I stumbled across the trailer for an indie film, THE SALT TRAIL, made by Mark Waters this morning.
It looks absolutely stunning.
(That shot of the palm trees. Woah.)
You can read a little bit more about it here.
In the Devon countryside, there is a house.
It sits at the top of a long, narrow drive, on the side of a hill; just outside the village of Sparkwell, looking across fields and hills and (this weekend, at least) banks of low-lying cloud, mist and drizzle.
And living in the garden of this house, there are animals.
Lions, tigers and bears, to be precise.
Because this house is at the heart of Dartmoor Zoological Park.
You may well have heard of it – even if you think you haven’t.
I fell in love with the story of the zoo when I read its owner, Benjamin Mee’s book last year, and this played a large part in our rolling up to Dartmoor in the middle of a not-so-gentle April shower yesterday, wellies and all. I’m glad we did.
Even in the rain, the atmosphere is lovely: some of the animals may be ensconced in their houses (lynx, I’m looking squarely at you. Don’t think I didn’t see you in the doorway) but the keepers are incredibly friendly and approachable and even the drizzle’s not enough to put Josie the lion off her food.
We arrived just in time to see her being fed, as two of the big cat keepers (with two “keepers for a day” assisting) hung a sack filled with her food in a tree in her enclosure. It lasted about a minute and a half before she’d torn down the meat pinata and carried her lunch off to the back of her space to eat in peace.
The keepers explained that she’s only fed every other day in an attempt to keep her lifestyle as close as it can possibly be to the one she would have in the wild – so rain or not, we were pretty lucky.
The rain didn’t seem to bother the newly-introduced Iberian wolves, either, one of whom was asleep at the back of their enclosure.
Having read We Bought A Zoo, one of the animals I really did want to see was Sovereign, the park’s jaguar.
I don’t know a huge amount about jaguars – except that they’re clever. Having seen him wandering around his enclosure, looking straight back at us, I’m glad there was a barrier and a nice big moat between us. Yes. To say he’s intimidating is an understatement.
It isn’t all about the big name animals at Dartmoor – although between the bears and the big cats, there are plenty. My little boy was especially taken with the peacock and (naturally) with the meerkats, whose last feed we just managed to catch at the end of the day. I’m always a sucker for the otters, and a soft touch for a capybara.
One of my favourite things about the day was the end of Westcountry Falconry’s display, held on the front lawn of the house. We missed most of it – but arrived just in time to meet Wendy the Striated Caracara, who trotted along behind her handler when he let her out of her aviary and immediately went to look under the picnic tables in case there was anything worth her time there. Anyone who doesn’t think birds have a personality clearly hasn’t met Wendy.
Education is a big feature of the zoo’s event programme, and this (plus the staff’s love for what they do) comes across in the “Close Encounters” sessions, when some of the zoo’s smaller residents come out to play.
We got to meet several of the reptiles, including a very inquisitive corn snake – and, after at least five minutes of dithering about it, even Small Boy was brave enough to stroke them all (and boy, did he feel proud of himself afterwards).
Dartmoor Zoo is an incredible place, with an incredible story. It’s easy to understand how someone could fall in love with it, and with the animals.
The staff and keepers go out of their way to bring all the animals’ personalities to the fore: you aren’t just watching A Lion, you’re watching Josie, who loves her food but misses her mate, Solomon, who recently died.
You aren’t just watching a family of meerkats, you’re watching a pair with two babies who were born in mid-December (there were 3, but one of them contracted pneumonia and didn’t make it).
Likewise, Kevin the boa constrictor couldn’t take part in the “Close Encounters” talk because he was wrapped around his tree and had made it clear in the most snake-like way possible that no power on this earth was going to get him to unwrap himself, thankyouverymuch. They’re all treated as individuals and visitors are encouraged to remember that’s what they are.
If you can, go. You won’t regret it, and we’ll be going back – whether it’s raining or not.
