Melinda Salisbury on Finding Inspiration and The Importance of Fantasy Worlds

Sorrow Ventaxis was born from a line in a Florence and the Machine song. It began in 2015, when I was supposed to be working on the sequel to The Sin Eater’s Daughter. I’d gone away on a trip to Croatia to visit a walled city as part of the research for it, and while I was there, I’d taken a side trip to Mostar, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, for a couple of days. While I’d been there, a local tour guide had told me a story about the bridge there, and it fascinated me. So much, that when I ate my lunch, overlooking the bridge, I started to sketch my own version of the story out. But I didn’t have a character for that story, or any idea what would happen next, so I put it aside, and carried on writing The Sleeping Prince.

When I’m trying to puzzle things out, I go for a walk, and listen to music, and I was doing that, trying to unknot a plot problem. While I was walking, my IPod started playing a song from How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, Florence and the Machine’s 2015 album and I was pulled out of my thoughts by a particular line ‘Oh the Queen of Peace, always does her best to please, but is it any use? Somebody’s gotta lose…’

I restarted the song, and listened to it properly, and by the end I knew who the queen of peace was, and how she related to the bridge that had haunted me since I’d seen it. The opening of the song talks about a king who has gone mad with grief because he lost his son, and as I walked the whole story spun itself in my head – a girl who wasn’t wanted, trying her best to prove her worth by fixing the mistakes of her grief-addled father. A girl who knew she had a job to do but was terrified that she was cursed and could only ever make things worse. Sorrow’s name was taken from the song, from the line ‘Sorrow that you keep’, and the curse that’s laid on Sorrow when she’s born, and that haunts her throughout her life is a homage to that line.

Sorrow – for that is all she brings us.

At first I thought Sorrow’s world was going to be a kingdom – it was what I knew, from writing my previous books. But because of the global state of the world, politics kept creeping in, and I realised quite quickly that if Sorrow had a fight on her hands for her place in that world, then an election was even more exciting than just a ‘rightful heir’ scenario. I built the world around her the way I always do – from the ground up. I took my cues from the way Sorrow looked in my mind – my stories never begin until I have the character, and so far they’ve always been hyper-realised in my imagination. I could see Sorrow had bronzed skin, dark haired and eyed, and so I knew she lived in temperate place; somewhere warm all year round, the houses would be thick walled and one storey to help keep them cool.

I also knew I didn’t want to write in a pseudo-medieval secondary world again – I wanted something a little more modern, so I could write more diversely. I think especially when you write fantasy you have to be aware just how much you’re asking an audience to suspend their disbelief – I feel asking them to imagine too much pulls them from a story, and for me the easiest way to ground it is to keep the basics close to what we know. So I tend to use real-world geography, climate and natural features to do that. And I also pick an approximate real-world time period to give the technology of the world a relatable baseline, too. I settled on early-Victorian as a historic baseline, mostly because of Queen Victoria herself, and her attitude towards grieving after Albert died. It meant I could include things like universities, ballets, wheeled chairs, spectacles, and gas lamps without asking the reader to place them in an unfamiliar setting, or jarring them from the world. I’d rather save the heavy-lifting imaging for things like the magic system of the book – which in this series is tied to nature.

I think we need fantasy more than ever. We live in a time where the answer for everything lies at our fingertips – almost any question can be answered by the Internet – and yet I’ve never felt so uncertain about mine, or the planets, future. All the knowledge available can’t make these times any less frightening or confusing, so having books – especially fantasy fiction – to retreat to feels like a sanctuary. It’s somewhere I can go and the world is a little simpler, despite usually being more impossible. In a fantasy world you rarely have to guess who the monsters are, because they’re clearly monsters – unlike in the real world where our monsters look like we do. I also especially feel fantasy for young adults is a place they can go and see their peers fighting evil regimes, overcoming ogres and nightmares, taking power and control of their own lives, which isn’t something easily achieved in our world. But maybe if they read enough fantasy books, they’ll become real-world heroes and heroines too, and save us from ourselves. Let’s face it, right now we really need it.

Why it’s important for kids to see themselves in books – Hayley Scott

Why it’s important for kids to see themselves in books

How important is it to see ourselves in stories? To see people, or families like ours in stories? For me, I never realised quite how important it was until my daughter, aged 3, asked me why none of her favourite books had ‘people like us,’ in them. When I asked her what she meant, she said, ‘A mum and a kid, living together. And a dad who’s lovely too, but just lives somewhere else.’

