‘Fly Away Peter is commonly thought of as a First World War book, but its original version had very little to do with the war.
I wrote a few pages of landscape description – the opening paragraphs of the book in fact – and almost at once two characters appeared. A young working man, Jim Saddler, uneducated but sensitive, with an obsessive interest in the local birds – their names, their kinds, their habitats (a mixture of beach, scrub and swamp), and their migratory habitats; the other the owner of the land where Jim does his bird-watching and recording, who has recently returned to his property from Europe and is still in the process of rediscovering what it might mean to him. Aristocratic, highly “cultured”, but with no particular ambition or notion of his own usefulness, he is immediately impressed by Jim’s sense of a calling, his knowledge of the land and its creatures, which Ashley Crowther sees as a different sort of ownership and hold on the land, than his merely legal one.
Ignoring all the usual distinctions of class and education, of master and man, they make a plan to turn all this part of the country into a sanctuary for birds, with Jim as its manager and the keeper of a proper record of the birds in all their varieties and in all their seasonal comings and goings.
The questions of the two hemispheres, the two sides of the globe, and the various forms of migration between them, I was already working on in the stories for Antipodes. The question of how land is possessed, either legally or through imagination and spiritual identity, would be the subject of Harland’s Half Acre, a longer work that I would begin at the end of the same year. Meanwhile, the birds offered their own fascinating metaphor: a capacity to go back and forth between the hemispheres; to hold in their heads a vision of the two sides of the planet as a whole and have their lives, season about, in both.’