I am an avid birdwatcher and a member of the RSPB, and am fascinated by extinct species, so the great auk is a bird that has long held my attention. I even wrote a story about it myself, ‘Spearbird’, in my collection Hollow Shores. A flightless relative of the puffin, razorbill and guillemot, the great auk was hunted to extinction in the nineteenth century and remains a potent symbol of the destruction and wasteful exploitation we inflict on the world. Jessie Greengrass’s sombre story from the collection of the same name is a melancholy, methodical look at the decline of the bird from one of the men who hunted it. Until one year, it is no more. The island on which the birds nested, once covered in filth many feet deep, is now bare, “the colour of pewter and all the shit is washed clean by the rain”.
Collected in An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk According to One Who Saw It, John Murray, 2015