Since Country is So Tender: The 2016 Wainwright Prize Shortlist
The past few years has seen a revolution in books celebrating the natural world. As our society inexorably seems to slide toward an artificial future shaped by the internet and the unknowable outcomes of virtual reality, our thirst for the real and the environmental only deepens.
Founded in 2014, The Wainwright Prize has grown in step with this writing renaissance. The prize – this year worth £5000 – was established by publishers Frances Lincoln and The Wainwright Society, working in association with The National Trust and sponsored by Thwaites Brewery. Last year, John Lewis-Stempel’s exceptional Meadowland triumphed over a tough field (including the all-conquering H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald) to emerge as the outright victor, setting a challenging bar for 2016’s contenders.
This morning, the shortlist for the Prize has been revealed and objectively we feel the strength of this year’s selection is simply remarkable.
Common Ground by Rob Cowen
Journalist Rob Cowen’s arresting take on the rural universe beyond his Yorkshire front door has won over a legion of fans. His style – part poetic, part entirely aware of life’s rough-hewn edges - is precisely distilled in Common Ground, Cowen’s forensic account of a single square mile of wood, hedge and river on the edge of his northern town. Framed by the birth of his own child, this edge-space becomes a sparkling mirror of his own hopes and beliefs
The Outrun by Amy Liptrot
On publication, Amy Liptrot’s almost astonishingly revealing account of addiction, loss and salvation struck a chord with many submerged by the overwhelming onrush of contemporary life. Answers of a kind were to be found on Orkney, childhood home and ultimately a millennial refuge from the nihilistic hedonism of the capital. The Outrun – a stretch of wild land on her parents’ coastal farm – becomes the hub of her world, with Liptrot charting her subsequent redemption with acute clarity.
Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane
Some thirteen years ago, Robert Macfarlane’s debut Mountains of the Mind sat at the spearhead of writing that combined inner philosophy with the external observation of the physical world, bagging a clutch of awards in the process. The utterly-absorbing Landmarks is, at its heart, a compelling glossary of natural language, a lexicon of expression that brings us ever-closer to defining and revelling in our glorious British landscape.
The Moth Snowstorm by Michael McCarthy
Long-time environment editor of the Independent, Michael McCarthy is the only journalist in its century-long history to be awarded the prestigious Medal of the RSPB. The Moth Snowstorm combines moving memoir and heartfelt polemic, drawing on our deep behavioural links with nature as an approach of ringfencing its future. Described in The Guardian as a ‘deeply troubling’ book, McCarthy sets his stall by outlining our own ignorance of natural decline, describing a Britain where birds have declined by half in just forty-five years.
The Fish Ladder by Katherine Norbury
‘Norbury is in search of a salve for the unease that stalks most of us,’ wrote Horatio Clare, reviewing the author’s debut for The Daily Telegraph. Unusual in that this is ostensibly a memoir set around the act of dealing with profound grief, in its search for self The Fish Ladder becomes a transformative text around the power of the natural world. Originally trained as an editor with the BBC, Katherine Norbury has seen her book nominated for a number of awards and claimed The Telegraph’s Best Book of the Year for 2015.
The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks
The public’s desire to reconnect with the rural landscape is perhaps no better illustrated than by the success of James Rebank’s remarkable series of Twitter dispatches from his fellside Cumbrian farm. Its subsequent transition into print swiftly became a phenomenon in its own right, with both hardback and paperback incarnations dominating our charts and giving rise to a special illustrated edition. As ‘The Herdwick Shepherd’, Rebanks’ account of a largely ancient way of life struggling to thrive in a very modern society has done much to eloquently promote its plight.