Birds and Bullies by M. G. Leonard

Published on: 03 September 2023

Twitch, by M. G. Leonard, is the story of a boy who loves birdwatching - but there's also a pertinent message about how to deal with bullies.

Beetles and birds

The inspiration for my book about a young birdwatching detective, Twitch, came from several different places. Initially, it was the boys and girls who loved my Beetle Boy books who asked me if I could write about a birdwatcher that made me curious about birds as a subject. There is a natural link between beetles and bird because birds eat beetles. People who are fascinated by beetles tend to be interested in birds, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace to name but two.

My second source of inspiration was my mother-in-law, Jane Sparling, to whom Twitch is dedicated. Jane was a primary school headmistress. She had strong opinions on bullying behaviour. She once told me that there is no such thing as a bully, only bullying behaviour which always has a cause. She taught me: if you can discover the cause, you can rectify the behaviour. I was interested in exploring this in a story.

Could I take a mean bully and have the reader routing for him by the end?

The final source of inspiration was the opening of one of my favourite books, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, in which Pip, the hero, bumps into an escaped convict in a graveyard. In my opinion the encounter between boy and convict is one of the most dramatic starts to a book that I’ve ever read, and it provided the inspiration for the antagonist in Twitch as well as the mystery that he goes on to solve.

Your best friend should always be... you!

Twitch, the hero of the book, is the kind of person I aspire to be. He is independent, kind and nature loving. At the beginning of the story, he’s an outsider who struggles to relate to the kids in his school. He is picked on and mercilessly bullied, but no matter how cruel the other children are, he is strong enough to be himself. He finds friendship in his relationships with birds. He is not lonely and at no point does he feel that he should change who he is to fit in. I think, throughout life, your best friend should always be yourself. I didn’t have a lot of friends at school, but I was happy with my own company. It takes Twitch a long time to learn to trust others, particularly Jack, because he has been such a bully, but you can’t be friends with someone you don’t trust. Twitch has to start trusting people – not just birds - in order to make friends.

I believe friends will come if you follow your passions wholeheartedly. If you do that, people who enjoy the same things as you will be drawn to you and that’s how friendships start. Twitch’s passion for birdwatching is ultimately what brings him friends. He shows his classmates the wonder of the bird world and eventually they flock to him. He shares his knowledge and appreciation of the avian world with them, the reader, and he’s also taught me to see the wonder of feathered creatures.

Solving the mysteries of our feathered friends

I’ve become an enthusiastic birdwatcher since starting to write Twitch. I saw my spark bird, the kingfisher, in 2019 when researching for Twitch and it truly changed me. Now birdwatching is one of my favourite hobbies. I’m learning all the time. I’ve taught myself how to differentiate birds of prey by looking at their flight patterns. I’m trying to teach myself the different songs of passerines. I’ve read all about how eggs are created, and this one book has inspired me to write three more.

Ultimately there will be four books in the series of The Twitchers. Each adventure takes place in a different season. I have learned that a birdwatcher can expect to see different things as the seasons change. In summer (Twitch) birds are growing and fledging. In autumn (Spark) birds migrate away and to this country. In Winter (Feather) birds struggle to survive the cold. In spring (Clutch) the migrating birds return to sing their dawn chorus, find a mate, build a nest, and lay eggs. I hope readers will enjoy the four mysteries that The Twitchers must solve in these books, but more than that, I hope they will absorb some of the information about birds in the stories and turn their eyes to the skies. 

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