"As Kingfishers Catch Fire is a memoir/gallimaufry of ornithological obsession by Alex Preston. He watches birds in the sky and on the page darting between myths, stories and memoir like a swift. The characterful illustrations by Neil Gower add a whole new dimension to this gorgeous book."
— Damian Barr, Guardian Best Books of 2017, Best Nature Book
"Preston's book is less a polemic on conservation than a plea for close looking and close listening. He believes, with Gerard Manley Hopkins (from whom he takes his title), that the world is charged with grandeur - the world of birds especially - and that our lives are the richer when we attend to that grandeur. "What thou art we know not," Shelley tells his skylark, but some of the greatest poems in the language have come from the effort to find out"
— The Guardian
"As Kingfishers Catch Fire is both a joyful and a wondrous book, one that successfully captures the otherness of birds, while celebrating our yearning to transcend our lot, our yearning to touch the unknowable . . . Each bird illustrated by Gower in a mixture of gouache and watercolour that brings to mind both William Morris and Eric Ravilious
— Katharine Norbury, the Observer
"It's a luminous book. The glow will stay with me. I cried. The book is worthy of birds, and I know no higher praise."
— Charles Foster
When British author Alex Preston was 15, he stopped being a birdwatcher. Adolescence and the scorn of his peers made him put away his binoculars, leave behind the hides and the nature reserves and the quiet companionship of his fellow birders. His love of birds didn’t disappear though.
Rather, it went underground, and he began birdwatching in the books that he read, creating his own personal anthology of nature writing that brought the birds of his childhood back to brilliant life.
Looking for moments ‘when heart and bird are one’, in As Kingfishers Catch Fire, Preston weaves the very best writing about birds into a personal and eccentric narrative that is as much about the joy of reading and writing as it is about the thrill of wildlife.
Moving from the ‘high requiem’ of Keats’s nightingale to the crow-strewn sky at the end of Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, from Ted Hughes’s brooding ‘Hawk in the Rain’ to the giddy anthropomorphism of Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, this is a book that will make you look at birds, at the world, in a newer, richer light.
The Kingfisher of the title refers to Gerard Manley Hopkins' (considered to be one of the great poets of the Victorian era) 1918 poem of the same name.
Beautifully illustrated and illuminated by the celebrated graphic artist Neil Gower, As Kingfishers Catch Fire is a book to love and to hold, to return to again and again, to marvel at the way that authors across the centuries have captured the endless grace and variety of birds.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alex Preston is an author and journalist. His first novel, This Bleeding City, won the Spear’s and Edinburgh Festival first book prizes, as well as being chosen as one of Waterstones' New Voices.
His second book, The Revelations, was shortlisted for the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize, was named as one of GQ's "100 Best Things in the World" and was one of the Financial Times' 2012 Fiction Picks.
His third, In Love and War, was published to critical acclaim in July 2014 and selected for BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime.
Alex appears regularly on BBC Radio and television. He writes for GQ, Harper’s Bazaar and Town & Country Magazine as well as for the Observer’s New Review.
He studied English under Tom Paulin at Hertford College, Oxford, and holds a PhD on Violence in the Modern Novel from UCL. He teaches Creative Writing at the University of Kent and regular Guardian Masterclasses. Alex Preston was born in 1979. He lives in Kent with his wife and two children.