Nature goes on like this. Nature goes on forever. - a guest post by Anna Wilson - Nosy Crow Skip to content
Posted by Lara, April 14, 2023

Nature goes on like this. Nature goes on forever. – a guest post by Anna Wilson

This month we’re absolutely delighted to have published Grandpa and the Kingfisher – a beautiful picture book celebrates the awesome power of nature written by Anna Wilson. And today, we’re very excited to be sharing a guest post from Anna!

Grandpa and the Kingfisher is inspired by my lovely dad who died nearly eight years ago. His favourite place was the river in my home town – the Medway in Tonbridge, Kent. It was where he would go to unwind after a hard week at the office. He would take his canoe out on a Sunday morning and enjoy the peace and the wildlife. He was like the character Ratty in Kenneth Grahame’s novel The Wind in the Willows who says, “There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

Dad and me in a punt on the river Cam in Cambridge

When my sister and I were old enough, he took us out too. He would name the plants and creatures, pointing out willow, hazel, beech, bulrushes, water mint, moorhens, coots, water voles and ducks. He would also spot the kingfishers and shout, ‘There!’ as a flash of blue whizzed past our heads. We would always look too late, and the bird would dart away from us into the bank. “Too late. You missed it,” Dad would say with a sigh.

When Dad was dying, his one last wish was to be able to get back down to the river. We talked about it every time I went to visit him in hospital. He never managed it, which still makes me sad. I came to look after him in the last month of his life. One evening I was sorting through some books he had had as a child and I came across a beautiful old picture book called Martin: the Kingfisher by a French writer, Père Castor. It was what would now be called a “narrative non-fiction” book about the lifecycle of a kingfisher. Dad’s mother, my grandmother, had chosen it for Dad because his name was Martin too.

I sat on the landing of my childhood home reading and weeping, as it seemed to me that, in giving him this book, Grandma had predicted my dad’s life and his life-long happy marriage to Mum.

In the book, Martin the kingfisher works hard every day, fishing in the river. One day he meets his mate, Martine, and they build a life together. Martine, we are told, never leaves Martin’s side:

“She fidgets about, never very far away from him.”

As the story goes on, the birds stay together all the time.

“They are like twin arrows. They never leave one another. Never.[…] Winter comes, to be chased away by spring; the seasons succeed one another; time goes on. But Martin and Martine remain.”

Then one day, just as Dad did, Martin the kingfisher falls ill, and Martine’s behaviour becomes very distressed, just as my mum’s did:

“Poor little Martine! She doesn’t know what to do. She perches beside him.”

Martin dies, and a few days later, so does Martine. The narrator buries them both in the same grave, just as my sister and I scattered our parents’ ashes in the same spot in the river Medway. It is a sad ending of course, but there is hope in the arrival of the new chicks.

“I am happy,” the narrator tells us. “I realise that life goes on, goes on forever.”

These words from Dad’s old book found their way into the eulogy that my sister and I wrote for him. My son Tom also read from The Wind in the Willows, so we managed in a small way to bring the river to Dad at the end.

However, I found that I couldn’t leave things there, so I decided to write my own kingfisher story, borrowing a little from Père Castor’s book, to help others talk to children about the circle of life in a hopeful and comforting way. In this way I feel I have memorialised Dad as well as reaching out to others who are grieving a loved one.

I was thrilled when Sarah Massini agreed to illustrate the book because I knew that her delicate, sensitive style would be just right for the nature aspects of the story. However, what I was not prepared for was the perfect way she captured the relationship between the child and Grandpa, which sums up my relationship with my dad as well as his bond with his grandchildren. I feel very emotional whenever I look at Sarah’s gorgeous artwork. I know my dad would be blown away by it, too.

I still miss Dad. I think of him every day. But, as Grandpa says in my story, life – like nature – goes on forever. I know my dad would agree with that, because he had already seen so much of himself in my son Tom who loves nature as much as he did. And I like to think Dad’s out there somewhere, anyhow – still messing about in boats.

“It’s just like Grandpa told me: Nature goes on like this. Nature goes on forever.”

Thank you, Anna!

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