Dara McAnulty author longlist interview
Dara McAnulty, author of Diary of a Young Naturalist, tells us what it's like to be the youngest longlisted author for the Baillie Gifford Prize.
What does it feel like to be longlisted?
It honestly feels incredible and also incomprehensible. To be amongst such prestigious writers and scholars is a tremendous honour, which I am so grateful for.
What is your favourite non-fiction book and why?
As a very young child, around 4 years old, I wanted to know the meaning of everything, where matter and all that matters, came from; so, it has to be The Big Bang by Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest. It set alight my curiosity for everything that followed. I borrowed it from the library for months on end, then I finally got it for Christmas and it’s still beside my bed! My wildlife identification books are invaluable as they explain the mysteries of what I see and more recently my obsession with the Greek Myths saw me devour Stephen Fry’s Mythos and Heroes – I’m really looking forward to reading Troy when it’s released!
How did you conduct your research?
I begin with observation, most of my words spill out from experiences outdoors, so when I have visited and meditated on a particular animal or place, I find out all I can about it – ranging from facts, social/cultural history, related poetry, myth/legend and iconography. I read, a lot and I take notes – I have notebooks scattered all over the house. I’m not a meticulous organiser in the physical sense, but the filing system I use in my brain seems to keep everything under control! I’m not sure how, but all of these things brew in a cauldron and it does feel like magic when everything just mixes and distils into coherent (although not always!) writing.
How does it feel to know you’re the youngest person ever to be longlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize?
Daunting! I also feel though that it’s a truly wonderful thing for youth and autistic visibility. Realising the potential of young and autistic people is something which society needs to see more of and not just in a historical context, but in real time. This means more to me than anything else. My expectations are very low though, so I’m taking it all in my stride and enjoying this extraordinary moment in my very ordinary life!
What are you working on next?
I have just finished the text for a children’s book (as yet untitled) to be released next year and I am now embarking on research for my next book ‘Wanderings of a Young Naturalist’(Ebury Publishing 2022) which will see me explore ancient sites, nature, mythology and how the Irish landscape has changed over time. A contemplation on the future of our planet…and ourselves. I feel so humbled and honoured that I have the opportunity to explore questions of uncompromising importance and write about what I am fascinated about but also, fearful of. Confronting the epic crises our planet and our species is facing, it’s extremely overwhelming but very, very, necessary.