Books: Starling by Sarah Jane Butler ๐Ÿ“š

I recently finished reading Starling, a new novel by Sarah Jane Butler. I’m no reviewer of books and never feel comfortable giving books a rating, but I wanted to promote a book from a fellow Sussex Weald-resident. I really enjoyed the book, which I read while on holiday in a village much like the one portrayed in the book, which helped bring the book to life.

While I’m not necessarily sold on all the books that would come under the moniker of โ€˜eco-fictionโ€™, I like the grounding of ecosystems in this kind of fiction, and how much more you can do with that.

That said, Zoe Gilbert (who I recorded a podcast with recently) uses fantasy and folklore to take real life ecosystems and historic landscapes to all kinds of special places (I told you I’m not a literature reviewer) in Mischief Acts.

Sarah Jane Butler

Another important thing that this kind of fiction can do is put social and ecological issues firmly alongside one another – something that general nature writing often avoids. Starling explores social and ecological challenges, following an abandoned young woman (Starling) on her journey in trying to find work and settle into a new community. As you can imagine, itโ€™s not straightforward for her. I’m keen not to attempt a write-up of the story here, you should read it for yourself if it interests you.

You can buy the book in hard back or digital at the moment, with more information available on Sarah’s website.

Thanks for reading.

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Unlocking Landscapes podcast: the Weald of Kent with author Zoe Gilbert ๐ŸŽค

Unlocking Landscapes is back! In May 2022 I met with author Zoe Gilbert in Ham Street Woods National Nature Reserve on the Kent/Sussex border. Zoe is an award winning writer and she sounds very much at home in the woods. It was a real pleasure to spend the day with her and I’m very grateful for her time.

Listen here:

In March 2022 Zoe published her latest book, Mischief Acts (you can buy it here). The book is inspired by an historic wooded landscape in south London known as the Great North Wood. It’s been covered in a couple of other podcasts for Unlocking Landscape so please see the links below. I love the book and as a consumer of books and someone who knows parts of the landscape she has focused on, I can say for sure that I think she has nailed it!

In this episode we cover a lot of ground:

  • What inspires Zoe to visit woods and write fiction
  • Public access to woodlands in the pandemic
  • The complications around public perceptions of woodlands
  • Mischief in the woods and National Parks
  • ‘Pics or it didn’t happen’: The importance not being observed all the time (social media)
  • Contiguousness of woodland
  • Bison being reintroduced to English woods
  • The future of woodlands
  • Prioritising the conservation of woodlands in a time of extremes
  • The importance of local landscapes

Links to things we mentioned for more info:

Thanks for reading/listening.

Unlocking Landscapes podcast