On my father's knee I learned to read more than fifty years ago. The book I best remember from then is The Sword In The Stone
by T.H. White, the first book of what was to become White's Arthurian series The Once And Future King. Its stories of an olde England that never existed but should have were bewitching. When, for the benefit of his education, the book's hero was turned into a fish, or an owl, or a hawk, I knew how perfect an education that must be.
Later, White's The Goshawk
, a mesmerising book about a tortured man tortuously training a hawk, was published in the sage green livery of Penguin's modern classics series. You can't get that edition now, but the book is still available.
In 1980, just married, we lived on a broad regency avenue in Royal Leamington Spa. Next door was a man we called The Hawk Man, whose real name was Lorant de Bastyai. The Hawk Man's hawks could be half-seen, hooded on their perches, through the net curtains of the front room window. He would take them out in an old shooting brake with a wooden pole fitted in the back for the hawks to perch on. The Hawk Man had come from Hungary at the time of the 1956 uprising, it was said, carrying just a family painting and a trained golden eagle. He sold the painting to cover expenses, kept the bird. The Hawk Man's is a story someone should write.
Helen Macdonald's painful new, beautiful book, H Is For Hawk, about the training of a hawk and of a personal crisis, has taken me back to White, whose faltering attempts to master Gos feature heavily in Helen's chapters; and to The Hawk Man. I'm grateful to her for taking me back to those places, as well as for writing something special. It's hard to do the book justice in a few words: to call it 'nature writing' or 'the record of a spiritual journey' doesn't really help. Please just read it: it's one of those books I feel comfortable recommending to complete strangers.
Congratulations to Helen
Since we published this article, H is for Hawk has won both the Costa Book Prize and the Samuel Johnson award