The Scandaroon

Hardback, Macdonald, second impression, 1972; with illustrations by Ken Lilly.

Book condition: fine, small tear in top corner of the dust wrapper, with no loss.
Price: £3.00


The publisher's blurb to this, Henry Williamson's last book, states: 'With the publication in 1969 of The Gale of the World, Henry Williamson's fifteen-volume panorama of English life, A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight – hailed as "the great historical novel of our time" – came to an end. Long recognized and lauded for his nature writing – Tarka the Otter and many other stories – Henry Williamson here introduces The Scandaroon, the tale of a pigeon.


In the summer of 1955, I went with my wife and young son to Ireland, to stay with an old friend, Sir John Heygate of Bellarena, Co. Derry. Major Eric Harvey (then managing director of Macdonald) had already proposed that I write a nature book, to come between The Golden Virgin, soon to be published, and Love and the Loveless, then half written.


I thought a short nature book was a good idea; and gaily told Eric that I would write a chapter a day on our way up from Cork to Derry. And no rewriting! (Tarka had been rewritten seventeen times.) Every day I sat in the driver's seat and wrote. And on the way north fifteen versions of Chapter One were written.


At Galway there was a telegram awaiting my arrival. It was from John Middleton Murry, friend and critic, who had praised the novels of A Chronicle:




Yes, indeed it was already happening. I had become fractious, at times unbearable, penned up in the driving seat of the Countryman car; behind me, a silent wife and a whispering small boy.


At Bellarena I was ordered by my friend John to spend every morning in the library (from where I watched the other guests playing croquet on the lawn below my chosen window, while I groaned at yet another variation of Chapter One). There was a harp in the gallery above, and I thought to try my hand at music, but the strings were either broken or slack. Also, I noticed, some of the books, concealing doors, were dummies. And I felt at home with those hollow shells!


So, The Scandaroon was put away; and on returning to Devon, I went on with the Passchendaele novel, Love and the Loveless. Now and again I took up the pigeon manuscript and wrote more variations.


Finally, in 1971, the personal narrative method of telling the story came naturally and happily to me; for I had known the living characters, and merely had to observe them: Peter, whose faulty sight prevented him from entering the Royal Navy; the Admiral, his father; and the Doctor, famous in N.–W. Devon for his knowledge of birds and flowers; with, of course, Sam the publican and his wife Zillah. And not to forget the Scandaroon itself, that splendid bird from the Baltic; likewise Kruger, Sam's cat.


So, finally, it all fell to be a piece of reporting; the cats on the roof after weary birds flopping down from the San Sebastian and other summer races; Sam Baggot with his "lures" with lard and strychnine rubbed into their breast feathers to poison the raiding peregrine falcons; and Zillah his wife who – well, it's all neatly packaged in the story.