It all began a few years ago with me wondering whether on leaving full time employment with Greenpeace it was time to write a book as some people have suggested I should. But what to write about? To write convincingly, you write about the things you love and I wanted to stay put, having spent way too much of the previous two decades in airport lounges and anonymous meeting rooms dotted around the globe, I wanted to write about Herefordshire, the countryside shaped by the generations that have lived and worked the land, its wildlife. The growing popularity of nature writing hadn’t escaped my notice, so it might even be viable. I even got as far as sketching out a plan which included a chapter that would be about the return of otters to our rivers - the Wye, the Lugg, the Frome, the Arrow and Monnow. It would be an excuse to walk their banks and talk to interesting people along the way and I could expound on the impact that reading Tarka the Otter had on me as a boy and the similar joy and trauma of watching the film of Ring of Bright Water in Tonbridge cinema way back when. However, it was a daydream because I know writing is hard work and takes discipline and I had lots of other competing things to do with the time that suddenly seemed in short supply despite not having a proper job. And so the plan languished in the pile of papers on my desk and then one evening a ‘Recommended just for you message’ pinged in my email box suggesting I might enjoy Otter Country by Miriam Darlington. I clicked on the thumbnail of the cover and read the blurb. Oh dear, I’d been pipped to the post this Miriam Darlington had written an entire book around the same themes I had sketched for a chapter in my unlikely to be ever written book. With a little indignation I called into the kitchen that my idea wasn’t my idea any longer. “Well if you snooze, you lose,” was the not-altogether-supportive response from my beloved. Then a minute later “Are you going to read it then?”
“I might,” I responded somewhat grouchily.
Fast forward a few weeks, I am sitting in the office and I am logging a tweet that I have written get retweeted. I am all a bit new to it and still a little engaged with this newish communication tool when I see it has been retweeted by Miriam Darlington. I know that name, I know that name I think to myself and then realise it is ‘Otter Woman’! For I am at that point reading her beautiful book in the full knowledge that I could never write something so beautiful. This said, I am not beyond sending her a note to say, she’d pipped me to the post and that I was somewhat envious. Miriam courteously replied and pointed out that given my work, there was probably more than enough material to work with to write a book of my own if I really wanted to.
Stephanie Cross reviewed Otter Country for the Telegraph (no of course I don’t but my Dad does) and this is how she summed it up:
‘Darlington is an immediately companionable presence. She forces herself to watch the gory bits from Silent Witness in preparation for an otter autopsy at Cardiff University; she stands for hours in freezing water, having first insulated her feet with foil. Her prose is deeply felt, attentive and intensely atmospheric but, unlike a few of her new nature writer peers, never affected or self-conscious. There is a luminous sketch of St Ives Bay, gleaming “as if the sky has fallen to earth and poured brilliance all over the sand”. And as for the otters themselves, they resemble a “pretzel of fur”. Every bit as captivating as its subject, this is a book that, in the best way, leaves you longing for more.’ It’s true, you don’t need to be told Miriam Darlington is a prize-winning poet, the language has a magic not unlike the animals themselves.
Owl Sense, her follow-up is sitting on the bookshelf and I am waiting for the time I can settle down with it, knowing full-well that Miriam will be able to convey things about owls that I feel but would never be able to put into words.