Cows, curlews and conservation were the hot topics in our second event in the Birlinn Virtual Book Festival on Thursday 2nd April as we launched the brilliant Native: Life in a Vanishing Landscape by Patrick Laurie live on our Twitter page @BirlinnBooks. More than one thousand people tuned into the launch to watch Patrick’s (@GallowayGrouse) opening video, take part in a giveaway competition and ask Patrick an array of fascinating questions.
We were thrilled to host the launch in conjunction with the wonderful folks at Wigtown Book Festival, who were the official booksellers for the launch. Native will be the first book in their new Online Book Club, beginning on Wed 22nd April at 7pm. Patrick Laurie will be in discussion with fellow Birlinn author Polly Pullar via Zoom, and everyone is invited to take part. You can find more details and sign up here.
Here’s a sample of just some of the many wonderful questions from the audience. To see the Q&A in full, take a look at our Twitter feed @BirlinnBooks.
@Sandyrich: Patrick – I’m impressed in reading your book by your passion and determination in areas of little knowledge or training: what drives you on through those dark nights, snowdrifts and pools of diesel?
Quite often it’s simply the thought that if I don’t do this kind of work then it really will be lost forever – I don’t know why I feel so responsible for keeping this way of life alive, but that determination has seen me through some very tough times…
@douglas_shand: What ultimately made you decide to return to Dumfries and Galloway?
I spent my whole time away counting the hours until I could come back – it really was a no-brainer, although it’s a hard place for young people to live and work and it took some time to make a living.
@BirlinnBooks: A lot of your work focuses on conservation – are you concerned about climate change, or hopeful that things will turn around? How are these issues affecting the way you work on the farm?
Yes, climate change is part of a much bigger picture and there is plenty that farmers can do to focus on that – but I often use wild birds as an indicator that I’m doing ok – curlews, black grouse and raptors are a helpful way of checking that you’re working sustainably.
@malachytallack: Following on from this question, any conservationists see farming as a serious contributor to environmental damage, in terms of the climate, habitat destruction, and more. As someone with a foot in both camps, where do you see hope for common ground?
There’s loads of hope – some of the more intensive forms of agriculture have done real harm, but there are many places which can only fulfill their potential for nature if they’re being munched by grazing animals. What I’m doing is not “the answer”, but it’s part of the conversation.
@pollypullar1: Your cattle are particularly special – can you tell us a little more about riggets and how rare they are now?
They’re really special – riggit galloways used to be much more common, but they are very old fashioned and many of their ancient quirks were lost when cattle were “improved” by the Victorians and during the 20th Century. They’re very close to how cattle would have been 200 years ago.
@WigtownBookFest: What, if any, lessons, does your book have for the current crisis?
Lots of people are worried about food security, and this has got people looking again at where their food comes from. Now is a great time to show how well sustainable agriculture and conservation work together, and I hope that Native contributes to that discussion.
@RogerDowald1: Where or how did you develop your deeply evocative use of language to produce prose that places the reader in the moment or place you describe?
When I was a kid I thought literature was boring, then when I was 13 years old I won a poetry prize at school and started to look a bit more closely… I just love writing, and I suppose if you write enough, some of it is bound to turn out okay.
@marjgill: Wondering what it’s like in lockdown in that part of the country? Is it business as usual on Galloway farms?
It’s much quieter, but there are large parts of Galloway where you’d never expect to see anybody anyway – when I’m out working, it’s hard to tell that the whole country is in crisis, then I come back to earth with a bump when I get home and put the radio on…
@agentjenny: Do you feel part of the new wave of nature writing – or is your perspective very different, as someone who farms?
I hope I’m doing something a little different, but there are other writers doing similar stuff and tackling the real grit and tough underbelly of living and working in the countryside. I was never happy just sitting down and being an observer – it feels important to get hands dirty.
@WigtownBookFest: We’re all biased, of course, but what’s so special about Galloway?
What is not special?! There is so much to see, from beautiful coastlines to the highest peaks – but for me it’s the enormous and stunning sense of solitude and space when you’re out on the hills and moors.
Thank you to everyone who took part – we hope to see you at the Birlinn Virtual Book Festival again soon!
Photographs credited to Patrick Laurie.