Roger Deakin (1943-2006), author of the immortal Waterlog and Wildwood, was a man of unusually many parts. A born writer who nonetheless took decades to write his first book, Roger was also variously – and sometimes simultaneously – maverick ad-man, seller of stripped pine furniture on the Portobello Road, cider-maker, teacher, environmentalist, music promoter, and filmmaker. But above all he was the restorer of ancient Walnut Tree Farm in Suffolk, the heartland which he shared with a host of visitors, both animal and human, and wrote about – as he wrote about all natural life – with rare attention, intimacy, precision and poetry.
Roger Deakin was unique, and so too is this joyful work of creative biography, told primarily in the words of the subject himself, with support from a chorus of friends, family, colleagues, lovers and neighbours.
Delving deep into Roger Deakin's library of words, Patrick Barkham draws from notebooks, diaries, letters, recordings, published work and early drafts, to conjure his voice back to glorious life in these pages. To read The Swimmer is to listen in to a dream conversation between a writer and those who knew him intimately.
Patrick Barkham is the prize-winning author of five books, including The Butterfly Isles, Badgerlands and Wild Child. He is the Guardian's natural history writer, an environmental campaigner and has edited a collection of British nature writing. Like Roger Deakin, he lives in East Anglia.
"As much a biography of a generation as of an individual [...] Barkham conjures the life of the wild swimming champion and author of Waterlog in a bravura act of creative memoir [...] a rich, strange and compelling work of creative memoir that beautifully honours and elevates the life and work of its subject"
– Alex Preston, Observer
"[A] remarkable book, an extraordinary insight [...] The Swimmer is an unconventional biography of an unconventional person [...] A tapestry-like life of the influential nature writer"
– Amy-Jane Beer, Guardian
"Barkham's book succeeds in evoking a fascinating, creative, complicated man"
– Times Literary Supplement
"Reading Patrick Barkham's brilliant biography of this fascinating man, I felt both that I was meeting again the Roger Deakin I knew – and also encountering a Roger I never met [...] The narrative form Patrick has chosen allows Roger's own voice to sing through and with Patrick's – and also introduces us to a chorus of voices, memories and perspectives of those who knew Roger over the course of his wild and various life"
– Robert Macfarlane
"Vivid [...] a magical kind of post-mortem autobiography [...] The Swimmer is a wonderful testament to a unique and very charming man"
– Daily Mail
"Deakin was an extraordinary man in an extraordinary moment"
"A long-awaited biography of the late, great writer, environmentalist and moat-dipper [...] This is a mightily accomplished biography [...] a skilful piece of theatre"
– Sue Brooks, Caught by the River