Saturday, 30 July 2016

Slow down! Lari Don

I’m rubbish at slowing down. I live by deadlines, late nights, deadlines, word counts, deadlines, targets, deadlines, deadlines, deadlines...

But one of my cats has a new strategy for slowing me down.

Lying on my work.

Normally, I think that the most useful things our loved ones can do to help us as writers is to support us to work harder, faster and better.

But sometimes the best thing they can do is make us stop and take a breath...

And in this case, the small cat in a basket was stopping me getting at a manuscript.

The lovely Red Riding Hood basket is what I use to carry all my writing kit (laptop, notebooks, manuscripts,  etc) out to my shed and back in to my study again.

So in this photo, the several hundred pages of the manuscript I was proofing on paper to a VERY TIGHT DEADLINE was under that cat. And I had a choice: disturb her to get my work out and rush rush rush toward my deadline; or let her be and just simply down for a wee while.

I just let her lie there, because she looked so happy.

She purred for a while and posed for more photos. I took a short break stroking my gorgeous cat and taking deep slow breaths.

Then she stepped elegantly out of the basket and got on with her cat day. And I took the manuscript out (it was warm), got on with my proofing and met my deadline anyway.

If we can’t learn to relax from a cat, who on earth will we learn from...?

Lari Don is the award-winning author of more than 20 books for all ages, including fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales, a teen thriller and novellas for reluctant readers.
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Thursday, 28 July 2016

A postcard from Sydney - John Dougherty

I'm on holiday in Sydney. And something I've noticed is: they have some fantastic bookshops here.

I
I popped into one of them - Better Read Than Dead, near my sister's house - and asked one of the staff a bit about the bookshop scene in Australia. This is what I found out:

There isn't a big chain dominating the market. There are some little indie chains; shops like Berkelouw (whose Rose Bay branch is pictured) have maybe 6 or more branches (in fact, a quick web search suggests 10), but they're still indie chains, with a single owner - a bit like Foyles in the UK, I think. There were one or two big chains some years back, but they went under during the financial crash.

You do get the occasional customer saying "I can get it cheaper on Amazon", but mostly people don't seem to mind paying proper prices for books - and 'proper prices' in Australia can be more than in the UK; one book I checked at random had a UK retail price of £12.99 but an Australian price of $35, which at current exchange rates works out at almost £20 (though of course the pound is weak at the moment).

Indie bookshops are thriving in the cities and doing well in medium-sized towns; they don't tend to exist in small-town Australia. The woman I spoke to told me that she does sometimes get customers visiting from the smaller towns who leave with an armful of books to keep them going till the next time.

Just as in the UK, there's an issue with supermarkets using bestselling books as loss-leaders - selling them below cost, at a price bookshops can't compete with.

But still, bookshops in Australia seem to be doing well. I asked my friendly interviewee what she attributed this to, and while there were a couple of connected factors - regular late opening hours, till around 9.00 or 10.00pm, for instance; or the events that they run - she put it down to one reason: the support of the community. Bookshops are valued here. People - readers - see their value and want to support them.

Any ideas how we can raise the perceived value of bookshops in the UK?


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John's first poetry collection, Dinosaurs & Dinner-Ladies, illustrated by Tom Morgan-Jones, will be published in early August by Otter-Barry Books.

The latest in his Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face series, illustrated by David Tazzyman and published by OUP, is Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face and the Great Big Story Nickers.

First Draft, the author band featuring John, Jo Cotterill and Paul and Helen Stickland, will next be performing at the Just So Festival in August.


My Summer of Self-Translating - Clementine Beauvais

I’m currently translating my own novel, and will be doing it most of the summer. It’s an incredibly strange experience.

The book is Les petites reines, a young adult comedy, which will come out next year in English, published by Pushkin Press. It’s my very first, and, let's be honest, probably only ever French-to-English import, and I’m translating it into English myself.



One should never do that, by the way. Number one rule of translation: the target language should be your mother tongue; so I should only be translating from English to French. Also, normally, one doesn’t just go from nothing to suddenly translating a whole novel. To be fair, I do have some experience of translation (but always into French), and I read quite a bit around the topic; also, of course, the situation is slightly different because I'm also an author in English. Still, it's a crazy endeavour. But circumstances have dictated that I should be the translator, so I'm translating it.

