Meet a Member: Olivia Sprinkel

This month, Olivia Sprinkel—seasoned 26er and one of this year’s 26 Connections writers—shares some of the projects she’s been involved with over the last 20 years, and the bedtime stories that brought her to them.

Tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from and what do you do?

Hello! I am half-Finnish, half-American, born in London and grew up in Derbyshire after a few early years in San Francisco. I’ve lived in London and New York and am now in Lewes, East Sussex. I work as a sustainability strategy and communications consultant. I am writing my first book, which is narrative non-fiction, and I also write poetry.

Where did your love of words come from?

My mother read or told me bedtime stories every night and I think that sparked my love of words. I was fortunate to have access to books at home and through the library and was a complete bookworm when I was young – I wasn’t allowed to watch TV so you could either find me reading or playing outside. I remember that my favourite part of school at an early age was writing ‘news’ reports from the weekend, which was essentially accounts of my outdoor explorations, so my love of nature writing started early. My American grandmother was an English teacher and she used to send me long letters in her spidery handwriting on blue airmail paper. She encouraged me with my writing, as well as introducing me to American authors such as Annie Dillard when I was a bit older.

What made you join 26? And how long have you been a member?

I first joined 26 back in 2003 or 2004 – I had to check the approximate date in the book of an early project that I was involved in. Tom Lynham introduced me to 26. He must have mentioned it when I was working with him on a project. I loved the idea of 26 bringing creativity to business writing. In a field such as sustainability where there is a lot of jargon and where it is so important to engage people, we desperately need more good writing.

Early on, I managed to persuade the company that I was working for to send myself and a colleague to the first Dark Angels retreat in Devon in 2004 and I spent a wonderful week led by John Simmons, Jamie Jauncey and Stuart Delves. John has continued to be a great source of inspiration and encouragement over the years.

Have you been involved in any 26 projects?

The first project was 26 Letters with the British Library in 2004 where I was a project manager, working with a writer and an illustrator. I got involved as a writer in 26 Treasures at the Victoria & Albert Museum, where I was also an editor.

Others have included 26 Writers Norwich and 26:50, in association with PEN. I love the places that the projects have taken me both physically and imaginatively. Last year, I took part in 26 Plants, and had a magical time learning about and writing about the harebell (pictured), and I was also writer-in-residence at the Bloomsbury Festival.

Currently, I am taking part in 26 Connections – 13 members of 26 are paired with Barbican Young Poets, each pair writing a collaborative poem on the Bloomsbury Festival theme for this year, which is ‘Human.Kind’. I’m working with the wonderful poet Thembe Mvula and it’s been so enriching to explore this theme together.

What’s your ideal scenario for writing? (A coffee shop? Quiet retreat? With or without music? What do you do to get yourself in the right frame of mind?)

I find that having a deadline is a good incentive to get myself into the right frame of mind! Last year I discovered London Writers’ Salon, which is an online zoom space to write together. Having an appointment with their Writers’ Hour is a great way to get me to my desk at 8am. The ritual of lighting a candle or incense helps to mark the transition into a writing space. I find noise-cancelling headphones and music helpful to get into the zone, and I often listen to recommendations from the Flow State newsletter, which suggests instrumental music to listen to each day. Getting out for a walk before writing gets the ideas going as well.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on my book – with an upcoming deadline for submission of the manuscript. It is called To Hear the Trees Speak, and it is about my journey to listen to and learn from ten trees on five continents, from the birch to the banyan to the beech. It’s being published by Bedford Square and will be out in Spring 2025 in the UK. I have a Substack of the same name that I aim to publish on about two times a month. I’m also working on the 26 Connections project, and poems for a collaborative book with my local nature writing group, Chalk & Stream Writers, about a local chalk stream.

Could you tell us about a piece of writing you’re particularly proud of?

It has to be my book. I never understood why it took people five years to write a book, and five years later I understand why. I am proud of myself for sticking with it, and not giving up – I’ve definitely learnt that inspiration is necessary as a writer, but also persistence and keeping showing up.

Where do you get your inspiration?

The natural world is my main source of inspiration – through having this focus, it has given real purpose to my writing. I also hugely value the inspiration that comes from community and collaboration, which is why 26 has been such an important part of my development as a writer. 

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