I must admit, the thought of a book of 'autobiographical' nature popping through the letterbox doesn't usually do much for me. I think the modern-day glut of 21-year olds, ahem, 'writing' books about their lives (which usually consist of kicking a ball around a field or appearing on some non-reality show) has ruined the autobiography market. The only time I look at them is in an airport book shop, where I'm usually amazed by the fact that most of them had a similar book out last year...just how much kicking of a ball can you really cram into one year?!
Martin Bowler's book, A Fish For All Seasons, is different. Very different, in fact.
For a start, Martin has been about a few years and has vast experience of the subject he's writing about. This book contains the experiences of a man who's been mad about angling for over thirty years. It follows some of his journeys throughout those years, taking in all the sights, sounds, characters and, of course, the fish. It appears to me that Martin is one of those people who likes to keep a record of all the things that go on during his fishing, so that he can look back at them later and see what went wrong (or right!). It's something we all should do, but so few actually stick to. His previous writing and filming, obviously, also form part of a great back-catalogue of memories and must have proven quite useful when he was writing this book.
And when I say 'writing', I mean 'writing' – Martin can write! Martin's writing style isn't pompous, but it's certainly not straight-laced text book style, either. He does like to describe more than just the mechanics of angling, but doesn't take it too far. There's the occasional “I wandered lonely as a cloud”-type prose in there, but, generally, Martin manages to relate his angling tales in such a way that you can almost feel like you're there with him, seeing and smelling all that is going on, feeling every cast and urging his float to bob under, or his rod tip to wrap round!
I also like the fact that, despite being involved in the angling industry for a while now, Martin still has his feet on the ground and, although he rubs shoulders with many of the characters that have become household names to you and I, he doesn't do so in a name-dropping manner. These 'names' are just normal people and, through Martin's words, we get to know them as people, not idols.
For me, though, the real icing on the cake is the photography. Just to have bog-standard photos of a few of the fish that Martin has caught in your own photo album would be a dream come true to most of us, but these photographs themselves are stunning. Martin knows how to set up a photograph. Not only that, he's also got an eye for what's going on around him; the scenery and wildlife shots are, quite simply, beautiful. One particular photograph, of a bivvy almost buried in snow, also confirmed in my mind that he's not just mad about angling....he's bonkers!
A little birdy told me that many of these photographs were self-takes, too, which is incredible. I struggle to get any type of useful photograph of myself when fishing. If a number of these really are self-takes (and I'm assured that they are), then Martin should write a book on the subject.
Oh, and I'll tell you another thing that makes A Fish For All Seasons different from a lot of other offerings out there – it's in landscape format, rather than the usual portrait style that we're used to. It's like flicking through a wedding photo album, which is kind of apt, really, given the quality of the photographs inside it. It's a hardback of 344 engrossing pages, complete with the photographs I've already mentioned, as well as a number of equally high-quality sketches.
I really enjoyed this book and will read it again at a more leisurely pace soon. It's the kind of book that makes you want to shake the author by the hand and say, “Thanks for sharing that with us.”
If you're looking for a quality fishing book, either for yourself or as a gift, then I thoroughly recommend A Fish For All Seasons. It's got pride of place in my book cabinet and when my friends, inevitably, come round and ask to borrow it, it'll be under pain of death that I let it out of my sight. In fact, I may even cut out the worry and tell them to buy their own copy!
For ordering details, please visit http://www.martinbowler.co.uk/. A Fish For All Seasons is £29.99 (plus postage), which is dearer than some books out there, but you really shouldn't be comparing it to many others. It's in a league of its own.