Saturday, 7 January 2012

Characters from nature

Watching the unbelievably beautiful Earthflight on BBC the other night, I was reminded of a thought I had during Frozen Planet. On that programme, I laughed out loud to watch a thieving penguin craftily stealing stones from his neighbours – then defending his stolen hoard with all his strength as his puzzled victims eyed their diminished fortifications. On Earthflight, I was watching vultures trying to get access to a wildebeest carcass in the face of defence from a lion, storks and a hyena. Hilariously, the vulture decided to tiptoe round the back in the futile hope it wouldn't be spotted. If you haven't seen a vulture tiptoeing, I suggest you catch it now, on iplayer. David Tennant, who was narrating, commented that 'vultures never stay still' because they are always dodging out of the way of attacks.

Now, in both these cases, it didn't take much to extrapolate from animal to human behaviour. In the case of the vultures, I was reminded of the classic description of the shadowy underworld figure, eking out a living by "duckin' and divin', dodgin' and weavin' " – just like the vulture.

And why are scavengers generally so ugly? They seem to be almost caricatures of themselves – gawky, rough-looking, dirty, rough-furred or patchily feathered.

By contrast, watching the flamingoes dancing was the most extraordinarily beautiful sight. Like pink-tutu-ed ballerinas they moved in stately and graceful synchronicity, legs, necks, heads mirroring that of their neighbours. And seeing how gannets worked as a team with dolphins to catch sardines was truly awesome, with lessons to be learned about the common good (though not for the sardines, obviously).

I think I can justify glueing myself to these absorbing programmes. As well as being stunningly beautiful, revealing the intricacy and glory of our precious planet, they seem to offer boundless possibilities for the creation of characters for my novels!

Finally, in a footnote to Cally's blog last week, can I make the observation that one huge plus to e-books is that we can again get access to novels from our favourite authors that have been long out of print. Hats off to my friends and mentors Eileen Ramsay and Anita Burgh for taking the plunge and starting to upload their back lists!


  1. A lovely post, Jenny - you make a very good case for the way in which nature can help with our writing!

  2. Thanks Rosemary – animals really can be very cheeky!

  3. An interesting blog, Jenny. Thank you.

    Liz X

  4. I confess to a soft spot for a couple of scavengers, Jennie......I think magpies have the most wonderful markings, and there's a certain cunning about jackdaws! What does that say about me, I wonder? Don't send the shrinks, thoug!

  5. I haven't watched this programme but will certainly now do so.

  6. I read this after my post about dogs and trees on twitter. As i walk through the forest, I'm reminded of the timelessness of my surroundings. And how much we can learn.sometimes I feel I aught to tiptoe.
    I love watching the pheasants as they proudly strut through the garden.I really feel they are deigning to visit!

  7. Apparently if you are tired or depressed, a walk in the country can put much right - but not a walk in town. Makes sense!

  8. Lovely post, Jenny. Bit late with my comment, but I agree. Sometimes, when the weather is ugh, I really do not want to walk my rescue dogs (one partially blind, one OAP who takes an eternity; until recently, one three-legged - hoppity, hop). I always do though, and always, no matter the weather, come back inspired by the natural beauty of the landscape - and its secretive inhabitants!