The new book is coming …

I am thrilled to announce that I have another book about to hit the shelves – with rather a surprising departure from my traditional subject areas, this one is called Hedgehog ….

It is part of the Reaktion Books Animal Series that has now got over 50 species (or groups of species) represented – and all with a rather sideways look. Because this is a book less about the biology of the hedgehog and far more about the iconography of the animal – the way that the hedgehog has become such a key part of art, advertising, philosophy, poetry and even pornography (do not worry, too much – most of the 101 pictures are quite suitable for children to see).

It is due out in a couple of weeks – please feel free to order it in advance as that will make the shops all the keener to stock it! Or you can go down the Amazon route and it will probably land on your doorstep rather sooner.

I know I am biased, but this does look gorgeous – I have done the picture research as well, and to see quite so many hedgehog images in one place is rather pleasing! It has also been one of the most painful and under-paid work experiences of my life … so please, spread the word and let us hope that I will make some of those hours and hours back in the form of sales!

And just to add to the delight – I got the cover feature for the BBC Wildlife Magazine – if you can still find a copy, please buy it – rather disappointed to find out that the cover with David Attenborough as the feature has sold more!


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Nine Lessons for hedgehogs …

What an extraordinary few days I have had. Last year I went to see Robin Ince‘s Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People and came away thinking – ‘I want to do that’. It is a mixture of humour and music – not a god-bashathon, just a celebration of the alternative things that make this a world of wonder and delight. My only criticism was the clear absence of references to hedgehogs, so I wrote to Robin Ince and told him that he needed hedgehogs in the show. He wrote back saying, ‘yes, we probably do’.

That was months ago … but it was loitering in the back of my mind – was it a booking? So a little nearer the time I wrote again and he responded immediately – would I like to do the 10th (opening night) … and then came a period of time where I recognised the truism ‘be careful what you wish for’. I have never been more nervous before an event.

The day came – I was so scared – there were people I had heard on the radio sitting nonchalantly in the Bloomsbury Theatre’s Green Room – all chatting as if it was the most normal thing in the world, to step onto a stage in front of 500 people and make them happy … I sat in a corner and trembled. But they were so kind – and I did it – and it was okay (though some of the others were just knock out – Robin Ince is a live wire, Grace Petrie and angry and passionate star and George Egg – well, who else would knock up pancakes in a stove made from an ironing board, 3 Gideon’s Bibles and two irons?)

And maybe it would have all ended there … but no … Robin invited me back for two more nights – including the very last night of the show, ever (this, the 6th year) is to be the last. To top that, I got a complimentary ticket for Zoe – so she was able to record the show and take a photo – to prove to me it was not all a dream. Listening to the difference between my first and last performance I am so please with the improvement – I was lucky enough to get some wise and clever people to listen to the first outing and give gentle positive criticism. And I also ignored the advice I was given to never try something new on a big stage … so here it is, have a listen: Nine Hedgehogs

I hope it brings you a little Christmas cheer. Thank you Zoe for your great skill at recording where you are not supposed to!

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Manchester Festival of Nature

Another busy weekend – this time off to the Manchester Festival of Nature where I was running a stall for the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and also doing four talks in the story-telling tent. The festival was one of a series organised as part of the BBC’s Summer of Wildlife, and was the second I have done – and it was interesting for what it did and did not achieve.

It took place in Heaton Park – the largest park in Greater Manchester, and up in the north of the city in an area that has yet to be attacked by gentrification. Part of the reasoning for having it up there was to engage with a different demographic – if it had been in south Manchester (where I used to live, in Chorlton, there is a gorgeous park that would have been perfect) – it would have been flooded (appropriate as it is a water park) by the well-to-do middle-classes who have made the area their home. So would the Heaton Park event do what it set out to do?

To some extent – the weather was not perfect – or at least the weather forecast had been off-putting. The day itself had only a brief flurry of rain. And there was plenty of indoor activities. But there were far fewer people than I expected – despite the presence of CBBC superstar Naomi Wilkinson. And of the people who came to my stall and who came to my talks, there was, on asking, quite a high proportion who had travelled from the far side of the city … so what does it take to reach out into an audience who might not be used to coming to such a potentially fulfilling event?

I am not, for a rare change, writing this to tell people what to do … I am just interested in ways of reaching a working class demographic. Hedgehog-love is not restricted to class! But there are clearly some obstacles to getting people to come to such an event, despite it being free.

That is not to say that I did not have a great time (though someone did nick the clay hedgehog I had made … and only £3 was put into the BHPS collecting box). The story-telling sessions I did were well-attended … and we did eventually (halfway through) reach an agreement with the next door tent of drummers so that the shut the &*%$ up for a while. Loads of clay hedgehogs were made, and I talked to many people about how best to run your garden for a hedgehog’s delight … pushing Hedgehog Street as well.

Oh, and Naomi was a big fan … I had to re-do my ‘How to train your robin’ story as she had missed it … though she did manage to find a way of wriggle out of making her own clay hedgehog …

It was fascinating to see how children reacted to her – she has a magnetic impact on them – are they attracted to her simply because she is on TV? Or does she possess a particular magic? I know that my daughter has been hooked, and that Mati has requested that I get divorced, in order that I can re-marry Zoe and be on the show ‘Marrying mum and dad‘ that Naomi has been presenting! For me, though, her wonderfulness is entirely linked to the fact that she interviewed me on Blue Peter … earning me a Blue Peter badge!

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  • Hugh Warwick holding a toad

  • Hugh Warwick is an ecologist and writer with a particular fondness for hedgehogs. His first book, A Prickly Affair, remains the only book to have accolades from both Jeanette Winterson and Ann Widdecombe on the cover. The Beauty in the Beast is published in May 2012 and takes him on a journey in search of other animals. And in November 2012 he returns to hedgehogs with a book about the iconography of the animal.

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