She pointed to the Gruffalo’s Child as one she identified with – a little girl and her dad in cave, she said they were like her and her dad and she liked it. Even though she didn’t live with him, it made her feel good to see a story about the relationship between a dad and a daughter where it was obvious the two loved each other, and there was adventure.

‘You should write one about a mum and daughter who live in a house in the country like us.’ So, I did.

I’ve been writing a long time. I’m 40. I decided to write seriously when I was still at primary school and wrote a book called, ‘The Girl with The Golden Hair’ about a girl whose reflection climbed out of the mirror at night and got up to all sorts of adventures. I wrote my first (awful) novel at 19. In my mid twenties I left a town/life/life I loved to go to UEA and do the MA in Creative Writing, instead of continuing with a budding career in magazines. I’ve put a lot of time and thought into stories. I didn’t know how not to.

Stories are the way we make sense of the world. Stories fill in the gaps and make our imagination overflow. Stories are the voices in our head made real. They’re not just in books. They are everywhere.

But. The chance to write something that would last, that my daughter could read when she was grown up, when I myself might not be around anymore, that showed a mum and daughter living happily together felt different, it felt utterly right to me. I remember somebody saying to me, ‘That poor girl,’ in the street about her dad and I not being together, and me looking at her, bright, happy, knowing both her parents loved her, and thinking, ‘I’d love it if people stopped automatically looking at separated parents, single parents, different family shapes as somehow ‘less’, somehow something to feel sorry about.’

I realised that really mattered to me.

Anyway. I’ve thought about it a lot since my daughter said what she did. Everybody deserves to see themselves in stories. We all need to do more to make sure everybody does.

The family shape ISN’T the story. Stories happen in all households. That’s what matters to me. Showing that, then getting on with the adventures. Imagination. Hope. Silliness. Bravery. The ability to find the bright bits of life, without pretending the dark bits don’t exist. Stories about the thrill and colour of every day magic. I just feel so lucky to have the opportunity to put that all into these books, and to see Pippa Curnick make such beautiful pictures from my words.

Christmas Poems

Christmas Poems

For me, the greatest gift of the Christmas season is time to read. The offices and schools are closed. The weather is often appalling. The nights are long and dark and seem designed expressly for the purpose of snuggling under a blanket on the sofa with the tree lights twinkling, a glass of something tempting within easy reach and a great big pile of delicious-smelling, beautiful new books. I have small children now, so it’s more of a challenge to find uninterrupted reading time, and I’ve found myself turning more and more frequently to poetry. Unlike a novel, I can easily slip reading a poem into the brief pockets of calm bought with a new colouring book or puzzle. Here are some of my festive favourites – all would make great gifts, too.

Never has the exhilaration of whirling about on ice-skates been better captured than by Wordsworth, in a breathless and beautiful section of ‘The Prelude’ which I included in my second anthology, Tyger Tyger Burning Bright. I speak as a clumsy person, whose few attempts at skating have resulted in the kind of falls that elicit audible gasps from witnesses and some truly spectacular bruising. If Wordsworth can fill me with the desire to sail across frozen lakes under a wide wintry night sky, he can inspire anyone.

The Journey of the Magi can be found in this beautiful edition of selected T. S. Eliot poems (if, like me, you are a fetishist for stylish endpapers, this volume won’t disappoint.) It has an eerie, cold magic to it, perfect for reading and chewing over on a bitter winter’s night.

I love Betjeman’s ‘Christmas’, with its evocation of the pull of family (‘And girls in slacks remember Dad,/And oafish louts remember Mum’) and the seasonal cheer infecting everyone everywhere – from ‘provincial public houses’ to ‘many-steepled London’. Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Oxen’ perfectly captures how some scrap of childhood magic can cling to Christmas Eve and the vision of the nativity no matter what age we are. On a melancholy note, ‘Blue’, from Di Slaney’s recent collection Reward for Winter, is a moving reminder that Christmas can be an agonising time for some.

A contemporary poem I’ve recently discovered and enjoyed is one for the festive refuseniks: ‘Bah… Humbug’ by Gregory Woods. I love the jolly chaos of a family Christmas – but I can’t deny the allure of a solitary, batteries-not-included celebration with ‘books to the left of you,/gin to the right’. This poem is part of Christmas Crackers, a pamphlet designed to be sent instead of a greetings card – perfect if you’d like to say something more substantial than ‘Season’s greetings’.

