Birds of Firle

Birds of Firle Banner Image - credit Tanya ShadrickBirds of Firle Banner Image - credit Tanya Shadrick

A single edition book 

being shared in sequence with 100 collaborators


On New Year’s Day 2020, Birds of Firle – a single edition, handmade book – was placed in the post to the first of 100 recipients in the UK and overseas who have committed to respond to it with words, sound, images and artefacts. It is an exercise in slow art – and a cumulative, communal creative practice – initiated by Tanya Shadrick, founder of The Selkie Press.

Story behind the book

Each participant receives the following letter, as context and invitation:

“All of the images – simple as the tools and skills with which I made them – date from the winter of 2018, a time of complicated grief: the kind that can’t be shared; when the loss is private, pained; not really known to those around one.

I determined to weather it, simply. To drive in school hours to the highest, wildest point in my local area and sit tight. Cry, sleep, eat. Write a little. Read a lot. And I did – a book a day sometimes. The Nobel Laureates. Some idea that my life would assume its right proportions again by feeling itself small & humble in the presence of all the lives real and imagined in those books from so many nations, faiths, decades. That I might mend in this way my concentration and courage both.

The first bird surprised me while I was resting my eyes. A jackdaw level with my driver seat window, held still in the strong wind up there on the Beacon. After that, watching the rooks and ravens that gather there became a deliberate part of each day.

When I first began to put the images online, several people asked if I was working after the example of the late Japanese photographer Masahisa Fukase, who began to study ravens obsessively after loss. I didn’t know of him then, but discovering his work made me more not less committed to what I was doing – & to sharing my birds in a way that the very expensive and limited editions of his exquisite images cannot be.

I have not yet found creativity or nature or even friendship to be a cure-all for sorrow. The images for a long time felt only to be a concentrate of failure, loneliness, confusion. But the growing purpose of my visits there, as I learned about the birds and waited for them, began to make other creative work come – and then the unexpected connections that happen whenever one puts new things out into the world. The loss remained a stubborn hollow space (is so still). But, very slowly, life expanded around it. Colour returned.

And hope. In sending this book out now, I anticipate gladly the words, images and conversations that might follow from it.”

Birds of Firle began on New Year’s Day 2020: soon afterwards life changed for us all due to the spread of Coronavirus. To have this book still be going slowly to and from people all over the world feels even more important than before in this time of our new and necessary solitudes.


Images of incoming material are added to the Gallery and short extracts to the Library. Longer responses are being shared online through Selkie Press Stories. While it will likely take a decade for the book to have visited everyone who wants it, a first exhibition of material is anticipated for 2023.

Related Resources

‘Birds of Firle’ by Tanya Shadrick for Little Toller’s online journal The Clearing. An essay on the origins of a single, wordless book of rooks and the first year in its decade-long journey to 100 artists, writers & readers.

‘How to Tame a Crow’ by Charlie Gilmour. A father and daughter make daily visits to crows, in this essay rich in love and bird lore.

‘Chicken’ by Esther Woolfson. The author of Corvus pays moving tribute to the bird at the heart of that book, with whom she shared a home for over thirty years.

‘Curls of White Feathers’ by Jean Wilson. The importance of nature in a time of pandemic.

‘Raven’ by Adam Nicolson. A close study of a dead raven found on a hillside in Crete.

‘Auguries of Harvest’ by Nicola Chester. A meditation on the first seasons following the loss of a father.

‘What Birds Fly With You’ by Patrick Limb. A moving essay on grief, love, the too-early loss of a loved father, and the feathers of both angels & birds.

‘Wings of Desire’ by Neil Gower & Anja Steinig. A two-part tale of love in the time of Coronavirus.

‘Crow Road’ by Laine Thompson: A multimedia poem.

‘The Book-Field’ by Jo Sweeting: An essay about rhythm, return and grief by a stonecarver and sculptor.

‘Remembrance’ by Alberthe Papma: A poem about bird song and mourning rituals – ‘singing for souls passing.’

‘Thoughts of Felix’ by Sophie Pierce: A mother writes in the anniversary month of her son’s sudden death.

On instagram @birdsoffirle