(Re-blogged from my July contribution to the July Authors Electric blog)
“As writers, as a group, readers of this blog take words and their meanings seriously.”
Life in the world beyond books, blogs, and articles however tells us that large numbers of people don’t. Take the heading ‘NATURE RESERVE’ on a notice: is this a place set aside to provide a safe and suitable habitat for wildlife, native plants, trees, maybe a wetland area? A location where a handful of rare species have been seen to hang out? Even the slow worms in our 7-hectare local nature reserve are counted to make sure they are doing okay.
Or is it, as a runner recently put it, ‘just a place for everyone, and dog-walking…’
As fiction writers, we’re in the business of creating both environment and inhabitants, which will include inhabitants who don’t think like ourselves, and environments we’d find strange, hostile, uncanny, as well as beautiful, welcoming, or exciting. Possibly more often than not these environments will indeed be in the negative, at least for a fair part of, say, a crime or mystery novel. Even a cosy crime or mystery may need to lead the reader into a place they’d rather not go… and characters dubious and devious. But today I’m thinking about those people who are simply ‘unlike us’. The ones who while seeing themselves as ‘nice people’ simply, maybe thoughtlessly, make words ‘not apply to me.’
Let’s enter our nature reserve. On a day of dazzling sunshine and promised heat, passing the notice, ‘nature reserve’, plus a few more details and requests, we enter a small wooded area, and follow a path which opens out to reveal a large reed-bordered pond. Young moorhens, their beaks not yet characteristically brightly coloured, are paddling across. Further on are the flower meadows, now parched by drought. Numbers of butterflies and damselflies flutter among the mainly purple or yellow flowers, occasionally flying upwards into the surrounding trees. In the wood, which borders the railway line, there are small, brown, woodland loving butterflies.
There was, on Sunday, also me, watching a pair of these ‘Speckled Woods’. Preparing to take a photo, I squatted down on the path, to focus on one which had perched on the leaf of a low-growing plant. The creature opened its wings wide, displaying the speckled pattern and its furry body and long, quivering antennae. As I extended the lens to get in close, feet pounded up behind me. It only took a second, but a shadow passed over us both, the butterfly fled up into the trees, and a bulky male jogger panted and grunted past at speed, feet flying. I’m left wondering yet again about the brains of joggers, with no interest in nature, so intent on their own heart’s health (or not, who knows what they think, or if they think?)
At least the Speckled Wood isn’t rare – yet. We do have some. None the less, I am furious, ‘discombobulated’ you might even say. Because it’s not just me, it’s not just a first time, and worse can happen. We had foxes in here: one day, a visitor discovered one, killed by a dog. The owner had, as many do, ignored the request to keep their dog on a lead, and obviously sneaked away after a very nasty scene. ‘Lucky’ that nobody else had been around to witness. How do these characters think? A small detail, perhaps, in a novel: maybe leading towards, surely s/he wasn’t the forger – or the murderer?
Thanks, guys, for giving me an insight into your world: ‘Me, myself, and I, not making trouble for anyone…Gotta complete this circuit in one, not stopping for woke nonsense, notice needn’t apply to me…Preserving the balance of the planet? Piece of rough ground, a challenge to my running skills…’
Mmm – shall I put you in my novel?