Published: Lightning Books (June 2019)
The lyrical new novel from the award-winning author of Electricity and Forgetting Zoë
Midwinter. As former farmhand Jake, a widower in his seventies, wanders the beautiful, austere moors of North Yorkshire trying to evade capture, we learn of the events of his past: the wife he loved and lost, their child he knows cannot be his, and the deep-seated need for revenge that manifests itself in a moment of violence.
On the coast, Jake’s friend, Sheila, receives the devastating news. The aftermath of Jake’s actions, and what it brings to the surface, will change her life forever. But how will she react when he turns up at her door?
The Mating Habits of Stags is a journey through a life of guilt and things unsaid – and as beauty and tenderness blend with violence, Robinson transports us to a different world, subtly exploring love and loss in a language that both bruises and heals.
An early version of the story was released in 2016 as the short film Edith, starring Peter Mullan and Michelle Fairley, which was Bafta-longlisted for Best British Short Film.
LIMITED EDITION OFFER: order now for a signed hardback – just 200 numbered copies available. Also receive a free EP of Te Anau, the new ambient album by Wodwo (aka Ray Robinson). To qualify, enter code STAGS200 at the checkout.
Some nights she stands on her doorstep in Scarborough inhaling the night air, listening to the ceaseless rhythm of the waves crashing on the beach, a rhythm mirroring the wheel of thoughts in her head, because even in Jake’s absence, even with all this distance, even though she knows he has gone, she can still feel his presence at the very core of her world.
They didn’t know it, but this was Jake’s favourite time of year, the beginning of autumn—what Edith used to call the ‘back end’. Perhaps, working this plot of land, they will start to read the landscape as Jake once had. Notice how the blackbirds come to attack the fruit on the rowan tree and all around them is a final burst of colour, not just from the changing leaves but from the seed heads and clutches of berries, hedgerows bursting with hips and haws, bryonies and sloes, attracting flies and wasps and all manner of birds that will shit the seeds out in a splatter of rainbow-white.
Jake would miss seeing his friends in the garden, the robins and toads and jays and magpies that come to dig holes and plant acorns. He often wondered if the clutch of house martins would return to the same nest under the eaves the following year. Wondered if Sheila would be living in Dove Cottage and marvel at them as he had.
The blowy afternoons of autumn, intimations of chill sweeping down over Jackdaw Moor, wind-blown leaves like strips of leather, the birds falling silent as they begin to moult, and between mole heaves, lace-worked with hoar-frost, spider threads, spangled with dewdrops, will be carpeting the plots.
It is the time of year when Jake’s thoughts always returned to the back end of his childhood, walking to school across the meadows, moving his hands through the flower heads like some god mixing the firmament, cattle hock-deep in hawkbit and quaking grass, plough teams walking their daily acres, stooks of wheat propped in the fields, and the whump and crack of the baler was the summer-end beat of his heart. Because that’s what he would miss the most—the seasons spinning like a revolving door, repeating into a future without him. Because what he saw in autumn was a new beginning.
‘Ray Robinson is a writer with keen observation. His prose is hard, abrupt and sinewy’
Allan Massie, The Scotsman
‘I was completed captivated by this novel about the primal instincts of love, home, survival and revenge. It seemed to remind of every good book that I have read in recent times. Expect this one to feature heavily come awards season. This is a book that reminded me why I love reading and it was a privilege to read’
An early version of The Mating Habits of Stags was released in 2016 as the short film Edith, starring the Emmy-nominated Peter Mullan and Game of Thrones actress Michelle Fairley, and directed by Christian Cooke. It was Bafta-longlisted for Best British Short Film and continues to win awards and accolades around the world.