If you can’t go, read the book. Think about donating, as it’s places like this which help to safeguard some of the world’s most endangered animals, and teach the next generation about the world around us. Long may they remain.
Posted by loummorgan on April 15, 2013
I’ve been a bit sporadic on here of late – mostly because I’m seriously getting into REBELLION, the follow-up to BLOOD AND FEATHERS at the moment. So that means you’ll see less of me online. In theory. I still waste far too much time on Twitter, partly because it’s become my office watercooler, really, and if I didn’t have that I’d be reduced to just talking to the cat. Or possibly waiting for him to talk back to me.
Meantime, you can find me talking about BLOOD AND FEATHERS, Buffy and many other things in Hell’s Shelves, on the Rue Morgue site.
And for your very entertainment, seeing as we’ve mentioned the “H” word, might I present the “Door to Hell“?
It’s a crater in Turkmenistan, discovered when Soviet geologists were drilling for gas in the 1970s (or so the story goes). The ground beneath the rig collapsed, taking all the equipment with it. Fearing a poisonous gas discharge, the scientists decided to try and burn off as much as possible, assuming it would take a couple of days to burn out.
It’s still burning today.
Posted by loummorgan on September 18, 2012
I said I’d do a catch-up kind of post, didn’t I? Best laid plans and all that.
Have a picture of a lizard, by way of apology.
That’s admittedly not the one which fell on my head while I was on holiday – but I can assure you that one did. It made a sort of rubbery, splatty noise, and I’m not sure which one of us was more startled. We both went on to make a full recovery.
And yes. I went on holiday. To what I can only describe as a version of the Lost island without the Others or the Smoke Monster.
Sadly, no Sawyer either. Boo. I know. I was as disappointed as you are.
What it did have, though, was a lot of sunshine – and a proper beach and a ridiculously clear sea: the kind you always imagine is made up. (Put it this way: the sea around Brighton Pier doesn’t look quite like that, more’s the pity…)
We were staying on the wrong side of the island to see the sunset (this place is a nature reserve, with only a small village of about 130 people all of whom are involved in protecting the biodiversity of the the island, and a hotel – the rooms spread along the beach in individual villas) but the skies were still pretty impressive.
You can see the next island to the north in that photo.
I basically had to be removed from the porch of the hotel kicking, screaming and shouting “I don’t want to leeeeeave!” at the end of the holiday. Because I didn’t. I could’ve stayed there forever, especially given my joy at discovering there’s nothing about Creole food I don’t like.
Also, my poor husband had to put up with me merrily singing the Red Dwarf theme most mornings at breakfast, from behind a glass of mango juice. Because I am an enormous geek.
Anyway. The important bit is what I read while I was there – which boiled down to the second and third books of The Dark Tower (yes, I still love Roland. Hush now), The Art of Fielding, Hollow Pike and The Testimony.
The Dark Tower books need no introduction – and nor does my response to them – so I’ll leave it at saying my devotion to the series and the characters is still going strong… and I’m onto book 4.
I’d been looking forward to “The Art of Fielding” for a while. It’s a little-known fact that I’m actually a fan of baseball. I don’t follow it much these days, so I haven’t the faintest idea what’s going on or who’s who, but I used to be crazy about it when I was in my early teens, and your first loves leave a lasting impression. (Chicago White Sox, thanks for asking. I know, I know.) So imagine my joy: a baseball novel which requires me to bring nothing in terms of knowledge to the table other than the slightly iffy, second-hand snippets I managed to glean half a lifetime ago, and have largely forgotten… and my affection. Because the book’s not about baseball at all. Well – that’s an overstatement. It is about baseball, but it’s also about hope and despair and family and relationships and friendships and ambition and… things.
I think we rather take this kind of novel for granted in the genre world: we tend to expect that yes, Book A says it’s about dragons, but technically, it’s about the War on Terror. Or something. We expect books to be metaphorical, to a degree. But that’s another story – literally.
