For Christmas last year, my mum got a bird box with a camera in it. This spring, we watched tiny, helpless scraggles of fluff become fully fledged birds, heading out into her garden to feast on the food she puts out for them. It was a tiny connection with an unseen world, and it felt so special.
It was absolutely nothing compared to the astonishing experiences of Hannah Bourne-Taylor, who developed the most amazing bond with a young fledgling while she lived in Ghana. Charting her difficult transition into living in a new country, she found a connection to this strange new place from the earth itself, and from the creatures that fly above it.
Her experience with a wild finch is truly astounding
With an absorbing intensity, Bourne-Taylor takes you fully into the natural world of two very contrasting places. Her passion and tenderness for birds is felt keenly through her writing, and this book is both mesmerising in its beauty and heartbreaking in its clarity. A rare beast of a book indeed.
'Fledgling' was the critic's Summer Reading Choice by the Observer
I talked to Hannah about her enduring love of the natural world, and her unusual route to publication. Read on to find out more.
The most beautiful part of your book is how you relate to birds. When did you first fall in love with them and why do you find them so captivating?
In Fledgling I explain how I moved house a lot during my childhood so the only continuity I had were the birds in each garden. As a family we would watch the birds put themselves to bed, the swifts always the last to leave the sky on summer’s evenings. So my love for birds is definitely rooted in a sense of home and family and was expanded through the magical facts that distinguish one species from the next (like how swifts fly without landing for 10 months every year).
Bourne-Taylor when she lived in Ghana
I loved the descriptions of nature you used in your book. Why do you think you are drawn so much to it and what do you think the importance of nature writing is?
What I can’t understand is why other people aren’t as drawn to nature – why aren’t we all on our hands and knees staring at something in our path? We are all surrounded by extraordinary creatures, from iridescent beetles to birds who cross continents.
The more I discover about the natural world, the more fascinated I am and through my nature writing, I’m trying to encourage people to look more closely at nature because it’s incredible. I think if we all noticed a bit more, we would care more and as Jane Goodall once said, ‘The greatest danger to our future is apathy.’ I write to showcase nature, my voice, a voice for the wild.
I was intrigued with how you used the struggles of your fledglings alongside your own struggles living in a different country. Was the idea of using the two stories together always how you wanted to write the book or was this something that emerged as you wrote it?
I wrote Fledgling to mirror what happened so my own story of self discovery had to be intertwined with both the birds.
Her book perfectly captures the fragility of both the habitat and the birds that live in it
How did you go about getting your memoir published?
I ghostwrote a bestseller first! Bit of a long way round but as any writers-yet-to-be-published will know, it is not easy.
What's the best advice you have received as a writer, or do you have any that you'd like to pass on?
All the cliched statements of advice: write what you know; show don’t tell; cut every third sentence; writing is rewriting; remember you can write absolutely anything you want to so make sure you pick the right topic for you.
Most of all, having learnt the hard way, becoming a published author is not just about whether you can write or not. This was a stumbling block for me – I was caught up on this point for a long time before I realised that the story is as important (if not more important) than the quality of writing. You could write the most beautiful sentences but unless you are writing a compelling, original, relevant story, it won’t get published.
Hannah Bourne-Taylor is a conversationalist and nature writer on a mission to engage everyone with birds for the sake of both wildlife and ourselves. She has edited and ghostwritten best selling books before her debut nature memoir Fledgling was published in April 2022. Picked as the critics choice for The Observer's summer reads, described as 'intelligent, poetic and moving', Fledgling's story went viral across the world on its release due to the extraordinary bond between Hannah and a tiny wild finch who changed her life.
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