Wild nights to wild swimming courtesy of Instagram: Clover Stroud’s digital delights

Clover Stroud is a force of nature, and a woman who is fearless in the face of life and death.’ That was the summation of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love. Others, too, have flocked to praise Clover in the reception of her second book, The Sunday Times best-seller My Wild and Sleepless Nights, which is a raw and unflinching look at what motherhood is, from the visceral and fierce love to the moments of chaos, despair, boredom and darkness. Polly Samson called reading the book ‘a whole body experience’, while Esther Coren deemed it, simply, ‘a masterpiece.’ An instant classic, it is already hailed as a defining book about motherhood for the ages.

And if anyone knows, it’s Clover Stroud. She is one of five children (rare talent runs in the genes: one sister is Emma Bridgewater, another the late, brilliant Nell Gifford, who founded Giffords Circus). She also has five children, who range in age from three to nineteen. Hers is not a sanitised or idealised account; nor is it rose-tinted. For as she grapples with one child breaking away in adolescence and another following not far behind, so too does she bring a brand new baby into the world, all the while remaining responsible for two more very small children. All stages are ever-present and thus she lives the whole spectrum and timeline of motherhood at once. No moment, and no reality and no small joy, is forgotten.

But the reason this book is so profoundly and utterly moving and so ultimately inspiring is Clover’s spirit of adventure. This is not a book that instructs other people how to be better mothers. It is a memoir about love; about earthy joys; about darkness; about the sensuous nature of being a mother; and about death. It is about feeling truly awake and alive, a sensation that giving birth – with its attendant and ensuing mess and chaos – gives her every time. Her own mother was brain damaged after a riding accident when Clover was sixteen, and the correlation between this terrible, formative event and having children seems certainly and inexorably intertwined.

Clover’s first memoir, The Wild Other, about love, family and above all, horses, was shortlisted for the Wainwright prize for nature writing. It feels inevitable that the awards will pile in for this one too. But for now, in this age of self-isolation, awards will have to wait. Instead, you can catch Clover on Instagram live in conversation with other writers (details below). Here, she tells us why gadgets are a no-no in her house; what it is about a website dedicated to black-and-white horses she loves so much; and why Instagram feels like her online home.



My Wild and Sleepless Nights by Clover Stroud is published by Doubleday (£16.99)

My favourite website...

I live in the countryside in west Oxfordshire with my husband and five children, Jimmy, Dolly, Evangeline, Dash and Lester. Work, and my writing, is where I find my sanity, but I find my excitement with horses. I have three black and white ponies, and all of my kids ride a bit. I love a website called Dragon Driving. It’s all about black and white horses, wagons, carts and so on. It’s not at all obvious but totally addictive if you like horses and the kind of wild freedom they bring

My favourite app...

I use Instagram all the time and I love it. It’s allowed me to create a relationship with my readers and I also use it as a kind of live creative notebook, to try and test out ideas. I think the combination of text and a strong image is an incredibly powerful medium and can be used very creatively. When I was writing my second book, My Wild and Sleepless Nights, which is a hugely confessional take on motherhood, it was invaluable for me to talk to other women. Motherhood is a strange experience that takes you from intense boredom and despair to deep love in the space of a few moments, but this can also make you feel slightly crazy. Instagram meant I could be spending the day alone with my kids, but still have some good conversations with other women about their experiences. I have had amazing feedback from people on IG who have said that this new book has enabled them to feel ‘seen’ as women and that I have voiced some of their deepest and sometimes darkest thoughts.

My favourite blog...

I am sorry but I don’t read blogs!

My Internet hero...

My seven-year-old daughter Evangeline has started doing very funny Instagram lives. She’s my Internet hero.

My favourite podcast...

Without a doubt, Emma Gannon on Ctrl, Alt, Delete. She is great at interviewing and really lets her subjects speak without interrupting. She has a great range of guests and I love her voice. I listen to pretty much everything she does. I also really like the TED Interviews with Chris Anderson; his interviews are really in depth and have introduced me to lots of completely new people and ideas.

My most recent buy online...

I buy a lot of books on line, most recently I bought The Pumpkin Eaters by Penelope Mortimer. It’s not a new book but one I’ve been wanting to read for a long time. I also bought a wooden clothes drying rack as my three younger children, who are three, five and seven, use the clothes rack to make dens all the time and end up breaking them. I go through clothes racks like nobody’s business.

Last book you downloaded or read...

I have been reading Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. It has had outstanding reviews and is about a young black woman who is wrongly accused of kidnap. Reid’s voice is exhilarating, and she explores ideas of race and privilege fearlessly. I highly recommend it.

