Magpies are magnificent. Distinctive by their black and white plumage, they are intelligent and inquisitive – and more superstitions surround magpies than any other wild bird. The most common one is that it is unlucky to see a lone magpie but two magpies can bring joy or mirth. Some people when they see a single magpie say: ‘Good morning Mr Magpie and how is your lady wife today?’ By addressing him in this respectful way and referring to his wife, you are implying there are two magpies which bring good luck and joy rather than sorrow, according to the nursery rhyme:
“One for sorrow, two for joy,
Three for a girl, four for a boy,
Five for silver, six for gold,
Seven for a secret never to be told,
Eight for a wish, nine for a kiss,
Ten for a bird you must not miss”.
These large and noisy birds belong to the Corvidae or crow family and do not migrate in winter. Once mature they mate for life and the female lays its eggs in April. They are powerful, resourceful birds and exist all over the world. Their name is derived from the French word ‘pie’ which means black-and-white or pied. They are indeed birds that you cannot miss seeing.
Folklore has it that magpies are kleptomaniacs and steal shiny things, resulting in their reputation for trickery and deception. However, there is no evidence that anyone has ever found anything silver or shiny in a magpie’s nest. This might be because their nests tend to be high up in tall trees! It is clear from the well-known rhyme that magpies can represent both good and bad omens and opposites.
For these reasons I chose this emblematic bird to feature in the story and the title of my new book: Dear Magpies which is a novel about a woman who is searching for her lost grandchildren, to whom she writes imaginary letters about her dramatic past and her present life. She addresses them as ‘magpies’ – an endearing nickname she once used when they were babies – when she writes to the two children whom she has not seen for ten years but who are now in their teens. Her current situation is sad and solitary but not without hope for happiness.
Dear Magpies is to be published in paperback by SilverWood Books on 18th November 2019.