It's been... interesting.

Well, above all, it's been exhausting. I can't emphasize that enough. My goodness, translators don't joke when they tell you that you can only translate a tiny bit of text each day. It's nothing like writing; nothing like that huge burst of energy you get when you write something you love, and keep going until two in the morning, and forget about sleep. No. Translating means running quickly out of mental capacity. When I'm translating, I'm like a Sim with the gauge getting steadily emptier over my head. Translation fatigue happens - and it happens fast. Five pages in, and I'm drained of energy. I can't think anymore; I can't translate another line. Again, it's not like writing - it doesn't make you hyper, exhilarated, or high. It just makes you tired.

accurate Sim representation of me after 5 pages
However, it also makes you strangely satisfied, a kind of satisfaction I remember from my days of intense translating exercises in France, but which I also recognise from my academic research. It's the satisfaction that comes from miniature work, from slotting tiny things into just the right place. The correct word, the perfectly-shaped expression, the impeccable paragraph. Again, not the same as writing, for me at least; translation is about care, shrewdness and precision, it doesn't overflow in the way first drafts do - each sentence feels like going deep down a list of possibilities, inside the text and inside language, much unlike what is, to me, the outwards expansion of writing. It's a calculated sort of exploration; a speleology.

I'm not going to talk at length about the big questions of translation - the gaps, the puns, the names, the cultural references, etc. - many people have talked about it much better than I can, and I feel entirely illegitimate on the matter. But there are a number of things I can talk about here more confidently, that have to do with the idiosyncrasies of that strange exercise, self-translation for British young adults.

Firstly, self-translation. Of course, to me, this is not at all the same thing as writing something in English from scratch. I would never have written that particularly story in English, and I would never have written it that way. My English style is entirely different to my French - like all bilinguals, doubtlessly, I don't even think in the same way in both languages.

So what do I do? I'm free to do whatever I want, so I could have chosen to 'switch' my thinking to English entirely - convert the whole book to 'my English style', reinvent it - work on a new text. But I haven't done that; all the while, I've felt like I've needed to be faithful to my French style, making it very clear to myself and to the reader that yes, this is a French story, and the language reflects that because it's the only identity it can have. I want that ghostly French presence, that labyrinthine syntax, that excess of adverbs.

But of course I'm aware that I'm translating a text for a country and a slice of the population that is utterly unused to translated texts. The UK, as we all know and should be ten times more worried about, is legendarily lame at buying books from other countries, and YA and children's literature is no exception. Most of the time, books that do get translated are those that take place in culturally nonspecific places, or in fantasy lands. With Les petites reines, you can't get more culturally specific. It's in-your-face French provincial towns, French regional food, French traditions and French humour.

Given this, a lot of people (a surprisingly large amount of people, actually) have asked me if I was going to rewrite the text entirely - even to relocate it to the UK, with British teenagers. That's absolutely out of the question, of course - I couldn't look at myself in the mirror if I did. That said, I've caught myself censoring some jokes that I know would be considered offensive here, and adding instances of British humour that weren't in the original.

It all gives rise to a strange uncodified negotiation; I have leeway than a translator wouldn't have, but at the same time I've imposed on myself some limits that I don't want to transgress (e.g. keep it a translation, not an adaptation), so my changes are perhaps more arbitrary than they should be. I've never done it before, and there are no clear rules; I'm playing it by ear.

Playing it by ear, and hoping not to make too much of a pig's ear of it (<-- subtle clue about the English title, which I'm not sure I'm allowed to reveal yet). I'll keep you updated...

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Clementine Beauvais writes in French and English. She blogs here about children's literature and academia. 

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

A Book in its Natural Habitat - Lynn Huggins-Cooper


I have done lots of events and school visits on the theme of my book 'One Boy's War' . Recently I carried out a six week residency with my author-plus-textiles-artist hat on. We made a banner with a class of Year Six pupils and a group of older village residents as part of an inter-generational project.


It really felt like my book was being read in its 'natural habitat,' because the boy in the story was from a small mining village in County Durham, and the school I was based at was in a mining village in rural Gateshead. 

