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Wings of hope

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Q&A | 4 minute read
Bird Therapy author Joe Harkness on library weigh-ins, manuscript burnings, and the therapeutic benefits of birdwatching

Where do you write?

It depends on the season. In winter, mostly sat at the dining room table, where I can look out of the French doors at our bird feeders. In spring and summer, I like to be outside with my notepad, reference books and bird records – so either at the garden table or whilst I’m out birdwatching somewhere. I actually wrote a lot of Bird Therapy in my local library. It was good to go there, with minimal distractions, and just type everything up.

What’s the last really good book you read? And the best film or theatre production?

Since becoming a father, I’ve not watched a film, so I’ll cover two books I’ve read. The first and most recent is All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison. Believe the hype, it’s a seriously good book that I read in a couple of sittings whilst either holding a sleeping baby or lying in front of our wood-burner. Everything about the book was brilliant: the characters, the setting, the nature writing and the political undercurrent. Late last year I read The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers for the first time and it won’t be the last. I was gripped by it, more than I had been by a book for a long time. The atmosphere, the darkness and the eternal cold of the book, created long-lasting imagery and immersion.

What book marked you as a child or teenager?

As a child, I loved reading Enid Blyton stories. My favourites were probably The Magic Faraway Tree and the Wishing Chair series. Her fairy tale worlds were my escape. I also enjoyed some of her adventure series, although not the Famous Five. I was really into the ‘… of adventure’ series. Also, a book that has resonated with me for years and set up my childhood fascination with the paranormal was an Usborne book called House of Shadows, which used to petrify me. I moved on to more non-fiction in my teens and loved a cryptozoology reference book called Alien Animals.

What book inspired you to become a writer?

Generally, it would be anything by James Herbert. In a nature sense, The Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert White inspired me to observe the wider chronological frameworks of nature. It also helped me to broaden my observations and not be afraid to compare bird plumages to everyday items.

Pen and paper or laptop?

Both. I always write in pen first and then type up. I only use Berol manuscript handwriting pens or Zebra Z-Grip ballpoints – I’m really weird about that. Then I use my laptop to type up. Bird Therapy was written by hand, but I threw a lot of it on the wood-burner when I’d typed it up, which I regret now.

Do you re-read books or is life too short?

I did when I was a child, but as an adult, no.

Who is the best fictional hero and villain?

I like David Ash, a paranormal investigator who appeared in three James Herbert books (Haunted, Ghosts of Sleath and Ash). I love his own haunting and his backstory. I do love a backstory – I always loved the Joker before Batman was ‘cool’.

When did you last visit your local library?

Last week, to take some of my daughter’s ‘That’s not my…’ books back. I go most weeks and love it in there. The staff are really awesome and we can even weigh our daughter in there as we don’t have a children’s centre nearby, so it’s our ‘weigh station’.

What classic have you lied about reading?

Loads. Lord of the Flies and 1984 spring to mind first.

Finally, what’s the elevator pitch for your new book?

Have you ever been birdwatching? Well, I write about the therapeutic benefits of birdwatching for mental health and wellbeing and I’ve just written a book called Bird Therapy. Swathes of it are my memoir charting a tale of recovery and rediscovery; but there are segments of the book when other people’s stories take over too. It’s a multi-faceted exploration giving wings of hope to all that read it.

Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness is published by Unbound

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