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About The Book

“Poignant and funny…a passionate book about unconditional love and commitment.” —The Washington Post * “Captivating.” —Associated Press * “Rich with imagery…It’s impossible not to be smitten.” —Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

From poet and painter Frieda Hughes, an intimate, charming, and humorous memoir recounting her experience rescuing and raising an abandoned baby magpie in the Welsh countryside.

When Frieda Hughes moved to a ramshackle estate in the wilds of Wales, she was expecting to take on a few projects: planting a garden, painting, writing her poetry column for The Times (London), and possibly even breathing new life into her ailing marriage. But instead, she found herself rescuing a baby magpie, the sole survivor of a nest destroyed in a storm—and embarking on an obsession that would change the course of her life.

As the magpie, George, grows from a shrieking scrap of feathers and bones into an intelligent, unruly companion, Frieda finds herself captivated—and apprehensive of what will happen when the time comes to finally set him free.

With irresistible humor and heart, Frieda invites us along on her unlikely journey toward joy and connection in the wake of sadness and loss; a journey that began with saving a tiny wild creature and ended with her being saved in return.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for George includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Frieda Hughes. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


When Frieda Hughes rescues a tiny magpie chick from a storm in her garden, she doesn’t expect him to last the night. But he does, and over the next weeks and months, Hughes watches George transform into a sharp, inquisitive creature as he learns to fly, feed himself, and roam the Welsh countryside, always returning at the sound of a whistle to land on her shoulder. Based on the journals she kept while George blossomed in her care—with the specter of his inevitable, permanent departure looming large—Hughes brings to life the bittersweet story of how it feels to unexpectedly love a wild thing who has chosen you for its home.


1. If you had to describe George using just three adjectives, which would you choose? What moments in the book do you feel best encapsulate his personality? Do you have a favorite detail?

2. How do Hughes’s illustrations impact your reading? Which do you like best? Is there a scene in George that you wish had a visual?

3. Of George’s minor characters—both human and not—is there one you would have liked to learn more about? What interests you about them? How do they add to the narrative?

4. How would you describe the tone of George? What about Hughes’s sense of humor? Which moments do you find the funniest?

5. Compare and contrast how Hughes writes about George and The Ex. How does the way she describes her relationship with each of them mirror the other, especially in terms of the themes of freedom and letting go?

6. Hughes writes about a range of grief experiences in George. Are there any reflections that you find especially insightful? If you have faced similar loss in your life, do you find her depiction relatable?

7. In the first sentence of the prologue, Hughes writes, “Imagine wanting something since you were old enough to be conscious of wanting it” (1). George is in part about Hughes creating a life that she desires from the ground up—and how George was there with her on the journey. In this context, what do you think George represented to Hughes?


1. As a group, come up with a list of books you’ve read that concern the relationship between animals and humans. Discuss how these selections differ from or are similar to the writing and structure in George. What is gained from Hughes’s approach? What about any films or other media that explore similar themes?

2. Pick a passage from George and write a paragraph or two from the magpie’s point of view. What sort of voice do you think the bird would have? What about Merlin, Eddie, Demelza, or Oscar?

3. Go back to the text and write down all the animals Hughes mentions, from the tabby cat and goat of her childhood to Wydffa and Arthur. How many can you count? Imagine a scene between Hughes and a supporting animal of your choice—how would you depict their relationship?


George is based on diary entries you wrote as the events in the book were happening. What was the process of transforming those writings into the manuscript you submitted to publishers? How did you determine what was “useful information” that warranted later addition, as you write in “A Note on the Text”?

George went through many, many drafts!!! I began with the diary, then tried to get rid of as much of the repetition as I could, where George (or the dogs) did the same things over and over again. There was always the BIG question about how much of my life to put in the book, when, in my own mind, the book wasn’t supposed to be about my relatively mundane existence (impending marital separation notwithstanding) but George’s miraculous development. His burgeoning intelligence is what fascinated me, so I tried to keep mention of my life to a minimum, although it had to be in there to some degree to give a framework not only to George, but to me as George’s host. The question of, How much of my life is the right amount? caused me to rewrite several times, adding in, taking out. . . .

The “useful information” includes stories like those about the starlings and the gathering of crows. These events happened after George but were relevant in my mind to the behavior of birds and were so extraordinary in themselves that I felt they warranted inclusion. As were references to articles about corvids that were not available when I was rearing George. Being able to add extra information was the luxury of there being time between George’s arrival in my life and the publication of the book.

Has your relationship to privacy evolved over the course of your life? How, especially as it pertains to sharing your life in writing?

The short answer is YES, absolutely.

Curiously, just before reading this question I was working on a poem that is all about the way I would share everything with you if I knew that my secrets were safe with you, that you would never judge me, and that you would never use my personal information against me in any way—then I could tell you everything, if you were interested. But there will always be those who judge, and if I publish a secret then it’s no longer a secret. So, how much to share?

My life started so oddly when I was a child that I wanted to write it down and tell people, not just to share the oddity of it, but also to mark myself down as having truly existed, a sort of “I was here” literary version of graffiti.

