and a kangaroo joey.

Many years later, when I knew I wanted to write Running on the Roof of the World, I returned to the Himalayas and went in search of yaks. I visited the Tibetan changtang plateau and experienced altitude sickness travelling over mountain passes.

Australian Outback

In 2013, I lived and worked in the Australian outback for five months. I loved the red dirt and the endless blue skies as well as the unique animals there. I was planning on staying longer but one day I was tidying up cardboard boxes, throwing them on to the back of a truck, and a baby snake flew out of one and landed on my head! I batted it away and it hit the ground and slithered away unharmed but moments later I realised that it had bitten my thumb. I had to be airlifted to hospital because there was no anti-venom where I was staying. I was terrified of snakes until I wrote When the Mountains Roared.

Louisiana Swamps

My husband is from Louisiana in the States, where Swimming Against the Storm is set. It’s completely the opposite to the Himalayas, although interestingly it’s on the same latitude. Much of Louisiana is at sea level and full of wetlands. The climate is humid. I loved experiencing the swamps there. My favourite adventures include watching alligators and pink spoonbills while kayaking, and seeing what it was like to live with a hurricane season every year. I also got to experience first-hand the effects of climate change with sinking land and rising sea levels.