buzzard I-SpybuzzardA buzzard circles above the wood then heads over the meadow and garden towards the house. Looking up through my sloping roof-light window I can see it almost vertically overhead as it passes over my studio, the pancake patterns beneath its wing picked out by the afternoon sun.

However many times I see it fly over, I don’t think that I’ll ever get over the excitement that I feel when I see a buzzard. Even when it’s flying over our suburban street, that circling silhouette conjures up wild places for me.

I-Spy BirdsI saw my first buzzard in the Lake District, aged nine, on Wednesday 31 August 1960. I know the date because I still have the I-Spy Birds booklet that I started on that holiday.

I-Spy BirdsBirds of prey in general made a big impression on me, so much so that I chose them as the subject for a school project.

Birds of Prey

 Aged of nine or ten I already had big ideas about the kind of books that I’d like to write and illustrate. The gold label and ambitious title suggest that I was aiming for something authoritative.

I was struggling to work out how to produce the stand-out illustrations that I saw in books and on the Brooke Bond tea cards that I collected. Using large hogs-hair brushes and school powder paints wasn’t going to help.

from my Birds of Prey booklet
There’s some evidence in this handwriting of the essential tremor that I remember having since age seven. No wonder I’ve always found drawing and writing something of a challenge.

The method used for teaching joined-up writing or ‘real writing’ at my junior school was to keep the pen in contact with the paper throughout the word then go back to dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s. By the age of nine I’d already given up this method for my personal projects, preferring more compact block capitals which allowed me to fit my text in amongst my drawings. 
Observer's Book of BirdsI treasured a copy of The Observer’s Book of British Birds which I kept in my gabardine pocket, even though it was unlikely that I’d spot a Montagu’s harrier or a Dartford warbler in the school playground.

buzzardUnfortunately I found myself unable to emulate Archibald Thorburn’s elegant illustrations in the wax crayons available to me in Mr Lindley’s class. But I’ve added my own touch with the background; the Lakeland hills and crag where I’d recently seen that first buzzard.

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