Review: Author Helen MacDonald’s captivating talk in Buxton

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Helen MacDonald gave a fascinating talk about her book ‘H is for Hawk’, at Buxton’s Pavilion Arts Centre.

The story is of how she coped with the death of her father by training a goshawk.

Her range of knowledge and clarity of style enables this very readable book to be about so much more. She found the training of the hawk to be “addictive and transformative”, as well as muddy, painful and totally time consuming. This went on until she identified with the hawk to the point of “going feral”, yet still retaining vast human knowledge.

Helen spoke of the irony of running away from death by training a hunter and the 6,000 year old dance of hawk and human: flying away and coming back.

Her talk touched briefly on many interesting areas including falconry terms in modern use, such as “hoodwinked” and “fed up”.

The book contains a sub-plot about TH White, the man who wrote ‘The Sword in the Stone’ and his attempts to train a hawk by dominating it.

She differed from him totally in her approach to her hawk but had great insight into the author and his time, describing him as a man whose childhood had given him ‘no tools to love – even to love himself’.

Helen MacDonald’s father clearly gave her these tools in abundance and she uses them with skill.