I bought this edition of ‘The Night Before Christmas’ a few years ago and am frankly delighted that my four year old insists on hearing it all year old. Clement C Moore’s poem is a nostalgic delight and the gorgeous, admirably sturdy pop-up illustrations are magical. Due to our – frequently unseasonal – repeated readings, I am now word perfect. This confers an additional advantage: I can name all the reindeer (and, no, Rudolf doesn’t feature) and am therefore a splendid addition to any Christmas pub quiz team. Moore was a slightly unlikely Christmas poet, being an academic whose other works were heavy tomes on Hebrew. Legend has it that he composed this, his only famous poem, to entertain his children during a sleigh ride through Greenwich Village on Christmas Eve 1822, basing jolly St Nicholas on their coachman. I hope it’s true.

Whatever you do at Christmas and wherever you are, I wish you happy reading. May your stocking be full of books and your cheeseboard always groaning.

Ana Sampson is the editor of five poetry anthologies including I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, Poems to Learn by Heart and, her latest, Best-Loved Poems. She works as a freelance publicist and copywriter and tweets as @Anabooks.

 

5 Amazing Christmas Lecture facts About the Natural World

5 Amazing Christmas Lecture facts about the natural world

The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures have become a Christmas institution themselves, as much a part of the festivities as mince pies and the Queen’s speech. Each year, a prominent scientist steps up to deliver a series of lectures on his or her specialist topic, with the aim of enthusing a young audience – both the lucky ones who have seats in the Royal Institution’s famous Lecture Theatre, and everyone else glued to their TVs at home.

While I was researching and writing 11 Explorations into life on earth I uncovered a treasure-trove of fascinating facts delivered by the Christmas Lecturers who over the last century have focused on the natural world. Here are my top five:

  1. Lemurs fight with smelly tails

When Sir David Attenborough gave the Christmas Lectures in 1973, one of his favourite animal guests was quite obviously a ring-tailed lemur called Tammy. Attenborough cuddles the adorable lemur while explaining to the audience how in the wild, in Madagascar, this species will rub their tails over a scent gland on their wrists. Opponents then flick their pongy tails at each other, wafting the stink in battles over territories.

Attenborough filled his lectures with a parade of other animals, not all of which participated as he had hoped; his fear of misbehaving animals almost put him off doing the lectures at all, which were broadcast live on TV (nowadays they’re pre-recorded). In the end, there were only a few hiccups, including the porcupine who wouldn’t come out of its box and the chicks that ignored Attenborough’s recordings of mother hen clucks. 

  1. Dinosaurs used to live in Antarctica

2004 Christmas Lecturer, Professor Lloyd Peck from the British Antarctic Survey transported his audience to the frozen continent at the bottom of the world, revealing the wonders of life that survive in the coldest place on earth. Today, Antarctica is covered in 30 million cubic kilometres of ice, weighing 30 quadrillion tonnes. But it hasn’t always been that way.

Peck brings out the skull of a three-foot dinosaur that roamed around Antarctic forests 75 million years ago. Back then, the southern continent was still attached to South America and a warm ocean current swept down the coast stopping Antarctica from freezing. When South America drifted away, it left behind an isolated land that grew colder and colder. Now, Peck warns, Antarctica is warming up again, faster than anywhere else on the planet, thanks to effects of human-induced climate change.

  1. There’s no such thing as an exploding beetle

In 1991, Richard Dawkins was the first RI Christmas Lecturer to tackle the topic of evolution. In his usual confrontational style, he doesn’t pull his punches and takes on the creationists who hold up certain animals as proof against evolution.

The bombardier beetle has the extraordinary habit of squirting boiling hot, corrosive liquid jets at their enemies. They do so by combining two different chemicals inside their abdomens. Only a divine creator – so the creationists say – could make a beetle that doesn’t blow itself up; it can’t have gradually evolved, but needs all the necessary equipment to prevent a dangerous accident to be in place from the start.

Dawkins delights the audience by mixing together various combinations of these dangerous chemicals in front of them. He shows that bit-by-bit he can produce hotter, more impressive reactions, with stronger and stronger chemicals, until the lecture room is full of steam. The beetle, he says, could quite feasibly have evolved through the gradual steps of evolution.

  1. Plants scream for help

In only the second botanical Christmas Lectures since their inception in 1825, Professor Sue Hartley introduces her audience in 2011 to the incredible war that’s been raging between animals and plants for 300-million years. Animals eat plants, and plants have evolved ingenious ways of getting their own back.

