Sarah Waters: Mistress of the agonising twist

I was so excited when I heard the highly acclaimed UK author Sarah Waters, author of such novels as Tipping the Velvet, The Fingersmith and The Night Watch, was going to attend WORD Christchurch’s Shifting Points of View “mini-festival” during the Christchurch Arts Festival.

Cover of The Paying Guest Cover of Fingersmith Cover of The night watch Cover of Tipping the velvet

I had just finished her latest novel The Paying Guests, and have also read most of her other novels.

I decided to try a talking book version of The Paying Guests for a change and was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it.  Except that I found myself sitting in my car; thinking, just another minute, another minute, aggghhhh, damn I have to go, but I desperately want to know what happens next.

I haven’t decided if listening to the talking book is the best idea or not? I know usually I would have been up to the wee small hours reading, but instead was stuck waiting for my next chance to get in the car and hear what was happening.

If you enjoy amazing attention to historical accuracy, multi layered characters you love, loath,  are distressed by and empathise with, some love and captivating storylines I would recommend trying a novel by Sarah Waters. But beware the always agonising twist, just when I think “huh,” with an air of authority, “I know what’s going to happen next!” I am always wrong.

Oh those twists.

I am lucky enough to be attending Sarah’s talk Crimes of Passion session on Monday 7 September and looking forward to blogging about it after. Stay tuned!

Tania
Outreach Library Assistant

Margaret Wilson and the Struggle for New Zealand Sovereignty

Cover of The Struggle for SovereigntyWORD Christchurch Shifting Points of View events at the Christchurch Arts Festival was awesome enough to have Margaret Wilson speak out of her accumulated legal and political wisdom on Sunday 30 August. Bronwyn Hawyard, author and political scientist at the University of Canterbury, ably chaired the session.

It’s not often that, in your own town, you get a highly accessible ex-Speaker of the House coming to give an intimate talk about critical political issues. And listening to someone with her background had me in awe given that she’s the Former Attorney-General, Minister of the Crown, current Professor of Law. Nothing too serious …
UBS Bookstand

Shifting points of view sessions. WORD Christchurch events at the Christchurch Arts Festival. Sunday 30 August 2015. Flickr 2015-08-30-IMG_9004

Her exposition at the festival was related to her nifty little book The Struggle for Sovereignty: New Zealand and Twenty first Century State. We have a paper copies and eBooks in the library. This short work provides a concise perspective on how – since the economic reforms of the 1980s – the core parts of the sovereign New Zealand state have been eroded and compromised by globalization and the neoliberal, free-market ideology – basically the deregulation, privatization and legislation which seems to give large business entities powers which don’t keep them accountable to citizens.

Mrs Wilson argues that the NZ State: the public service, the legal system and New Zealand’s constitution, are (often by default) providing a fertile ground for deregulation which affects society in all sorts of detrimental ways. Over recent years, Government policy has re-ordered the New Zealand economic environment in keeping with the neoliberal philosophy, and this is exemplified in insecure work and the trend towards free trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

Insecure work – In another basic example of how things are going, Mrs Wilson points out that around 30% (over 600,00 humans) of the NZ work force is employed in “insecure/precarious” working conditions – meaning that such roles are “casual”, “fixed term”, “zero hours” etc. Which gives employees minimal bargaining rights for better pay and conditions and no certainty with regard to secure hours for the future. She claims this is due to the global neoliberal trend which NZ has adopted and favours “contract work” over “wages”, as keeping people on contract keeps them working more efficiently, whereas “on wages” people take too long – so the neoliberal (in)sensibility goes.

The TPPA could potentially enable large multi-national businesses the right to sue the NZ Government if our Government enacts laws which hinder their ability to make money – say if we had legislation which made plain packaging on cigarette packs mandatory – a business may have legal recourse if the courts deemed plain packaging affected their ability to make a profit.

Margaret Wilson and Bronwyn Hayward
Margaret Wilson and Bronwyn Hayward. Shifting points of view sessions. WORD Christchurch events at the Christchurch Arts Festival. Sunday 30 August 2015. Flickr 2015-08-30-IMG_8959

It seems our wonderful Pacific democracy is somewhat undermined – as policy can be rushed or hushed through Parliament without the public knowing or debating the nature of its contents. The Select Committee process can be circumvented due to the policy process being carried out “under urgency” – Parliament can rush through policy faster than normal because of some special “urgent” circumstances. All this basically means it’s very hard for the public to make submissions regarding certain policy initiatives. Which is what the Select Committee process is often for.

