Thursday, 21 June 2012

Spinning and slashing

The slashing is going really well. My Nepal memoir which started out with a wordcount of 141,000 is now down below 130k. We did, sadly, decide to cut out an entire trek which seemed harsh, especially as it means removing staring roles by close friends, but much of the cutting has been through trimming unnecessary verbiage and over-writing. The great thing about having slimmed the book down is that I've managed to sneak in a little new material and even a splendid waxed moustache, owned by a retired Gurkha Regimental Sergeant-major.

There is an unconventional forward, we'll print some of the many reviews and there will be colour photographs too. I'm also pleased that we'll have Nepali translations of the chapter titles in the attractive Devanagari script. So we're getting closer to sending the whole thing off to the printers. The latest big big challenge is the blurb to go on the back cover - something you might imagine your could dash off in two minutes. But how to condense the essence of hundreds of thousands of words, several life events, six years in two continents... into a mere 100 words. Yes indeed how? We have been batting ideas and many versions around and are still not happy with the result.

A slightly tidier-than-usual desk and playing with Nepali lettering

Friday, 8 June 2012

English wildlife

I've been out on the Cam a lot recently - rowing - in the lead up to the annual 'bumping' races. I love the glimpses we get of our wildlife during these several-times-a-week outings. Last night on the stretch of river that passes underneath the busy A14 trunk road, I caught the silhouette of a hunter... flat-faced profile, absolutely silent flight... clearly working the rough ground at the road edges and the embankment for the bridge. The barn owl rose up effortlessly and glided across the setting sun, to plunge into scrubby vegetation and out of sight -- before our cox noticed I wasn't concentrating.

About a week ago we were turning our 'eight' around down by Bait's Bite Lock while mallards laughed at our ineptitude. Movement drew my attention to a very different river-user. Their numbers are in decline in Britain partly because so many of Britain’s rivers are being trained and contained with concrete. I'd already guessed though that there must be a reasonable population of them locally because in several stretches of the river -- in the jungly area opposite the Cambridge Museum of Technology and also along the water meadows near Fen Ditton -- the river bank is pock-marked with their burrows.

The evening sun made his fur look an attractive chestnut-colour, despite a recent dunking in a turbid, fast-flowing river. He had a rounded face that made him look so much more handsome that other rodents, and I could see why friends with a passion for conservation feel it is worth fighting to conserve these water voles. He was shy and soon bolted for cover but it was a lovely encounter, even if this time I earned a stern -- if deserved -- reprimand from our cox for allowing my attention to wander outside the boat. It is fortunate someone was concentrating. We were broadside to the flow. We weren't far from the lock, the river was in spate and we wouldn't have been the first eight to get into trouble by being washed onto the weir.

Monday, 4 June 2012

The Power of Words

I’d perhaps almost forgotten just how powerful words can be, but I had a reminder at the end of last month. I was invited by a good friend to give a talk in the fine market town of Hadleigh in Suffolk. The subject was the Crocodile Caves expeditions to Madagascar. It is quite a while since I revisited those experiences, and this time thought I’d read a couple of snippets from LEMURS OF THE LOST WORLD. One was light-hearted, capturing the Malagasy capacity of games and laughter, while the second was the sting in the tail. Reading it out loud brought back some really nasty feelings of an agonising 36 hours, and I was surprised just how powerfully the emotions affected me. I’ve heard it said that people don’t remember pain – maybe that’s true, unless you write about it.

You’ll be pleased to discover that the scorpion didn’t kill me although the sensation in my stung finger STILL isn’t normal. I also survived the experience of the reading and, more importantly, so did my audience. What made them squirm more, in fact, was a story contributed by Claire Verlander who was in the assembled company; she described an unfortunate ring-tailed lemur being swallowed by a boa constrictor. The saddest part was that the victim was a mother, and her infant was left screaming in the treetops.

This weekend I have returned to editing A GLIMPSE OF ETERNAL SNOWS. My new editor at Bradt is helping me to tighten the original writing a bit – reducing word-count is almost always A GOOD THING but this too is a painful process. A local GP colleague who is also an author, Mary Selby (aka Joanna Bell) describes the process as like scooping teeth out with a spoon. It really hurts. So far I’ve managed to cut 6500 words from what was a 141,000 word book, but I suspect more must go. The problem is that this memoir covers our years in Nepal and this was the time when I’ve experienced the very best as well as the very lowest points in my life. The challenge as an author though is to entertain my readers. Glimpse is a joyous book and what I’m working towards is making it even more uplifting than the original read.