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Locked down with a book

No matter what is going on in the world, a good book can provide insight, comfort or a welcome escape. As the COVID-19 outbreak continues and many of us are seeking entertainment while staying at home, reading offers some respite and relaxation. In the first of our series #OrvisBookClub, for this week’s blog we look at two very different books by authors who have pursued a love of fishing throughout their lives.

Charles Rangeley-Wilson is passionate about conservation and is an Associate Advisor to WWF UK, a vice-president of The Wild Trout Trust, Ambassador for the Angling Trust and is currently running a catchment-scale restoration program on the River Nar, a chalk-stream in Norfolk. We take a look at his latest book, Silver Shoals.  Luke Jennings studied his country from its waterways – the chalk streams, the canals and the rivers. His prolific writing career includes the KILLING EVE series of which the third, KILLING EVE: DIE FOR ME, is published this summer. Blood Knots is a story about friendships and family relationships and Jennings suggests that only by searching far beneath the surface can you connect with your own deep history.

Silver Shoals, Charles Rangeley-Wilson

“On these rain-swept islands in the North Atlantic man and fish go back a long way. Fish are woven through the fabric of the country’s history: we depend on them –  for food, for livelihood and for fun – and now their fate depends on us in a relationship which has become more complex, passionate and precarious in the sophisticated 21st Century.”

In Silver Shoals Charles Rangeley-Wilson travels north, south, east and west through the British Isles tracing the histories, living and past, of our most iconic fish – cod, carp, eels, salmon and herring – and of the fishermen who catch them and care for them. 

In the company of trawlermen, longshoremen, conservationists and anglers Charles goes to sea in a trawler, whiles away hot afternoons setting eel nets, tries to bag his first elusive carp and drifts for herring on Guy Fawkes night as fireworks starburst the sky. 

Underscoring this journey is a fascinating historical exploration of these creatures that have shaped our island story. We learn how abundant and valued these fish were centuries before our current crisis of over-fishing: we learn how eels built our monasteries, how cod sank the Spanish Armada, how fish and chips helped us through two World Wars. 

Of course, there is a deeper environmental dimension to the story, but Charles’ optimistic perspective is this: no one is more invested in fish than the fishermen whose lives depend on them. If we can find a way to harness that passion then the future of fish and fishermen in Britain could be as extraordinary as its past.

Charles was born in Africa, moved back to England when he was small, went to school in Sussex and did his degree at The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, Oxford University.

Charles used to teach Art but nowadays he works as a writer, conservationist and river restorationist.

His most recent book Silver Shoals is about the natural and unnatural histories of five species of fish that have shaped British history. Before that Silt Road was a story of the English landscape told through the history of a lost suburban river. The two before that, Somewhere Else and The Accidental Angler were anthologies of fishing and travel stories, as much about place and people as fish and fishing.

His work has been published in various magazines and newspapers including Country Life, Countryfile, The Sunday Telegraph, The Field, Gray’s Sporting Journal, Trout and Salmon Magazine, The Telegraph, The Times, The Guardian and The Independent.

Charles has done some work for TV and including writing and presenting the critically-acclaimed BBC4 film ‘Fish! – A Japanese Obsession’ about the cultural relationship between the Japanese, fish and fishing.

Blood Knots, Luke Jennings

Luke Jennings is a London-based author and journalist who was previously the dance critic for The Observer and has contributed to Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. He is the author of BLOOD KNOTS, short-listed for the Samuel Johnson and William Hill prizes, and the Booker Prize-nominated ATLANTIC, amongst other titles. With his daughter Laura, he wrote the teenage stage-school novels STARS and STARS: STEALING THE SHOW. 

Luke’s latest publications are KILLING EVE: CODENAME VILLANELLE, the basis for the hit TV series starring Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh, and KILLING EVE: NO TOMORROW, the second book in the trilogy. The third, KILLING EVE: DIE FOR ME, is published this summer. The novels follow the thrilling, obsessive duel between Villanelle, an elite assassin, and Eve Polastri, the MI6 agent tasked with hunting her down.

As a schoolboy in the 1970s, trying to teach himself to fish from library books, Luke Jennings served a slow apprenticeship as an angler. But then a series of teachers presented themselves, including an inspirational young Intelligence officer, from whom he learnt stealth, deception, and the art of the dry fly. So began an enlightening but often dark-shadowed journey of discovery. It would lead to bright streams and wild country, but it would end with his mentor’s capture, torture and execution by the IRA. It is a story of the sudden choices men face. In the very English lives he describes, there are moments that require great self-belief, great sacrifice, and then there are the other moments – the ones that call for a perfect cast to be made through a scramble of branches up a small stream.

Blood Knots is about angling, about great fish caught and lost, but it is also about friendship, honour and coming of age. As an adult Jennings has sought out lost and secretive waterways, probing lakes ‘as deep as England’ at dead of night in search of giant pike. The quest, as always, is for more than the living quarry. For only by searching beneath the surface, Jennings suggests, can we connect with our own deep histories.

Don’t just take our word for it, here are a few of the shining reviews Blood Knots has received:

“A great book. It is full of glimmering fishing moments and sharp portraiture . . . and elegant, dry humor.”  Thomas McGuane.

Luke Jennings’ Blood Knots is simply the best book with fishing in it since Norman MacLean’s A River Runs Through It. It’s that good!” Stephen J. Bodio, 

“Luke Jennings’ Blood Knots is a wondrous book. As a lifetime obsessive reader of angling literature I know whereof I speak. As an occasional writer of it I am humbled indeed. In modern times Jennings is in the stratosphere of Roderick Haig-Brown and Tom McGuane’s rarified The Longest Silence. The prose is graceful and the treatment of material utterly fresh. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.” Jim Harrison

From the Orvis Book Club courtesy of Liveryman Claire Zambuni.