A story about the relationship between nature and the British soldiers of the Great War has won the £5,000 Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize.
It is the second time that John Lewis-Stempel has been honoured with the award after first claiming it in 2015 for Meadowland: the Private Life of an English Field (Black Swan).
On Thursday (3rd August) his Where Poppies Blow – The British Soldier, Nature, The Great War (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) was revealed as the winner by prize judge Matt Baker at the National Trust Theatre at BBC Countryfile Live in Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, at the end of a public event celebrating nature writing and the Wainwright Prize shortlist.
It includes poems, extracts from letters, field notes and diary entries and has been described by chair of Judges Julia Bradbury as “destined to be a modern classic”.
“(It is) an extraordinary book about the healing power and resilience of nature in the darkest of times,” Bradbury said. “Beautifully written and profoundly moving it is a reminder of the atrocities of war but John Lewis- Stempel cleverly weaves in the story of the animals and wildlife that survive, die and thrive alongside the men and women who lost their lives.”
In the title Lewis-Stempel suggests that the relationship Great War soldiers had to nature was of profound importance, because it goes a long way to explaining why the soldiers fought, and how they found the will to go on.
The author beat off competition from shortlisted titles Wild Kingdom by Stephen Moss, The Wild Other by Clover Stroud, The January Man by Christopher Somerville, Love of Country by Madeleine Bunting and The Otters’ Tale by Simon Cooper. He also had another of his own titles on the shortlist, doubling his chances of winning: The Running Hare.
Organisers of the prize praised its backing from the trade, especially from independent booksellers, which they said has been “particularly vocal and active in their support”.
Ros Ephraim from Burway Books, Shropshire, said: “The Wainwright Prize gives a higher profile to books celebrating the diversity of the natural world. Our display of shortlisted titles has been popular in helping customers to discover these authors and we are delighted to have introduced them to some of the best nature writing around.”
While Waterstones buyer Bea Carvalho added: “Over the last few years the quality of publishing in the nature writing genre has been extremely strong, and The Wainwright Prize shortlists have thoughtfully highlighted the very best of each year’s crop.”