A Honeybee Heart has Five Openings is a book by Helen Jukes, a member of our group while she lived in Oxford. Autobiographical in nature, it describes a period when she was generally rootless and dissatisfied with how her life and career were unfolding, until some friends gave her some bees. Caring for these made her reflect on her own life, and this ultimately led to a much happier balance for her.
The book was launched on 26th July at Blackwells in Oxford and Jack, Gino and I went to the event, where Helen spoke to 50-60 people, reading some passages, answering questions from the audience and being interviewed by writer Nick Hunt, who described the work as ‘humble and full of joy’. I particularly liked her equating a hive with a symbol of a house / home.
The book has already been reviewed by The Guardian, you can see readers’ reactions on Amazon, Goodreads etc and you can see some extracts in the Mail. So I’ll discuss some of the back story instead, as she was a member of our bee group at the time. It mixes touching personal insights as she tries to find a new personal path, and discussions about bee life, surreptitiously educating the reader in ecology and bee biology. It draws you in and is a compelling read – I now realise Helen teaches writing professionally, which I wasn’t aware of while she was in Oxford.
The book references OxNatBees and some of the people in it, so Helen asked me to proofread and fact check it. I was a bit confused by one name I didn’t recognise, and thought she must have misremembered the name of the other Helen in ONBG. Helen (Jukes) had to explain to me in words of one syllable, how having two Helen beekeepers in the book would be confusing to readers and the name change was deliberate, not a mistake!
Not mentioned in Helen’s story: when she moved from Oxford she was mobile for a while, so could not keep bees. The hive was maintained in its original location by Jack for a couple of years, until he moved to a narrowboat and the hive was moved to a new home in the countryside a few miles away. The bees died out over one winter but the hive has been reoccupied by other bees, indeed at one point two swarms moved in (which, uh, “never happens”).
Helen will be at other launch-related Happenings, including Oxford’s Natural History Museum on October 4th. Further details can be found on her website.