Doreen Cunningham is an interesting woman: an engineering graduate, a former journalist mainly covering environmental issues, a fearless traveler, mother, and now an author. ‘Soundings: Journeys in the Company of Whales’ has captivated readers with its lyrical beauty, vivid imagery, and heartfelt themes. It is both memoir and travelogue, an ecology journal, and a cry to the heart that explores the complexities of human experience with a deep sense of empathy and compassion.
The journey that Cunningham and her young son go on is both literal and metaphorical; following a pod of whales from Mexico to Alaska, each expedition is also an exploration in self-discovery and reflection, a window into a different aspect of the human condition, whether it is the pain of loss, the joy of love, or the longing for meaning and purpose.
Her work is compelling; her mastery of language is filled with vivid metaphors, evocative imagery, and a musicality that makes them a joy to read aloud. Beyond the beauty of her words, her work is also deeply resonant and emotionally powerful, infused with a sense of wonder and awe, as well as a deep reverence for the natural world and the interconnectedness of all things.
Overall, ‘Soundings’ is a beautiful and thought-provoking book that will stay with readers long after they've finished reading; it's a testament to the power of language and the human spirit and a celebration of the beauty and complexity of life itself … then you get to meet Doreen and realise that the book is her and that the world is a slightly better place for having spirits like her inhabiting it.
What was the first book you bought yourself?
It would have been a jumble sale/church fête bargain. Possibly Thelwell’s Riding Academy – I had a feral rescue pony who looked a lot like Kipper. She was called Bramble and my friend and I found her abandoned and about to be put down, and convinced my Aunt to keep her in a field. I was always outside and talking to animals when I was little. Or it might have been Bottersnikes and Gumbles - that was one I treasured from an early age, even though the Bottersnikes were pretty scary.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Just get on with it already.
Did publishing your first book change your writing process?
Yes, because I didn’t have one. I discovered that I can only write if there’s a deadline, which stops me thinking about the actual writing. Ideally, a room full of people to distract me and the pressure that you’re going to have to read it out imminently so all my energy is used up panicking about that and my hands can get on with it. I have to trick myself into it basically, do it without my brain noticing I’m doing it. If that makes any sense at all.
What were you most wrong about when you imagined being a writer?
That somehow a room and a desk would magically appear, and that writers could write at will. I write among the breakfast cereal debris on my tiny wobbly kitchen table, with the cat trying to get on the laptop, and in bed and at the bus stop. And if I have actual headspace and time on my own to write, I can’t. Then I can only stare at the wall or tidy my socks.
Which 3 books do you think everyone should read?
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Beloved by Toni Morrison
How to be Both by Ali Smith
Do you have a favourite book to gift and if so, what is it
At the moment it’s Soundings because it hasn’t been out long! But otherwise, The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki
What song always gets you on the dance floor?
My kids and I like dancing to the song at the end of Paddington 2, when Hugh Grant is in prison. But with an actual dance floor involved then I’d not be fussy after being stuck at home with small children for years! I do love Human by the Killers, dance around the flat to that a lot.
Tea or Coffee?
I love coffee but it makes me anxious so I would make coffee for the smell and ritual, with green tea alongside to actually drink.
Do you Google yourself?
Not usually, but I couldn’t resist it just now after you suggested it.
Why do you love Chapters?!
The space, and the little comfy area in the children’s section! There’s something about the atmosphere and lovely laid-back staff which encourages exploring. My children went off by themselves and engrossed themselves in books. It’s somehow laid out in a way that’s really enticing to navigate and the space is very accessible