John Lewis-Stempel’s Where Poppies Blow – The British Soldier, Nature, The Great War has today been announced as the winner of the Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize, which celebrates the best books about nature and UK travel.
As the world marks the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele this week, Where Poppies Blowoffers a fresh and unique take on the experiences of British soldiers in the First World War.
The announcement and presentation of the award of £5000 was made by prize judge Matt Baker at the National Trust Theatre at BBC Countryfile Live in Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, at the end of a public event celebrating nature writing and the Wainwright Prize shortlist.
Where Poppies Blow is the story of the British soldiers of the Great War and their relationship with the animals and plants around them. John-Lewis Stempel suggests that this relationship was of profound importance, because it goes a long way to explaining why the soldiers fought, and how they found the will to go on. Above all, nature healed, and despite the bullets and blood it inspired men to endure. Including poems, extracts from letters, field notes and diary entries, Where Poppies Blowprovides an incredibly vivid picture of life on the Western Front as seen through the relationship between man and nature.
Chair of Judges Julia Bradbury said: “Where Poppies Blow is destined to be a modern classic. An extraordinary book about the healing power and resilience of nature in the darkest of times. Beautifully written and profoundly moving it is a reminder of the atrocities of war but John Lewis-Stempel cleverly weaves in the story of the animals and wildlife that survive, die and thrive alongside the men and women who lost their lives.”
Where Poppies Blow brings together John Lewis-Stempel’s two loves, nature and military history, and provides a new and vital study of the soldiers’ experience of the First World War. Testament to his position as one of the UK’s greatest nature writers, this is the second time John has won the Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize. Meadowland, his study of a field in Herefordshire, won in 2015, and he had two books on this year’s shortlist.
With such a strong shortlist, which featured an unprecedented seven books rather than the usual six, the judges’ decision was difficult but they unanimously agreed that Where Poppies Blow was the rightful winner.
This year’s shortlist is evidence of the continued creativity and strength in nature writing today, sitting alongside Where Poppies Blow on the shortlist were: two books with conservation at their heart (The Running Hare by John Lewis-Stempel and Wild Kingdom by Stephen Moss), two books which look at nature’s role in a journey of emotional discovery (The Wild Other by Clover Stroud and The January Man by Christopher Somerville) and close studies of an environment and the creatures that inhabit it (Love of Country by Madeleine Bunting and The Otters’ Tale by Simon Cooper).
UK nature and travel writing continues to experience a period of renewed interest with sales growing over the last four years by £4.5million and individual authors receiving acclaim and large book sales. Support from booksellers and publishers for the Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize is strong, with many independent booksellers being particularly vocal and active in their support;
“The Wainwright Prize gives a higher profile to books celebrating the diversity of the natural world. Our display of shortlisted titles has been popular in helping customers to discover these authors and we are delighted to have introduced them to some of the best nature writing around.” Ros Ephraim, Burway Books, Shropshire
“At a time when more and more people are screen-locked and less connected with the countryside than ever, it’s encouraging to remember there has been a huge renewed interest in books about the natural world. This kind of writing is a field in which Britain is a world leader and the Wainwright Prize is a great celebration of that. The prize has picked interesting and challenging books for its shortlists so far which is a great reminder that nature writing comes in a huge variety of forms and is constantly evolving, and Amy Liptrot’s wild and wondrous memoir The Outrun was one such brave and mould-shaking book, and winning the Wainwright Prize in 2016 was tremendous for helping the book find a great number of new readers. Long may the prize continue.” Francis Bickmore, Publishing Director, Canongate
“Over the last few years the quality of publishing in the nature writing genre has been extremely strong, and The Wainwright Prize shortlists have thoughtfully highlighted the very best of each year’s crop. The prize has helped the three previous winners to establish themselves as bestsellers in the genre: last year’s winner The Outrun was even our Non-Fiction Book of the Month last September, and went on to become our bestselling paperback Nature book last Christmas.” Bea Carvalho, Waterstones
Now in its fourth year, the Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize celebrates the books which most successfully reflect the ethos of renowned nature writer Alfred Wainwright’s work, to inspire readers to explore the outdoors and to nurture a respect for the natural world.
Joining Julia Bradbury on the judging panel for the 2017 prize were: TV presenter Matt Baker; Editor of the National Trust Magazine, Sally Palmer; chair of both Gardener’s Question Time and the Wainwright Society, Eric Robson; Mail on Sundayjournalist, Sarah Oliver; and ex-Chairman of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Peter Waine.
Supported by Wainwright Golden Beer and the Wainwright estate and in partnership with the National Trust, the winner received a cheque for £5000. Gaynor Green, Wainwright Golden Beer, marketing manager comments; “Wainwright Golden Beer is delighted to be sponsoring this exciting award again; it captures the essence of discovery and the area outdoors for a new generation of readers, explorers and adventurers (and drinkers).”
Bookshops and libraries are invited to enter the Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize Display Competition. Tweet an image of your Wainwright Shortlist or Winner display before 31 August. The bookshop or library that puts on the winning display will win 10 National Trust day passes and 24 bottles of Wainwright Golden Beer. Full details and terms and conditions here.