Margaret Wilson points out that it might be time for Kiwis to really get hold of our State and demand some changes to our Constitution, for example, which could usher in a more robust regulatory regime and pull back the neoliberal economic steam roller so as to make NZ a fairer, more equitable society – maybe resulting in some better contractual conditions and pay for workers somewhere down the line.

However, I asked her if New Zealand even has a “constitutional culture”, and she said one of the things which came out of the most recent constitutional inquiry was that Kiwis generally don’t have a basic understanding of what a constitution even is because its not taught in schools or referred to and celebrated as a crucial part of our history. Unlike the Americans, who have a very staunch constitutional culture. Just think gun control!

Maybe time to teach politics in schools.

Her book “The Struggle for Sovereignty: New Zealand and Twenty first Century State”, is a great tool – a short and to the point read about these technical political issues.

Here’s some quotes from her session:

수선화가 피기시작한 2015년 겨울…

작가와의 만남은 그 책을 이해하는데 많은 도움을 주는것 같습니다. 지난 일요일  Christchurch Arts Festival의 일부인 WORD Christchurch 에서 “평양의 영어 선생님(Without you there is no us)” 의 작가 수키 킴의 강연을 들었습니다.  작가와의 만남 자체도 신기했지만, 많은 수의 참석자들 때문에 놀라기도 했습니다. 북한에 대한 관심 때문인지, 내가 미쳐 알지 못한 작가의 명성 때문인지는 정확히 알 수 없었습니다. 작가의 말도 안돼는 상황 설명에 웃는 다른 사람들과 달리들 웃지 못하고 눈물이 났던 까닭은 무슨 까닭이었을까요… 작가의 따뜻한 용기에 박수를 보내 드림니다

Cover of Without You, There Is No Us수키 김(Suki Kim)은 한국에서 태어나 13세 때 부모를 따라 미국으로 이민을 가 뉴욕의 컬럼비아 대학에서 영문학을 전공하고 영국 런던대학원에서 동양문학을 공부했답니다. 2003년 첫 장편소설 “통역사(The Interpreter)”로 펜 헤밍웨이 문학상 후보에 올랐고 미국 내에서 민족 다양성을 뛰어나게 표현한 문학작품에 수여하는 펜 경계문학상과 창조적인 인간을 구현한 작품에 수여하는 구스타브 마이어 우수도서상을 수상하기도 했습니다. 아울러 가장 명성이 높은 구겐하임, 풀브라이트, 그리고 조지소러스 재단 오픈소사이어티의 펠로십을 휩쓸었답니다.

Korean children's books, Flickr Sept-2015-Ch.jpg
Korean children’s books, Flickr Sept-2015-Ch.jpg

2011년 7월부터 같은 해 12월까지 6개월간 평양과학기술대학에서 학생들에게 영어를 가르치며 그녀가 진실로 원하는 것은 북한의 실상을 직접 보고 느끼고 그것을 글로 쓰는 것이었답니다. 그 경험을 토대로한 “평양의 영어 선생님(Without you there is no us)” 2014년에 펴냈습니다.

이 달에 새로이 소개할 책은 이호백 작가의 그림책 “도대체 그 동안 무슨일이 일어났을까?”입니다. 이책은 뉴욕타임스 2003년 최우수 그림책으로 선정되어 미국의에서 ”While We Were Out”이란 제목으로 번역·출간되었으며,일본어,불어로 출간되기도 했답니다. 아이들의 호기심을 이끌어내기에 아주 좋은 책입니다. 작가의 허락으로 책을 읽어 보았습니다. 아이들과 함께 들어 보세요.

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Collecting as an Art Form

Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as CollectorI’ll admit it … I collect:

  • cane trays (the sort made in occupational therapy classes),
  • stones (but they have to be white and smooth),
  • fabric of every colour and texture,
  • aprons,
  • cow designed themed china,
  • retro plates,
  • lace,
  • children’s books,
  • and Hanmer-Ware Pottery.

I have had to make a room in my house for my “stuff” and it gives me endless amounts of satisfaction to go and look at it all, marvel at the variety and plan how one day I will actually put it into some semblance of order.

For some this may sound like I am in need of help or at least a guest spot on a reality TV programme, but hoarding is not my problem.  No. I am a ‘Collector’, and according to a new book Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector, I am in very good company.

Peter Blake is an artist renowned for his Pop Art of the 1960s.  His studio is apparently filled with his collections, one photo featuring every imaginable form of ornamental elephant known to human kind.  All are arranged beautifully, so cute, so useless … but undeniably a feast for a collector’s eyes.  Interestingly, Blake collected miniature elephants as a way of stopping himself from bigger acquisitions.

