About this book
Jess Richards was born in Wales and raised in Scotland. She is the author of three literary fiction novels: Costa shortlisted Snake Ropes, Cooking with Bones and City of Circles (Sceptre). She also writes creative nonfiction, vispo, short fiction and poetry which have been published in various anthologies. Her fine art / creative writing PhD project, Illusions, Transformations, and Iterations; storytelling as fiction, image, and artefact, earned her a place on the Dean’s List at Massey University, Aotearoa New Zealand. Birds and Ghosts is a book-length work of creative nonfiction written when New Zealand borders were closed due to Covid-19. In October 2022 Jess, her wife, and two stripy cats returned to live in the UK. They now live in Yorkshire where Jess works at the University of Leeds.
“Grief needs space all around it, and air to breathe through.” This lucent, transcendent book is both a meditation on grief, loneliness, love, disconnection and connection, and a journey into the uniquely sensitive, often visceral, nuanced imagination of an extraordinarily attuned narrator. The reader enters the writer’s waking dreams, where the borders of perception dissolve and where prose and poetry intertwine. Jess Richards’s inner life is her superpower.
– Catherine Smith, poet and fiction writer
It’s a myth we were ever alive, and Birds and Ghosts dazzles through figurations of that myth. If you’ve ever been grief-struck with love, split from a founding sense of home, pierced by our strange human institutions, and healed in relations with other-than-human beings – including the gift that is language – this memoir of transition years will feel like a truth-telling. “A ragged bird goes to a golden cage and burns like a phoenix.” Loneliness keeps Jess Richards company; pouring through this book, that loneliness looks like love.
– Lisa Samuels, author of Symphony for Human Transport and Breach
In this stunning book, Jess Richards creates a new vocabulary for loneliness, loss, and desire. Brilliantly interweaving image and text, prose and poetry, she threads together stories of breakup, death, and new love. Releasing the haunting presence of the past, this book sets stories in motion, the imagination in flight, and words on fire.
– Jacob Edmond, author of Make It the Same: Poetry in the Age of Global Media
This is an astounding piece of writing. Part poetry, part prose, but all a storyteller at the height of their craft pulling you into their beautiful, tender, and often heart-breaking world.
– Kerry Hudson, author of Lowborn
This fearless and beautiful book is as luminous as it is haunting. Birds and Ghosts blurs and transcends the borders between life and death, poetry and prose, drawing and language. Tracing the arc of grief, Richards reveals how loss opens us into a deeper truth of love.
– Diane Comer, author of The Braided River: Migration and the Personal Essay
At once tender and unnerving, gentle and brutal. Birds and Ghosts is one of those books that opens a new pathway to the heart and clears an unused route to the mind.
– Gigi Fenster, author of Feverish and A Good Winter
In Birds and Ghosts, acclaimed novelist Jess Richards lets the masks of fiction slip to tenderly trace the teardrop paths of her own fugue and fugitive states: bereavement, loneliness, heartbreak, migration, pandemic, supernatural experiences, a late diagnosis of autism. Caught up in a perfect storm of grief and revelation, words and memories whirl into distinctive, fluid forms: prose poems, illustrations, fables, neologisms, hauntings, odes to the writer’s wife, elegies for baby blackbirds, skein in and out of silence in the pages of this searching and innovative memoir. As a profound meditation on death, Birds and Ghosts contains passages so beautiful and wise one might read them to a terminally ill friend or family member. As a personal tribute to a beloved father, the book honours an artist and teacher who nourished his daughter’s exceptional imagination, without ever knowing that the sensitivity they shared might have had another, clinical, name. In lyrical, synaesthetic, often painfully perceptive reflections, like and yet unlike Anand Prahlad and Joanne Limburg, Richards reaches for, and draws near, the unique, ungraspable nature of self-on-the-spectrum. Exploring universal experiences, challenging stereotypes, and expressing the writer’s truths in a murmuration of language all her own, Birds and Ghosts offers sky-bridges of empathy and understanding to neurotypical and neurodiverse readers alike. An act of generous vulnerability, deep insight, and consummate artistry, Jess Richards’s autobiography makes a compelling contribution to the rapidly growing fields of autistic and neuroqueer literature ‒ and deserves, too, a prominent place in the broader landscapes of life writing and experimental prose.
– Naomi Foyle, poet, essayist and SF novelist