Jeoffry: The Poet’s Cat by Oliver Soden

Jeoffry: The Poet’s Cat by Oliver Soden


Jeoffry was a real cat who lived 250 years ago, confined to an asylum with Christopher Smart, one of the most visionary poets of the age. In exchange for love and companionship, Smart rewarded Jeoffry with the greatest tribute to a feline ever written. Prize-winning biographer Oliver Soden combines meticulous research with passages of dazzling invention to recount the life of the cat praised as ‘a mixture of gravity and waggery’. The narrative roams from the theatres and bordellos of Covent Garden to the cell where Smart was imprisoned for mania. At once whimsical and profound, witty and deeply moving, Soden’s biography plays with the genre like a cat with a toy. It tells the story of a poet and a poem, while setting Jeoffry’s life and adventures against the roaring backdrop of eighteenth-century London.

My Review:

Jeoffry was a cat that lived some 250 years ago in London and in Jeoffrey: The Poet’s Cat (The History Press) the author Oliver Soden has used both research and narrative to bring back to life the story of a much celebrated cat. Jeoffry would wander the streets around Covent Garden and would seek out theatres and brothels for comfort, shelter and some food.

AAt the very core of this wonderful book is the eighteenth century poet Christopher Smart (11th April 1722 – 21st May 1771). He was a brilliant poet but had little means to support himself, and the story of Christopher Smart is beyond sadness. He was consigned to St. Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics on 6th May 1757 for ‘mania’. Christopher Smart was released from St. Luke’s on 12th May 1758 “uncured”

By the following year things had not improved for the poet and by late Summer he was again sent to an asylum, there is some debate as to actually where this was but what Christopher Smart really needed more than anything was the company of an animal. Jeoffry was roaming the streets of London and witnessing everything eighteenth century London including violence it is from here that he found Christopher Smart and it was Jeoffry that was his companion during his time at St Luke’s. It was here that he began to write the extraordinary poem Jubilate Agno.

It was here that Jeoffry would take refuge under the bed while a silent figure sat motionless at a table with a candle and ink and white quill pens, but soon Jeoffry would become brave enough to venture out from under the bed and onto the table.

And it was there that a sheet of paper contained the title Jubilate Agno. Jeoffry was becoming what Smart always really wanted the companion of an animal. By choice or design they had found each other and through the love and companionship they gave each other Jeoffry was rewarded with the greatest honour and tribute as cat has ever received.

The poem Jubilate Agno (Rejoice the Lamb) was not published until 1939 after fragments of the peom were found in a library and in 1943 a festival cantata by Benjamin Britten was written.

Jeoffry has been immortalised in the seventy-four lines of verse with “For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry” Oliver Soden has written a beautiful masterpiece in both research and imagination about a cat and a poet who found companionship and rewarded Jeoffry. A cat who has been immortalised and a place in history. I loved reading Jeoffry: The Poet’s Cat. A classic.

Jubilate Agno

208 Pages.

Thank you to The History Press for the review copy of Jeoffry: The Poet’s Cat by Oliver Soden

Jeoffry: The Poet’s Cat by Oliver Sodenwas published by The History Press and will be published on 6th October 2020 and is available to pre-order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

A Year of Living Simply: The Joys of a Life Less Complicated by Kate Humble

A Year of Living Simply: The Joys of a Life Less Complicated by Kate Humble


If there is one thing that most of us aspire to, it is, simply, to be happy.  And yet attaining happiness has become, it appears, anything but simple.  Having stuff – The Latest, The Newest, The Best Yet – is all too often peddled as the sure fire route to happiness.  So why then, in our consumer-driven society, is depression, stress and anxiety ever more common, affecting every strata of society and every age, even, worryingly, the very young?  Why is it, when we have so much, that many of us still feel we are missing something and the rush of pleasure when we buy something new turns so quickly into a feeling of emptiness, or purposelessness, or guilt?

