The Writer Sharing the Untold Stories of Female Climate Activists

Narratively contributor Jill L. Ferguson on her latest collaborative book, which covers Australian women’s role in the environmental movement.

The Writer Sharing the Untold Stories of Female Climate Activists

Over the past decade and a half, Jill L. Ferguson has published 14 books. She works largely as a co-author, collaborating with authors and academics to write, edit, and publish books as a duo. Jill is the founder of Women’s Wellness Weekends, and also works as a writing coach, ghost writer and author. She frequently covers nature, women, and animals: In 2017, she wrote a story on black bears for Narratively. 

Her latest book, The Advocates, which she co-authored with environmentalist Robyn Gulliver, tells the untold, behind-the-scenes stories of nine women fighting for climate justice in Australia. We sat down with Jill to talk about the co-authoring process and the importance of centering the everyday climate advocacy done by women. The book was published on July 2nd. 

What drove you to cover this story of female climate activists? 

I write a lot about animals, travel, and nature. I’ve been an animal lover since I was a kid. I feel very connected to nature, and that’s what drew me to environmental issues. As far as women’s issues, I am a woman. I’ve seen things change, and I’ve seen things stay the same. I believe that women have a very important role in society and that is not always acknowledged. I feel like I can do my part to help promote that. 

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When did you join the project, and what did your collaboration with co-author Robyn Gulliver look like?

About two years ago, Robyn posted about her book in the Earth Binder [an offshoot of Binders Full of Women Writers], wondering whether anybody had been a co-author on a project. I’ve done a lot of co-authoring with a variety of people —The Advocates is my 14th book — so I wrote back to her. She hadn’t written a book before, and didn’t know how to put together a book proposal or a query letter, so I joined the project as a co-author. We did all of the proofreading and editing together. I started writing or structuring chapters when she didn’t have time, and then she’d pick them up, and we’d go back and forth like that. It was a hugely collaborative and rewarding process. 

Photo of Jill L. Ferguson

Why do you think it was important to focus on the day-to-day lives of female activists— not just the newsworthy events, like linking arms in front of a bulldozer, but the more mundane methods of resistance and protest? 

Because those are the parts that are always told. The loudest voices and the Hollywood movie-worthy action always get the focus: They’re what you see on the front page of the newspaper. But before all of those big things can happen, there has to be a lot of background work—bringing people together, coordinating, deciding what to do. The people running the Facebook pages or sending out the donor thank you cards get overlooked. All of the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes into environmental movements and advocacy hasn’t been told before. 

Are there crossovers or similarities between writing books and environmental activism? 

Both of them take a lot of attention to detail. They also have similar levels of drama and behind- the-scenes work. It takes a lot to write a book—revisions, working with the publishing company, making the physical book—and environmental activism is the same way. Each tiny bit adds up to a whole. When you’re writing books or doing environmental activism, it sometimes feels like you’re not making progress, or that you’re taking a bunch of steps backwards. You just have a lot of hope and prayer that at the end of the day you’re somehow nudging it forward. 

What is one thing you learned from these women that has stayed with you, or that you try to put into practice?

One thing that I really took away from the book was how much the white colonial perspective has infused everything. It doesn’t matter whether you’re here in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world. One of the women profiled in the book, Mikaela Jade, founded a company called Indigital. If you’re in a national park, you can use the Indigital app to see an augmented reality Indigenous person telling the history of the area. Reading Mikaela’s chapter reminds me how often white people are the predominant narrative when we shouldn’t be. 

What other projects are you working on now? 

I’m currently working on a middle grade novel that’s set in the early 1930s, which I’m co-authoring with a friend who’s in her 90s — it’s loosely based on her childhood. Over the last few months, I was working with a filmmaker on a documentary called Me Finding You. I was helping him with the narration, and I was also hired by him to ghostwrite the novel version of the documentary. At the end of May I had another book that I co-authored come out, called Increase Your Income: 7 Rules for Women Who Want to Make More Money At Work. It’s a non-fiction book for women in business.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Buy or learn more about The Advocates on Melbourne University Press’ website.