25,000 people follow Brigit Strawbridge’s Twitter posts about the environment and, in particular, bees. Now the Shaftesbury-based campaigner is getting ready to launch her first book and it’s set to put our town in the spotlight.
Alfred’s Keri Jones spoke with Brigit.
“It’s called ‘Dancing With Bees: A Journey Back To Nature’,” beamed Brigit, as she inspected one of the ‘bee hotel’ nesting boxes that her group installed in the Westminster Hospital grounds. “It’s not a reference book. It’s a narrative – a nature memoir. It’s packed with information on the stuff that I talk about when I’m giving talks about our wild native bees and about honeybees,” she said.
Brigit is an experienced and popular writer who frequently publishes articles. “I write blog posts and I naively thought, ‘if I write a blog post, I’m sure I can write a book.’ The publishers are a company called Chelsea Green. They’re American, but this is a foray into the UK and Irish market,” said Brigit.
I was surprised to learn that this is Brigit’s first book. “I left school in the sixth form. I didn’t study. I didn’t go to university or do further education. It’s not a book that’s going to be up for literary awards,” she said modestly. “I think the publishers have said it’s charming and eloquently written,” she added.
The publishers have provided another new experience for Brigit. She’s been asked to narrate the audio version of her book and she has been recording the script in a studio in Gillingham. “They said, right at the beginning, that there would be an audiobook, but I’ve only just heard in the last few weeks that they’re letting me narrate it,” she said.
In her book, Brigit has mixed her wildlife observations with her own personal stories. “There’s a whole underlying story about the journey that I’ve been on because of the bees, since discovering that they were in such big trouble about twelve years ago,” said Brigit. “The bees have been my window back into nature, which I had stopped noticing. There’s a lot about making time to sit, watch and learn from the bees themselves.”
Brigit suggests that the book is partly autobiographical. “It’s weaving my knowledge of bees together with the understandings that I’ve gained through spending so much time walking in the garden, on the allotment and walking in the lanes watching bees. A lot of birds pop into it as well because you start watching bees, then you notice the flowers and the birds. It just spirals out. It’s a story of reconnection,” she said.
Brigit was in Worcestershire when she realised she had gaps in her knowledge about nature, as her book reveals. “It starts with me walking across the Malvern Hills thinking, ‘What were those trees I just walked past? How do I know more about the French Revolution than I do about our native trees? What went wrong?’ As a child, it was all about nature for me. I think that will resonate with a lot of people who will think, ‘I don’t really know this anymore’. It’s not too late. I’m 60 this year,” said Brigit.
“Although I deal with heavy topics like bee decline, pesticides and climate change, I do it in a way that isn’t going to make people frightened or feel preached at. It’s a gentle book. It’s a gentle read,” Brigit assured me.
Shaftesbury is now Brigit’s home and our town features prominently in the book. “I’ve written a lot about our allotment in St James’s. There’s a chapter about trees, the Tree Group and the tree walks that Sue Clifford and Angela King run. Trees are important for bees, so that’s how I’ve tied them in. The book took on a life of its own. It started being about bees and bee decline, but all kinds of creatures gate-crashed. I just went with it,” she smiled.
Brigit says French Mill Lane and the tin shed in the Pump Yard, owned by her friend Sue, also feature within the book’s pages. That means Shaftesbury is the best place to launch the book. “I’m going to launch it in Shaftesbury on the 5th September. I don’t know where yet,” said Brigit. Perhaps Sue’s tin shed would be the perfect venue, I suggest.
Brigit is booked to talk about her new book at conferences and events and that should promote Shaftesbury in turn. “I’m going to the Cheltenham Festival in October, which is exciting, and Permaculture Convergence in Oxford, with some additional little festivals. There will probably be a lot more next year.”
Brigit appreciates how author speaking slots provide a powerful platform for raising issues surrounding bee decline. “From a campaigning point of view, it’s so much more exciting that I get to speak at these literary festivals. I’m guessing people choose to come along to your talk because they’ve got a little bit of an interest in the subject. By making this book a narrative, I am sneaking the bees in via the story,” she said.
This new book has been a seven-year project for Brigit. If she achieves her goal, of encouraging readers to discover nature, she says that she will be happy. “What I want is that people will read it and think it’s never too late to start noticing these creatures and not too late to become aware of what trouble they are in. I just hope it inspires people to want to do something to help our major pollinators,” said Brigit.
‘Dancing With Bees: A Journey Back To Nature’ will be available to read, or for Brigit to read to you as an audiobook, from September.