Caught by the River

Nature Book Reader Update

11th September 2020

The time has come once again to draw your attention to a spate of new additions to our Nature Book Reader — an ever-evolving document of nature book recommendations from writers and friends of the site. This time around, we’ve added new tipoffs from Emily Warner, Tom Bolton, Suzanne Joinson, Clare Wadd and Tiffany Francis-Baker. Read Suzanne Joinson’s contribution on Tony Wales’s A Sussex Garland below, for a taste of what to expect.

I love anything that dwells on the boggier back-lanes of Sussex, and Tony Wales’s A Sussex Garland does not hold back on unmitigated Ye Olde chew-on-your-straw nostalgia. Stuffed with smocks, crooks and apple poems, I regularly return to it for local miscellanea. 

The mix of folklore and anecdote is fascinating, though part of me chuckles at the tendency to call anything a Sussex-trait. Sussex people eat what they like to call…potatoes! Sussex people are extremely fond of ale!

Arranged by calendar, it’s fun to follow the seasons. Mud features heavily, as do ditches and oxen. Wassailing howlers get drunk in the orchards and we learn mildly offensive local expressions such as swede-gnawers, broom-dashers and grizzle guts.

It is light-hearted, but Tony Wales truly knew his Sussex traditions. In 1957 he recorded an album of local folk songs for the New York-based Folkways record label. He did the publicity for the English Folk Song and Dance Society in the 70s and 80s, founded the Horsham Folk Festival, and published Sussex titles still available today.

I’m working through his collected recipes, starting with the easy ones (fried mackerel). Lard and fat are popular – Lardy Johns and Coagers – but most intimidating are the suet-based dishes: puddings, pies, dough, and something called Sussex Swimmers (suet and brown sugar).

The prose fires up at talk of pubs and drinking songs, especially the ‘Sussex Toast’, I have drunk nine, and I will drink ten… and the whole collection is a delight. Peppered with songs, photographs and merry hearsay, dipping in is like sipping homemade nettle beer on a sunny afternoon at the edge of a Sussex wood.


Suzanne Joinson is a novelist published by Bloomsbury and a lecturer in creative writing. She also regularly publishes essays and non-fiction in a wide range of places. You can find this piece, alongside many other nature book recommendations, here. Visit Suzanne’s website here, or follow her on Twitter here.

Enthusiastic thanks to Louise Mason, now and always, for making our stuff — including, but not limited to, the Nature Book Reader — look nice.