By Jackie Morris, Graffeg, £12.99

IT started with a phone call. “Come and see what I’ve got in my kitchen.” Jackie Morris took up the invitation and went over to her friend Ffion Rees’s home. When she arrived, she found herself face to face with a peregrine falcon.

“She sat like some raggedy queen among the wreckage of potted plants she’d cleared out of the way with her battering wings,” Morris writes, “hunched, confused, alien in the domestic setting.”

Her friend had been out in her boat off the Pembrokeshire coast when she had seen the peregrine fly into the sea. She managed to reach the bird and rescue her before she drowned. When Morris first saw her, the falcon’s feathers were salt-stained and she was weak, a bird of dead plumage and wasted muscle.

Rees gave the peregrine the name Hiss. Over the weeks and months ahead she would feed the bird, encourage her to fly, build her up to a state of readiness to return to the wild. Morris, artist, illustrator and writer, had a ringside view of the journey, one that she has catalogued in the pages of Queen of the Sky.

“To be close to her was a gift,” Morris says of her time spent near Hiss. “She was so beautiful, she filled the eye, and the heart.”

Rees inevitably fell in love with the bird. And yet, all the time, she knew that at some point she would have to let it go.

This is a love story, then. Actually, more than one. Morris herself had first moved to Pembrokeshire for the love of a man. “Then I fell in love with the land.” That was to last longer than the relationship.

Love and wildness fill every page of Queen of the Sky, first published in 2015, and now repackaged in a handsome compact edition. This is a short, swift, swooping flight of a book, garlanded by photographs of Hiss and Morris’ jewel-like drawings and paintings of the bird. You could see it as a companion book to the likes of Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk or TH White’s The Goshawk; much slighter than both (it is a mere 68 pages long), and with a simpler story to tell, but no less beguiling for all that.

It is a book full of wild weather, broken hearts and historical titbits. Morris, who is best known for her children’s books including Mrs Noah’s Pockets and The Wild Swans, and her collaboration with Robert Macfarlane, The Lost Words, has a storyteller’s eye and a vivid way with phrasemaking.

At its heart, this book is also a book about friendship; the friendship between two women and the friendship between humans and a wild bird.

“It took real courage to love a wild thing so much and then to let her go.”


Queen of the Sky is published by Graffeg on August 11. Photograph taken from the book, by Jackie Morris © Jackie Morris

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