Archives for category: Genre: Biography


Published by Ebury Press

It isn’t often I get the chance to read an ‘adult’ book – and it is very rare for me to read a biography. I am half way through this volume (I’m reading a proof I found behind the till a little while ago), and am beginning to think that I really should watch the books that are published for that genre, so I don’t miss out, as I nearly did with

This volume is full of small vignettes of Chris Packham’s childhood. He refers to it as being ‘A Memoir’, and so it is. The small stories of his youth are not in chronological order, but this is of no matter. They are wonderful pieces of observation and glorious writing. These are interspersed with small much more recent introspective pieces… which I suspect will give the book a depth that isn’t yet apparent; I haven’t finished the book – only 153 pages into it. Not long after I began the book I started ripping up bits of toilet paper (the only spare paper I had to hand), to mark passages that particularly caught my attention…

The Farmer June 1975

Occasionally after this reiterated exchange the boy would suddenly start to tell him about some bird or other. He’d talk absurdly fast, obliviously tripping through his words, always looking down at the step, he’d tell the mat about something that totally switched him on, he’d lurch from timid and backward to a barely contained mania, rambling too quickly, excitedly crashing through a dialogue that gave no room for conversation and then, inevitably, punctuate this cascade of unsolicited enthusiasm with a question. He’d finally glance at him to ask if he’d seen a ‘whatever-it-was’. Which he hadn’t because he knew nothing about birds…

The Bird Saturday 14th June 1975

Twelve hours later my bedroom was a different place. It had a Kestrel in it. Perched on my jiggery cjextaewgae5p43paw. It was gawky, half-dressed, its jumper ruffed up over its baggy trousers and sockless feet, an in-betweener with a tetchy temper, tufted with sneezy down. I could smell it. Sweet, musty, dry and when it shook, a cloud of glittering dust puffed into the shaft of evening sun that cut through a crack in the pegged-together curtains. I could smell its droppings too, or mutes as falconers call them; wet and papery, they had slapped Marc hard across his starred cheek, blotted his sparkling corkscrew hair and blistered his guitar….

The Dream August 1975

His chest lightened as he banked up hard, the air riffling his feathers, tickling his legs, he squeezed his toes together and heard his wing tips whizzing as he belted into a big curve out of the shade into the dazzling sun, slipping across the sky so fast it made his nose run. And then into an instant white-out, a shocking cold on his eyes, tearing tiny tears from the mist, racing in little rivulets over his back and down his tail and through the fluxing honey glow of the facing sun all strewn over with a tracery of fine thread, then the world flashing far beneath him as he hurled out into a vast canyon of puffy grey vapour.

This volume has taken me back to the sounds and smells of my youth. The sounds of a milk float, bottles gently clinking…television shows I had forgotten and more recently describes the all encompassing over load of my senses as I have handled birds of prey over the years, the sights, touch, sounds, smells and almost taste of birds. Its an extraordinary piece of writing.

Why Ebury  Press didn’t use a close up of a kestrel for the cover of this book, (or the photograph above) I really don’t know – the hardback is available now with the cover I have shown at the beginning of this post. This really is an extraordinary. It is so much more than ‘A Memoir’.






Published by Vintage / HDBK Out of Print / PBK: ISBN 9780099575450

When you lose something your stomach plummets, until you remember. The same sensation happens when something occurs because of something you haven’t or shouldn’t have done. Something that might not be able to be rectified.

It can plummet, and never stop falling…

Time shifts and moves differently. Helen Macdonald describes casting her goshawk to the winds when she wasn’t as hungry as she might be. Standing still and persuading herself, against that same sinking feeling that it would be fine, and then realising and running to the next horizon to stop and stand in silence gazing around and listening for that all too quiet falconry bell, to give her some idea of direction. To actively listen; as I once did when I heard the tiniest sound of a bell, the hawk fed up and tired who had settled far out of sight on a roof. So soft it didn’t truly register. So far the falconer had to return to find her. I remember saying I thought I heard, I might have heard something, but I couldn’t be sure… Perhaps it was just that I hoped I heard…

She describes too in this extraordinary book the passion and raw wildness of a goshawk taken from its box after a journey across the Irish Sea – eyes large, feathers angled, hunched and feral -its eyes a mad impossibility.

She writes too of T H White the author of The Sword in the Stone, that brilliant novel of King Arthur that describes the medieval training and care of hawks so perfectly. She found The Goshawk almost unbearable when she read it as a child. I too found it disturbing and knew I’d never read it again, but had forgotten why.

She is a poet. Her writing as a result is superb. If you should read only one book of falconry, this should be it. The technical manuals are just that, and though neither those nor this can replace the thrill of handling training and hunting a bird, this does give a reflection, a shadow picture of that relationship.

I would love to meet her and ask her to sign my copy of this gorgeous volume. The dust jacket was designed by yet another artist whose work I have long admired, Chris Wormell and complements the book perfectly. If you can, buy it in hardback, though the paper would do as a reading copy…

A goshawk is a murderous force of nature, wild and impossibly remote an extraordinary creature of perfect design. I have had the privilege of handling one such goshawk at the Bird of Prey Centre – its character so much more complex than the eagle I flew so many years ago, and the harris hawks I have flown since.

If reading this awakens something within you, contact the English School of Falconry at the Bird of Prey Centre at Herrings Green Farm, Wilstead, Bedfordshire (