The village takes heritage very seriously, and history stands side by side with modern life. The past is remembered, and valued - and the people are celebrated. 


We chose a banner, because the Chopwell miners banner is so celebrated and well known. 



I started the project by reading the story and talking about the First World War, encouraging the children to handle artifacts to bring history to life. 


Working together, the older folks and pupils wet felted a poppy each to hang from the banner. 


The group discussed and sketched out designs and we worked over the weeks to produce the different aspects of the banner in fabric. The older ladies were experienced with needlework and this really helped the children to realise their ideas.


It was immensely satisfying - and humbling - as an author to quite literally see 'all ages'  enjoying my story and working together on the theme. 


 I am proud to say that the finished piece now hangs in the school which hosts the Chopwell Miners Banner - an honour indeed!



Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Still learning... by Eloise Williams


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This, I think, is the most important and exciting part of creativity.

I am always learning.

For me, this is also one of the best things about growing older. As I get older, I get better at my craft. It makes the wrinkles / laughter lines easy to deal with!

I got side-tracked as a Young Adult / Middle Aged Adult into all sorts of things. Shop work, bar work, acting, bingo calling, food packing, teaching, the list goes on. But now I have found what I want to do with my life at the tender age of *cough, cough* and it is the beginning of learning something new.

With an absolute heart full of joy, I am learning my craft bit by bit, every day.

There is so much freedom in admitting that you are still learning.

I can make as many mistakes as I want to! Yippee!

And another MASSIVE plus is that I can actually call reading - which is my favourite pastime - WORK! Hurrah!

I wanted to share with you three books I have read very recently that have been absolutely invaluable not only as gripping stories but as pieces of craft from which I have learned so much about the art of story-telling and the power of words. They are in no particular order other than the order in which I read them.


First up is the utterly stunning 'Eden Summer' by Liz Flanagan (David Fickling Books)




'Shy, gothy Jess and stunning and popular Eden are best friends. They've supported each other through some of the hardest things you can go through – death, bullying, love, heartbreak. They know everything about each other.

But then Eden goes missing and Jess knows she has to find her, and fast, because the longer someone is missing, the more likely it is they won't be found. So Jess starts exploring her memories, things Eden said and did in the last few months and she starts to realise that maybe they don't know each other as well as she thought.

Set in the beautifully described stunning countryside of West Yorkshire, an incredibly pacy page turner as the clock runs down on the likelihood of finding Eden alive.'


Gripping. Utterly gripping. I couldn’t put it down. Exquisite writing and description. Such brilliant story-telling. You care so much about the characters. You want to know what happened as if it is really happening to you personally. So much so I didn’t get out of bed until I finished it. Spent most of the day in my PJs. (Am not usually a slob).


Secondly is the scintillating ‘Strange Star’ by Emma Carroll (Faber & Faber)



'They were coming tonight to tell ghost stories. 'A tale to freeze the blood,' was the only rule.
Switzerland, 1816. On a stormy summer night, Lord Byron and his guests are gathered round the fire. Felix, their serving boy, can't wait to hear their creepy tales. Yet real life is about to take a chilling turn- more chilling than any tale. Frantic pounding at the front door reveals a stranger, a girl covered in the most unusual scars. She claims to be looking for her sister, supposedly snatched from England by a woman called Mary Shelley. Someone else has followed her here too, she says. And the girl is terrified...'

Atmospheric. Gothic. A ripping good yarn with hugely creepy elements and plenty of EEK moments but also a story of depth and relevance and such terrible sadness. I read it in the sunshine and felt I was at the centre of a storm.

Thirdly is the luscious ‘A Library of Lemons' by Jo Cotterill (Piccadilly Press)



'A poignant story about dealing with grief through the magic of reading and friendship. Calypso's mum died a few years ago and her emotionally incompetent Dad can't, or won't, talk about Mum at all. Instead he throws himself into writing his book A History of the Lemon. Meanwhile the house is dusty, there's never any food in the fridge, and Calypso retreats into her own world of books and fiction. When a new girl, Mae, arrives at school, the girls' shared love of reading and writing stories draws them together. Mae's friendship and her lively and chaotic home - where people argue and hug each other - make Calypso feel more normal than she has for a long time. But when Calypso finally plucks up the courage to invite Mae over to her own house, the girls discover the truth about her dad and his magnum opus - and Calypso's happiness starts to unravel.'

