Sarah Gwonyoma takes to the water and recommends what we should be reading this Summer - a guest post by What Sarah Read Next

How Cold Water Swimming game-changed my life

I’m new to cold water swimming. Three months new to be exact. I moved to the coast two years ago, having lived on the tropical island of Fiji for over a decade. While I’m not a strong swimmer, I’ve always loved the ocean. Trips to Little Hampton and Hastings as a child with my family, wading into the water up to my knees, shrieking at the crashing waves as they chased me back up the pebbled rocks. The sound of the ocean always gives me a sense of calm. I’ve always been drawn to her. And while the sea I live near to is no where near as blue or warm as the currents that bathed me in Fiji, I still love being able to look at it and now hopefully swim in it all year round.


“You’re absolutely mad” bellowed my Ugandan Mum down the phone when I first mentioned I wanted to try cold water swimming. I guess she’s right, you won’t find many brown skinned women like me rocking up at the beach in a dry robe, stripping down to a swim suit, socks and gloves and running into the sea like her life depended on it. You just won’t. Which made me even more determined to do it. A week before New Years, I put a call out to a local whatsapp group asking if anyone had a dry robe, gloves and socks for sale. Within five minutes I had an avalanche of responses with offers of all said items going for free! Clearly a sign that I was destined to cold swim. On a cold, grey January morning, I arranged to meet a local group or my first swim of the year. Was I nervous? No. Quite the opposite. I simply just wanted to get in and see what the fuss was all about. I lasted about 30 seconds for my first dip and still to this day, I would happily say those were some of thee most exhilarating 30 seconds of my life. Ever. I’ve not looked back.


I now rarely leave home without my current read OR swim gear, ready to dive in at a minutes notice.

And while I’m banging on about how much I love cold water swimming, I thought I’d share a few books I’ve read and loved that have water as a theme.


The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

This book is about an eccentric couple called Raynor and Moth, who are made homeless in their 50s. At the same time the husband (Moth) is diagnosed with a terminal brain disease. Amazingly, they respond to these crises by deciding to walk the south west coastal path, from Somerset to Dorset, via Devon and Cornwall, with very little money to live on. It brings alive the people and scenes they encounter on their heroic walk. They are such an amazing couple, with a huge bedrock of love for one another, and an overflow of kindness and generosity towards the world. It was a marvellous and inspiring read.


The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey

Winner of the Costa Book of the Year Award. This book is unique, creative, enchanting and very powerful. Aycayia is a one of a kind Red coloured mermaid. Having once been human, she was punished by jealous wives (cursed by her beauty) and made to live in sea as a mermaid. When a fisherman named David (an American) discovers her while fishing off the island of Black Conch, he’s completely  enchanted. It’s the perfect Mermaid story. The book speaks of Caribbean culture, the history of the islands, their legends and their myths. In her Acknowledgements, Roffey notes the idea for the book was based, in part, on these legends, but also on her dreams and, most notably, Pablo Neruda’s poem The Fable of the Mermaid and the Drunks. There are also deeper themes about colonialism, racial tragic history—enslavement, immigration, indigenous genocide, freedom, and womanhood.


Pod by Laline Paul  - shortlisted for Womens prize

The harsh political intrigue of Watership Down meets the majestic beauty of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in this extraordinary, immersive coming of age Odyssey of transformation and discovery. Filled with lush prose and a gripping oceanic perspective of life and love, Pod is a chilling call to action against the real life horrors of pollution, animal cruelty, and overfishing. Filled with both the bleak and the hopeful, this is a novel that highlights the small moments of beauty and love in a world that is slowly filling with violence and decay; it is a wonderfully nuanced look into sacrifice, identity, and belonging; what makes a home when one is destroyed, and what makes a life worth living in a world on the edge. Unflinching, raw, and wonderfully engaging, Pod is both refreshing and terrifying in its glimpse into the lives we seldom think about under the waves.



Our Wives Under the Sea by Julie Armfield

“The deep sea is a haunted house: a place in which things that ought not to exist move about in the darkness.”

The story begins when Miri’s wife, Leah, returns from a deep sea expedition that lasted months beyond the original plan. When she returns, it is clear that something is wrong. Miri can’t quite put her finger on it immediately, but as the story unfolds, the reader is taken on a journey to the sea floor as well as through the process of a relationship unraveling. What would it be like to have your partner become so utterly changed that the ache of that drifting apart is so raw, bewildering and unbearable?

It is an expansive reading experience. It’s a love story minus the sappy romance. It’s a story of transformations, and it had made a huge impact on me.


Sarah is the Founder of the popular Instagram page What Sarah Read Next and Co-Founder of the Online Book Club - What We Read Next.