I was becoming a bit like my grandmother.  I wasn’t quite collecting 30 mincing machines, but I was heading in that direction, over collecting and collecting madly.  I thought I would put a safety valve on myself: if I go to Portobello Road and buy a miniature elephant instead of coming home with an old bicycle or a complete kitchen or something crazy, I’ll have achieved my ambition for that day

Damien Hirst (famous for his formaldehyde Shark)  has always been fascinated with collecting.  He believes that collections say as much about the person who collects them as it does about the material that is collected.  His collections reflect his interests and passions, they include the macabre, the beautiful and reflect the relationship he feels between art and science.

This title has a collecting obsession to suit every occasion from books, taxidermy, medical instruments, posters, album covers, fabric, postcards etc.  The list is endless, the photography captivating and the interviews enlightening.

Magnificent Obsessions is like a self-help book for Collectors Anonymous.  No longer will you feel alone, ridiculed by family and friends, unable to control your addiction, you are after all in the company of the artistic and creative!

A portion of my Hanmer Ware pottery collection
A portion of my Hanmer Ware pottery collection

South Canterbury All Australian Day Car Show

Cover of Australian muscle car magazineComing of (driving) age in Australia infused in me a love of Australian-built cars. Young Italian-Australians used to cruise around and around Fremantle, Western Australia in their immaculate Valiants as slow as can be so everyone would see.

My first two cars were Holden Torana’s 1974 LH (186 bored out to a 192 engine) and 1971 LC (171 engine) models which in all honestly were total rust buckets but I loved them dearly. I cried the day my LH Torana was compacted in the crusher at the wrecking yard. My LC Torana was so full of bog (car body filler) that it used to sink on sandy roads and there was no metal to attach a tow bar onto. Our first cars are often our lifetime love.

Cover of It happened in a HoldenNext I saved up and bought a 1988 VL Commodore which was only about 5 years old by then. It was a beautiful sky blue with a 3L engine. I thought I was pretty swish. Since moving back to NZ I had cheap Japanese imports but still had a hankering for the bogan vehicles. After a failed attempt at owning a VL station wagon dubbed ‘the Golden Holden’ (too much rust for W.O.F), I’ve finally got myself the ultimate Aussie car: a V8 Commodore. This time a 1995 VR with a column auto and a cool-as bench seat, and in sky blue again too!

Cover of Hey ChargerIf you too love the Australian cars get along to the South Canterbury All Australian Day at Caroline Bay, Timaru on Sunday 6th September 2015, 10am-2pm. Gold coin donation to see some great Holdens, Fords and Mopars (Valiant/Chrysler). Organised by the Timaru Holden Club and the Timaru Falcon Fairlane Club.

Enquiries to Craig Trimmings 021-511-150 or Murray Stevenson 021-223-1772. All proceeds to Westpac Helicopter Appeal.

I will be taking my V8 to the show with the Holden Club Canterbury. I thoroughly recommend joining a car club. They are great fun.

Michael Robotham – The psychology of crime

Michael Robotham is full of stories. He had a crowd enraptured at South Learning Centre last night with his tales of crime, psychology, writing, and the Ozarks.

He is now a best-selling, award-winning writer, but started out as a journalist. Later he was a successful ghost writer, working on 15 autobiographies (including Ginger Spice, Rolf Harris, and Lulu – he turned down Bryan Ferry though!)

Michael started writing his first novel The suspect when he had some time off between ghostwriting memoirs by Lulu and Rolf Harris. There was a bidding war – he had arrived with a bang. When it was published, he sent a copy to his Mum. After a while, she still hadn’t read it and told him “I had three library books to get through”.  She won a Friends of the Library Award for that commitment to libraries. Her review of his first book? “It took me a while to get into and then I did”.

Michael and author Paul Cleave
Michael Robotham and Paul Cleave. Flickr 2015-08-26-IMG_8920

Michael talked about his road to becoming a writer, and his literary parent Ray Bradbury, as told here in Ray Bradbury is my ‘Father’.

He also shared stories about his dealings with Oz’s most wanted crim Raymond John Denning, It is a ripper of a tale and was sparked his fascination with the psychology of crime.

Michael told us about time with psychologist Paul Britton (who was the basis for the fictional character Cracker played by Robbie Coltrane). This was the man who went to Fred and Rosemary West’s house and when they found bodies in the garden said “they’re in the garden because the house is full”. Very creepy stuff.