Poignant. Moving. Lots of young people I know NEED to read this book to understand they are not alone. The characters are so beautifully drawn and the subject matter is so tenderly dealt with. Expect weeping. Expect laughter. Expect to be charmed.

I just wanted to share these three with you because they all touched my heart and inspired me to be a better writer.

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And whilst I am in no way a reviewer and have only managed a few vaguely coherent words by way of review, if you are a newbie writer like me, I highly recommend getting your hands on these three beauties and marvelling at the very different ways these three authors write and at the squillions of things you can learn from them!


I'll be reading them all again very, very, very soon.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Imposter Syndrome by Tamsyn Murray

I've heard a lot about Imposter Syndrome over the years: the fear that you are not what everyone thinks you are. The fear that you will be found out and exposed as a ringer. The fear that your first/second/fourth/fifteenth book was a fluke - you don't really know what you're doing.

The FEAR.

Students I've worked with have often been amazed that successful writers still get The Fear. My answer had always been, 'Of course they do.' With each new project they might worry that they have forgotten how to write, or they may be stuck by the solid gold certainty that what they are writing is a steaming pile of donkey doo. They may Google 'jobs for failed writers'.

I am no stranger to donkey doo but I never recognised my fears as being linked to Imposter Syndrome until recently. Oddly enough, my brush with it wasn't directly related to writing. Some of you might remember that I was on Sky News at the end of May, talking about getting kids reading. The interview itself passed in a blur and I was pleasantly surprised afterwards that I'd sounded knowledgeable and lucid. Almost like I knew what I was talking about...

'But you do know what you're talking about,' a friend pointed out. 'You've had fourteen books for children published, you're Patron of Reading at two schools. You know about this stuff.'

And when I came to think about it, I realised she was right - I did know about it. I wasn't an imposter.

My second brush with Imposter Syndrome happened last week, as I was sat in the audience of Les Miserables, in London. Every performer was breathtaking and I remember thinking in passing how much better at singing than me they were (I sing and act with an amateur dramatics group), how small they made me feel by comparison: was there any point in singing myself when I would never be as good as that? The next morning I was at home singing the same songs (sorry, neighbours) and I remembered a director once telling me, 'You don't know how good you are.' And I felt a bit better. Yes, I am not as accomplished as the professional performers whose job it is to sing and act every night, but that doesn't mean I am not good. It doesn't mean I should give up.

Me playing Gianetta in The Gondoliers

Writers often compare themselves to fellow writers, for all kinds of reasons, and the comparison often leaves us feeling bad about ourselves. It helps if you understand that this is all part of The Fear, masquerading as Imposter Syndrome. The truth is, no one can write your book like you. No one knows your story better than you. So the next time you recognise The Fear, whisper to yourself, 'You don't know how good you are.'

And then do something prove it.

(PS I can't tell you how many times I have considered editing this post to make it less boasty-sounding. Looks like I still have some battles to come with Imposter Syndrome...)

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Once I was Eleven Years Old, by Liz Kessler

I wrote this poem a couple of months ago, after listening to ‘7 Years’ by Lukas Graham. I wrote it shortly before the Orlando shootings in which 49 people were killed, shot dead for one reason only: they were in a gay club.

This blog is dedicated to the 49 people who lost their lives that night, and is posted in honour of the new Amnesty International book for young people, Here I Stand, a collection of stories by YA authors which I am immensely proud to be part of.


Once I was eleven years old,
I had a best friend.
We used to try kissing.
Told ourselves we were practising.
Once I was eleven years old.

I moved up to the big school, grew up kind of fast.
Left the girl behind as we took our separate paths.
Had a string of boyfriends, and never questioned why
None of them ever felt a hundred per cent right.

Once I was sixteen years old, and I had some new friends.
Two of them sat me down one day
Told me they were gay.
I knew right then they had a love I wanted too.
But I had to wait. They told me, ‘It’ll come to you.’

Once I was eighteen years old.
I’d started at college, moved away from home.
I met a girl one night and I knew what I’d been missing.
I’d never known a feeling like when we started kissing.
It only took one night
To know this was a hundred per cent right.