As I grew into a teenager, my family circumstances demanded that I not tell people personal things because my family was inextricably entwined with me. It made me feel dumb, but I still wanted to be able to express myself. As a result, in my first collections of poetry, Wooroloo, Waxworks (especially Waxworks!), Stonepicker, and The Book of Mirrors, I used allegory where a family member or other third party might be involved; allegory became my first defense. But where a poem was only about me, I was blunt and up-front—poems, for instance, about surgery or my feelings about my mother.

In 45, my book of autobiographical poems published by HarperCollins in the United States, I distilled the first forty-five years of my life as I knew it into no more than three pages for each year. Each poem was accompanied by an abstract painting—a “Life Landscape”—that expressed my emotional reaction to the elements of each poem, although these were not included in the book. (To date, the paintings are still unseen and form a 225-foot-long, four-foot-high landscape of my life to the age of forty-five.) 45 was dipping my toe in the water of actual autobiography. And no one appeared to notice.

So, I grew bolder, and in Alternative Values, my abstract-illustrated book of poems published by Bloodaxe Books in the UK, I wrote poems about Love, Life, and Death, and I was open and frank and brutal. If it hurt, I described it; if it was glorious, I described that too. If I was angry that someone behaved a certain way, then I’d write it out. If I was puzzled or bemused, then that went in. Poems are where I work myself out in relation to my thoughts, experiences, and observations of others. My late father once observed that one cannot lie in a poem if the poem is to be any good, and I think he was absolutely right; it has to be authentic or it is a limp excuse of a poem. And so, as I have written one collection after another, I have tested the boundaries of what I am prepared to say.

But I am also getting older, and now it is a question of, What do I not want to be lost when I die, that other people might find useful? and What information would I like to leave behind to represent me? Also, Would anyone be interested? and Would anyone care?

The family who once might have been affected by much of what I’d write are all dead. That is both incredibly sad and literarily liberating.

Have animals affected your art?

Yes, along with birds, rocks, and trees. I do not love to paint human beings or anything man-made. I don’t find human beings attractive to paint although I enjoy sketching people and objects. I used to do portraits when I began as a painter, and never enjoyed it, but now I paint abstract “Life Landscapes” for people who tell me their life stories, where I record their highs and lows and the main events in their lives, in shape and color all over a canvas. (As I did with my own life when writing 45.) It becomes their own record of themselves in vibrant color! But when it comes to figurative work, animals—and anything from the natural world—win hands down every time. This stems from my very powerful affection for and feeling of connection with animals and birds and the joy they can bring.

Are there any books that you turned toward for inspiration as you were finalizing George?

Not particularly, although I read H Is for Hawk (published 2015) by Helen Macdonald, and Charlie Gilmour’s book Featherhood (published 2021), because it is interesting to see how other people deal with the bird- (or animal-) related memoir.

What is your favorite place in your garden?

Have you seen my garden? Almost anywhere! But mostly, the Bee House—a summer house with three glass walls and a golden bee as a weathervane on the pitch of the roof. It overlooks my lawn where my two rescue huskies play, and the massive flower beds that I planted with loving care, where my two rescue huskies trample stuff, and the house, in which there is so much to do that if I want to think straight it is better to be somewhere else.

Also, there is a slate-slab-floored, glass-sided balcony with a round slate table and slate stools in the top of a metal tree that I designed, that overlooks a courtyard flanked by my studios, with more flower beds and a raised fishpond. The dogs and I love to sit up there at sunset in summer, when the (real, live) ring-necked dove is nesting in the metal branches beneath, and all the clouds turn orange and the sky turns pink, and the birds sing their way into dusk.

How do you think about the relationship between independence and dependence in your life?

I think of independence and dependence in my life as being transactional. In my life I strive to be independent, but in being independent I then take on animals and birds that are entirely dependent on me, and I develop a relational dependence on them. Of course, any relationship is imagined on my part, and a result of my anthropomorphizing them.

What do you hope readers take away from George?

Joy, mostly. Also, the love of small, feathered things. And perhaps the curiosity to read my next book. George went on to have a happy ending in obtaining his freedom, having learned to look after himself in the wild. Had he not lived I don’t think I’d have written the book. The five months he spent with me were five of the most hysterical months of my life, and I’d be delighted if people enjoyed reading about him as much as I enjoyed living with him.

About The Author

© Frieda Hughes

Frieda Hughes is an established painter and poet. Born in London in 1960 to Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, she has written several children’s books, eight collections of poetry, articles for magazines and newspapers, and was The Times (London) poetry columnist. As a painter, Frieda regularly exhibits in London and has a permanent exhibition at her private gallery in Wales, where she resides with fourteen owls, two rescue huskies, an ancient Maltese terrier, five chinchillas, a ferret called Socks, a royal python, and her motorbikes.

About The Reader

© Frieda Hughes

Frieda Hughes is an established painter and poet. Born in London in 1960 to Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, she has written several children’s books, eight collections of poetry, articles for magazines and newspapers, and was The Times (London) poetry columnist. As a painter, Frieda regularly exhibits in London and has a permanent exhibition at her private gallery in Wales, where she resides with fourteen owls, two rescue huskies, an ancient Maltese terrier, five chinchillas, a ferret called Socks, a royal python, and her motorbikes.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (June 6, 2023)
  • Runtime: 8 hours and 58 minutes
  • ISBN13: 9781797159737

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