Dunedin Writer’s and Reader’s Festival: H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald  with Damien Barr

helen mcdonaldDamien Barr has the most delightful Scottish accent, and so it was rather pleasant listening to him ask questions of Helen Macdonald  (right) , who recently won the Costa Prize for her memoir on falconry and grief, H is for Hawk. Goshawks and grief – an unusual combination, perhaps, but one which, when explained by Macdonald, made perfect sense. Her belief is that, whilst turning to nature can be healing, it is also a reflection of ourselves – we project needs, wants, morals, and, in Macdonald’s case, grief, out into the wild. That’s a lot of pressure on nature. But not really, because that, in and of itself, insinuates that nature can be pressured.

h is for hawkMacdonald talked about the distance needed to write the book after her father’s death. She noted that some writers can write whilst immersed in grief, but for her, the distance was not only necessary but also essential and fundamental. It’s hard to imagine a wild-haired Macdonald hiding behind couches to avoid human contact, feeling as if she were as wild a thing as a goshawk. Hard because Macdonald appears so utterly human – warm, friendly and funny – but also because imagining a fellow human suffering such grief is a hard thing.

Toitu is a fitting venue for an event like this. The open spaces above and the floor-to-ceiling glass windows offer warmth and quiet that complement reflection – they are the perfect surroundings for contemplating the many ways in which we find our way back to humanity when it feels like we might be lost in the dark.

Reviewed by Lara Liesbeth

H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald with Damien Barr

Helen Macdonald will also appear in Christchurch, at the WORD Christchurch festival Autumn Season, and in Auckland, at the Auckland Writers’ Festival.