Favourite tweeter...

@TechnicallyRon always makes me laugh. But I am not that busy on Twitter. I have five kids and find it incredibly hard to keep on top of two social media platforms at the same time, and I prefer the creative outlet that Instagram gives me. I just prefer the format of it. Twitter feels like quite a lot of posturing and shouting, while Instagram I find chatty and creative.

Favourite Instagrammer...

I like Grace Timothy who talks about writing and motherhood, and Mary Meadows for her slice of positivity. I have started using Instragram live as a way of collaborating with other writers too. My last book came out in February, but from mid March book events and festivals have all been cancelled due to the virus. In response to this, I am creating live, online interview with writers. The idea is that I will interview a different author twice a week on IG live, at 8.30pm every Tuesday and 1.30pm every Wednesday. It’s a way to put out some engaging content which helps writers and readers remain connected, and might be good fun too. I love the informal, pretty freeform format of IG live, and have had a great response so far. I am kicking off With Sophie Heawood, whose novel The Hungover Games is out in the summer. I have a fab series of writers lined up. Its via my IG live account @clover.stroud and we’ll talk to one another about writing and creativity, how we work, how to get started, fiction versus non-fiction and so on.

Favourite tech gadget...

I don’t have any tech gadgets. I have tried but the kids fiddle with them and break them all the time. I have an Internet radio, does that count? I lived in Texas for a couple of years and worked on a ranch. I love listening to the country music radio stations in west Texas. It means I can be in my kitchen in west Oxfordshire and still feel like I’m on a ranch under the big skies in Texas. I genuinely love the emotional freedom this gives me.

The most useful gadget on your desk...

My watch? I wear a heavy gold watch but take it off when I am working. I always leave it on the desk in front of me.

First thing/app you look at on your mobile when you wake up/in the morning...

Always Instagram.

Last thing you binge-watched...

I gorged on Succession and felt bereft when season two finished. I am the youngest of five children, and have five children myself, aged three to nineteen, and I was fascinated by the way sibling relationships were represented. The writing was so tight and funny, and every single performance absolutely outstanding. My sister Nell said after it had finished that she just missed the Roys – the family it portrays – so much. Everyone was brilliant in Succession but Kieran Culkin especially so. I could watch him as Roman Roy forever.

Brands have you discovered online...

I really love Marloe bags. They are big, roomy canvas bags in bright colours, and they made me one with all my children’s names embroidered on it. It’s so beautiful and cheerful, and big enough to be completely practical too. People comment on it all the time when they see me using it.

Social media allowed me to meet...

I formed a wild swimming group last summer to swim through the winter. I swim in a river close to my home quite regularly during the summer and had wanted to try winter swimming. I posted on my Instagram asking if anyone else wanted to join me, and from that a group was formed. We meet once a week in the same place at the same time, and swim. It’s helped me so much during the past few months. My sister Nell died from breast cancer in December, and swimming in the dark river water became a way of manifesting and exercising my grief. I don’t know the other women well, but they are now an important part of my life. I absolutely love the fact that Instagram enabled me to do that; I would never have been able to pull a group of women together so easily in real life. Social media can get so much flak, but I have, so far, only found it to be a force for the good. It’s helped me make so many digital and real life connections, and as a writer and mother working from home, it’s almost a lifeline.

The best digital advice I've been given...

Get a screen protector

My screensaver is...

A picture of my two now teenage kids when they where very small, both sitting on a black-and-white pony we used to have when we lived in Oxford.

My standout online memory...

Seeing my new book turn into a Sunday Times Bestseller last month was incredibly exciting. I had been tracking it on Amazon and had had such good reviews, I could approximately see where it was sitting in book sales. But I didn’t know if it would make it into the top ten, so when it did I was really delighted.

My pet online hate is...

The fact that, however much I love Instagram, I can also waste an awful lot of time there, scrolling late at night. I wish I could break this habit. I use my phone as my alarm clock, which is my excuse. I did buy a digital alarm clock but the kids started playing with it and broke it.

Do you have any online rules or resolutions (such as a time your religiously switch off devices, for example?)

No, I really don’t, I use it as and when I want, but I think, in these days of corona isolation, I might need to start getting a bit more boundaried around the times I use my phone. It would be easy to just sit and scroll and refresh the news continuously, and right now, more than ever, we need to also keep things as real as possible.

The Internet. On balance, a force for good or ill?

It’s good. It has to be good.

By Nancy Alsop
April 2020

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Guest Editor: Emma Bridgewater
Guest Editor: Jessica Fellowes
Guest Editor: Dan Jones