Aye Write, 2015. John Lister-Kaye – review by Maggie Graham.

Chaired by Jim Crumley.

Sir John Lister-Kaye is one of Britain’s best-known nature conservationists. The author of nine books on wildlife and the environment, which include From The hearth, Nature’s Child and At The Water’s Edge and his latest; Gods of The Morning: A Birds Eye View Of A Highland Year, which is set in and around Aigas Highland Field centre, which he runs. He began by telling us of his various struggles with his publisher over this latest book. This was to be purely a bird book, because “nature writing doesn’t sell”.  His readership, used to his first-person, anecdotal style, would not read about more serious topics, such as climate change and environmentalism.

His readings and conversation did deal with birds but also the ways he managed to get into other subjects, such as his pet dogs and various visitors to the field centre. He put his audience at ease, and it did feel like sitting at the fireside with a wee dram, in conversation with an old friend. Until, that is, he opened his mouth and put his foot right in it. In the midst of a tale of birds destroying other birds’ nests and attacking them, he said: “I mean these birds were thugs, gangsters, just like Glaswegians.” Stony silence. He then compounded matters “Oh, I shouldn’t have said that: when I leave I’ll find my tyres have been slashed.” Oh, how we laughed.

Sir John rapidly gained ground by being erudite and informative. He talked of the American Transcendentalists, wilderness writing, the Romantic poets in England, including Wordsworth and his sister Dot (as if he were and old family friend of Dorothy’s) He also spoke of his relationship with his friend and mentor Gavin Maxwell, who encouraged him to become a writer. It was only during audience questions that we saw the serious side to the author and his work. He spoke of his parents and his early career, climate change and environmental disasters in his lifetime, including the Tory Canyon.

I am a great fan of the man’s books and the event was very informative and enjoyable. However, I fear it may be some time before he lives down that terrible faux pas.

Review by Maggie Graham, April 22, 2015

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This section: Aye Write! Glasgow's Book Festival 2015, Books, Talks, Poetry and Creative Writing Events, Maggie Graham's Page

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