Author Caro Giles’ new book tells her tale of life in wild Northumberland with her four daughters. Ella Foote finds out more, and discovers how the moon lights up Caro’s life even on the darkest of days.
You might not be aware of it, but there is a part of swimming that settles our unconscious. It offers a place between the ground and the sky: the middle.
Life can be turbulent and uncertain, so as humans we often seek this middle. Whether it’s in the gap between waves, a slack tide or a solstice, there are many ways we look for the inside of life.
Author Caro Giles finds her middle in the moon – by lighting candles in the dark, in snatched time before the dawn and in invigorating dips in the North Sea.
In her new book, Twelve Moons: A Year Under a Shared Sky, Caro shares a year of her full, chaotic and brilliant life in a story guided by the lunar calendar.
She lives in wild Northumberland with her four daughters: The Mermaid, The Whirlwind, The Caulbearer and The Littlest One. Together they battle illness, education, divorce and womanhood, finding escape in the northern landscape, coastline and sea.
“During the course of the book, my family face lots of challenges,” says Caro. “But I hope that what comes out of it is the flip side of the challenge. That being a single parent carer to four daughters is really about the loveliness of always being wrapped in the girls and having a close relationship with them.”
There are times throughout the book that I am reminded of Louise May Alcott’s book Little Women. Each daughter’s unique personality and story is compelling; you seek similarities in all of them but seem to find a connection with at least one.
While the girls are leading ladies, the book’s star is Caro and her love is the moon.
“One of the biggest challenges I faced with my writing was that there was no way I could tell my story without my children being involved in it,” says Caro. “But I felt strongly that mothers and carers should be able to tell their stories. I love the poetry of the girls’ names in the book; it was to protect them, but it worked with the dreaminess of the writing.”
The way Caro captures her family makes you want to pack a picnic and drive up north to join them at the beach.
The moon plays an important role in the book. As well as marking time, it offers company to Caro and connection to nature. So much of our daily life is governed by the moon. The weather, tides and even our mood is linked to the crescent, full or waning moon.
“Since being a child, I have always been connected to nature,” says Caro. “But other than seeing an amazing full moon or noticing a bright one, it had never been something that underpinned my life in the way that it has become now.
“When I was writing the book, I couldn’t leave home because of the pandemic and my little desk where I write on the landing has a window and I would notice the moon out of it. So often I would sit on my own. A lot of the book is about feeling alone, the difference between being alone and being lonely. I felt less alone when the moon was there.”
Over the course of a year, Caro captures her world with her daughters under each moon. Birthdays are celebrated, wildlife spotted, beaches combed and water swum in.
Caro and The Mermaid become addicted to wild water as life becomes smaller in the pandemic and adventures are found close to home. After suffering with Covid as well as other mental health and sensory issues, The Mermaid thrives in open water.
“Icy dips helped The Mermaid regulate,” says Caro. “The sight of her at ease and unafraid fuelled my addiction. She continues to inspire my own swimming; she will swim any day.
“Often, we have swimsuits in the car. But if not, we strip down to our pants and get in. If it wasn’t for The Mermaid, I wouldn’t love swimming in the sea as much as I do. It continues to be an important part of her health plan, to support her mental and physical health. It was amazing to me that when she couldn’t walk, I could drag her to the sea and it was still something she could do; it helped her to recover. I can’t underestimate how magical the sea has been for her.”
Caro has led a creative life: an actor for ten years, a musician, teacher and writer. She is a regular contributor to Psychologies Magazine and named Countryfile Magazine’s New Nature Writer of the Year in 2021.
“It was a little bit of a surprise to write a book,” she says. “I have always been creative and when the children were babies I blogged, alongside singing.
“When my marriage ended, I felt so lost and I was looking for a way to physically make my voice heard. I had forgotten who I was during the pandemic lockdown.
I signed up to do an online master’s degree in nature and travel writing and that was life changing. It was accessible because it was online and I wouldn’t have been able to do it any other way, but it kick-started a writing discipline in me that hasn’t gone away. I had always wanted to tell my story.”
A mother’s perspective
The most compelling aspect of Caro’s writing is when she writes about mothering, womanhood and fear. Despite often being afraid or unsure, Caro writes about how she had to be brave and fearless for her daughters. It is so often the way when you are leading or caring for others. She captures the sense of being the last person who has priority when your instincts and role is to love and protect others.
“I have been really scared. I am scared, trying not to be,” says Caro. “Someone said to me (it’s in the book) that my kids are brave swimming in the sea. I hope they feel able to be brave because they see me being brave. I feel frightened all the time, but I think that’s what being brave is, doing things even though you are scared.”
Even though the book covers pandemic themes, illness, heartbreak and struggle it isn’t a heavy read. It is light and bouncy at times, describing day-to-day life with school runs and emptying the dishwasher. There is burnt lasagne and fallouts, but it remains hopeful and romantic regardless.
“The sea replaced an intimacy for me that I would have had with a partner,” says Caro. “It might sound a bit odd, but I think it’s just that kind of connection with something wild and passionate. It feels safe for me. It helps ground me. It reminds me of who I am when I am outside, in the sea and in the wilderness.”
‘Twelve Moons: A Year Under A Shared Sky is published by HarperNorth. Follow Caro Giles on Instagram @CaroGilesWrites.
This article is from the January 2023 issue of Outdoor Swimmer. Click here to subscribe to the print magazine.To see all the online content from the January 2023 issue of Outdoor Swimmer, visit the 'Rest & Reflection' page.