As Kingfishers Catch Fire: Birds and Books is an illustrated and visually stunning exploration of birds in literature, from Ovid to Ted Hughes.
‘A magical book: an inimitable fusion of ornithology, literary anthology and autobiography’ Tom Holland
‘Delightful . . . an original look at the literature inspired by Britain’s birdlife’ the Guardian, Best Nature Books of 2017
When 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’, 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.
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.
‘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 201
Alex Preston is a bestselling and award-winning novelist, most recently of the critically-acclaimed In Love and War. He appears regularly on BBC television and radio. He writes for GQ, Harper’s Bazaar and Town & Country Magazine as well as monthly fiction reviews for the Observer. He is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Kent.
Neil Gower is a genius. It’s as simple as that. — Bill Bryson
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
Each of his 21 chapters is devoted to one species – beautifully illustrated by Neil Gower – which is helpful for those with a limited knowledge of ornithology . . . If a memorable line has been written about a bird, it is probably in this book. — the Economist
Preston weaves together his own birdwatching experience with some of the finest avian-inspired literature . . . Illustrations by the acclaimed graphic artist Neil Gower add vivid colour and verve, while dainty miniature line drawings ensure there is beauty even in the margins of this handsome book. — The Lady