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turning the boat for home book jacket

Turning The Boat For Home in the shops October 2019

For five decades Richard Mabey has been a pioneering voice in modern nature writing. From the rediscovery of foraging that led to Food for Free, through his groundbreaking expeditions in the “edgelands” in the 1970s, to his reflections on the musicality of bird-song, he has consistently explored new ways of thinking about nature and its relation to our lives.

In Turning the Boat for Home, he introduces pieces from his rich writing life that reflect on how his ideas evolved. At the heart is a passionate belief that the Earth is a commonwealth, of all species. He recalls the fight against the commercial afforestation of the Scottish peatlands, attacks the privileged and manufactured landscapes of Capability Brown, recounts the experience of running a “community woodland”, one of the first such in Britain.

Plants, the often overlooked organisms that underpin all life, have been a source of constant fascination. In his encyclopaedic Flora Britannica he explored how deeply they are embedded in our popular culture. They are also autonomous beings with their own agendas, argued here in an essay on ‘Plant Intelligence’. The interplay between nature as culture and as independent subject is played out symbolically in his own “serendipitous” garden in Norfolk: “can’t [gardens] also be open stages, frameworks in which wild organisms improvise their own landscapes?”

In the end, pondering the significance of returning geese, vigil-keeping owls and home-loving whirligig beetles from “the slow-moving carapace” of a boat on the Norfolk Broads, he has an epiphany, that a sense of “neighbourliness” may be the best model for our relationship with the rest of the living world.

Throughout there is a commitment to writing (and other writers) and to language, which may be “our greatest ecological gift”. In a celebration that links the work of the poet John Clare with the political warnings of Rachel Carson, he suggests that “the answer to the still present threat of a silent spring is for us to sing against the storm.”

It is a sentiment which could describe his own achievement.

A programme of conversations over the autumn and winter is being finalised, including July 26, Holt Literary Festival, in conversation with Richard Girling; Oct 10, Aylsham Town Hall; Oct 17, The Bookhive , Norwich; Oct 19, Norfolk Wildlife Trust Cley Marshes Visitors’ Centre, in conversation with Mark Cocker; Nov 17, the Cut, Halesworth; late November, Cambridge Literary Festival, in conversation with Robert Macfarlane. Also probable events at Stoke by Nayland, Colchester, Wymondham. For further details, consult the location web-sites and for full publicity details contact Lucie Cuthbertson-Twiggs at LCuthbertsonTwiggs@penguinrandomhouse.co.uk

Margaret Atwood tweeted : “LOVE Richard Mabey’s books”.