Another of my holiday reads was “Hollow Pike” by James Dawson, which I absolutely flew through. It’s a pacy YA book involving witches and the creepy local woods, and it’s really quite unsettling at times. It’s also tremendous fun, and has some great characters and a lot of atmosphere. Also, I want to live in the house that Lis, the protagonist, moves to. Preferably without all the nightmares and the murder and stuff, though. Just saying.
“The Testimony” took me longer, partly because the narrative structure’s more challenging. As the title implies, it’s a testimony – different people all telling their version of the same event – the burst of static and a voice which is heard by (almost) all of humanity one day – and what comes after. I’ve always been a sucker for a big-scale disaster movie (things like The Towering Inferno) and in a lot of ways, that’s what “The Testimony” reminded me of as it wove different characters and plot threads together. It’s fantastic. And terrifying, in the best possible way.
Any of those books, if you’re looking for some holiday reading, will see you right. Although if you’re reading book 2 of The Dark Tower, I advise you give the seafood a miss (I’ll be regarding lobster with a slightly cautious eye for a while, I think), and if you give “The Testimony” a whirl, you may well find yourself freaking out when someone accidentally switches on the PA in the airport and transmits a load of white noise. Hypothetically speaking. Because I totally didn’t freak out. Not a bit. Uh-uh. Nope.
God help me if I have to go through a forest any time soon…
Posted by loummorgan on June 6, 2012
It takes a special kind of circumstance to make me even consider contemplating those three ideas in combination. It takes the marvellously over-the-top geekfest that is the SFX Weekender.
Other people have already covered the majority of big things that need to be said: Sophia McDougall‘s blog post on the gender issue within programming has already been widely discussed, and as far as I can tell, what that all boils down to is the old chestnut about visibility on a range of levels, including publisher.
On a more positive note, I was pleasantly surprised by how many women were there, and there for themselves (as opposed to wearing the standard “My boyfriend / husband / son / best mate brought me along–but in 37 hours, I’ll be out of here” expression). I frequently bang on about how inclusive the SFF & genre scene can be, so it’s heartening to see it playing out on a larger scale.
And talk about scale. There were thousands of attendees, making it by far the largest convention I’ve been to, and the first non-writery one. It’s a bit of a bemusing experience for writers: we’re not quite sure what to do when a bunch of cosplayers wander past us, and I still can’t quite get my head around Darth Vader pulling pints behind the bar.
I’ve also seen more 11th Doctors than I ever imagined possible, and a startling number of 10th Doctors who were women (and while I applaud your cosplay, ladies, you’ve left me slightly… confused as to my 10th Doctor-related feelings…).
I think I handled it pretty well–particularly the moment when Anne Lyle, Amanda Rutter and I were ambushed by a Dalek demanding we open the door for it. Thinking fast, Anne and I did what every loyal friend would do, and threw Amanda to our new portal overlord. She was rewarded with the promise she’d be exterminated last, so technically we did her a favour. Stop judging.
I also particularly enjoyed seeing a Dalek aggressively refuse a massage (where do you even start?) and hearing yet another Dalek tell a passing Stormtrooper that “I am not the droid you are looking for.” Like a true Rebellion girl, I spent a significant portion of my time hiding from at least one Judge Dredd, because He Scares Me.
There were a lot of great moments: the roadtrip (because one does not simply walk into Mordor) up to Prestatyn with my fabulous chalet-mates Amanda and Anne, as well as the lovely Will Hill. Being shouted at by Amanda for “doing it wrong” when someone asked about my book. Sitting in Adam Christopher’s car with Adam, Will and Laura Lam on the way to the Tor party, driving down the narrowest lanes imaginable and trying to decide who we’d send out if a hook-handed serial killer started banging on the roof. Sorry, Will. We needed Adam to drive, and Laura and I will be required later for the role of Screaming Female #1 and #2…
I got to catch up with friends: people like Sarah Pinborough, who was incredible at the Just A Minute session–which is up on Youtube: the first part’s here, and I cannot encourage you to watch the whole thing strongly enough–and I met some fantastic new people–Joe Abercrombie is just as awesome a person as he is a writer, quite a dancer, and a bloody sight better at getting pizza than I am. Dammit.
