Hannah Stowe’s memoir Move Like Water melds the story of her life and her life on the sea into a lyrical, unforgettable book.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
“Stirring. . . . Fascinating. . . . Unforgettable. . . . Stowe immerses readers in the sights, sounds, and rhythms of the ocean in her spellbinding debut.”
My debut nonfiction Move Like Water is a book about the sea. Like the sea itself, this covers a huge span, from memoir, to natural history, ocean chemistry, superstition, folklore and adventure. I grew up on the coast in West Wales, in a cottage where the prevailing south westerlies would strip the slates from our roof and leave the windows slick with salt, a hazy screen for the morning sunlight that would always break through even after the worst of storms. The sea was everywhere, in everything I did, its hush, roar and crescendo the soundtrack to my early years. As I grew, this song grew louder, a siren spell, a lure to the horizon. And I followed. I started to work at sea at 18, at first on a tourist boat in my hometown, taking people on guided trips around the islands. Not long after, I did make it over that horizon. In the 10 years since, I have journeyed in the North Sea, the Celtic, the Mediterranean, the Baltic, the Caribbean and in the Atlantic during my career as a sailor and marine biologist studying cetaceans.
My aim with Move Like Water was to bring a piece of that back to you on the shore.
Move Like Water is an ocean that you can hold in your hands, a book to sweep you away from the shore, into a wild world of water, whale, storm and starlight. I wanted you to feel the majesty that it is to share breath with the great whales. I wanted you to experience what it was like, to sail for weeks at a time with life set to a new rhythm.
Music lends itself very naturally to the sea. Sound, is after all, the sense of the sea, used by creatures such as the sperm whale to navigate its depths.
Colours by Skinny Lister
This first song helps me feel the early adventures I would have on the shores of my home. The song speaks of summer, skinned knees, legs snagged on brambles as I would rush down the paths to the sea for freezing swims.
Depth Over Distance by Ben Howard
When you are sailing offshore, you don’t have phone signal or internet access. Before every sailing trip, I try and remember to download playlists and audiobooks for myself to keep me company in the dark inky hours of night watches, or moments of solitude sitting with my back against the mast in the day, staring out at sea. The second chapter covers time spent sailing off the coast of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, often in thick freezing fog. I had this song on repeat. Its deep echoes were perfectly fitting. I was on an acoustic survey looking for Northern Bottlenose whales, listing for their calls through a hydrophone, hearing the sounds of the world below the surface.
Landslide by Fleetwood Mac
If the third chapter of Move Like Water had a soundtrack, this would be it. ‘Can I sail thorough the changing ocean tide? Can I handle the seasons of my life?’. When I first heard Nicks sing those words, the tears immediately started flowing. This chapter covers growing up and facing change while dealing with catastrophic events in my life.
Carageen by Jodie Marie
This song by Pembrokeshire artist Jodie Marine just reminds me of a physical recovery I document in the book, and getting back to sea after injury. Just hearing her words feels like being pulled out to sea, but in the best way possible.
Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynryd
All the creatures covered in Move Like Water have their own wandering spirit, many travelling hundreds of thousands of miles either above or below the ocean. This song always evokes the bittersweet feelings of leaving, but also the joy of going, of exploring, of being free in the world.
Blue Whales In Range by Dr Roger Payne
In 1970, American biologist and bio-acoustican Roger Payne produced an album of whale song called Songs of the Humpback Whale. This album was the first time many people heard whale song, or even learned that humpbacks sing. He bought their sounds back to the shore for people, and his album became instrumental in the groundswell of the “Save The Whales” movement, leading to commercial whaling being banned in many countries.
Le Chant Des Baleines by Emka and Les Fous Alye
Continuing the work of Payne, the duo are bringing back the sounds of the sea to the shore. Emka is a fellow sailor and marine biologist. She spends her time on the sea recording whale sounds, playing her violin for them, and then making music to communicate her time at sea and inspire.
Home by Hollow Coves
Move Like Water is a journey, and part of the resolution of the book is coming/finding home, not so much in a place, but in myself. This song by Hollow Coves, has, for me, always captured that desire to know where one should be, and the peace that comes with finding that.
Laps Around The Sun by Ziggy Alberts
When writing about the sea, it is impossible not to address the historical harm done by humans, and the increasing pressures we are putting on the sea through our consumption. The damage to the seas will affect us all, and the resolution will need all of us. This song evokes that spirit, how we are all connected to nature, how we need to stop and look around, to learn and to change.
The Lost Words Blessing by Spell Songs
For me, there is no other song that captures the grief and devastation of environmental damage, while leaving the listener with that all important spark of hope and courage to make change. The first time I heard this was live at The Albert Hall in London, as they performed it at BBC Summer Proms. I would say this is one of the catalysts that made me commit to writing Move Like Water, so I owe them all my thanks! If you listen to one song off this list, let it be this one.
Hannah Stowe lives in Dresden, Germany, writing, painting, and sailing her own boat named Larry.