His books all have a factual basis. The spark for his latest book Close your eyes was the murder of Janet Brown in Somerset. Life and Death was inspired by a man who escaped from prison the day before he was due to be released – and was never seen again.

I try so hard to write fiction that reads like fact.

Audience
Michael Robotham talk at South Learning Centre. Wednesday 26 August 2015. Flickr 2015-08-26-IMG_8919

Michael told us about his trip to the Ozark Mountains, scouting for a location for Life or Death. The locals were less than friendly. A burly Ozarkian Sheriff sparked good lines like someone being “dumber than shit on a biscuit”.

Not only did we get most excellent anecdotes, Michael also shared some writing tips. Find your own way. Do just enough research so the premise works, don’t let your research dominate.

Michael has just gained a new gang of Christchurch fans.

Michael Robotham and Dennis
Michael Robotham and my Dad.  Flickr 2015-08-26-IMG_8922

Search our catalogue for Michael Robotham.

Cover of Close your eyes Cover of Watching you Cover of Say you're sorry Cover of Life or death Cover of The suspect

Horticultural ‘Grand Designs’ versus ‘Harsh Reality’

Cover of Creative Vegetable GardeningStarted gardening – albeit in a small way – about 4 years ago when I decided that I needed fresh air and to give myself permission to wear a huge floppy hat like Greta Garbo (about the only similarity between us), whilst working on making various parts of my body vigorously protest at the unaccustomed exercise.

In that time I have tried growing all sorts of vegetables and flowers with varying degrees of success. Only this morning I learned a new gardening word  ‘Chitting‘, and, as instructed, have laid my Jersey Benne seed potatoes on newspaper in the garage waiting for them to sprout so that I can plant them in September.

Cover of Grow Your Own PotatoesLast year as Christmas approached, with barely contained childish glee (not called ‘Peter Pan’ in my family for nothing),  I dug deep into my potato sacks, ferreting around for my carbohydrate treasure trove to tumble out onto the patio; the reward for all my hard work.  The end result was pitiful – Nothing; Naada; Nein; Zippo – OK, slight exaggeration but certainly just enough for a plate at most.

Where had I gone wrong? Well, obviously I hadn’t done enough research on the subject… I needed a book devoted entirely to the ‘starchy’  issue and I hadn’t even thought to look in the Children’s section!

Cover of The Artful GardenGardens come in all shapes and sizes and there is an abundance of information via our library resources whether it be non-fiction books, magazines, eMagazines and library website. Personally, my garden area is small so I concentrate on pots, containers, raised beds, trying to get as much as possible – produce-wise – as I can.  I am still working on it, but have now got sidetracked by the necessity of colour in my garden and my search  for minimal, low-cost ideas designs has proved very enlightening.

Check out all the resources available to you with simply a library card and a PIN/password – it promises to be more bountiful than my last crop of potatoes.

Pride and Perversion

You are a sexual deviant.

Talk about opening a book with a zinger! I’m looking forward to hearing Jesse Bering in person –  6pm on Sunday 30 August 2015, a WORD Christchurch event in the Shifting points of view section of the Christchurch Arts Festival. His topic? On Perversion. Get your tickets now yo. This is not a session for kids or the squeamish; it’s definitely adult in nature.

I’ve just read his book Perv: The sexual deviant in all of us. As a librarian, I’m an index checker and this is one that’d make your eyes water: sneeze fetishists, autoplushophiles, formicophilia, Miley Cyrus …

This is a book that asks some great questions:

We’ve become so focused as a society on the question of whether a given sexual behavior is evolutionarily “natural” or unnatural” that we’ve lost sight of the more important question: Is it harmful? (p.21)

Jesse takes us right back to the origins of the term:

For the longest time, in fact, to be a pervert wasn’t to be a sex deviant; it was to be an atheist … So if we applied this original definition to the present iconoclastic world of science, one of the world’s most recognizable perverts would be the famous evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. (p.9 /10)

The book is a journey into the world of “erotic outliers” (doesn’t that sound much better than pervert). It contains a good dollop of the personal, as well as science, politics, history, literature, and psychology – and, of course, the nature of sexual arousal. There are also plenty of interesting examples of behaviours; you’ll never look at the yoghurt in your office fridge the same way.

Jesse quotes the Roman philosopher Terence (p. 8):

I consider nothing that is human alien to me.

More understanding. Less judginess.

