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.

1 comment:

  1. Claire emailed to say... "I attended Jane’s excellent talk in Hadleigh. It was a very enjoyable evening which brought back many happy memories for me of Madagascar – the saddest memory though was the account I described regarding the poor Ring Tailed Lemur.

    I was fortunate to visit Madagascar for two and a bit weeks in November 2011. The following occurred in Anja National Park near the town of Ambalavao.

    When a guide takes a photograph you realise you are about to witness something very unusual. Ahead of me people were already gathering to take photos. As I looked down at what their attention was completely on, I noticed to my horror the head of a Boa Constrictor already consuming and digesting a Ring Tailed Lemur. Only the lower section of the Ring Tailed Lemur’s body remained outside the snake.

    To be totally honest it felt like the sort of thing you see on wildlife documentaries – the sort of thing I personally quickly switch channels or turn the TV off. I didn’t know whether to take photos, video or walk away. In the end I took photos and video. I guess like everybody else I was trying to comprehend what I was seeing.

    My attention was then drawn to the youngster. We were told he/she was just three months old and making lots of squealing noises as he/she looked down at their Mum. He/she just kept running around in the trees above not knowing what to do. According to the guides the snake had struck while the lemurs were resting. They assured me that the baby would find a new family. Words of comfort perhaps? I don’t know. Slowly we had to move on, each of us lost in our own thoughts."