So what is the route to real, deep, long lasting happiness?  Could it be that our lives have just become overly crowded, that we’ve lost sight of the things – the simple things – that give a sense of achievement, a feeling of joy or excitement? That make us happy.  Do we need to take a step back, reprioritise?  Do we need to make our lives more simple?

Kate Humble’s fresh and frank exploration of a stripped-back approach to life is uplifting, engaging and inspiring – and will help us all find balance and happiness every day.

My Review:

In this year of years that many of us having been struggling through, looking for happiness and something to sooth the soul. Here it is in the new book released this month by Kate Humble. A Year of Living Simply: The Joys of a Life Less Complicated (Aster) and I have to admit here and now I am a bit of a fan of Kate Humble.

Have you noticed how our lives are dictated by lots of gadgets and how we feel the need to upgrade to the latest model, car, mobile, computer. It is never ending. Sometimes the pressure of modern day living can really be too much. I read Kate’s last book Thinking on My Feet which ended up being shortlisted for two major literary prizes and I just really loved the way Kate was talking to you and just you. It was both calming and reassuring.

The real beauty of A Year of Living Simply I found was that I did not have to read from cover to cover but come back to it by dipping in and out and it felt reassuring to read about the people Kate met who have changed their lives and decluttering. If there has been the most perfect year for this to happen it is definitely 2020.

Kate Humble one of the country’s most popular tv presenters has a wonderful writing style that makes this such a personal book and she also shares a few recipes and the recipe for chilli jam caught my attention. I could not imagine a book from Kate Humble that did not include nature, and there is nature here but also gardening.

At a time when we are really concerned for our planet and its future, Kate shares her ideas that can make all of our lives easier and simple and doing something to help the future of our only home. Earth.

304 Pages.

Follow Kate Humble on Twitter: @katehumble

Follow Octopus Books on Twitter: @Octopus_Books


Thank you to Aster (Octopus Books) and also Anne Cater (Random Things Tours) for the review copy of A Year of Living Simply by Kate Humble.

A Year of Living Simply by Kate Humble was published by Aster (Octopus Books) and was published on 17th September 2020 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

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Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books by Cathy Rentzenbrink

Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books by Cathy Rentzenbrink


For as long as she can remember, Cathy Rentzenbrink has lost and found herself in stories. Growing up she was rarely seen without her nose in a book and read in secret long after lights out. When tragedy struck, books kept her afloat. Eventually they lit the way to a new path, first as a bookseller and then as a writer. No matter what the future holds, reading will always help.

Dear Reader is a moving, funny and joyous exploration of how books can change the course of your life, packed with recommendations from one reader to another.

My Review:

Last week I wrote my review for one of the most beautiful books of this year and then deleted it as I believe it did not do it justice. Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books (Picador) by Cathy Rentzenbrink is really a life full of the love of books.

There is nothing better that having conversations about reading and our favourite books, and those that we have loved throughout our life. Like a song that is played on the radio that can stop you in your tracks and bring back a memory, special books can also play exactly the same role in our lives.

Dear Reader is Cathy Rentzenbrink’s memoir of her favourite books that have been a great comfort through her life as a reader, bookseller and also writer and journalist. Cathy has had a career in bookselling starting at Harrods and then moving to Waterstones and then became manager of her own Waterstones store later moving to The Bookseller. Not an easy start at first but the hard work soon paid off. Cathy is nothing but inspirational to anyone who loves books.

What you find in Dear Reader is Cathy’s unique warmth as she takes the reader through her life. It is moving and yet there are humorous moments that stand out. But anyone who has read The Last Act of Love will know that Cathy’s life has not been without tragedy and through those dark times books kept her going. As she says in the pages of Dear Reader, that reading has saved her life time and time again. This is a book that you will find that is like sitting in a coffee shop and having a warm conversation with a close friend.

During these difficult days, Dear Reader is like a harbour on a stormy night safe in words of comfort. I have already purchased a copy for a close friend in need. There are many reading recommendations throughout and Dear Reader is one book I am delighted highly recommend.