I magicked G&Ts out of thin air, and was presented with a half-pint of wine (Johannes Roberts, you’re a man after my own heart….).
I had huge fun, too, hanging out with the Solaris, Abaddon & 2000AD crew, who are a fantastic bunch and who feel like family. I don’t get to see them in force that often, but the Weekender marked 2000AD‘s 35th birthday, so they were there en masse, and what a fine masse that was.
I danced like a loon to Craig Charles on the decks on the Saturday night, and am fervently hoping that no video of the event exists. I will also keep the photo of a certain editor and a certain author playing “Dinohunt” with intense concentration to myself. For now.
I may also have inadvertently started an “Alasdair Stuart for god!” campaign. I would totally vote for that ticket, by the way.
So: I went to very little of the programming, and I’m sure I missed catching up with a whole bunch of people, but that wasn’t really the point. Part of the Weekender’s appeal is that you never quite know what’s coming, or who’s round the corner… summed up best by walking straight into Dave Monteith from Geek Syndicate on the Saturday night. Many moons ago, we used to work in the same incredibly boring office and haven’t seen each other in years–so when we did bump into each other, there was a lot of hugging, squealing and general “Ohmygod!”ing. It was nice.
The downside, of course, is that the site is so large it’s easy to lose people: there were several times I got separated from friends in the middle of a conversation, and many chats which went unfinished–but I hope they can be picked up again next time. A common complaint was that there was nowhere to sit and catch up with people, and that’s true. Hopefully it’s something that can be remedied next year. Because, yes, it’s back next year… and yes, I’m already provisionally booked in at the hotel across the road.
To conclude, then: a good weekend, made–as always–by the people. And in this instance, quick shouts go out to Will Hill, Amanda Rutter, Anne Lyle, Jon Oliver, Dave Moore, Mike Molcher, Simon Parr, Tom Pollock, Lizzie Barrett, Sarah Pinborough, Johannes Roberts, Alasdair Stuart, Jonathan Green, Lee Harris, Adam Christopher, Laura Lam, Jared Shurin, Anne Perry, Andrew Reid… and so many more people who’ve been obscured by the post-convention fug.
If you weren’t there, and you want to get a feel for the weekend (or maybe you were there, and you’d like to relive it from the comfort of your own home…) you could do worse than to check out Jonathan Green’s fabulous vlog & slideshow here.
Meanwhile, and for reasons which I don’t altogether understand, I seem to have got this song stuck in my head as my SFX Weekender theme-tune, probably because I have a strange little ipod. Still, y’know. Let’s go with it…
Posted by loummorgan on February 9, 2012
One of my mad-dash self-pimping posts, this. If you’re averse to the odd spot of self-promotion and shoes with goldfish in the heels* then this is probably the time to look away…
If you’re still here, that’s good. This was worth sticking around for.
Last week, Solaris announced the line-up for their autumn anthology (you might well have read “End of the Line” or “House of Fear”, which were released in 2010 and 2011 respectively). This year, the theme – and the title – is Magic.
Full details including the line-up are on the Solaris blog, and if you look carefully, you’ll see that the “and others” includes, umm, me.
I can’t even begin to explain how excited I am about being involved in this: quite apart from the fact that so many of the people on that list are authors I admire hugely, Audrey Niffenegger is the kind of name that makes my jaw go from here ^ to here _.
The Time Traveler’s Wife is one of my favourite books (because I am a girl and in love with Henry, even though he’s an idiot for most of the book, yes, I know, don’t even try.) and so for me, this is a very, very big deal.
