Farmer and writer John Lewis-Stempel was awarded the Thwaites Wainwright Prize 2015 for Meadowland: the Private Life of an English Field – his lyrical account of a year in the life of a farmland meadow.
Worth £5,000, the annual book prize is awarded by publishers Frances Lincoln, in association with the National Trust, to spotlight the best books in UK nature and travel writing.
Meadowland: the Private Life of an English Field gives a unique and intimate account of a Herefordshire farm meadow from January to December. The book was a Sunday Times Top 30 non-fiction bestseller on its release last year.
Chair of judges, Dame Fiona Reynolds, said:
“From an exceptionally strong shortlist, we found a book whose prose reached for perfection and which, combined with an authentic passion for a land the author knows to the depths of his bones, swung into the lead: Meadowland, by John Lewis Stempel.
“An utterly captivating book, we found Lewis-Stempel’s narrative original and inspiring. Bewitchingly beautiful, honest and effortless, this is a book that should make us all want to explore the wonders and realities of nature on our doorsteps.”
In exquisite prose, John Lewis-Stempel records the passage of the seasons from cowslips in spring to the hay-cutting of summer and grazing in autumn, and includes the biographies of the animals that inhabit the grass and the soil beneath: the badger clan, the fox family, the rabbit warren, the skylark brood and the curlew pair, among others. Their births, lives, and deaths are stories that thread through the book from first page to last.
John Lewis-Stempel is a writer and farmer. His many previous books include The Wild Life: A Year of Living on Wild Food, England: the Autobiography and the bestselling Six Weeks: The Short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in the First World War. He reviews books for the Sunday Express, for whom he also writes a regular column, and is a regular speaker on radio and at literary events and book festivals. He lives on the borders of England and Wales with his wife and two children.
The announcement comes at a time of renaissance for UK nature and travel writing, with a host of non-fiction writers drawing inspiration from a variety of interactions with the natural world around them, something the Prize seeks to spotlight. Celebrating the legacy of renowned British nature writer Alfred Wainwright, the Prize reflects his core values of inspiring people to explore the outdoors, whilst engendering a love of landscape and respect for nature.
Meanwhile, a special commendation for a lifetime of nature writing was given to the late Professor Oliver Rackham. Primarily an academic, Professor Rackham was based throughout his adult life at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, but his passionate thirst for the truth, his total absorption in trees, woodlands and their history and his robust challenge of sentimental nonsense meant that his books were widely read and his opinion regularly sought. His last book, The Ash Tree, was longlisted for the Thwaites Wainwright Prize 2015.
2015 shortlisted titles included: Running Free: A Runner’s Journey Back to Nature by Richard Askwith; The Moor by William Atkins; Claxton: Field Notes from a Small Planet by Mark Cocker; Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel; H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald; and Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place by Philip Marsden.
The Prize judges were chair Dame Fiona Reynolds, current Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge and former director general of The National Trust; Nigel Roby, chief executive and publisher of The Bookseller; Paul Evans, broadcaster and nature writer; Fergus Collins, editor of BBC Countryfile magazine; Bill Lyons, TV executive editor of Countryfile, Secret Britain and Coast; and Katie Bond, publisher at the National Trust.
Sponsored by Wainwright ale, the UK’s best-selling golden cask beer, the 2014 prize was awarded to The Green Road into the Trees by Hugh Thomson.
Stanfords and the National Trust are official campaign partners with many of their retail outlets promoting the Prize. The National Trust looks after much of the iconic Lake District landscapes described in Wainwright’s guides.
Meadowland: the Private Life of an English Field will be Book of the Month in both National Trust shops and Stanfords throughout May. Meanwhile, John Lewis-Stempel will be appearing in conversation with Fergus Collins, editor of Countryfile Magazine, on Tuesday 28 April at 6.30pm at Stanfords, Long Acre. For further event details, visit http://www.stanfords.co.uk/events/Events-at-Stanfords.htm