240 Pages.

Cathy Rentzenbrink (@CatRentzenbrink)

Picador Books (@picadorbooks)

Thank you Camilla Elworthy (Pan Macmillan) for the review copy of Dear Reader by Cathy Rentzenbrink

Cauld Blasts and Clishmaclavers: A treasury of 1,000 Scottish Words by Robin A. Crawford

Cauld Blasts and Clishmaclavers: A treasury of 1,000 Scottish Words by Robin A. Crawford


The Scots language is an ancient and lyrical tongue, inherently linked to the country’s history and identity, its land and culture. In Cauld Blasts and Clishmaclavers, Robin Crawford has gathered 1,000 words from his native land – old and new, classical and colloquial, rural and urban – in a joyful and witty celebration of their continuing usage and unique character.

airt o’ the clicky – bawheid – carnaptious – dreich – eejit – forefochen – Glasgow kiss – haver – inkie-pinkie – jags – kelpie – loch-lubbertie – meevin’ – neuk – oxter – pawky – quaich – ramstam – simmer dim – tattie bogle – usquebaugh – vratch watergaw – yowe trummle

My Review:

What a book to celebrate my 500th blog post, a book to celebrate words after all this is why I started a blog about books. Those of us who talk and write blogs about literature love to celebrate words and now released is a book about Scottish Words old and new. Cauld Blasts and Clishmaclavers: A Treasury of 1,000 Scottish Words (Elliott & Thompson) by Robin A. Crawford.

Across our lands and through history we have used words to as culture and identity and this is as true in Scotland as anywhere and in this wonderful book by Robin A. Crawford he delves deep into a joyful celebration of its usage. Set out in alphabetical format so it is very easy to use and also some delightful line drawings by Liz Myhill that just add to the book.

From Robert Burns to Billy Connolly and even Monty Python and even Twitter they are all here a living testament to Scottish words old and new. It is clear that Robin put in a lot of time and research into this project and deserves praise. Scottish language is part of their cultural history and should be celebrated. Just a few words that I have picked out

Ailsa Cock or Parrot: Puffin

Blaws Snell: A biting, chastening wind.

Inkie-pinkie: Weak beer.

Clootie Dumpling: Suet and dried-fruit pudding wrapped tightly in a cloth, or cloot and cooked by being boiled in a pan.

Haver/Haiver: Ramble, talk nonsense. As in the Proclaimers were happy to haver for 500 miles.

Silver Darlings: Herrings

Ailsa Cock or Puffin

These words hark back through Scottish history and Robbie Burns is at the very core of this book and rightly so as it speaks to the people of Scotland in everything they do no matter where they are around the world today.

Cauld Blasts and Clishmaclvers is a celebration of the richness of Scottish words, but in all of this we must remind ourselves that these words are now disappearing. Scotland’s favourite word as voted in a poll is Dreich (grey and miserable; usually applied to the weather.

As a lover of words I can only hope these words are not fading away confined to history. A beautiful book celebrating the best Scottish words many I have never before come across. There is so much to celebrate about Scotland the mountains and its islands and who can forget the Compton Mackenzie film Whisky Galore (1947) so let us celebrate the great Scottish words.

208 Pages.

#CauldBlasts @RobinACrawford2 @eandtbooks

Thank you to Alison Menzies and Elliott & Thompson for the review copy of Cauld Blasts and Clishmaclavers by Robin A. Crawford.

Cauld Blasts and Clishmaclavers by Robin A. Crawford was published by Elliott & Thompson and was published on 20th August 2020 and is now available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

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Rootbound: Rewilding a Life by Alice Vincent


Rootbound: Rewilding a Life by Alice Vincent


When she was a girl, Alice Vincent loved her grandfather’s garden – the freedom, the calm, the beauty of it. Twenty years later, living in a tiny flat in South London, that childhood in the garden feels like a dream.

When she suddenly finds herself uprooted, heartbroken, living out of a suitcase and yearning for the comfort of home, Alice starts to plant seeds. She nurtures pot plants and vines on windowsills and draining boards, filling her new space with green, and with each unfurling petal and budding leaf, she begins to come back to life.

