Meet the woman who just won £20k for a book about her hawk

I don’t want to alarm anyone but a dangerous bird of prey appears to be on the loose…

Everything’s under control. The bird belongs to the author Helen Macdonald, who has been announced as the winner of the UK’s most prestigious prize for non-fiction books.

The writer’s memoir, H is for Hawk, described by the judging panel as a “book like no other”, was last night awarded the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction.

What’s it about?

In the book, Macdonald, 43, explains how she became obsessed with birds of prey as a child and details her experiences training Mabel, the goshawk she purchased after becoming overwhelmed with grief following the sudden death of her father in 2007.

Not many people go and buy a goshawk when dealing with the death of a loved one…

The writer, academic and illustrator has been a falconer for many years, having trained her first hawk at 13. Her photojournalist father shaped her interest in the wild, taking her on nature expeditions when she was a child.

Following his unexpected death from a heart attack, Macdonald, who lives in Cambridge, began to dream of training a goshawk, which she said was Britain’s “wildest, most formidable and elusive bird of prey”.

And her story resonated with the judges?

“This book is so intense and magnificent it knocks you over,” said the chair of the judges, Claire Tomalin, who presented Macdonald with the £20,000 prize at a ceremony in London last night. H is For Hawk saw off competition from five other titles. The prize was set up in 1999 and is funded by an anonymous sponsor.

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