THE 2019 WAINWRIGHT GOLDEN BEER BOOK PRIZE SHORTLIST
At 9am on the 2nd July the shortlist for this year’s Wainwright Golden Beer Shortlist was announced. Now in its Sixth year, The Wainwright Book Prize is my favourite book prize of the year. This is a book prize which celebrates the best writing about nature, the outdoors and UK travel.
Never before has writing about nature and the great outdoors been so significant and important. Our landscape and the natural world is under increasing pressure from many areas. So how wonderful it is to see the Wainwright Book Prize grow year on year.
This year there are seven titles that make up the shortlist.
Underland by Robert Macfarlane (Hamish Hamilton)
Wilding by Isabella Tree (Picador)
Time Song by Julia Blackburn (Jonathan Cape)
Our Place by Mark Cocker (Jonathan Cape)
Thinking On My Feet by Kate Humble (Aster)
Out Of The Woods by Luke Turner (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
The Easternmost House by Juliet Blaxland (Sandstone Press)
So lets take a closer look at the titles that make up this years outstanding shortlist:
Underland by Robert Macfarlane
Discover the hidden worlds beneath our feet…
In Underland, Robert Macfarlane takes us on a journey into the worlds beneath our feet. From the ice-blue depths of Greenland’s glaciers, to the underground networks by which trees communicate, from Bronze Age burial chambers to the rock art of remote Arctic sea-caves, this is a deep-time voyage into the planet’s past and future. Global in its geography, gripping in its voice and haunting in its implications, Underland is a work of huge range and power, and a remarkable new chapter in Macfarlane’s long-term exploration of landscape and the human heart.
I reviewed Underland in issue 34 of Word Gets Around.
Just imagine for one moment the world beneath your feet. In Underland best-selling writer Robert Macfarlane author of many books on our natural world including The Wild Places and Landmarks and also The Lost Words now takes us on an adventure deep underground. This is a book were past and its future are all here. From the Bronze Age burial chambers of the Mendips in Somerset to the glaziers of Greenland, the catacombs of Paris, Arctic sea caves to a point deep sunk hiding place where nuclear waste will be stored for 100,000 years.
The much-anticipated sequel to The Old Ways Robert Macfarlane now takes the reader on an unforgettable voyage exploring our relationship with darkness and what lies beneath. There is wonder, loss, fear and hope deep within the pages of Underland.
‘Into the underland we have long placed that which we fear and wish to lose, and that which we love and wish to save…’
It is hard to imagine a world that exits deep beneath us but that is exactly what there is. A truly remarkable book of discovery the reader will explore many themes including myth and literature as we travel the globe and discover a whole new world. Robert Macfarlane’s writing is both lyrical and breath-taking. A book that has opened even my eyes and will have a profound effect on how we see our precious world. The powerful cover was designed by the acclaimed artist and writer Stanley Donwood.
Wilding by Isabella Tree
In Wilding, Isabella Tree tells the story of the ‘Knepp experiment’, a pioneering rewilding project in West Sussex, using free-roaming grazing animals to create new habitats for wildlife. Part gripping memoir, part fascinating account of the ecology of our countryside, Wilding is, above all, an inspiring story of hope.
Forced to accept that intensive farming on the heavy clay of their land at Knepp was economically unsustainable, Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell made a spectacular leap of faith: they decided to step back and let nature take over. Thanks to the introduction of free-roaming cattle, ponies, pigs and deer – proxies of the large animals that once roamed Britain – the 3,500 acre project has seen extraordinary increases in wildlife numbers and diversity in little over a decade.
Extremely rare species, including turtle doves, nightingales, peregrine falcons, lesser spotted woodpeckers and purple emperor butterflies, are now breeding at Knepp, and populations of other species are rocketing. The Burrells’ degraded agricultural land has become a functioning ecosystem again, heaving with life – all by itself.
Personal and inspirational, Wilding is an astonishing account of the beauty and strength of nature, when it is given as much freedom as possible.
Time Song: Searching for Doggerland by Julia Blackburn
Julia Blackburn has always collected things that hold stories about the past, especially the very distant past: mammoth bones, little shells that happen to be two million years old, a flint shaped as a weapon long ago. Time Song brings many such stories together as it tells of the creation, the existence and the loss of a country now called Doggerland, a huge and fertile area that once connected the entire east coast of England with mainland Europe, until it was finally submerged by rising sea levels around 5000 BC.
Blackburn mixes fragments from her own life with a series of eighteen ‘songs’ and all sorts of stories about the places and the people she meets in her quest to get closer to an understanding of Doggerland. She sees the footprints of early humans fossilised in the soft mud of an estuary alongside the scattered pockmarks made by rain falling eight thousand years ago. She visits a cave where the remnants of a Neanderthal meal have turned to stone. In Denmark she sits beside Tollund Man who seems to be about to wake from a dream, even though he has lain in a peat bog since the start of the Iron Age.