Mixing memoir, botanical history and biography, Rootbound examines how bringing a little bit of the outside in can help us find our feet in a world spinning far too fast.


My Review:

There is something about tending plants whether you have a garden or a balcony that gives you a real sense of belonging and grounding. All forms of nature and by that I include gardening is extremely important to our wellbeing. Recently the longlist for The 2020 Wainwright Prize was announced and I am delighted at seeing Rootbound (Canongate) by Alice Vincent is among the thirteen books to have made the longlist for UK Nature Writing.


Alice is now the feature editor for Penguin Books but was previously an editor and writer on the arts desk at The Telegraph, but it is gardening that is a passion that gives Alice her grounding. It was 2014 that she taught herself gardening and learning and watching plants grow taught her about how important nature is and can help us in our lives and also in a world that at times seems to be out of control. Alice released her first book How to Grow Stuff back in 2017 and has since written for various gardening magazines.

What really struck me about Rootbound was how beautifully Alice Vincent writes. It is when something happens in her own personal life that suddenly shook Alice, a real sense of suddenness but there was something she would find that would become important in her life. A rural past would become the bedrock for the future. At a young age when everything seemingly fits so well in life including writing for a major newspaper you could think that life is working out really well. Something was missing.

That what was missing was indeed plants and the need to grow and nurture and also to understand. Interspersed into Alice’s memoir are the historical horticultural notes, especially the women who worked tirelessly to create a future for themselves the world of horticulture. Memories of her grandfather’s peaceful garden and when life suddenly becomes harder and leaves her heartbroken and bereft this is where nature becomes the cure. Planting a few seeds and the roots are put down for the future. As I know only too well once you start it never leaves you. Watching the plants grow and become established through the different seasons, it is like nature taking you by the hand. It won’t let go now.

There are wonderful stories of travel to different parts of the world and also closer to home give you the urge to want to explore these lands and their wonders. Rootbound by Alice Vincent is a memoir but also horticultural history. The joy and the sorrow but also finding the beauty in watching plants grow. An open and honest and also brave account of her life. Reading Rootbound I saw through these pages someone who was broken but through the power of nature she became whole again.
If you want to learn more about Alice Vincent head over to her personal Instagram account. It really is quite special.

Instagram: @noughticulture
Twitter: @alice¬_emily

For more information on The Wainwright Prize 2020: The Wainwright Prize

368 Pages.

Rootbound: Rewilding a Life by Alice Vincent was published by Canongate and was published on 30th January 2020 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.


Memories by Naim Attallah


Memories by Naim Attallah



This engaging and illuminating potpourri of vignettes selected from Naim Attallah’s fifteen books of memoirs and interviews, along with a sprinkling of blog posts, gives a taste of late 20th century London culture and entertainingly evokes the shifting fortunes of publishing life over the past forty years. In Memories, Attallah not only writes about his contemporaries at length, but is also written about by them and he is never shy in expressing the highs and lows of his different relationships with a catalogue of cultural luminaries, many of whom are still close friends of his to this day. These range from violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin to the late Christina Foyle, owner of Foyles; jeweller Tomasz Starzewski to artist Emma Sergeant and the former chairman of Conde Nast Britain, Nicholas Coleridge. As the chairman of Quartet and former owner of the Women’s Press, Naim has published a diverse roll call of notable literary names throughout the years, including Angela Carter, Leni Riefenstahl, Annie Ernaux, Tahar Ben Jelloun and Thomas Bernhard, to name but a few. Attallah was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2017 New Year Honours for services to literature and the arts.

 My Review:

Many would not know the name of Naim Attallah, but in the publishing world he is an iconic figure. Naim is the chairman of Quartet Books and his rise from Immigrant to his role today really is inspirational. In 2017 he was awarded the CBE in the New Year’s Honours. I was delighted to have been sent a copy of what his latest addition to his autobiographies entitled Memories (Quartet Books) which was released in April.