To demonstrate many wonders of plant-animal interactions, Hartley brings out a string of models including Kenny the caterpillar. She invites an eager member of the audience to come and help her; he pulls off Kenny’s head, reaches inside and brings out a handful of nasty goo and some grubs, laid by a parasitic wasp.

When plants are chomped by caterpillars they release an airborne chemical siren, calling for help from parasites that fly in and attack the herbivores. Parasitic wasps usually only lay eggs in a particular kind of caterpillar, so plants customise their messages accordingly, and send out an SOS to summon the right sort of wasp.

  1. Deep sea squid species were discovered in whale vomit

In his 1937 Christmas Lectures, Sir Julian Huxley (former secretary of London Zoo and co-founder of the World Wildlife Fund) talked about rare and disappearing wildlife. He told a story of the Prince of Monaco, a keen zoologist, who was sailing his yacht when he encountered a group of whalers killing a sperm whale (this was back at a time when commercial whaling was still legal). The harpooned whale coughed up a ball of partially digested food, which the prince gladly scooped up from the sea. Examining the vomit, scientists discovered two species of squid that were new to science.

Huxley delivered powerful conservation messages to his young audience, long before such ideas were mainstream. He warned against the greedy misuse of wildlife, including crocodiles for their skin to make shoes and butterflies to make into colourful jewellery. He even showed a film of seal pups in Canada being clubbed to death for their white, fluffy fur. Huxley also introduced various solutions to these problems, such as persuading hunters to stop killing animals for sport and the need for setting up more wildlife reserves.

11 Explorations into Life on Earth by Helen Scales is published by Michael O’Mara.

The 2017 Christmas Lectures by the Royal Institution, presented by neuroscientist Professor Sophie Scott, will be broadcast on BBC Four in late December, produced by Windfall Films.

 

10 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About The Suffragettes

Author Sally Nicholls

When I started writing Things a Bright Girl Can Do, a young adult novel about three teenage girls and the Suffragette movement, I knew little about the Suffragettes beyond what I was taught at school. These are some of the things I learnt as I researched . . .

  1. There was no such thing as a single ‘suffrage movement’. Like the environmental movement, it was made up of lots of smaller organisations. Some were local groups like the East London Federation of the Suffragettes, some religious like the Friends’ League for Women’s Suffrage, while others were organised by profession like the Actors Franchise League. More militant groups were generally members of Emmeline Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union, while those who preferred peaceful methods generally joined Millicent Fawcett’s National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.
  1. The colours of the WSPU were green, white and violet – which stood for Get Women Votes.
  1. Suffragettes weren’t all white and middle-class – although Emmeline Pankhurst preferred to recruit from the middle-classes as she thought educated women with time on their hands made better soldiers. East End women and Lancashire mill-girls were some of the most active Suffragettes, however, as were women like Princess Sophia Duleep Singh. In 1920, Sylvia Pankhurst hired Britain’s first black journalist, Claude McKay, to work for The Worker’s Dreadnought, (formerly the Suffragette newspaper The Women’s Dreadnought.)
  1. Suffrage campaigners weren’t all women either. There was even a Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage who participated in many marches and rallies. Famous male suffrage supporters include HG Wells, George Bernard Shaw and the Labour MP Keir Hardy.
  1. Modern feminism tends to concentrate on the ways in which men and women are similar, but Edwardians saw men and women as very different creatures. Men were more rational, more brave, but also more impulsive and less morally steadfast – women were encouraged to forgive drunk husbands, for example, because they ‘couldn’t help it’. Women were more timid and weaker physically, but they were also angels of patience, virtue and negotiation. Men argued that it wasn’t fair to taint these saintly figures by allowing them into the rough-house world of politics. Women argued that if they really were so steadfast, virtuous and good at finding peaceful solutions to problems, why the hell wouldn’t you want them to have political power?
  1. You might have heard that women were given the vote as a ‘thank you’ for their war work. This, however, simply isn’t true. It was already clear in 1914 that women had won their battle – the only thing left was for the government to find a way to concede without looking weak. The war provided that. Under previous legislation, men had to be resident in Britain for the twelve months before an election in order to vote, a law which disenfranchised most of the armed forces. Since it was clear that the law would have to be changed, giving women the vote as a ‘thank you’ was simply a way of saving face.
  1. In fact, many Suffragettes were vehemently anti-war. Emmeline Pankhurst came out very early on in favour of the war, as, somewhat reluctantly, did Millicent Fawcett. However, one of the tenets of the movement was that once women got the vote there would be no more war, as women would never vote to send their sons to be slaughtered. Many suffrage campaigners felt betrayed by Pankhurst and particularly by Fawcett, and many resigned their membership in protest.
  1. The International Woman Suffrage Alliance did more than just campaign against the war. They organised a Women’s Peace Congress in 1915, with representatives from neutral countries and all countries involved in the war. Over 200 women from Britain were supposed to attend – but the British government cancelled all North Sea shipping to prevent it. The women who attended the conference arranged meetings with government representatives up to and including Woodrow Wilson. The warring nations agreed that – in principle – they would try to negotiate a peace if a neutral nation would facilitate and Sweden agreed – in principle – that they would. Sadly, however, nothing came of it.
  1. The Suffragettes had many grand ideas about what would happen when women began using their vote. Equal pay rights for men and women! Pensions for spinsters! Old age pensions for all! State orphanages! Financial support for carers and parents! Divorced women to have the right to see their child, and even retain custody! Reading it now, they sound like fantasists. Except . . .
  1. . . . In the hundred years since women gained the right to vote, every one of those predictions have come true.

