Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris have begun “an even more ambitious and necessary project” than the publishing phenomenon The Lost Words for Hamish Hamilton, entitled The Book of Birds: A Field Guide to Wonder and Loss.
Scheduled for spring 2022 as “a natural successor” to The Lost Words, The Book of Birds will be “a new kind of field guide combining images and words to celebrate the nearly 70 species of birds currently in severe decline in the UK”. Like The Lost Words, which sold 116,000 copies for £1.8m, according to Nielsen BookScan, Macfarlane will write the text while Morris will create the illustrations.
Simon Prosser, publisher at Hamish Hamilton bought world rights excluding US and Canada from Jessica Woollard at David Higham Associates.
“In the context of the UN report released over the weekend showing the devastating statistics about the number of species facing threat of extinction around the world, this book is ever more urgent and necessary,” Hamish Hamilton said. “Much longer in length, but smaller in format than The Lost Words, The Book of Birds will be another glorious, full-colour production, filled with original artwork by Jackie Morris to illuminate the text by Robert Macfarlane.”
Macfarlane said: “We want to make a book that is founded in awe and that drives for change; another ‘beautiful protest’, to borrow Jackie’s memorable phrase for The Lost Words. This will be a book that speaks to the hearts of readers.”
“Britain is one of the most deforested countries in the world. More than half of the more-than-human world is slipping away in this country. Biodiversity loss is happening here, now, disastrously, on our doorstep, and yet we hardly ever see it and almost never act on it. So The Book of Birds is a field-guide for modern nature; a text that sounds a warning bell, fires a flare into the sky.”
“Birds are in calamitous decline in Britain and beyond, both in terms of population numbers and species numbers… Some of the most beloved and iconic birds of our culture, dreams and stories survive only scantly – more present now in language than in landscape.”
He added: “Rather than ‘just’ the logging and cataloguing of a standard field-guide, our Book of Birds plays with form and concept to become something with a purpose and a necessity, while still helping people to know, see and name. This is a field-guide, then, but of a very different kind to usual. It focuses eye and mind on what is ‘in flight’ in two senses of the phrase. A fieldguide to wonder – and a field guide to loss.”
Morris said: “Ever since I was a child I have loved the shape of birds, envied them their hollow bones, their flight. Birds are colour, song, feather, small wild miracles that live alongside us, even in city habitats... The flocks of birds like lapwings, that seemed so dense to me as a child, were so much less than those my father stood and watched.
"My paintings in the Book of birds will be an attempt to turn paint to poetry, to catch flight. Like The Lost Words it will be a love song to the wild world, a praise song in pigment."
She added: “Whereas in The Lost Words, it seemed the absences sang to people’s hearts, here I want to try, with paint – or ‘drawing power’ in all its senses – to pull back these species into fullness."
Since its publication in 2017, The Lost Words has struck a chord across the UK with charities, book-hops and local communities raising money to get the book into schools, hospices and care homes. There have been more than 20 successful crowdfunding campaigns across the country, including every primary school in Scotland and Wales and every hospice in the UK. The folk musical adaptation as Spell Songs was a sell-out tour, and The Lost Words will form the basis of a BBC Prom later this year.