I have discovered a cruel irony since joining the staff of the Emirates Literature Foundation. It has become abundantly clear that whilst in previous years the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature has been an indulgence of listening to the most amazing people talk about their works of fiction or their area of passion or specialty for six to eight hours a day over several days, this year I will not be so lucky. As a staff member, I will be “in the back”, working my proverbial behind off doing prosaic things like (I imagine) tallying up ticket sales and the number of cups of coffee one can consume without spinning out of control. But what I won’t be doing is sitting in five sessions a day sighing and smiling at how incredibly fortunate I am to live in a city that has such an amazing event JUST FOR ME. No, I will be one of the team of people working in the back ground making sure that you can do that.
So when asked by our communications team to write a piece for our weblog on who or what I was most looking forward to at the festival this year I felt I was being asked to torture myself with unobtainable possibilities. Feel sorry for me for a moment, then read on and make a promise that you will go and listen to Helen Macdonald.
The lines are drawn in the proverbial sands of our office between lovers of fiction and fans of non-fiction. I straddle both sides comfortably and absolutely need the two forms in my life. I adore the escapism of storytelling and magical skilled writing. I also need and love to learn stuff constantly. So imagine how excited I was to find a book that has both beautiful language and a story-telling feel to it but is a work of non-fiction. Oh, I am in heaven. Or rather you will be when you attend a Helen Macdonald session.
There is an added bonus. Helen Macdonald has a beautifully expressive speaking voice. I think I could listen to her read aloud the dictionary. Her book “H is for Hawk” is a unique combination of memoir, nature writing and story-telling. Helen writes about the grieving processes that she navigated by training one of the animal kingdoms most wild and independent creatures, the Goshawk. She writes about wildlife and the environment. She works her way through the process of embedding herself in the other worldly view of this dangerous and mysterious bird. She mirrored the untamable nature of Mabel, the Goshawk she trained, in her isolated grieving life. Seven years later she captures the experience with haunting lyrical prose in this one of a kind work of non-fiction.
She will enthrall you with her warm fluid writing, bold honesty, and polymathic knowledge, and, spoiler alert, she will touch your heart.