Rain: Four Walks in English Weather
By Melissa Harrison
Faber, £12.99, 978 0571328932
Weather writing has become the hot new offshoot of nature writing in recent months, and here in Rain: Four Walks in English Weather, Melissa Harrison, who writes a monthly Nature Notebook column for The Times, adds a little gem to the genre. Her novels have been widely acclaimed, but Rain suggests her non-fiction is even better.
The premise is gloriously simple, “an imaginative account of how England – human, animal and vegetable – weathers, and is weathered by, the storm”, told via four essays. Four seasons, four rural English landscapes, and four types of rain. A January downpour in the Fens, April showers in Shropshire, a summer thunderstorm in Kent, and October mizzle (fine, misty rain) on Dartmoor.
Rain has never been so interesting – from freak storms to bovine behaviour as barometer, or the intricacies of a leech-powered storm-warning system – or so beautifully described: “Those topmost leaves are where the shower hits first: the faintest rain-patter, a few flung drops on the breeze that sparkle here and there on those glossy copper cuticles and speckle my waterproof coat. Then a grey, laden shower cloud obscures the sun, and I put up my hood.”
Lucy Scholes, reviewer
Being a Beast
By Charles Foster
Profile Books, £14.99, ISBN 978 1781255346
Foster is taking a stand against what he regards as the “two sins” that have beset traditional nature writing: anthropocentrism (the human appropriation of the world of animals) and anthropomorphism (human assumption that animals are like humans, whether literally, as in Peter Rabbit or The Wind in the Willows; or metaphorically, as in Tarka the Otter).
Instead, he wants to actually “know what it is to be a wild thing […] to learn what it is to shuffle or swoop through a landscape that is mainly olfactory or auditory rather than visual.” He chooses beasts that correspond with the elements: Welsh badgers, and Scottish and West Country red deer (earth); otters in Exmoor (water); urban foxes in London (fire); and Oxford swifts (air).
He and his son spend weeks on their bellies eating earthworms in a Welsh wood like the badgers they’re mimicking; he sends his children off to “spraint” the riverbank otter-style; a policeman is perturbed when he discovers Foster sleeping under some rhododendrons in Bethnal Green; and he’s hunted by bloodhounds.
It’s an audacious task but Foster approaches it with what proves to be just the right balance of practical scientific research, a philosophical appreciation of the impossibility of ever truly capturing the experience of such an ‘other’, and the energy, excitement and enthusiasm of a schoolboy. The end result is a book that’s a breed all of its own, one that makes for fascinating, complex, highly entertaining and often rather bonkers reading.
Lucy Scholes, reviewer
By Ben Law
Guild of Master Craftsman
Publications LTD, £25
Sometimes it’s hard to see the point of winter. But for a woodsman such as Ben Law, the first months of the year are a crucial and productive time. It is now that the raw materials and the fuel for his work are cut and, in so doing, the woodland’s ongoing health and productivity are assured.
Law’s latest book Woodland Craft is primarily a practical guide to what can be created from this annual and most sustainable of crops. From the humble wooden spoon right up to a timber-framed caravan, Woodland Craft guides the reader through every step from tree to finished product, with clear illustrations and plenty of colour photographs, as well as advice on all the tools and resources you will need.
While there are discrete projects for the hobbyist, much of Woodland Craft requires a more serious commitment, and Law’s real passion is for green woodworking as part of a holistic and sustainable approach to woodland management.
Though Law’s work is serious, as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall points out in the foreword, “there is nothing po-faced about this book.” The approach is both traditional and forward-looking, with time-tested tools and techniques supplemented by modern technology and novel aesthetics.
When Law first moved into hissweet chestnut wood in Sussex, the traditional woodland crafts were all
but moribund. Now, in no small part thanks to him, green woodworking and traditional woodland management are enjoying a resurgence.
“Who would have imagined that a spoon maker would have a shop in Hackney Road…?” he merrily asks.
Josh Barry, reviewer
By Joe Cornish and Roly Smith
Frances Lincoln, £30
Photographer Joe Cornish and writer Roly Smith have teamed up to produce this remarkable homage to Britain’s beauty.
The duo have whittled down the wide choice to 50 locations that reflect the variety and glory of our landscape, from the crashing surf of Cornwall to the Bens and glens of the Highlands, via the frozen waters of Snowdoniaand the ancient beeches of Buckinghamshire, to name but a few.
Each magnificent shot by Cornish is accompanied by a lively, evocative and often personal account by Smith about the place, creating a beautifully framed voyage around our land. One to pour over and, indeed, check off – how many of these wonders have you seen?
Maria Hodson, production editor