Friday, 4 October 2013

Tarka and Teasel

'Tarka and Teasel' sounds as if I've just bought two kittens. I haven't.

Tarka the Otter is one of those wildlife classic stories. It's the life story of an otter, and I think it was written in the 1930s. It's set in Devon, mostly on the river where Tarka fishes, mates, escapes from otter hounds (otter hunting was legal at the time) and survives the long harsh winters. No costumes, no talking. This isn't Mistmantle. This is the story of a real otter on a real Devon river. It's told in the third person, but all from Tarka's point of view. I read it when I was eleven and it wasn't always an easy read - it made me cry more than once - but a satisfying one that carries you down to the river and into the otter's world. In the winter I could feel Tarka's hunger and was desperate for him to find food. The author, Henry Williamson, developed some unpleasant political beliefs which may have led to his books going out of fashion. Pity, because his books are a lot better than his politics.

In his corner of Devon, around Bideford and Barnstaple, you can't ignore Tarka. There is a walking trail called the Tarka trail, and the local railway line is the Tarka line. By the way, it's also a very beautiful area.

When I write animal books they are mostly from the hero or heroine's point of view, but I try to put a window into the animal's mind, too. When I wrote A HOME FOR TEASEL I had to move into the mind of a pony. I had to see the world the way she would see it, the way she hates being put into confined spaces and her need for a place in a herd. It's as much Teasel's story as Gwen's, so we have to see with her mind.

The book I'm working on now has a little dog in it. He's a very confused little dog at times. The more I write him, the more I feel that human behaviour must be so bewildering to dogs that they can't make head nor tail of us, and come to that, we don't even have tails, and who can get through life without a tail to wag? I think it's very good of dogs to put up with us at all.


Samantha Silverstein said...

Otters. Oh my godness. I love otters and Mistmantle,too.

margaret mcallister said...

They are doing well in England now, Samantha. The rivers are cleaner than they used to be, which helps.