Bill’s Blog – Come on Chelsea!!!

How well I recall my first visit to The Chelsea Flower Show. As I was leaving ,a young lady from local radio stuck a microphone in my face and asked me : “So was this your first time?” Yes, I replied. “And what did you think? Just a quick comment”. Not enough gnomes I said firmly. “Seriously? “ Yes, absolutely. I didn’t see a single gnome. At first I thought maybe Chelsea didn’t go in for bad taste and silliness, but I soon realized that wasn’t the case at all. For a start, if you want a good giggle just clock some of the ridiculous hats women wear. I presume they only get worn twice a year : Chelsea and Ascot , and a Royal Garden party if they are invited, as I assume most of them are. No doubt they would consider garden gnomes to be cheap and vulgar. Maybe traditional gnomes are banned ,from Chelsea, but this doesn’t mean that so are all manner of humanoid garden creatures. Some are inoffensive. Some are hideous. None of them are cheap.

Gnome corner. No vacancies

Bill Oddie with his pet owl

Dunnock perched on Purple Heron – a frequent sight in my [Bill’s] garden.

In recent years, gnomes have been usurped by woodland folk such as faeries- with an e to denote that they are magical- pixies, nymphs, goblins and sprites. The standard type wears tights, a Peter Pan jerkin, and a perky little cap with a feather , so twee that even Robin Hood would be embarrassed to be seen out in it. Most of them have an expression on their faces that I expect purports to be cheeky or mischievous, but is in fact more of a lascivious leer. Presumably their ardour is directed at females of their kind, though it seems that all pixies, goblins and sprites are male, whilst all the females seem to be faeries- or fairies if you prefer. Come to think of it ,I have never ever seen a lady gnome. Presumably it is all done by magic.

Actually ,it is all done by “craft” companies, who constantly wrack their brains to come up with this years hot ornamental garden creature.  They have of course taken a frightful bashing from Meercats. I am in fact a considerable aficionado of fake garden animals, but I have very strict rules. Principally, that they have to be realistic and really do look like they are supposed to. A rummage through my new book will reveal much much more about the menagerie I have accumulated.  There are some really accurate resin creatures, ranging from a  piglet to a gorilla (neither fully grown).  The best ones are almost exclusively made by a company called Vivid , who no doubt exhibit at all the big flower shows. Moreover, they are by no means exorbitantly pricey, which cannot be said about many of  the work on show, which would have to be carved from gold to justify their price tags. The amazing thing is that at Chelsea there will be people who can afford to buy them.

There are some people who would consider contorted creatures fashioned from copper, tin cans or scrap metal to be art. And some of it certainly is . However, surely no one could claim the same about the ‘comical captions’ section that delights those who have a sharp and eloquent sense of humour. Oscar Wilde would have been jealous. “ Never mind the dog, beware the husband.” “ Or beware of the wife.” “ It’s a bad day, piss off.”  (Wow that’s a clever one.) “ I am down the pub”. Why is that funny? “ Gone hunting” I am reporting that one to the League against cruel sports).At least they are cheap, in both senses.