Naim Attallah formerly funded both the Literary Review and the Oldie magazines. (two magazines I read regularly). Naim took over Quartet Books in 1976 and Memories is his sixteenth book.

I never write in books unlike Charles Dickens used to do when researching his novels but my copy of Memories does has Post It notes on many pages with remarks I have made. It is a sign of a book that really has so much life and is high praise.

In Memories Naim Attallah looks back at his time and talks about those who he has come to know but also recollections of his life in London. After arriving in London he had to start somewhere and here Naim talks about his early days. Then talks about those with whom he has come to know. It really become a who’s who of the friends he has made. Names such as: John Le Carré and Auberon Waugh to name just two. The list of names that appear in the book, the Bee Gees, Billy Connolly and Dame Margot Fonteyn, Yehudi Menuhin and the late Christina Foyle owner of Foyles bookshop.

There are poems that have been written for Naim Attallah from past year that appear through the book which says a lot about the man. A look back at the social life and the times of a remarkable man who legendary launch parties for the books he published were by a man who was fearless and noticeable as his was his blue Rolls Royce.

278 Pages.

Thank you to Quartet Books for the review copy of Memories by Naim Attallah

Memories by Naim Attallah was published by Quartet Books on 16th April 2020 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.


Coffee and Seasons


Blog Journal: # 2

9th July 2020

Today for the first time in nearly four months I am back in my favourite coffee shop having coffee and cake and making notes for this and future blog journals. Over these past months of lockdown I have really missed coming here. The coffee shop I know very well, it is where I come to quietly read and write and watch life, but this time it is strangely empty and quiet; people are not sure about coming inside. It will take time before confidence returns. So long as the virus is out there, people will remain cautious.

Recently I paid a visit to Hestercombe Gardens which is close to my home, it was one of those very hot days with wall to wall blue skies. It is a favourite place here in Somerset. If you are looking for peace and tranquillity, then Hestercombe is the place to head to. You can follow the walk past the waterfall and lake and sit among the trees and read and write a few lines, then back to walk among the formal gardens. A mix of Georgian landscape gardens by Coplestone Warre Bampfylde and the Edwardian formal gardens designed by Gertrude Jekyll and Sir Edwin Lutyens. There is always something to see here no matter what the season.


During the lockdown we have seen the clocks go forward and we passed the longest day. Dare I say I am beginning to notice these long summer daylight hours just beginning to get shorter if ever so slightly. It has not been helped of course the recent heavy grey skies that look more akin to autumn that the warm days of July. This got me thinking about seasons and how those of us who love nature and of course the gardeners among us that follow them. The autumn days of “Seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness” A season of Blackberries and cobnuts. The light is receding fast each day and we kick our way through the fallen leaves, I have always loved the sound of those dry fallen leaves as we kick our way through, and look for fallen conkers from the Horse Chestnut trees. Back when I was studying horticulture in Cheshire in the late 1970’s they would have conker championships. It was all taken very seriously with stories of ‘doctored’ conkers. We watch squirrels looking for nuts and scurrying away to bury them pretending not to be seen. Can squirrels actually remember during the winter months where they first buried their stash of nuts? The colour of autumn trees provides a last warm glow before they too must fall and the trees fall into a long deep sleep ahead of the onset of cold winter days that are coming. These are the days when we retreat indoors and curl up with a book in front of the fire. But as the seasons change, nature continues to surprise us.

