Nicola Chester talked about her prize-winning book at a special presentation event held at the White Horse Bookshop, Marlborough on Thursday 20 October 2022.
Richard Jefferies (1848-1887) is the purest and most sensitive nature writer produced by a country that has prided itself on the strength of its nature tradition. Jefferies died prematurely of tuberculosis, aged 38, yet produced an astonishingly rich and varied body of work. The Award is given, by The Richard Jefferies Society and sponsored by The White Horse Bookshop, to reflect the heritage, content and spirit of Jefferies’ countryside books.
On 23 May 2022 Nicola Chester was announced as the winner of the Richard Jefferies Award
for the best nature writing published in 2021 for her book titled On Gallows Down and published by Chelsea Green.
On Gallows Down is strongly rooted in the author’s background and formative years in
the Newbury area―a period that included the Greenham Common Peace Camp and
Newbury bypass protests―followed by her own family life in cottages on the Highclere
and Inkpen estates. The book is a seamless blend of memoir and natural and social
history, evoking a vivid sense of the impact and influence particular places and
landscapes have had on the writer.
After witnessing the disruption and destruction of the environment and its wildlife for military and road-building purposes, Chester’s own early interest in the natural world became a deep-seated commitment to learning and understanding more about it. In some of the most vivid and personal sections of the book, she tells of her isolated life as the mother of young children, exploring the Highclere estate with them, immersing herself in the local landscape with its long history of great wealth and rural poverty, and delighting in her observations of badgers, foxes and deer.
Professor Barry Sloan, Chair of the Richard Jefferies Society and of the panel of judges said:
On Gallows Down is not only an eloquent celebration of nature and landscape and of their indispensable value for human mental and emotional health and well-being; it is also unsentimental and alert to the dangers that threaten wildlife and the open countryside, and shows the author’s own experiences of resistance to suggestions for more environmentally friendly land management. It will appeal to a wide readership both as a personal narrative and for its thoughtful reflections on the challenges facing the natural world.
Nicola Chester commented:
This Award means the absolute world to me. Richard Jefferies has long been a companion of mine: from books lent to me by my Granddad in childhood, to walking a close, worked, peopled and atmospheric wild landscape, just a few hills over from his, populated by white chalk horses. ‘Belonging’ should not be about wherever we are from, but how we engage with a place and how its story becomes part of ours (and our story, its). I like to think Jefferies would recognise that to be more important than ever now. The urgency to stem the loss of our wildlife is increasing at a similar rate to that with which we are realising the depth, power and joy in connecting with it―the necessity of it.
Congratulations were extended to the other five authors on the short list who presented the panel of judges with a difficult task:
Birdsong in a Time of Silence by Steven Lovatt (Penguin Particular Books)
Goshawk Summer: A New Forest Season Unlike Any Other by James Aldred (Elliott & Thompson)
Ice Rivers by Jemma Wadham (Allen Lane)
Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post Human Landscape by Cal Flyn (William Collins)
The Sea is Not Made of Water: Life Between the Tides by Adam Nicolson (Collins)