Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Animal World

I'm just back from safari in Tanzania in the Selous Game Reserve at Beho Beho....amazing. But I won't tell you about that here as I'll be posting about that over at Just Keep Writing and Other Thoughts soon.

During the course of the trip we studied the animal world and its interaction within their own species and with others. This of course as a writer is something I do everyday and many days without even noticing that I do. You know what I the checkout queue - half your mind is what you may have forgotten, but the other part is noting what the girl behind the till is wearing in her ears, the conversation taking place in front of you and the one behind while the mother with the toddler in the other queue negotiates the way past the chocolate.... You go for a drink with a friend and you spend most of the time watching the casual and not so casual interactions at the bar...

On an afternoon walk through the bush after we had sat still for a half hour watching a pack of wild dogs, I was encouraging our guide Sacha to write. (You know when you meet someone who is a natural writer, but they haven't figured it out yet...) He shook his head and said no, but then I pointed out that he was a passionate reader, spent his days studying animal behavior and had a huge urge to share this with others.... I could then see him thinking this through.

He said he didn't see how his knowledge of animals could help him to write....I said just look at the Fenwick pack - look at the dynamics that he had seen all week. We were on safari to celebrate DH's 50th, DS1's 18th and DS2's 16th....the young continuously vied for top/alpha position, but stopped just short because they are still financially dependent. Sacha laughed as he, of course, had noticed the gentle jibing that had taken place at every meal.

I think Sacha will see his vocation..probably either in the non-fiction arena with his passion for the disappearing art of bush skills (he showed us the local form of basil which is used to make a poultice for coughs among the native population) or I think as a children's author. Time will of course tell...

My hours spent observing the animal world will certainly add to my understanding of the human world. Have you ever applied animal knowledge to people or the other way around?

Please come back on Thursday to see what Biddy has to say...


  1. this is excellent imagine how proud you will be when he starts writing.
    I do compare some of my characters to trapped scared animals lashing out at others because they feel they have no other option.

  2. Joanna - I do hope he does...we will lose something if he doesn't.

    I had forgotten about that aspect of animal behaviour but you are right...excellent observation.


  3. That's a tough question, Liz! But really, we're all animals deep down and we live in "packs", like you said, with an alpha at the top and a certain pecking order after that. Survival of the fittest applies to us humans, just as much as the animals, even if we try to use our intelligence more than pure muscle.

    If, as authors, we do apply animal knowledge to our characters, it's probably instinctive rather than on purpose. I tend to use words like "snarl" and "growl" to show that someone is very angry, which puts you in mind of animals fighting rather than humans. Not sure if that's what you meant though?

  4. I think we definitely use animal knowledge - it's all in the motivations. WHY does that animal act that way, why does it snarl, go possessive, act submissive...

    I remember a feral cat round here who was a holy terror - he was the Head Cat and was constantly fighting and ravishing his way round the neighbourhood.... until the young bloods usurped him. As soon as he wasn't the top animal anymore, he became relaxed, laid back, friendly and peaceful.

    It made me realise how much of his bully behaviour had been motivated by expectation and pressures of responsibilities. Interesting stuff.

  5. Christina and Anna - I guess it is automatic. I think it was just watching how the different groups behaved. The breeding herd of elephants with only women and very young males....each group of animals behaved very differently in many ways...and motivation is key :-)