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A new kind of bookmaker

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Professor Darryl Jones, urban ecologist from Griffith University, explores some of the background motivations and the eventual publishing machinations of his book The Birds at My Table. Right from the beginning Professor Jones had a strong motivation to write the book. He thought it was an important topic that needs to be discussed in great detail by everybody, not just scientists or academics. He also wanted to tell Australians what was really going on with bird feeding because it was a controversial issue. 

The number one concern about bird feeding around the world was that the birds would become totally dependent on it and would therefore starve and die so when the feeding stopped. Yet, worldwide, there was not a shred of evidence that it actually happened. Before this, no one had ever written a book about bird feeding from a truly global perspective so another motivation was for it to be a genuinely international popular science book.

Professor Jones had just finished supervising a PhD student, Renee Chapman, who compared the motivations for bird feeding in the UK and Australia. In the UK bird feeding was promoted and advertised whereas in Australia everybody did it despite opposition at official levels. Professor Jones knew the book had to be international in flavour, reflecting more than a decade of research on the topic around the world. 

The book expanded dramatically as he wrote it, covering twice the number of topics he originally planned. He also had to delve into the social science aspects of bird feeding (people’s motivations for doing it) so he had to learn how to do social science surveys, a serious challenge as it was a new area with a whole new language. 

When it was eventually finished he realised how naďve he was in writing a book without a publisher in mind. He spent a year in London walking from publisher to publisher, like J.K. Rowling, getting dejected by the message that UK and US readers wouldn’t read a book about bird feeding written by an Australian!

His response was to tell them the book was international and had the credentials from his international research. In the end his persistence paid off with Cornell University Press agreeing to publish. 

The book was already available in bookshops prior to the official launch by New South Publishers on 14 March in Brisbane and 27 February in Sydney. There is also an interview by Ann Jones from Radio National and a book signing session at Gleebooks in Sydney’s Glebe at 6:30pm on 22nd March. Interested participants should register (www.gleebooks.com.au or 02 96602333) before then. Apart from supporting scientific learning you will also meet a new kind of bookmaker! 

Professor Darryl Jones was interviewed by Ruby Vincent for A Question of Balance. Images from Darryl Jones. Summary text by Victor Barry February 2018 

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Bird feeding bible: The Birds at My Table Publishing a popular science book I

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