From the Chair of the Judging Panel on the 2014 shortlist
Already the competition for this prize has evoked strong emotions: nature writing tugs at the heart and stimulates the spirit. From an impressive longlist of twelve books encompassing a wide range of nature writing, it was a tough choice for the judges to whittle it down to the six that have been shortlisted.
The competition was intense: all the books have attracted a high level of critical attention. In the end, our choice tended towards those that lie at the heart of the genre, where the quality of writing and the author’s capacity to evoke place and distinctiveness combine to create a readable, evocative and connected story.
Three are walkers’ books: Hugh Thomson’s long walk across England; Simon Armitage’s experience of grappling with the Pennine Way and Robert Macfarlane’s atmospheric re-tracing of Edward Thomas’ 1930s pilgrimage are all masterpieces in different ways, combining the power of observation with the irresistible pull of a narrative journey. One – Patrick Barkham’s Badgerlands is classic nature writing, exploring all dimensions of the elusive badger. The final two are stories with deep roots in place: Charlotte Higgins’ exploration of Roman Britain evokes a sense of place, history and landscape as much as nature, while Esther Woolfson’s minute observations of the flora and fauna of an urban year complete the picture. It is not going to be easy to pick a winner: nature writing is becoming ever more popular, ever more distinctive and of an ever higher quality. But the process of choosing is, for sure, one of the more pleasurable tasks I could imagine.
Dame Fiona Reynolds
Chair of the 2014 Judging Panel for the Thwaites Wainwright Prize