The Language of Birds

Novel, publishing on 4 April 2019
Sceptre hardback £18.99, eBook & audiobook available


A hypnotic novel about class, violence and friendship inspired by the shocking Lord Lucan case and the ‘lovely young nanny’ at its centre, who history has largely forgotten

It’s the summer of 1974, and 26-year-old Mandy River arrives in London with hopes of leaving a troubled past behind her. She soon finds work as a nanny to the children of Lady Katherine Morven, a wealthy society woman in the midst of a messy separation from her enigmatic husband, ‘Dickie’. Katherine’s grand Belgravia house is a far cry from Mandy’s own modest working-class background. But despite the riches and glamour, Mandy soon senses that something isn’t quite right in the Morven home. Men are watching the house and there are strange phone calls day and night. Most alarmingly, the eldest child is acting oddly, and appears to be very frightened of something. According to the mercurial Katherine, who seems to have as many different moods as she does fur coats, her estranged husband is violent, controlling, and not to be trusted. But when Mandy finally meets him, instead of a monster she finds a charming, caring father who claims only to have his children’s best interests at heart. Whom should she believe?

As Mandy tries to shield her young charges while the Morven’s toxic marriage implodes, her friend Rosemary watches from the wings. But despite her best efforts, Rosemary finds that she cannot protect Mandy as events play out towards their horrifically violent end…

Inspired by the infamous Lord Lucan affair, Jill Dawson explores a shocking murder and its roots from the unusual perspective of the ‘lovely young nanny’ who was largely overlooked. Brining 1970s sciety to vivid life, this competlling throught-provoking novel shows that then as now, women’s voices all too often went unheard.

‘Dawson is a novelist everyone should know about. Often tackling real life subjects such as Patricia Highsmith, the poet Rupert Brooke and a criminal East End good time girl, she breathes life and insight into characters. This time, she takes inspiration from Sandra Rivett, Lord Lucan’s murdered nanny. Giving voice to the character so often forgotten in this famous case, she conjures 1960s London with all its sense of hope just as well as the ominous atmosphere at the Lucan’s home. Despite you knowing what’s coming, it’s both atmospheric and genuinely riveting, with a huge feminist heart.’

‘I loved it. It’s a brilliant riposte to all the Lucan myth-making that has developed over the years – so moving and so righteously angry.’
Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train

Strange, alluring and gripping. The Language of Birds pulls you towards the inevitable tragedy while delicately unpicking the tangles in the mother-baby-nanny triangle, the British class system and the hidden horrors of domestic violence. Jill Dawson is one of our most interesting writers.’
Sofka Zinovieff, author of Putney

‘Glorious and exquisitely written. And – for a book that takes one of the most famous murders of the 20th century as its inspiration – astonishingly full of life and joy.’
Emma Flint, author of Little Deaths