Random other pimpening: I’ll be turning up at the SFX Weekender coming up next weekend – I won’t be doing anything other than mooching around and enjoying myself, hopefully, but there’s a good chance I’ll be lurking around the Rebellion / Solaris & Abaddon crew at least some of the time so if you spot me, come and say hello! You can even ask about the fish.
I’ll be at a couple of conventions this year, attempting to sound intelligent… or at the very least, to smile nicely while failing to sound intelligent.
You can catch me at AltFiction in Leicester (April 14th & 15th), where I’ll be wearing my editor’s hat (which has a really big feather in it and goes nicely with the shoes) for one panel to discuss SFF non-fiction. Then I’ll be joining in with the “New Writers” panel, with Jon Weir, Tom Pollock and Vincent Holland-Keen – I’m particularly looking forward to this one.
I’ll also be at the Discover Festival in Snibston (May 18th – 20th), where it’s entirely possible I could be wearing a different hat. With or without feather…
*Note: no goldfish were harmed in the making of this blog post.
Posted by loummorgan on January 30, 2012
Yes, yes. I know. I give you a pretty picture to look at and then I disappear for a fortnight. Sorry. I have been a bit rubbish, haven’t I?
If it’s any consolation, I have spent most of the last two weeks running around like a cat with its tail on fire, stopping only to whimper quietly in a corner. I’m knackered. I’ve worked nowhere near as much as I’d have liked (although this morning’s attempt at research has landed me on a website with a very scary url beginning http://www.secretservice…; so if I suddenly disappear, it’s probably best if you don’t come looking for me. But I do appreciate the thought.) and have eaten far more than I should have.
Christmas has apparently Been Done Properly.
Just before Christmas, though, I went to Burning the Clocks here in Brighton. Held every year around the midwinter solstice, it’s a lantern-lit parade through the centre of town, down to the beach. Once the parade reaches the shoreline, the lanterns (which are made of willow withies and paper) are thrown onto a huge bonfire and ceremonially burned.
Some of the “clocks” are built to look like… stuff, as opposed to being little lanterns. I was particularly taken with these two: a phoenix, and a griffin.
And there’s fireworks. Because Brighton is never knowingly subtle.
It was a fantastic way to start Christmas, and if you happen to be round this way for next year’s, I thoroughly recommend it.
There are, by the way, much better pictures on the Guardian’s site, here. See if you can spot the geek-tastic lantern in photo 3…
Posted by loummorgan on December 29, 2011
It’s not the first time I’ve been: I went with my parents a veryveryvery long time ago, and Other Half and I took Small Boy there just before his first birthday. That trip wasn’t really for him as he was far too little to know what the hell was going on–it was for us–but this time, he was completely into it. And when I say “it”, I mean “everything”.
So we watched parades, we did shooting galleries, we gave Mickey Mouse a hug. We flew magic carpets and magic pirate ships, blew up the Death Star (Small Boy loves Star Tours almost as much as I do) and crossed rickety rope-bridges. We rode a runaway train and joined Buzz Lightyear in the battle against the evil Emperor Zurg (3 times) and stood watching the snow falling on Main Street USA (every half hour, on the quarter hour).
Also: I got to have a little moment with an Armageddon Armadillo. It was intense.
I have few flaws, but one of them is my deep, all-encompassing love for Armageddon.
I know. I can’t help it. When Colonel Willie Sharp comes up to Grace at the end and asks to shake her hand… I’m in pieces. Every. Single. Time.
And yes, that is a House Lannister shirt I’m wearing. Cut me and I suspect I would bleed geek.
Anyway. Moving on.
Apart from the Armadillo, there was something else I had my eye on, which wouldn’t fit in the suitcase either…
At least, that’s what Other Half said. My suggestion that we buy a bigger suitcase didn’t go down so well…
Posted by loummorgan on November 8, 2011