I always thought when I found love, things would work out fine,
Thought it would keep me safe from danger, keep me warm at night.
Didn’t expect the words that hit me like a brick.
‘Dyke, queer, disgusting, you make me feel sick.’

Once I was twenty years old.
And a law was brought in by bigots and fools
Said my sexuality had to be kept out of schools.
Told us we were dangerous, told us we weren’t wanted.
So we fought back…we marched, we sang, we chanted.

Once I was twenty years old.
I poured my heart into the world.
Demanded that it listen. Demanded we be heard.
Went out there and fell in love a hundred times or more.
Nothing would stop me, no bigot, no law.

Once I was thirty years old
I knew who I was by then.
I had a life, a job, good friends.
I looked back on the times I’d grown up in, the things we’d lived through,
And gave thanks that the world was growing up too.

Once I was forty years old
I met the love of my life.
Society had changed so much
That this girl is now my wife.

I only see the future now, and this is what I say:
Those dykes and faggots of the past have led us to this day.
The ones who fought, who bravely stood and let themselves be counted
Their gifts have brought us where we are. Their lives should be saluted.

Once I was forty years old.
I looked at what I’d done.
Published books for the young.
But there was still one left to write, still one thing I had to say,
And the need to tell this story had never gone away.

I went back to the book that I had written years before.
Gave it everything I had, and then a little more.
I owed it to that girl in there to stand up, face the crowd.
To tell them, ‘This is who I am’.
I hope that girl is proud.

Soon I’ll be fifty years old.
The world is still evolving, still turning.
We’re still growing, still learning.
My country is a place where two people can hold hands, embrace
Without fearing abuse and disgrace.

But we’re not there yet.
Not even nearly, so it seems.
You only have to watch the news on your television screens.
Every day another story
Tells us progress can be slow.
It’s one world and we still have a long way to go.

Maybe soon. Maybe one day.
Maybe when we’re eighty.
But at least now I can hold my head up and say to the girl of twenty,
‘Look, I did it, I stood up, told the world who I am. Come stand with me.’

Once I was eleven years old,
I had a best friend.
We used to try kissing.
Told ourselves we were practising.

Once I was eleven years old.



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Saturday, 23 July 2016

A Whole Childhood World of Adventure by Steve Gladwin


Several months ago I mentioned the bedroom of my childhood which I had been magically drawn back to while on a psycho-synthesis course in 1998. As well as my thunderbird wallpaper and gaily striped curtains, there were the bookshelves behind my bed, (what if they'd fallen on me one night and brained me!) It would be nice, I thought, to pick one much loved childhood author and use the excuse of this blog to re-visit them. There were so many choices  and they’re only the ones I can remember! Would it be Billy Bunter, the Fat Owl of The Remove of Greyfriars School, who said ‘Yarooh’, several times a chapter and was constantly awaiting the arrival of that fabled postal order. Or maybe another school favourite, Jennings and his friend Derbyshire and their many larks at Linbury Court Preparatory School. I will always remember how Jennings diary entries always ended ‘Weather not so good toddy.’

There were other choices, like the legions of Blytons still lurking on the upper shelves, of which – the ‘of Adventure’ series were always my favourites). Or I could pick Alfred Hitchcock’s Three Investigators, Jupiter Jones, Bob Andrews and Pete Crenshaw, or The Hardy Boys books by Franklin W Dixon. Or there was always Tom Swift?.

Wait a minute! I was missing the most obvious ‘Adventure’ series of all – the Hal and Roger Hunt books by Willard Price which began, (I soon learnt) with Amazon Adventure in 1951 and ended with Arctic Adventure in 1980. But surely - I imagined - the books would be dated and colonial and I’d be wincing at the racism and the gratuitous slaughter or capture of animals by our two he men heroes.They might be zoologists and work for their father - who sent them out to capture animals for the world’s zoos - but there was hardly likely to have been much of a conservation message in the 1950’s.