Time Song reveals yet again, that Julia Blackburn is one of the most original writers in Britain, with each of its pages bringing a surprise, an epiphany, a phrase of such beauty and simple profundity you can only gasp.
Our Place: Can We Save Britain’s Wildlife Before It Is Too Late? by Mark Cocker
Environmental thought and politics have become parts of mainstream cultural life in Britain. The wish to protect wildlife is now a central goal for our society, but where did these ‘green’ ideas come from? And who created the cherished institutions, such as the National Trust or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, that are now so embedded in public life with millions of members?
From the flatlands of Norfolk to the tundra-like expanse of the Flow Country in northern Scotland, acclaimed writer on nature Mark Cocker sets out on a personal quest through the British countryside to find the answers to these questions.
He explores in intimate detail six special places that embody the history of conservation or whose fortunes allow us to understand why our landscape looks as it does today. We meet key characters who shaped the story of the British countryside – Victorian visionaries like Octavia Hill, founder of the National Trust, as well as brilliant naturalists such as Max Nicholson or Derek Ratcliffe, who helped build the very framework for all environmental effort.
This is a book that looks to the future as well as exploring the past. It asks searching questions like who owns the land and why? And who benefits from green policies? Above all it attempts to solve a puzzle: why do the British seem to love their countryside more than almost any other nation, yet they have come to live amid one of the most denatured landscapes on Earth? Radical, provocative and original, Our Place tackles some of the central issues of our time. Yet most important of all, it tries to map out how this overcrowded island of ours could be a place fit not just for human occupants but also for its billions of wild citizens.
Thinking on My Feet: The small joy of putting one foot in front of another by Kate Humble
Thinking on My Feet tells the story of Kate’s walking year – shining a light on the benefits of this simple activity. Kate’s inspiring narrative not only records her walks (and runs) throughout a single year, but also charts her feelings and impressions throughout – capturing the perspectives that only a journey on foot allows – and shares the outcomes: a problem solved, a mood lifted, an idea or opportunity borne. As she explores the reasons why we walk, whether for creative energy, challenge and pleasure, or therapeutic benefits, Kate’s reflections and insights will encourage, motivate and spur readers into action.
Also featured are Kate’s walks with others who have discovered the magical, soothing effect of putting one foot in front of the other – the artist who walks to find inspiration for his next painting; the man who takes people battling with addiction to climb mountains; the woman who walked every footpath in Wales (3,700 miles) when she discovered she had cancer.
This book will inspire you to change your perspective by applying walking to your daily endeavours.
This is a book I am currently reading and thoroughly enjoying. I can see why so many people really took this book to their hearts.
Out of the Woods by Luke Turner
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
After the disintegration of the most significant relationship of his life, the demons Luke Turner has been battling since childhood are quick to return – depression and guilt surrounding his identity as a bisexual man, experiences of sexual abuse, and the religious upbringing that was the cause of so much confusion. It is among the trees of London’s Epping Forest where he seeks refuge. But once a place of comfort, it now seems full of unexpected, elusive threats that trigger twisted reactions.
No stranger to compulsion, Luke finds himself drawn again and again to the woods, eager to uncover the strange secrets that may be buried there as he investigates an old family rumour of illicit behaviour. Away from a society that still struggles to cope with the complexities of masculinity and sexuality, Luke begins to accept the duality that has provoked so much unrest in his life – and reconcile the expectations of others with his own way of being.
OUT OF THE WOODS is a dazzling, devastating and highly original memoir about the irresistible yet double-edged potency of the forest, and the possibility of learning to find peace in the grey areas of life.
The eEasternmost House by Juliet Blaxland
Within the next three years, Juliet Blaxland’s home will be demolished, and the land where it now stands will crumble into the North Sea. In her numbered days living in the Easternmost House, Juliet fights to maintain the rural ways she grew up with, re-connecting with the beauty, usefulness and erratic terror of the natural world.
The Easternmost House is a stunning memoir, describing a year on the Easternmost edge of England, and exploring how we can preserve delicate ecosystems and livelihoods in the face of rapid coastal erosion and environmental change.
I really envy the judges trying to find a winner from this years incredible shortlist. Seven books that are all worthy winners.
This years winner will be announced on August 15th at the BBC Countryfile Live at Castle Howard, Yorkshire.
Last years winner was won by Adam Nicolson for The Seabirds Cry (William Collins).
2014 – The Green Road into Trees: A Walk Through England by Hugh Thomson
2015 – Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field by John Lewis-Stempel
2016 – The Outrun by Amy Liptrot
2017 – Where Poppies Blow: The British Soldier, Nature, The Great War by John Lewis-Stempel
2018- The Seabird’s Cry by Adam Nicholson
The 2019 Judges:
Chair: Julia Bradbury
Waterstones Non-fiction buyer: Clement Knox
National Trust Publisher: Katie Bond
Publisher at Unbound and Blacklisted Podcast Host: John Mitchinson
The Urban Birder: David Lindo
Creative Partner for And Rising
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