But surely -you may be wondering – I do have a browse round the flowers? I do, but only outdoors. The massive marquees give me claustrophobia , and the flower displays look like a massive funeral parlour. I far prefer gazing at the “wildflower” gardens ,which happily seem to improve and multiply each year. Natural colours are delightful ,so why on earth is it becoming a fashion to spray blooms in your flower bed to change their colour!. My  wife recently came home with a large hydrangea and a spray can of flower paint to enhance its natural pink! Heathers and rushes seem to be popular targets in parks and flower shows. The natural purple of wild heather looks wonderful, spray it gold or silver and it looks ridiculous.

I don’t know if this little piece -or my book -is helpful or a  harangue . The fact is, the only rule about my gardens has been ‘anything goes ‘. My only advice is”Do your own thing.”

Bill Oddie OBE

 

Nature’s Party Starts Here – by Author Mark Ward

Mark Ward, author of Wildlife on Your Doorstep published by Reed New Holland this spring, reveals the wildlife delights you can find close to home this spring.

After a sluggish start in March, nature moves into top gear in the months of April and May. Spring has well and truly sprung and all manner of birds, bees, bugs and beasts, many fresh from hibernation, parade their finest colours and set about finding a mate. It is a riot of colour and activity and the great news is you don’t need to travel far to get in on the action.

Frogs are back in ponds in spring and looking for love (Image by Mark Ward)

You can find hundreds of different species within walking distance of your home. All you need to do is to get out there and get looking and listening!

Feel the buzz
Start in your garden where many insects are looking for nectar as flowers burst into bloom. Queen bumblebees are busy looking for places to set up a new colony after spending the winter months hibernating underground.

You could find half a dozen species of bumblebee in your borders in spring alongside marmalade hoverflies (image by Mark Ward).

It’s not just the bumblebees that are on the wing though – there are around 270 species of bee in the UK and dozens of species live in gardens.

Leafcutter bees reveal their presence by leaving perfect semicircles cut out of leaves and use the sections they carry off to seal their nest chambers.

Solitary bees excavate tunnels in soft ground at the edge of your paths, patio and flowerbeds. Look out for tiny holes suddenly appearing, fresh excavations and the inhabitants coming and going. Mini bumblebee-lookalikes include the Tawny Mining Bee and the wonderfully-named Hairy-footed Flower Bee.

The number of butterflies increases dramatically as April progresses. My favourite is the gorgeous male Orange-tip. It is a white butterfly and has the brightest orange tips to its forewings and a mossy-green pattern on its hindwings.

The Brimstone butterfly (below) might be your first of the year though. If ever a creature lived up to its name, this butterfly does it with its bright butter colours that leave you in no doubt that spring, and warmer weather, is here!

Will your first butterfly of the year be a beautiful brimstone? (image by Mark Ward)

Back from Africa
Garden birds have laid claim to any nestboxes you have and many migrants, fresh back from a winter in Africa. Watch for white-rumped House Martins from around mid-April, but the all black, screaming Swifts won’t appear until a month later.

The dawn chorus peaks in late April and early May when the voices of the Cuckoo, warblers including the Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler, and many other African migrants join your resident songsters.

It’s also the time to start looking for baby animals with Fox cubs to be found from April and Badger cubs appearing above ground in May.

Wildlife on Your Doorstep by Mark Ward is published by New Holland Publishers and is available at Hive.

A Badger literally on my doorstep on a May evening (Image by Mark Ward).

This extract from Wildlife on Your Doorstep captures one of my most magical spring moments.

Diary Notes: 30th May – We have Badgers!

Nine in the evening and Springwatch had finished on TV, filling me with inspiration about the wildlife-watching season ahead. With a good hour’s daylight left, I went into the garden to gaze over the hedge into the field, hoping to see an owl. In one of the moments when you sense rather than see, I turned my head left to see a low-slung shape, blazing black and white stripes on its head, barrelling up the field edge, before scurrying into the hedge surrounding the garden next to ours. I wanted that garden to be ours more than anything at that moment. We have Badgers.

The next night I hopped over the fence to put out food on the track next to our hedge. I picked up a bag of dog biscuits from the supermarket, a bit worried that my choice of the cheapest range of biscuits might attract some disapproving glances from pet owners.

I eagerly waited, watching those biscuits, but nothing came. The following night, the sound of crunching as soon as I stepped outside saw me approaching the hedge with the lightest footsteps I think I’ve ever made. I’d done it – a Badger was feeding there. It immediately accepted me watching from eight feet away hidden behind the privet hedge and hardly daring to breathe. It stayed for 10 minutes, enough time to gobble the lot before turning and scurrying off back up the path.