I am not a lover of Winter, those days when the wind is strong and the rain is heavy and cold, the year is growing old and we too begin to slow down and we retreat indoors more. I have lost count of how many umbrellas I have gone through over recent years as storm after storm blows through. I do though love those crystal clear frosty mornings when your breath hangs in the air frozen in a moment of time. A long walk and then finding a pub with a roaring log fire. Winter though always seems as though it never wants to let go and just when you think it is over, it gives one last stand and surprises us. I look forward to the shortest day as then I know the days will begin to lengthen again and now I can start to think of better days to come. Slowly the daylight hours are longer and come March Spring is here, the Chiffchaff’s are singing their name. Birds are looking at nesting sites again. The days are warming up and so is the soil and new life is starting to show. As we move into April and May, this really is my favourite time of the year. Along the Somerset Levels Bitterns with their strange ‘Booming’ call can be heard and Cuckoos are calling, the reed beds are alive with the songs of warblers that have arrived from Africa. These days are as precious as the finest of jewels to treasure. You cannot put a price on these moments. They are there to be enjoyed by everyone and to be protected for future generations. Then of course there is the dawn chorus and this year it seemed like no other spring dawn chorus due to the lockdown, no sounds of traffic so the birdsong seemed to be more enhanced. I would lie in bed and identify the birds I could hear. The pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers has taken up residence in the same hole in the nearby tree again and I can hear them as they ‘tap tap tap’ at the hole making some adjustments to their home. A pair of Starlings have taken up residence in the roof again this year, I will hear the brood as the parents busily fly back and forth with food from dawn to dusk. Then they will fledge and all will be quiet again.

We come full circle as spring becomes summer and the days are long and warm. Days of sitting in beer gardens or reading a book. This summer though is unlike any summer we have seen before. Like many I never know what each is going to bring. We must though dress our days and hold on to whatever we can.
John Fish
The Last Word Book Review

The Seafarers: A Journey Among Birds by Stephen Rutt


The Seafarers: A Journey Among Birds by Stephen Rutt


The British Isles are remarkable for their extraordinary seabird life: spectacular gatherings of charismatic Arctic terns, elegant fulmars and stoic eiders, to name just a few. Often found in the most remote and dramatic reaches of our shores, these colonies are landscapes shaped not by us but by the birds.

In 2015, Stephen Rutt escaped his hectic, anxiety-inducing life in London for the bird observatory on North Ronaldsay, the most northerly of the Orkney Islands. In thrall to these windswept havens and the people and birds that inhabit them, he began a journey to the edges of Britain. From Shetland, to the Farnes of Northumberland, down to the Welsh islands off the Pembrokeshire coast, he explores the part seabirds have played in our history and what they continue to mean to Britain today.

The Seafarers is the story of those travels: a love letter, written from the rocks and the edges, for the salt-stained, isolated and ever-changing lives of seabirds. This beguiling book reveals what it feels like to be immersed in a completely wild landscape, examining the allure of the remote in an over-crowded world.

 My Review:

Watching birds has been a passion of mine since childhood but there is something rather special about sitting on a windswept headland looking out to sea and watching seabirds. Whether it is on the South West coastline or along the Scottish coast or taking a boat trip across the Minch to the Outer Hebrides watching seabirds has given me some of my best birdwatching days I can remember. I was so grateful to have received a copy of The Seafarers: A Journey Among Birds (Elliott & Thompson) by Stephen Rutt that has just recently been published in paperback. It has won the Saltire First Book of the Year for 2019.


It was 2015 and Stephen Rutt was packing up and moving to the remote Scottish island of Ronaldsay, one of the furthest of the Orkney Islands, Stephen was struggling and he needed to get away from the fast pace of London. He had decided to volunteer at the bird observatory for seven months. During this time, he would monitor the movements of seabirds. A pivotal moment as this seemed to just what he needed. Nature is calming on the soul.

There is something really soothing about Stephen’s writing, it is calm and relaxed and yet there is something more here, facts. He talks of oil spills and the disastrous effect this had on wildlife, and would the seabird numbers recover in the years to come. I recall seeing pictures of scores of dead seabirds covered in oil. These pictures still haunt.

From here Stephen takes us on a journey around the jagged coastline of Britain to watch seabirds. From Puffins to Skuas, Storm Petrels and Gannets galore and Manx Shearwaters and we cannot leave out the Terns on the Farne Islands.

