This is the second half (or even third) of an article I was doing on the creepy crawlies of the South African lowveld. A wise man once told me that no-one likes to read long posts. Apparently I can only write long posts. Cutting them up into pieces is the best solution I can come up with. If you’re interested, you can find part 1 here https://23thorns.wordpress.com/2012/07/29/226/.

In part 1, I looked at some of the nice creepy crawlies. Yes, there really are such things. Now that we’ve got all the cute stuff out of the way, though, we can get on to more exciting things.

Reputable scientists have divided the arthropods into several distinct groups. We’ve already covered the “cute and cuddly” group. I’m going to start this post with the “You will soil yourself and never sleep again” group. These are the creatures which will terrify you, but won’t actually hurt you (unless you classify inducing a stroke as hurting you). Continue reading

It’s the small things that count. (Part 2)

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It’s the small things that count. (part 1)

I’ve got it! I’ve finally worked out why I haven’t been able to settle down to writing about the denizens of the bush (I’m trying to write a book. In the absence of genuine creative talent, I’ve decided to plagiarise an entire ecosystem. They’re not copyrighted. I checked.) I’ve been trying to start in the middle. Today, I’m going to start with the little things. The insignificant things. Bugs. Continue reading

David Attenborough doesn’t have what it takes.

I’ve really been battling to get started on a post I wanted to do about wildlife the other day. Every time I sit down and start writing, I get bogged down in drifts of facts and figures that anyone can look up on Wikipedia. By the time I get to the interesting parts, I’m two pages in, and the only person still reading would be the one you don’t want to end up next to at dinner parties. You know the one; after waiting just long enough to build up a truly awkward silence, he will turn, look you not-quite-straight in the eye, fix you with a panicked grin and ask “Do you know how many teeth an otter has got?” I’ve forgotten how to say anything about something that really interests me. I blame television. Continue reading

Oprah lied!

If you had asked me before I was ten, I would have told you that I was an underprivileged child. Not because I was cold, or hungry, or unloved. I was none of those things. Ever. It was because of the A-Team.

I grew up in the golden years of TV shows designed to drive boys wild with excitement. There was MacGyver, there was Knight Rider, there was Airwolf. And there was the A-Team. Play the theme tune from any of those to an entire generation, now pushing forty and trying to work out whether the Jonas brothers are a band, a TV show, or a family owned furniture removal company, and they will stop what they are doing, just for a moment, while a slow, goofy grin toys with the corners of their mouths. They will zone out for a second while they try to dredge the names from the depths of their minds: Hannibal, Murdoch, Michael Knight, Stringfellow Hawk. And then they will carry on with their lives, saddened a little that their own kids will be doing this themselves in 30 years. For the rubbish on the Disney Channel.

Not me though. MY parents thought it would be good for us not to have a TV in the house. It was certainly character building. I went to an all-boys school, and had to learn to negotiate a complicated daily greeting ceremony which involved gangs of small boys in huge grey shorts shouting “Jeeeez! Did you guys check what BA did to Murdoch last night?” I learned very early on that the appropriate response was not “No, but I listened to a fantastic BBC radio play!” To this day, one of my most useful social skills is the knowledge that, if you have absolutely no understanding of what everyone else is talking about, smile and nod. It makes them very happy- not only do you agree with them, you’re not trying to muscle in on their valuable spot in the limelight either. Continue reading

The longest journey begins with a spread sheet about ducks

My plan for the book has started to take shape. I’ve got a spread sheet going now. It has ducks in it. It has other livestock in it too, but sheep are just too silly to talk about when discussing writing techniques. Chickens are too self-important, horses too serious. Don’t even mention turkeys. Ducks it is.

White Duck Portrait

Ducks: the basis of all good fiction.

There are thorns in the spread sheet too, but that goes without saying.

A book of a few hundred pages needs some sort of structure and planning, but I cannot, under any circumstances, bring myself to do one of those horrible spider diagrams. I think they are called mind maps. I hate them with every fibre of my being. Continue reading

Keeping an eye open for our owls

The book has been on the back-burner for a couple of days. We’ve been a little busy, but most of all the weather has just been miserable. The temperature has been below zero (centigrade), and the water has frozen in the pipes outside. This may not sound all that impressive to those of you from Northern climes, but bear in mind that we cheerfully build our houses as if we lived in Borneo. We tell ourselves that winter doesn’t last very long, dress warmly and sit huddled around heaters and fires. Our own house has inch wide gaps under the doors, and only about half the windows close properly. It’s very hard to type when you can’t move your fingers. Continue reading

Writer’s block, or gardening as an extreme sport.

I have reached the point I always reach when trying to write. I have my plot, I have my characters, the family are all asleep and I’m feeling good. There’s a problem, though. I haven’t even finished the first chapter, and all I want to do is go outside and do some gardening.

I’m sure that when you hear the word “gardening”, the picture that immediately springs to mind is of a cheerful little old lady in a large sunhat, lovingly tending her rosebushes with a dinky little pair of clippers while she waits for her tea to cool down. That’s not how we do it. For me, proper gardening should break your heart and leave you crippled, at least for a day or two.

You see, I learnt my love of gardening from my father and, while in all other areas of his life he may be one of the sanest, most rational, sensible people I know, when it comes to his garden he is not all there. Continue reading

The problem with dialogue.

The whole point of this blog is that I am using it as an aid to writing a book. It’s going swimmingly. I have a plot laid out, and am slowly but surely creating a whole new world for it to take place in. I am getting to know what my main characters will be like, and how they will drive the plot forward. But that leads me straight into my first (and biggest) stumbling block. They are, at some point, going to have to talk to each other. Continue reading

Write about what you know.

“Why are you writing a book about thorns?” I hear almost no-one ask. Well, since you have brought it up I will try to explain. With pictures.

They say that a first book is almost always semi-autobiographical. In order to be selected for the journey he must undertake, my protagonist must be both extremely clever and extremely athletic. So that door is closed to me. I’m going to have to fall back on that old schoolteacher standard: “write about what you know about.” I know about thorns. Continue reading

Every story needs an antagonist.

Since my first post, I have written precisely two paragraphs of plot development for the book. So far I know it’s going to be about thorns. I’ve never seen a work of fiction about thorns before, so I know it’s going to be original at least. This will, in light of what I said about the book trade and their fear of taking chances on new ideas, ensure that, even if it turns out to be good, it will never be published. Maybe I should throw in a sparkly vampire or two.

I have discovered a rich source of inspiration for the villain of the piece. It turns out that my three year old daughter may well be a budding psychopath. She hasn’t murdered anyone (she hasn’t discovered the drawer where we keep the knives yet), but she is developing a rather startling talent for deception. Continue reading