Maria Coffey is the author of twelve internationally published, award winning books, the co-owner of an adventure travel company and an adventurer in her own right.
Growing up in England, Maria always dreamt of having a freewheeling life, with no real idea of how she could make that happen. In her twenties she fell in love with an elite Himalayan mountaineer, Joe Tasker, and her adventures became vicarious ones, as she waited at home during his long expeditions. When Joe disappeared on the NE Ridge of Everest, in 1982, Maria was devastated. “His death blew my life apart,” she says, “but ultimately it jolted me alive.” A few years later she moved to Canada. She met a man who shared her dream of travelling the world, and together they began to make it a reality.
Shortly after marrying Dag, Maria wrote her first book, Fragile Edge: Loss on Everest, an account of her relationship with Joe Tasker and her own journey to Everest in the wake of his death. The writing was pure catharsis, an untangling of emotional knots in her past so that she could move into the future. Originally published in 1989, Fragile Edge became a classic in mountaineering literature and has won several prizes. Years later Maria wrote Where the Mountain Casts its Shadow: The Dark Side of Adventure, about the emotional toll of climbing, which won the Jon Whyte Literature Prize at the 2003 Banff Festival and a 2004 National Outdoor Book Award. She completed what she calls ‘an unintentional trilogy’ with Explorers of the Infinite, an examination of the link between adventure and spiritual experience. For these three books she was awarded the 2009 American Alpine Club’s H. Adams Carter Literary Award.
In the meantime Maria was publishing books about her exploits with Dag. Throwing up secure careers, they became expedition kayakers and a writer/photographer team. They paddled through the Solomon Islands, down the River Ganges, up Lake Malawi, and around Vancouver Island. They travelled the length of the coast of Vietnam on local boats and bikes. Dag, who is a large animal vet, did seasonal work in rural areas of Wales and Ireland, and they were head-hunted by a US travel company to develop international kayaking trips. In between all this kaleidoscopic activity, their home base was a tiny island in British Columbia, from where they commuted to the nearest town by kayak.
In 2000 they set up Hidden Places, a boutique adventure travel company, taking small groups of like-minded travellers to remarkable corners of the world. When they weren’t leading trips, they were still exploring themselves. After Dag had a life-changing experience with an elephant in Rajasthan, they established Elephant Earth, advocating and fundraising for elephant conservation and welfare in Africa and S.E Asia.
After Explorers of the Infinite was published, Maria took a break from writing. She is now back in her author’s skin, working on a memoir about choosing to be an adventurer instead of a mother. In the growing body of literature about the childfree choice, her book will fill an important niche, giving the perspective of an older woman – Maria is in her late 60s - who has led, and is still leading, an extraordinary life.
When they are not travelling, or sailing aboard their tiny boat, Maria and Dag divide their time between downtown Victoria, BC and a medieval village in Catalonia, Spain.
New episodes of the Tough Girl Podcast go live every Tuesday and Thursday at 7am UK time - Make sure you hit the subscribe button so you don’t miss out.
The Tough Girl Podcast is sponsorship and ad free thanks to the monthly financial support of patrons. To find out more about supporting your favourite podcast and becoming a patron please check out www.patreon.com/toughgirlpodcast
- Who is Maria?
- Moving to Canada in the 1980s
- Giving up her teaching career in her early 30s to lead a life of adventure
- Writing 12 books and being the co-owner of an adventure travel company
- Her early years and having a very sheltered childhood in Wolverhampton
- Being the youngest of 3
- Having different dreams from an early age
- Being inspired by Alice in Wonderland
- Going to Liverpool University
- Finding a teaching job
- Trying to figure out how to have a life travelling the world
- Longing for a bigger life
- Being drawn to people who were leading adventurous lives
- Getting involved in the mountain climbing community
- Falling in love with a big mountain climber called Joe Tasker
- Dealing with grief and loss when there is no body
- Being supported by the adventure community
- Not knowing how to rebuild her life
- Wanting to live intensely
- Having a near drowning experience at 21 in Morocco
- Deciding to move to Canada on a teacher exchange experience
- Meeting a Dag and sharing the same dream
- The life as a supportive partner to an adventurer
- Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadow: The Dark Side of Extreme Adventure
- Becoming super independent
- Getting married to Dag
- Taking a year out to go travelling on a massive adventure in 1981
- Role models and figuring out how to make a freelance lifestyle work
- Being a pioneer in expedition kayaking
- Planning Vs being flexible
- Being determined to be on the river
- Creating Hidden Places in 2000
- Heading to Vietnam in 1994
- Being adaptable to changing plans
- Becoming part time kayak guides by accident
- What adventure means to Maria
- Choosing to be an adventurer instead of a mother
- The childfree choice
- Looking for a publisher
- Turning back to writing after taking a break
- Final words of advice