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Desert Island Discs

Helen Macdonald, writer and naturalist

Description

Helen Macdonald is a writer and naturalist who is best known as the author of H is for Hawk which won the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize and the Costa Book Award, and topped the sales charts. The book chronicles her experiences training a goshawk called Mabel while grieving for her late father.

Helen’s father was a staff photographer at the Daily Mirror and her mother was a journalist on local newspapers. In 1975, when Helen was five, her parents bought a house in Terkel’s Park, an estate owned by the Theosophical Society. It was here that Helen became a keen bird watcher and developed a love of the natural world, spending her days in fields and meadows where she collected specimens which she brought home to study.

When she was 12 she helped out at a local falconry centre and trained her first hawk, a kestrel called Amy. After graduating from Cambridge she worked for the National Avian Research Centre in Wales before returning to academia.

The death of her father in 2007 prompted Helen to buy Mabel and bring her home to live with her. Training Mabel was Helen’s way of dealing with her grief during what she describes as a very dark period of her life. The relationship between her and Mabel became so intense that she says she became more hawk than human.

Helen continues to write books and essays and present programmes about the natural world. She lives in Suffolk with two parrots she calls the Bugs.

Presenter Lauren Laverne
Producer Paula McGinley