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One spring morning, a young magpie fell from its nest in a Bermondsey junkyard and landed in Charlie Gilmour's life. Abandoned by its parents, the black-and-white bird was unable to fly or even feed itself. It found an unlikely new magpie-father in Charlie, an accident-prone human as qualified for the role as a bird for babysitting.
Terrified and starving, the magpie screamed for food every twenty minutes. Raw mincemeat. Grubs. Spiders. The bird grew in strength, and by the time it was well enough to spread its wings, an unbreakable bond had been forged across species. The magpie flew away only to return – a feathered new member of the family.
Charlie didn't know it at the time, but birds like this already were part of his family. His biological father, a magician who vanished in the dead of night when Charlie was a baby, had a similar bond with a jackdaw. Jackdaws and magpies share family ties. They're both members of the crow family. Carrion kin.
This unlikely repetition of birds across time raised questions about the limits of love and whether we can ever truly escape the past.
Featherhood is the story of a love affair between a man and a magpie. It's also a story about change. From wild to tame; from sanity to madness; from life to death to birth; from freedom to captivity and back again, via an insane asylum, a prison, and a magpie's nest. Exploring the extent to which we are doomed to repeat the sins of our fathers, Featherhood is ultimately about the triumph of nurture over nature.
"[An] affecting and beautifully written memoir."
– The Bookseller, Editor's Choice
"This stunning memoir flashes with as many colours as its enchanting subject, and draws us into a world of eccentric characters impossible to predict or forget. Savage, mischievous, moving, sublime."
– Rhik Samadder, author of I Never Said I Loved You
"The best piece of nature writing since H is for Hawk, and the most powerful work of biography I have read in years. It announces Charlie Gilmour as a major new writing talent."
– Neil Gaiman
"A beautiful book, sensitive and compelling – it made me cry."
– Simon Amstell
"A wonderful, moving book. His account of raising a young magpie offers a lovely insight into this fascinating bird."
– James Macdonald Lockhart, author of Raptor
"What a book! I was entranced. A personal reckoning which is simultaneously brutal and joyous. It's full of light. I want to tell everyone about it."
– Cathy Rentzenbrink, author of The Last Act of Love
"The extraordinary story of an extraordinary family."
– Sophie Heawood, author of The Hangover Games
"A good time in a weird way – I have never read anything so filthy."
– Nell Zink, author of The Wall Creeper
"Beautiful, wise, compassionate and powerful, Featherhood is one of those rare, enchanted books that sings to the soul of what it is to be."
– Isabella Tree, author of Wilding
"A profound exploration of grief, fragmented families, nature versus nurture and whether we are doomed to repeat the sins of our fathers. But it is also a gladdening celebration of what it is to nurture and bring forth new love."
– Caroline Sanderson, Sunday Express S Magazine
"Featherhood is an incisive, funny and at times traumatic study of the damage done by destructive father-son relationships and the struggle to smash generational cycles."
– David Marsland, Evening Standard
"I loved Featherhood. About nature and growth, about belonging and not belonging, it is beautiful."
– Andrew O'Hagan, author of The Illuminations
"Utterly absorbing, astonishingly well-written, full of heart, Featherhood is the most arresting book I've read for a very long time."
– Cressida Connolly, author of After the Party
"Wonderful – I can't recommend it too highly."
– Helen Macdonald, author of H is for Hawk