One of my birthday presents had been a book by one of the great conservationists, Gerald Durrell – a lovely fiftieth anniversary edition of My Family and Other Animals, which I had first seen many years ago in a book club edition on both my parents and grandparents shelves. Surely it would be nice to compare two very different series with very different attitudes to conservation, both of which began in the 1950’s when I was born, (for alas dear reader – I am that old!).


Gerald Durrell and friend


All this sounded well and good as a project, but surely a modern perspective was needed with which to contrast these. So remembering our great love of The Lost Land, (Jaguar/Volcano/Tiger) series and documenting of the efforts of modern day conservation heroes Dr George McGavin, Gordon Buchanan, Justine Evans, Alan Rabinowitz and Steve Backshall, to observe and record wild life in some of the last pristine wildernesses on earth, (Guyana, New Guinea, and Bhutan), maybe I could find a connection here.And hadn't Steve Backshall himself written a series of wildlife adventure books for children, and named Gerald Durrell and Willard Price among his boyhood influences?





Making my own exploration in the slightIy less adventurous lands online I discovered that the first and last Willard Price books have been published in duo form by Red Fox. I obtained not only Amazon Adventure but Diving Adventure, not just Arctic Adventure, (which I didn't even know existed !) but Safari Adventure as well. Adding to my four for the Price of two, (sorry!), I was a copy of Steve’s own first children’s book Tiger Wars, I settled down to read my choices and use them as inspiration for this blog - er two blogs actually, as I’ve spent so long in this one assembling the team they've now nowhere enough time to come and save the village. So gentle reader, pray join me on a two part adventure with some true heroes of wildlife awareness, conservation and above all adventure.


Part One – Hal and Roger Ride Again
   
I can’t remember much about these books, but there was that one bit with Roger and his cheetah. Happily I managed to meet both in Safari Adventure, which is in one of my BOGOF’s. But we need to begin at the beginning.
Deliberately I decided to read before trying to research anything. I settled down in my attempt to reconnect with my childhood with Amazon Adventure, the first of Willard Price’s fourteen book series. Hal and Roger Hunt are accompanying their animal collector/zoo keeper father on a trip along a little known tributary of the Amazon on a mission to collect animals for the world’s zoos. All too soon the mood turns dark as John Hunt is forced to return home after a telegram from the boy’s mother informs them that his entire animal collection has been set alight by vandals/rivals and everything destroyed. Dad will be ruined unless this latest trip can bring him in a whole host of new collectibles, but he himself has to return home. Can he risk leaving his young 19 year old zookeeper son Hal, and his mischief loving younger brother Roger in charge of the mission? Oh of course he can!

Finding myself deep in the Amazon some hundred pages on, gave me the ideal chance to reappraise my childhood love of these books in the light of my bi-focal adult lenses, (never buy them!). The one criticism I found with the first book was a somewhat cursory approach to the exciting bits. Don’t get me wrong – Willard Price is never boring, but I do feel that he has so much adventure to throw us into that he can let off on the tension a bit. Before you know it, the latest extraordinary action is over hardly before it’s begun. And Hal and Roger’s first adventure is extraordinary. It involves them assembling a whole ark of creatures great and small from pygmy marmoset to rare black jaguar, from vampire bat to giant anteater, (which Roger wrestles!) and from tapir to anaconda with even a mascot shrunken head thrown in. Willard Price never sells the reader short. Not content with having just a boa constrictor as the big snake warm-up to the deadly giant anaconda, he makes it a mother which promptly gives birth to at least sixty babies, These soon become a handy weapon to throw at the villains!

You’d think that this teenage zoo keeper business would too often come over ridiculously far -fetched, ( and now and then it does, such as the rather too Scooby Doo ending/revelation of the poacher Blackbeard in Safari Adventure) but mostly it works. What helps apart from the author’s sheer energy, is his knowledge and attention to detail. In the company of Hal and Roger Hunt you really do learn all you seem to need to know about the teeming varied mass of the world’s wildlife and with Willard Price as a guide you are never short of stories within stories and the sort of survival anecdotes Ray Mears makes whole programmes about nowadays. In one quite phenomenal sequence, Hal, having been abandoned by his native team and then robbed of the animal ark by the villain, who he’s christened Croc, manages to commandeer one of the few floating islands that are actually stable and allow it to take him and a malaria stricken Roger along the river. Then, having failed to find either berries or spear fish, he fashions a tea kettle from a joint of bamboo, tries several methods of fire making including kapok and the rattan fire-thong method, ( no I didn’t know that one either!), before settling on the South Sea islander’s fire plough method where you stand a forked stick in the earth or sand and rub another stick through it vigorously to catch a flame. When he’s rubbed away with no result, Hal suddenly remembers the camera lens in his pocket and finally makes a fire using the old ‘using the awesome power of the sun to nearly set your trousers alight’ method beloved of over grown boys and girls everywhere.

