November 17, 2017

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A Bird’s-eye View | Under Cover

Gill Lewis’s first novel is about friendships, tragedy, and unexpected connections

SLJ1105w_UC_osprey(Original Import)

In Wild Wings, two kids protect a pair of endangered ospreys by keeping their existence a secret. Somehow, it seems fitting that you write in a tree house—at least, when the weather’s nice.

Since we live in England, that’s probably about one day a year. [Laughter]

When one of the birds, Iris, is in danger of dying, Iona and Callum share their secret with a veterinarian. As the young boy looks into Iris’s eyes, he feels a strong bond between them. You’re also a vet. Has that ever happened to you?

Yes, especially with birds of prey when they come into the surgery. There is that deep connection. I think animals have a different kind of intelligence that they need for survival. You get a sense of that intelligence with birds of prey—it’s a sense that they belong to their landscape. There’s this feeling that they’re part of it, which is what I tried to get into the book.

slj1105w_UC_Lewis(Original Import)Are ospreys making a comeback in your country?

They are. Ospreys used to be widespread across the whole of the U.K., but beginning in the 1600s or 1700s, they were gradually wiped out. Between 1908 and 1954, there were no ospreys at all. The Victorians wiped them out by egg collecting. And ospreys were also shot. They returned in the 1950s. There’s some television footage from that time, and people were suddenly very excited to see these ospreys return. There were suddenly two—and the first eggs they laid were stolen! But now, thanks to conservationists, ospreys are starting to thrive.

You do a great job conveying the joy that wildlife gives kids.

It’s always been a fascination for me. I always wanted to grow up really wild in the outback of Australia or in the Rocky Mountains or somewhere like that. But I grew up in a very ordinary town in England. I’d spend hours in the garden just sitting watching wildlife. So I think that side of Iona is sort of autobiographical. This fascination led me to study at London University to become a vet. During my training, I spent holidays lambing in the Welsh mountains, dairy farming in Cornwall, llama farming in Scotland, and I also took a trip to Greenland.

When Iris migrates from Scotland to West Africa, Callum and his classmates follow her dangerous journey through a tracking device on her back. Is it true that visitors to your site can soon share a similar experience?

I wrote Wild Wings as part of a writing course and was fortunate enough to find an agent and a publisher soon after finishing it. It’s a dream come true, but what excites me more than anything is that owing to the kind and generous pledges from Oxford University Press and many of the 20 foreign-language publishers who have acquired Wild Wings, I’m able to go to Scotland in July and tag real live ospreys. It’s fantastic to think that Wild Wings will actively help the conservation of these amazing birds. The huge bonus is that children will be able to follow an osprey’s journey on my website at GillLewis.com.

That’s very cool.

I’m so excited. I’ll be going up to Scotland to meet Roy Dennis, who’s the founder of the Highland Foundation for Wildlife. He’s invited me to actually be there at the tagging. So I’ll take lots of photos and put them on my website. Young ospreys tend to leave their nests in late August, mid-September, and then start making their journey. It will be amazing for children to log on and be able to follow their journey, all the way to Africa, hopefully.

Rick Margolis About Rick Margolis

Rick Margolis was executive editor for SLJ.

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