Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel (Transworld Publishers)
Meadowland gives a unique and intimate account of an English meadow’s life from January to December. 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.
About the author:
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.
Claxton: Field Notes from a Small Planet by Mark Cocker (Vintage, Penguin Random House)
In a single twelve-month cycle of daily writings Mark Cocker explores his relationship to the East Anglian landscape, to nature and to all the living things around him. The separate entries are characterised by close observation, depth of experience, and a profound awareness of seasonal change, both within each distinct year and, more alarmingly, over the longer period, as a result of the changing climate. The writing is concise, magical, inspiring.
Cocker describes all the wildlife in the village – not just birds, but plants, trees, mammals, hoverflies, moths, butterflies, bush crickets, grasshoppers, ants and bumblebees. The book explores how these other species are as essential to our sense of genuine well-being and to our feelings of rootedness as any other kind of fellowship.
A celebration of the wonder that lies in our everyday experience, Cocker’s book emphasises how Claxton is as much a state of mind as it is a place. Above all else, it is a manifesto for the central importance of the local in all human activity.
About the author:
Mark Cocker is an author, naturalist and environmental activist whose ten books include works of biography, history, literary criticism and memoir. His book Crow Country was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2008 and won the New Angle Prize for Literature in 2009. With the photographer David Tipling he published Birds and People in 2013, a massive survey described by the Times Literary Supplement as ‘a major literary event as well as an ornithological one’.
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (Vintage, Penguin Random House)
As a child Helen Macdonald was determined to become a falconer. She learned the arcane terminology and read all the classic books, including T. H. White’s tortured masterpiece, The Goshawk, which describes White’s struggle to train a hawk as a spiritual contest.
When her father dies and she is knocked sideways by grief, she becomes obsessed with the idea of training her own goshawk. She buys Mabel for £800 on a Scottish quayside and takes her home to Cambridge. Then she fills the freezer with hawk food and unplugs the phone, ready to embark on the long, strange business of trying to train this wildest of animals.
‘To train a hawk you must watch it like a hawk, and so gain the ability to predict what it will do next. Eventually you don’t see the hawk’s body language at all. You seem to feel what it feels. The hawk’s apprehension becomes your own. As the days passed and I put myself in the hawk’s wild mind to tame her, my humanity was burning away.’
Destined to be a classic of nature writing, H is for Hawk is a record of a spiritual journey – an unflinchingly honest account of Macdonald’s struggle with grief during the difficult process of the hawk’s taming and her own untaming. At the same time, it’s a kaleidoscopic biography of the brilliant and troubled novelist T. H. White, best known for The Once and Future King. It’s a book about memory, nature and nation, and how it might be possible to try to reconcile death with life and love.
About the author:
Helen Macdonald is a writer, poet, illustrator, historian and affiliate at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. Her books include Falcon (2006) and Shaler’s Fish (2001).
Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place by Philip Marsden (Granta Publications)
Rising Ground is an evocative journey around some of the country’s most ancient sites and ritual places, and a profound exploration of the relationship between man and the landscape.
From the Neolithic ritual landscape of Bodmin Moor to the Arthurian traditions at Tintagel, Marsden assembles a chronology of Britain’s attitude to place. Drawing also on his travels from further afield, Marsden reveals that the shape of the land lies not just at the heart of our own history but of man’s perennial struggle to belong on this earth.
About the author:
Philip Marsden is a writer and journalist. He is the author of several works of travel writing and non-fiction, including most recently The Levelling Sea and The Barefoot Emperor, and a novel, The Main Cages. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He lives in Cornwall with his wife and children.
Author picture: Stephen Parker
Running Free: A Runner’s Journey Back to Nature by Richard Askwith (Vintage/Yellow Jersey, Penguin Random House)
Richard Askwith wanted more. Not convinced running had to be all about pounding pavements, buying fancy kit and racking up extreme challenges, he looked for ways to liberate himself. His solution: running through muddy fields and up rocky fells, running with his dog at dawn, running because he’s being (voluntarily) chased by a pack of bloodhounds, running to get hopelessly, enjoyably lost, running fast for the sheer thrill of it. Running as nature intended.
Part diary of a year running through the Northamptonshire countryside, part exploration of why we love to run without limits, Running Free is an eloquent and inspiring account of running in a forgotten, rural way, observing wildlife and celebrating the joys of nature.
An opponent of the commercialisation of running, Askwith offers a welcome alternative, with practical tips (learned the hard way) on how to both start and keep running naturally – from thawing frozen toes to avoiding a stampede when crossing a field of cows. Running Free is about getting back to the basics of why we love to run.
About the author:
Richard Askwith is Associate Editor of The Independent. His first book, Feet in the Clouds, won Best New Writer at the British Sports Book Awards and the Bill Rollinson Prize for Landscape and Tradition. It was shortlisted for the William Hill and Boardman-Tasker prizes and was named by Runner’s World as one of the three best running books of all time.
The Moor by William Atkins (Faber & Faber)
The Moor: Lives Landscape Literature by William Atkins gives us the story of the moors – from Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor and Exmoor in the southwest up to the Scottish border, via Yorkshire and Northumberland – and how they have shaped our people, culture and industry.
In this deeply personal journey across our nation’s most forbidding and most mysterious terrain, William Atkins takes the reader from south to north, in search of the heart of this elusive landscape. His account is both travelogue and natural history, and an exploration of moorland’s uniquely captivating position in our literature, history and psyche.
Atkins may be a solitary wanderer across these vast expanses, but his journey is full of encounters, busy with the voices of the moors, past and present: murderers and monks, smugglers and priests, gamekeepers and ramblers, miners and poets, developers and environmentalists. As he travels, he shows us that the fierce landscapes we associate with Wuthering Heights and The Hound of the Baskervilles are far from being untouched wildernesses. Daunting and defiant, the moors echo with tales of a country and the people who live in it – a mighty, age-old landscape standing steadfast against the passage of time.
About the author:
William Atkins grew up in Hampshire. After studying art history, he went on to work in publishing, where he edited prize-winning fiction. He now works as a freelance editor, and studies and writes about Britain’s marginal landscapes. He lives in north London.
Author picture: Jonathan Ring