H is for Hawk wins the Costa book of the year

H is for hawkHelen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk has won the Costa book of the year award worth  £30,000. The biography had already won the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction in November.

‘In real life, goshawks resemble sparrowhawks the way leopards resemble housecats. Bigger, yes, and also bulkier, bloodier, deadlier, scarier, and much, much harder to see. Birds of deep woodland, not gardens, they’re the birdwatchers’ dark grail.’

As a child Helen Macdonald was determined to become a falconer. She learned the arcane terminology and read all the classic books, including T.H. White’s tortured masterpiece, ‘The Goshawk’, which describes White’s struggle to train a hawk as a spiritual contest. When her father dies and she is knocked sideways by grief, she becomes obsessed with the idea of training her own goshawk. She buys Mabel on a Scottish quayside and takes her home to Cambridge. This book is a record of a spiritual journey – an unflinchingly honest account of Macdonald’s struggle with grief during the difficult process of the hawk’s taming and her own untaming.

Novelist Robert Harris, chair of the judging panel, said: “It was brilliantly written, muscular prose and staring at grief with the unblinking eye of a hawk. It was a very clever, accomplished bit of writing that wove everything together. H is for Hawk has already had great success and has been acknowledged as a modern classic,” Mr Harris said. Several of the judges “felt very passionately it was a book that haunted them and they would never forget it”.

Congratulations to @HelenJMacdonald for Samuel Johnson prize

H IS FOR HAWK / HELEN MACDONALD 9780224097000Helen Macdonald has won the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction worth £20,000 with her wonderful book H is For Hawk. It is the first time a memoir has won the award.  Shortlisted books  here.

Claire Tomalin, chair of the judges (MP Alan Johnson, Financial Times books editor Lorien Kite, philosopher Ray Monk and historian Ruth Scurr), said Macdonald ‘s book was “unlike any other”. She also said: “Congratulations to Helen Macdonald, who has written a book unlike any other, about an obsession with a wild creature, brought to life in prose sometimes technical and always striking, and set in English landscapes observed with a visionary eye. Writing about wild life and the environment has never been better or better informed than this.”

H is For Hawk tells the story of how the death of Macdonald’s father triggered her to follow a childhood dream and become a falconer, obsessed with the idea of training her own goshawk. It is also a biography of the troubled novelist T H White, author of The Goshawk, in which he describes his own struggle to train a hawk.