We are an island in fact the UK is an archipelago with over 1000 islands, and around 790 of them off the Scottish coastline which makes this one of the most incredible and diverse places to study seabirds. Stephen Rutt really has written a love letter to seabirds, and their incredible lives. When Stephen is not watching these wanderers of the seas he is at home reading books from some of the great writers on birds. A beautifully written memoir and that I am delighted to add to my natural history library.

288 Pages.

Thank you to Alison Menzies for the review copy of The Seafarers: A Journey Among Birds by Stephen Rutt

The Seafarers: A Journey Among Birds by Stephen Rutt was published by Elliott & Thompson and was published in PB on 4th June 2020 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans by David Abulafia – Wolfson History Prize 2020

The Boundless Sea - Cover

The Boundless Sea by David Abulafia

The Wolfson History Prize Shortlist 2020


For most of human history, the seas and oceans have been the main means of long-distance trade and communication between peoples – for the spread of ideas and religion as well as commerce. This book traces the history of human movement and interaction around and across the world’s greatest bodies of water, charting our relationship with the oceans from the time of the first voyagers. David Abulafia begins with the earliest of seafaring societies – the Polynesians of the Pacific, the possessors of intuitive navigational skills long before the invention of the compass, who by the first century were trading between their far-flung islands. By the seventh century, trading routes stretched from the coasts of Arabia and Africa to southern China and Japan, bringing together the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific and linking half the world through the international spice trade. In the Atlantic, centuries before the little kingdom of Portugal carved out its powerful, seaborne empire, many peoples sought new lands across the sea – the Bretons, the Frisians and, most notably, the Vikings, now known to be the first Europeans to reach North America. As Portuguese supremacy dwindled in the late sixteenth century, the Spanish, the Dutch and then the British each successively ruled the waves.

Following merchants, explorers, pirates, cartographers and travellers in their quests for spices, gold, ivory, slaves, lands for settlement and knowledge of what lay beyond, Abulafia has created an extraordinary narrative of humanity and the oceans. From the earliest forays of peoples in hand-hewn canoes through uncharted waters to the routes now taken daily by supertankers in their thousands, The Boundless Sea shows how maritime networks came to form a continuum of interaction and interconnection across the globe: 90 per cent of global trade is still conducted by sea. This is history of the grandest scale and scope, and from a bracingly different perspective – not, as in most global histories, from the land, but from the boundless seas.

 My Review:

I am delighted to have been asked to make a contribution to this year’s Wolfson History Prize Shortlist blog tour. It is a literary prize I have kept a close eye on for many years. As part of my blog tour I am reviewing one of the most outstanding history books I have read in a long time. The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans (Allen Lane). Is by no means a light read at over 1000 pages but inside is one of the most detailed histories of the seas that have been the lifeline for every continent be at peace or war. From space the Earth is almost totally blue, no surprise as 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by oceans and contain 97% of the total water on earth.

We as people’s through history has a link to the oceans like nothing else, through exploring new lands, forging new trade links, invasion of lands and as we move forward creating new forms of communications. This is an incredible books considering the huge research that would have gone into David Abulafia’s latest book. Starting with the oldest of the oceans, the Pacific Ocean at 176,000 BC before crossing the oceans at our current times. It is an epic odyssey through 65,000 years of human history of the oceans.  

Written with the authority of a scholar, you would think the narrative could put off the casual reader, but that is not the case. Abulafia writes with such dexterity that you are taken on an adventure through history whether that is through the earliest of explorations or the rampaging Vikings through Northern Europe to archaeology that helps us to understand humanities clues from the past. Reading The Boundless Sea, I found totally compelling reading about the Pirates to marauding adventurers and those seeking new lands to forge both religious and trade links. But there are also the parts that talk of the slavery ships across the Atlantic that began as far back as the 14th Century. Then to almost current times when discussing both the building both the Suez and Panama Canals and the cost in lives through disease.

There is so much detail contained in this magnificent book that no matter what I write here, it will not do it justice. People and the oceans have a link to the earliest part of humanity and that link to this day continues as we transport nearly all cargo via huge container ships across the oceans. It is said that humanity to-date has explored only 5% of the world’s oceans.

