It was the second big prize for ‘H is for Hawk’ by Helen MacDonald as she walked off with the Costa book award. It feels like we’re in the midst of a really purple patch for the genre of nature writing.
Yes our need for words to capture our special relationship with the natural world has been around for a while since the days of Gilbert White and his seminal natural history of Selborne Common. And yes there are countless classics from the last 200 years but it definitely feels like nature writing is rocking with the number of staggeringly good books lining the nation’s bookshops.
Go into any bookshop and the shelves are full of wonderful books about the natural world that look to capture the spirit of place and the pure joy of wildlife.
The explosion in top draw nature writing seems to have co-incided with the big economic crash in 2008. In might be pure luck but it feels that when times are tough that we naturally return to that innate need for nature as a comfort blanket in our lives. Even though as a nation when might not have the connection with the natural world that we did generations ago, nature is an ever present part of our lives, where ever we live.
A changing of the seasons and the simple pleasure of tuning into birdsong, wandering through a wood or watching the clouds drift past makes us feel good. And these memories and connections need to be captured in a way that only really words can. It’s a perfect combination of a poetry and prose bringing a richness of description.
Many of the books about nature have a very strong personal, in fact emotional element. At certain times of our life we go back to nature as a reference point; a constant that feels re-assuring. Many of the books that I’ve read have a strong personal narrative to them; a hook for these works of art to exist that is authenic and really powerful.
And that is why the decision by the Oxford Junior Dictionary to drop nature words for hi-tech words matters. We need the tools to capture of love of nature and the fascination that it creates; we need future generations to have the exposure that we did growing up. Words are such a fundamental part of the colourful and deep heritage that they have in the national psyche.
But there is hope with the backing of the big publishers, the huge range of great writers and the democratisation of writing via blogging and websites such as Caught by the River. Looking for the words to describe a deep and enduring connection with nature continues to matter and I have a real sense of hope about the future.