Cover of Perv Cover of Why is the penis shaped like that? Cover ot The God instinct

 

Read the book – then see the film

There are a number of interesting literary adaptations coming up. Some are from bestsellers, some from well-reviewed literary novels, and some from novels that may get a second life if the screen adaptation does well.

Cover of Steve JobsAs far as nonfiction goes, timing is everything and often the interest has slackened off by the time the film is released. Will big numbers turn out for a biography of Steve Jobs? A 2013 effort with Ashton Kutcher playing him didn’t make much impact. Now Britain’s Danny Boyle is directing an adaptation of Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography which may be more likely to succeed with Michael Fassbender as Jobs and a cast that includes Seth Rogen and Kate Winslet.
See IMDb record for Steve Jobs.

Cover of InfernoOn the fiction front it’s hard to get excited by more Virginia Andrews adaptations (made for TV) and the latest Dan Brown adaptation, Inferno, with Tom Hanks out to solve more theological conspiracy theories.
See IMDb record for Inferno.

There are, however, a number of very good fiction books I’ve read and can only hope that these ones translate well to the screen:

Cover of The Yellow BirdsThe excellent 2012 novel The yellow birds by Kevin Powers is a powerful depiction of war with a young veteran of the Iraq conflict who has to deal with what he has experienced. The central character is played by Will Poulter with Benedict Cumberbatch as his sergeant.
See IMDb record for The Yellow Birds.

Cover of Billy Lynn's long halftime walkWar is also the feature of Billy Lynn’s long halftime walk in which the title character is a young soldier who has to endure a victory tour with the soldiers expected to play along. A new name –  Joe Alwyn – plays Billy Lynn with Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker and Steve Martin also cast.
See IMDb record for Billy Lynn’s long halftime walk.

Cover of The revised fundamentals of caregivingThe revised fundamentals of caregiving is Jonathan Evison’s 2012 novel about a father who loses his children and his marriage and enrols in the nightclass of the title and becomes the carer for a boy with muscular dystrophy. Paul Rudd and Jennifer Ehle lead the cast.
See IMDb record for The revised fundamentals of caregiving.

Cover of HHhHLaurent Binet’s HHhH is a grim tale and who better to be doing grim but Rosamund Pike who plays an aristocratic woman who introduces her husband to Nazi ideology. The book, a Prix Goncourt winner in France, deals with the meteoric ascension of Reinhard Heydrich, the architect of the ‘Final Solution’ who was assassinated by two Resistance paratroopers.
See IMDb record for HHhH.

Cover of The girl with all the giftsM.R. Carey’s The girl with all the gifts is a dystopian tale in which most of humanity is wiped out by a fungal infection and those left are at the mercy of zombies or “the hungries.” Colm McCarthy, who has directed a lot of recent TV such as Peaky blinders, has a cast that includes Gemma Arterton and Glenn Close. The film title will be titled She who brings gifts.
See IMDb record for She who brings gifts.

Cover of Dan Leno and the Limehouse GolemPeter Ackroyd’s Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem is an interesting tale that came out in 1994 and had Dan Leno, a celebrated music hall comedian in Victorian London, drawn into investigating a murder in the parts of the city. Alan Rickman and Olivia Cooke lead the cast of this intriguing tale which has been simply titled The Limehouse Golem.
See IMDb record for The Limehouse Golem.

Cover of Miss Peregrine's home for peculiar childrenRansom Riggs had a quite original hit with his YA novel Miss Peregrine’s home for peculiar children, a story about a boy who, after a family tragedy, sets out for a Welsh orphanage. The book was originally intended to be a picture book as the author had collected photographs from various archives. Who better to direct this strange tale than Tim Burton who has an interesting cast including Asa Butterfield as the boy, Eva Green as Miss Peregrine, Terence Stamp and Judi Dench.
See IMDb record for Miss Peregrine’s home for peculiar children.

Cover of KBOJonathan Smith’s The Churchill secret: KBO is a fascinating fictionalised fact novel about Winston Churchill in the 1950s when he suffered a serious stroke and his wife Clementine and others worked to bring him back to health. Michael Gambon plays Churchill with Lindsay Duncan as his wife. The film title will be called Churchill’s secret.
See IMDb record for Churchill’s secret.

Cover of Alone in BerlinHans Fallada’s novel Alone in Berlin originally appeared in German in 1947 and was later translated and became a bestseller. It is a fictionalised account of the lives of Otto and Elise Hampel whose son dies in France, leading them to mount a campaign against the Nazis. The film version has Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson as the couple and Daniel Bruhl as the German officer trying to track them down.
See IMDb record for Alone in Berlin.

