Helen Macdonald (writer)

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Helen Macdonald in March 2015

Helen Macdonald (born 1970) is an English writer, naturalist, and an Affiliated Research Scholar at the University of Cambridge Department of History and Philosophy of Science.[1][2] She is best known as the author of H is for Hawk, which won the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize[3] and Costa Book Award.[4] In 2016, it also won the Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger in France.

Early life[edit]

Macdonald was the daughter of Daily Mirror photojournalist Alisdair Macdonald, and grew up in Surrey.[5] Writing about her childhood for The Guardian in 2018, Macdonald said,

"I grew up in Camberley, a Victorian town on the A30 in Surrey. It was made of pine forests, golf courses, elderly army officers with parade ground voices, Conservative clubs and tea dances. In 1975 my parents had bought a little white house in Tekels Park, a private estate near the town centre. It was owned by the Theosophical Society. My parents were journalists and knew nothing of theosophy, but they loved the Park, and I did too. No place has so indelibly shaped my writing life".[6]

Macdonald went on to study English at Cambridge University.[7] She was subsequent a Research Fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge from 2004 to 2007,[8] and is presently an Affiliated Research Scholar at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge.[1]


Macdonald has written and narrated several radio programmes, and appeared on television in the BBC Four documentary series, Birds Britannia, in 2010.[2] Her books include Shaler's Fish (2001), Falcon (2006), H is for Hawk (2014), and Vesper Flights (2020). Macdonald received critical acclaim for H is for Hawk, including the 2014 Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction and the Costa Book Award.[9] The book—which also became a Sunday Times best-seller—describes the year Macdonald spent after the death of her father training a Northern goshawk named Mabel, and includes biographical material about the naturalist and writer T. H. White.[10]

Macdonald also helped make the film "10 X Murmuration" with filmmaker Sarah Wood as part of a 2015 exhibition at the Brighton Festival.[11] In H is for Hawk: A New Chapter, part of BBC's Natural World series in 2017, she trained a new goshawk chick.[12]

Macdonald presented the BBC Four documentary, The Hidden Wilds of the Motorway, in 2020.[13] That same year saw the publication of her fourth book, Vesper Flights, a collection of essays about "the human relationship to the natural world".[5]

Personal life[edit]

Macdonald resides in Hawkedon, Suffolk. She previously resided with a parrot, Birdoole, who passed away in 2021.[14] Macdonald's goshawk, Mabel, died in 2014.[14]


  • Shaler's Fish. St Leonards on Sea: Etruscan Books. 2001. ISBN 978-1901538335.
  • Falcon. London: Reaktion Books Ltd. 2006. ISBN 978-1861892386.
  • H is for Hawk. London: Jonathan Cape. 2014. ISBN 978-0224097000.
  • Falcon, new edition. London: Reaktion Books Ltd. 2016. ISBN 978-1780236414.
  • Vesper Flights. London: Jonathan Cape. 2020. ISBN 978-0224097017.
  • "Learning from the birds". Spring Reflection. New Statesman. 149 (5514): 34–35. 3–23 April 2020.


  • Simple objects. Cambridge: Peter Riley. 1993.


  1. ^ a b "Helen Macdonald, Department of History and Philosophy of Science". University of Cambridge. Archived from the original on 25 March 2015. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  2. ^ a b "Helen Macdonald biography". The Marsh Agency. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  3. ^ Clark, Nick. "Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction: Helen Macdonald wins with 'H is for Hawk'". The Independent. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
  4. ^ Anita Singh, H is for Hawk wins Costa Book of the Year award, The Telegraph, 27 January 2015.
  5. ^ a b MacDonald, Helen. (2020). Vesper Flights. UK: Yellow Jersey Press. ISBN 9780224097017. OCLC 1191809886.
  6. ^ Macdonald, Helen (18 June 2018). "Helen Macdonald on Camberley, Surrey: 'No place has so indelibly shaped my writing life'". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
  7. ^ House, Christian (27 January 2015). "H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, review: 'a soaring triumph'". The Telegraph. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  8. ^ "News and Events, Jesus College, Cambridge". Jesus College, Cambridge. 28 January 2015. Archived from the original on 9 March 2015. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  9. ^ Moss, Stephen (5 November 2014). "Helen Macdonald: a bird's eye view of love and loss". The Guardian.
  10. ^ Cambridge News, INTERVIEW: Cambridge author Helen Macdonald on grief, goshawks, and her best-selling book, H is for Hawk Archived 2015-02-06 at the Wayback Machine, Cambridge News, 7 September 2014.
  11. ^ Helen Macdonald, Spies in the sky: Helen Macdonald on how birds reflect our national anxieties, The Guardian, 12 May 2015.
  12. ^ "H is for Hawk: A New Chapter". BBC. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  13. ^ "The Hidden Wilds of the Motorway". BBC. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
  14. ^ a b "Helen Macdonald: 'It is hard to write about the natural world without writing about grief'". the Guardian. 21 August 2020. Retrieved 24 January 2021.

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