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New non-fiction for November 2020

Dolly Parton: Songteller, Dearly Poems by Margaret Atwood, The Stubborn Light of Things: A Nature Diary by Melissa Harrison

Get stuck in to our non-fiction for November.

A Londoner for over twenty years, moving from flat to Tube to air-conditioned office, Melissa Harrison knew what it was to be insulated from the seasons. Moving from scrappy city verges to ancient, rural Suffolk, where Harrison eventually relocates, this diary - compiled from her beloved 'Nature Notebook' column in 'The Times' - maps her joyful engagement with the natural world and demonstrates how we must first learn to see, and then act to preserve, the beauty we have on our doorsteps.

One thing has become clear in 2020 - we need nature more than ever. And although the natural world has never been more under pressure, there are still reasons to be hopeful. Through personal stories, conservation breakthroughs and fascinating scientific discoveries, 'Back to Nature' captures the essence of how we feel about the wildlife outside our windows.

A landmark celebration of the remarkable life and career of a country music and pop culture legend. As told by Dolly Parton in her own inimitable words, explore the songs that have defined her journey. Illustrated throughout with previously unpublished images from Dolly Parton's personal and business archives. Mining over 60 years of songwriting, Dolly Parton highlights 150 of her songs and brings readers behind the lyrics.

'Walking with Ghosts' is a courageous examination of the painful and formative experiences of how Gabriel Byrne became who he is today. With poetic sensibility he recalls the people, landscapes and culture that have influenced his life and work. Defiantly original, this is both a candid exploration of the ambivalence of fame, and a lyrical often heartbreaking account of boyhood in an Ireland now largely disappeared.

Born in Germany to aristocratic parents, Sybille Bedford's (1911-2006) life contained all the grand feeling and seismic event of the 20th century: war and peace, love and trauma, friendship and death, as well as the need to write and rescue something from this wreckage. Openly gay, Bedford once said 'I wish I'd written more books and spent less time being in love. It's very difficult doing both at the same time.' In her forties she published her breakthrough novel, 'A Legacy,' continuing to publish until her early nineties, writing some of the outstanding and most original novels, memoirs and travel books of the century.

By turns moving, playful and wise, the poems gathered in 'Dearly' are about absences and endings, ageing and retrospection, but also about gifts and renewals. They explore bodies and minds in transition, as well as the everyday objects and rituals that embed us in the present. Werewolves, sirens and dreams make their appearance, as do various forms of animal life and fragments of our damaged environment.

While presenting Great Lives on Radio 4, Matthew Parris noticed a trend in the lives of the exceptional men and women the programme covered: many of them had been marked by extreme trauma and deprivation. They seemed to have succeeded not only in spite of their backgrounds, but perhaps even because of them. Charlie Chaplin spent much of his childhood in a south London workhouse, while Ada Lovelace was paralysed at the age of 13. Yet they would all grow up to be not just successful, but to create paradigm shifts in their fields, and create work that still influence our lives today. As Matthew Parris brings each individual's story to life, it becomes clear that we must rethink the origins of success, as well as the legacy of trauma.

The third volume of Roy Strong's diaries cover the years 2004 to 2015. In January 2004 Strong was in a state of deep grief following the death of his wife, Julia Trevelyan Oman, three months earlier. Yet the diaries written in this first year following Julia's death offer a picture of determination and resourcefulness as he begins the task of ordering Julia's huge collections of papers, antiques and jewellery, carefully considering where each should be placed. There followed a reconfiguring of The Laskett and the wonderful garden that he and Julia had created together. The following years see an extraordinary energy and creativity, new ideas for books brought to fruition and the book tours, literary festivals, public appearances and stage performances that surround each new publication.

'Complete Home Comforts' contains over 150 of James Martin's favourite recipes from his hit TV show. This is James in his comfort zone, cooking the food he loves best.

The Plantagenet queens of England played a role in some of the most dramatic events in our history. Crusading queens, queens in rebellion against their king, queen seductresses, learned queens, queens in battle, queens who enlivened England with the romantic culture of southern Europe - these determined women often broke through medieval constraints to exercise power and influence, for good and sometimes for ill. Alison Weir's ground-breaking history of the queens of Medieval England now moves into a period of even higher drama, from 1154 to 1291: years of chivalry, dynastic ambition, conflict with the church, baronial wars, and the all-pervading bonds of feudalism. We see events such as the murder of Becket, Magna Carta and the birth of parliaments from a new perspective.

In twenty years behind the till in The Bookshop, Wigtown, Shaun Bythell has met pretty much every kind of customer there is - from the charming, erudite and deep-pocketed to the eccentric, flatulent and possibly larcenous. Here he distils the essence of his experience into a warm, witty and quirky taxonomy of the book-loving public.

The working-class son of a coach driver, and the youngest member of the Noel Coward Society, Tom Allen grew up in 90s suburbia as the eternal outsider. In these hilarious, honest and heart breaking stories Tom recalls observations on childhood, his adolescence, the family he still lives with, and his attempts to come out and negotiate the gay dating scene. They are written with his trademark caustic wit and warmth, and will entertain, surprise and move you in equal measure.