Patricia Highsmith’s novels have been adapted to memorable psychological thrillers on the screen. Her novel Carol was a departure from the mystery genre and the film version with Cate Blanchett should be opening here soon. The latest adaptation of one of her thrillers is The blunderer being retitled for the screen as A kind of murder with Jessica Biel and Patrick Wilson.
See IMDb record for A kind of murder.

Cover of A monster callsA monster calls is the Patrick Ness novel that he wrote, based on an idea by author Siobhan Dowd who was dying of cancer and unable to write the book herself. An extraordinary tale that is both dark and touching at the same time, the film, a British/Spanish production has Liam Neeson as the monster, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones and Geraldine Chaplin with filming done in Spain and Yorkshire.
See IMDb record for A Monster calls.

On the local market the works of Barry Crump are returning to the screen with an adaptation of his 1986 novel Wild pork and watercress. Sadly, the title is now out of print. I contacted the publishers and they said they no longer hold the rights which reverted to the Crump estate. Hoepfully the film, titled Hunt for the Wilderpeople, will be successful enough to get the book back in print. The film, directed by Taika Waititi, has a big local cast including Stan Walker, Sam Neill, Rima Te Wiata, Julian Dennison, Rhys Darby and Oscar Kightley.
See IMDb record for Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Cover of Me and Earl and the dying girlMe and Earl and the dying girl by Jesse Andrews came about when the author was writing novels for adults that were going nowhere. When it was suggested to him that he might try the teenage market he gave it a go and off it went. The story, about a teenage boy pushed by his mother to befriend a girl with cancer, came out when a certain other novel about a girl with cancer was about to conquer the world. The film was a huge success at the last Sundance Festival and it is about to give John Green a run for his money.
See IMDb record for Me and Earl and the dying girl.

Philip Tew
Selection and Access Team, Content

The birdwatcher’s guide to love

Cover of A Guide to the Birds of East AfricaIt took a couple of months for my husband to reveal his hobbies to me when first we met. He slapped Amateur Radio on the table pretty early on (I think he knew I would never really understand what it was all about. He was right.) He then drip fed his love of Opera – still I hung in there. But I think even he knew that Birdwatching might be a shove too far, so we were well into the relationship before I finally went on a birding outing. But it is only recently that I’ve noticed bird watching fiction books flying off the shelves.

A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson was our Book Group read of the month just recently. It sounds as if it will be a field guide and almost looks like one, but in fact it is a charming story about winning the love of a woman in a bird watching competition. It is like Alexander McCall Smith but set in Kenya. The main character – Mr Malek – is an Indian gentleman with a comb-over. It is his absolute integrity that takes us for a wander through a quite sanitized Kenya. It’s all rather darling.

Cover of H is for HawkH is for Hawk, on the other hand, although about birds – well, hawks in particular, is a true story about the author (Helen Macdonald) and her need to train a wild hawk to assuage the pain she felt on the death of her beloved father. It is not sweet and cute; it is hard and true and very revealing. It is on the extremities of bird watching; I can’t see Helen ever joining a Sunday walking birding group for a bit of twitching.

Other recent reads with birds as a theme include Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield where crows and the superstitions around them play an important role in the structure and ominousness of this novel set in Victorian times. The Birdwatcher by William McInnes is a poignant read about twitchers and secrets and changing your life. And Snapper by Brian Kimberling is a romp of a read with a beautiful cover: “Snapper is a book about birdwatching, a woman who won’t stay true, and a pick-up truck that won’t start”. Finally, before you get too cosy, you must read the brilliant, chilling novella by Daphne du Maurier The Birds – later made into a horror film by Alfred Hitchcock.

Cover of SnapperTurned out I would grow to love birding: the pre-dawn start with the sounds and smells of the bush at Ndumo Game Reserve slowly coming to life. I loved the coffee pit stop, the walking, the camaraderie. On my first major outing, everyone wanted to find one particular bird: a Pel’s Fishing Owl. What chance did I have? I knew nothing about birds and had yet to be gifted my own binoculars. Hours into the walk, I felt the call of nature and snuck furtively away from the group into bushy scrubland and managed – inadvertently, to flush out the Pel’s Fishing Owl – which flew in a graceful arc over the Pongola River for all to see.

I recommend birding men as potential partners. They are observant, patient, good listeners who love nature, plus they know when to shut up. And when you flush out the bird of the day (for all the wrong reasons), they remain proud of you – and buy you your own binoculars!