The Boundless Sea by David Abulafia is a staggering achievement, I was reading this as a digital copy but ended up buying a hard copy so that I could look at the maps and colour plates.

I have now read two of the books on the Wolfson History Prize shortlist and I have to say just what an outstanding literary prize it has become, trying to pin down one book as a clear winner is harder in this prize than any other literary prize I have become involved with. I wish each and every author the very best with their books. I hope to get to read the remaining books on the shortlist.

1088 Pages.


The Wolfson History Prize Shortlist 2020

The announcement of the winner of The Wolfson History Prize 2020 will be made on 15th June.

Thank you to Ben McCluskey (Midas PR) for the review copy of The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans by David Abulafia.

The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans by David Abulafia was published by Allen Lane and was released on 3rd October 2019 and is available to order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
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Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty


Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty


Diary of a Young Naturalist chronicles the turning of 15-year-old Dara McAnulty’s world. From spring and through a year in his home patch in Northern Ireland, Dara spent the seasons writing. These vivid, evocative and moving diary entries about his connection to wildlife and the way he sees the world are raw in their telling. “I was diagnosed with Asperger’s/autism aged five … By age seven I knew I was very different, I had got used to the isolation, my inability to break through into the world of talking about football or Minecraft was not tolerated. Then came the bullying. Nature became so much more than an escape; it became a life-support system.” Diary of a Young Naturalist portrays Dara’s intense connection to the natural world, and his perspective as a teenager juggling exams and friendships alongside a life of campaigning. “In writing this book,” Dara explains, “I have experienced challenges but also felt incredible joy, wonder, curiosity and excitement. In sharing this journey my hope is that people of all generations will not only understand autism a little more but also appreciate a child’s eye view on our delicate and changing biosphere.”

My Review:

On that showery Saturday in Hyde Park in London back in September 2018 I was among thousands of those who love wildlife that gathered ahead of a Walk for Wildlife on that day there was many speakers but among them was a young man who captivated the crowd. I thought then this was a young man with a great future. Dara McAnulty has been passionate about wildlife since he was very young and today sees the release of his debut book The Diary of a Young Naturalist (Little Toller Books) which in a diary format looks at the 15-year-old’s year starting in Spring. Dara is the youngest recipient of the RSPB’s medal for services to conservation.


Like Dara, I became passionate about wildlife in my very young days and that love of nature has never left and through some difficult dark days it has been nature that I find helps and especially through these difficult times that we are living through.

Dara lives with his family in Northern Ireland and spend their time finding the beauty in nature through their times away from home. Nature after all is all around us. Whether it is a bird, butterfly or insect Dara will stop and wants to learn all about it. Dara is autistic and suffered the most horrific abuse from pupils at school. It is the love of his family that is his rock and is harbour during those difficult days. He also finds solace in his love of punk music.

When Dara discovered writing he poured his heart into writing thoughts on paper and when you are reading Dara’s words you very quickly become aware of just what a powerful and poetic voice Dara has. Dara wants to be heard about just what a dangerous place our wildlife is in. What struck me in Dara’s writing is just how lyrical he really is whether Dara is talking about his life or about his family or about the nature around him as he discovers through each season and through the anxiety of moving house and starting a new school, difficult for any of us but when you have autism this is multiplied on many levels. Trust me Dara will be heard and Diary of a Young Naturalist is his voice and this will inspire a new and young vibrant generation of wildlife lovers. There are many great voices in nature writing and you can now add Dara McAnulty to the list.

I cannot recommend Dara’s debut book highly enough and Diary of a Young Naturalist will appeal to readers of all ages.

240 Pages.

*Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty will be the Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4 from Monday 25th May at 9.45am

Thank you to Gracie at Little Toller Books for the review copy of Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty.

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty was published by Little Toller Books and was published on 25th May 2020 and is available to order through the publisher and also through your local independent bookshops.