Anna Wood is the author of 25 Birds: One Year, One Garden which was published on 28 October 2022.
Anna kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about 25 Birds: One Year, One Garden.
At it’s core, 25 Birds is simply a book of bird photographs, but it is also much more than that: it is a story of creativity, of appreciating nature and of thriving while living with chronic illness. As one reviewer put it, central to the book is ‘passion pursued despite difficult symptoms.’ I am housebound with severe ME – my body doesn’t produce energy properly, and that limits what I can do, but it also provides the creative backdrop for this book – all the photos were taken in my Glasgow garden over the course of one year. Although many of the photos are of common birds such as sparrows, goldfinches, even pigeons, they show the birds in a way the reader might not have seen before. The book invites us to stop, to look and to appreciate the beauty of nature that we commonly see all around us.
2. What inspired the book?
I’ve been taking photos of birds for a couple of years and posting them on social media. Friends have always said nice things about them but as I’ve got better they have encouraged me to do something more with them. I had the idea of putting a book together, combining it with some information about the birds and about the challenges I have faced as a housebound photographer. I really wanted to bring nature into people’s homes, so they experience the joy it gives me, but also encourage people to notice the wildlife all around them. All the profits from the book go to the charity Action for ME.
3. How much planning went into the book before you started writing?
Not as much as I should have probably! When I decided to write the book I already had most of the photos I needed, but I hadn’t written any text. I decided not to put pressure on myself to deliver for a certain date, though I was keen to try to be ready before Christmas if possible. I simply wrote whenever I was able, however much I could, within the limitations of my illness. I have always found that I do my best work when I’m not under pressure, and believe that writing should always be a fulfilling endeavour, not one that causes pain or illness.
4. Is there anything about the process of publishing a book that surprised you?
As a self-publisher I think what surprised me most was how technical it was – I needed to make sure the images were the right resolution, that they were in the right format. I had to learn about trim sizes and bleeds and how to use new software. It was a steep learning curve, but also really fun to have this additional challenge.
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
This is a tricky question. My day job is actually an academic (education researcher at Edinburgh University) – but due to my illness I only work 5 hours per week. I get very few hours in the day when I can do anything for fun. Obviously watching and photographing birds gives me huge pleasure. When I can I bake cakes or biscuits – my latest culinary endeavour is brandy chocolate truffles, which are delicious! I also enjoy knitting and have a huge stash of wool waiting for me to make into warm jumpers or hats for babies!
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
This is tricky because I generally don’t find re-reading books very rewarding. I think I would choose Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. I found so many (but not all) of the ideas in it helpful for coping with the challenges of life – particularly living with a chronic illness.
7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
The question is – who is your audience for the book?
A: This is something I struggled with from the start. My goal was to share my bird photography, but the USP of the book is that all the photos are taken in one small garden over the course of a year, so I couldn’t really miss out the reason for that – my chronic illness! Yet I didn’t want to put nature lovers and birdwatchers off by talking too much about it.
On the other hand, I also thought that most of my audience would be folk who knew and understood the challenges of living with chronic ill-health and who wanted to enjoy nature. In the end I combined the two. I needed to be true to my story and the challenges that I faced, without it being central to the key message of the book.
What has amazed me from the feedback and reviews is that everyone has taken something different from the book – nature lovers enjoy the photos and those with illness see themselves in the descriptions of the challenges I faced. It has inspired readers to learn how to identify their garden birds, and to simply appreciate the wildlife we often take for granted.
About the Book
In this delightful collection, housebound photographer Anna Wood beautifully captures the diversity of birdlife all around us. Created entirely from photos taken in one North Glasgow garden over the course of one year, this book explores the joy Anna finds in nature as well as the challenges of being a photographer with severe ME. It will appeal to anyone with a love of birds, as well as those who would just like a little more nature in their lives.