If you think that’s it, you’d be mistaken, for having prepared an improvised fish line for another stab at the old fish game, Hal happily spears a monkey, (obviously not so happily for the monkey but hey they’ve got to eat) and ends up using every bit of it for a whole variety of purposes apart from eating it.

In case you think I’m mocking the writing here, I can assure you that it’s quite the opposite, for instead of the ‘blah blah.Secret plans’ school of children's book of the fifties, the action seems to come directly from the knowledge and sheer animal nous, even if the protagonists may seem a little on the youthful side.

In my next visit with Hal and Roger, Safari Adventure (1966), we are about halfway through the sequence and the Hunt boys are right in the thick of it in a manner which couldn’t contrast more with their Amazonian wanderings. Here, in the fourth in a whole sequence of African adventures, they are no longer collecting animals but dealing with  the problem of poaching, having been brought in by game warden Mark Crosby of Tsavo National Park, to put a stop to the activities of a particularly vicious gang of native poachers and their leader Black Beard. Before Hal and Roger ever get to set off on a mercy mission to emergency re-house a displaced colobus monkey and an okapi, away from the attentions of poachers, they are brought face to face with the harrowingly dreadful results of the poacher’s activities. Here both we and they are made aware of the sheer scale of the mass slaughter and its vast market in the ivory, fur and sundry other sickening trades.  As Hal. Roger and Warden Crosby free or put the trapped hundreds of animals out of their misery, you can’ help both applauding the uncompromising message and giving a shiver of relief that conditions in East Africa and elsewhere in poaching hot spots at least can’t be that bad nowadays.


Old Safari


One of the few criticisms made of Willard Price is that although he mentions the colonisation of native lands, he buys into the traditional tropes of such literature too much. For me this is a small price to pay for a series of books begun at the start of the fifties where native peoples are treated with honour and respect and our heroes follow their ways rather than trying to force their own on them. The only thing anywhere near to racism I have so far encountered is a phrase uttered by one of the villains, who seems clearly to be saying it so that we see just what an ignorant moron he is.

And the reason for this is surely that Willard Price himself appears to have been a fairly extraordinary and entirely honourable man, part journalist, part ground breaking social historian, and later a sort of roving correspondent and adventurer. He himself said of the series.

My aim in writing the Adventure series for young people was to lead them to read by making reading exciting and full of adventure. At the same time I want to inspire an interest in wild animals and their behavior. Judging from the letters I have received from boys and girls around the world, I believe I have helped open to them the worlds of books and natural history.

As for the conservation v zoos element, well the days of my childhood were clearly old fashioned ones in many such respects, when even David Attenborough was doing something similar to Hal and Roger in Zoo Quest. And as a flash forward to Part Two next month, for all the time that young Gerry Durrell spent on Corfu exploring and observing wildlife, he was also a collector and not all of what he collected lived long enough to tell the tale! As for his older brother Leslie, (at 19 exactly the same age as Hal Hunt) he was quite happy, as ITV’s recent adaptation of the books shows, to blast away at anything on sight. Give me the Hunt boys any day.

A newer Amazon


Did I enjoy catching up with these two boyhood heroes? You bet I did, and I can’t wait to tell you about the rest of it either, or to continue re-reading them. And I didn’t even get the chance to tell you about Roger and the cheetah.


Next time on 'A Whole Childhood World of Adventure'



Young Gerry Durrell attempts to referee and awesome contest between a gecko and a gigantic pregnant mantid.

Steve Backshall saves tigers and takes off his shirt (again)

Hal and Roger's last adventure in the arctic.


And if you want to catch up with the Hunt boys in print yourself you'll find them in three red Fox Doubles from Random House.