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.
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.
"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 2017
"Alex Preston, better known for his novels, joined forces with artist Neil Gower to produce the delightful As Kingfishers Catch Fire, an original look at the literature inspired by Britain's birdlife."
– Guardian Best Nature Books of 2017
"A magical book: an inimitable fusion of ornithology, literary anthology and autobiography."
– Tom Holland
"Neil Gower is a genius. It's as simple as that."
– Bill Bryson
"It's a luminous book. The glow will stay with me. I cried. The book is worthy of birds, and I know no higher praise."
– Charles Foster
"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
"His pages light up with feathered magic"
– Evening Standard
"Preston's book is less a polemic on conservation than a plea for close looking and close listening. He believes, with Gerard Manley Hopkins (from whom he takes his title), that the world is charged with grandeur – the world of birds especially – and that our lives are the richer when we attend to that grandeur. "What thou art we know not," Shelley tells his skylark, but some of the greatest poems in the language have come from the effort to find out."
– the Guardian
"The cover, in the colours of a kingfisher's breast and wing, and endpapers are gorgeous, and Neil Gower's illustrations are bright and chirping. I can see it under the Christmas tree of every family with a bird feeder and a copy of the RSPB Handbook [...] Preston captures his birds beautifully."
"Preston enlivens his narrative with anecdotes that persistently make you want to find out more"
– Sunday Times
"[...] The book is in 21 short sections, each based on a single species and the varying inspirations it has brought for previous authors, Ted Hughes, Mary Oliver and Kathleen Jamie to the fore, and, through them, for Preston himself. The style seems fey at first and the self-referencing somewhat clumsy, but the form is potent. Each section, from Peregrine to Peacock, Robin to Wren, is illustrated by the artist, Neil Gower. These pictures, most intensely of Swift (above right) and Waxwing, are alone worth the price of a book beautifully presented in matt orange cloth. [...]"
– Peter Stothard, Financial Times (2017-07-08)