A British film starring Talulah Riley, Martin Compston, and Joe Thomas of In Betweeners fame, has come out on DVD. It also features our tame otters. I travelled up to Dunoon in Scotland to help with the scenes that, in the story, entail an injured otter brought into a wildlife conservation centre set in a beautiful location outside Glasgow.
Belinda the Otter with Sophie and Daphne Neville
The romcom is written and directed by Talulah Riley who was keen to use our very energetic young male otter Rudi in a scene where the otter is released back into the wild. To achieve this on film, without losing him altogether, was quite a feat but he enjoyed himself and the result looks endearing.
When one of the producers asked if I had worked on any other films featuring animals, I had to admit there have been quite a few. We once had a baboon in the studio and I became quite used to filming with trained elephants. I worked with a whole variety of exotic animals on the vet series ‘One by One’ from a pelican to a full grown leopard. In the mid 1980’s I was lucky enough to spend four months on Corfu making the first BBC adaptation of Gerald Durrell’s autobiography ‘My Family and Other Animals’ with Brian Blessed and a huge number of tortoises. As it happens, Rudi appeared in the second series of The Durrells, playing both the male and female otters.
Sallie Eden contacted me when she was staying at Bank Ground Farm last month, requesting an interview. I have pasted a few of her questions here:
Where do you write? In solitude? At home? I find it much easier to write the first draft of my book if I retreat to an African hut in the middle of no-where, which I managed to do in February and March of this year. However, much of writing is re-writing, which I do at any and every opportunity. Most of my books have to be checked by experts and get re-drafted a great many times while I improve the flow of the narrative. It’s hard work and takes time but I see it as vital. Even when a book is based on a dairy I might re-draft it 100 times, drawing on skills gained as a painter and when editing my own films. I have learnt to be unoffendable, preferring to laugh at my own mistakes rather than have them displayed in print.
What authors do you admire? I have been inspired by authors of amusing true life stories: Anne Lamott and Monica Dickens, James Herriot, Gerald Durrell and Helene Hanff, who wrote 84 Charing Cross Road from letters she’d received from a book shop in London. Gerald Durrell told me how he’d edited the story of his years spent on Corfu, making the construction of his book seem easy, when of course it must have been soul wrenching. I love CS Lewis and follow his advice on writing the book I would like to read that is not there.
How do you describe yourself when people ask what you do? I’ve managed to live about five lives professionally, working interchangeably as a writer, producer, artist, actress and horseback safari guide. All require practice to gain fluency and do well. None are much good a making money. Many people assume that we receive substantial residuals from Swallows & Amazons but we only earned £7.50 a day whist working on the film and nothing at all from VHS or DVD sales. The parrot earned £25 and he didn’t speak. I wish I was better at raising funds for charity. The need is so great. In the year 2000 I helped to set up the Waterberg Welfare Society in a corner of rural South Africa to help combat the pandemic HIV/AIDS. You can see some of the mad things we do help finance their work here:
Do you need a trigger to start writing – to give you an idea? Good stories will always call out to be written and to be read. Getting down to illustrate them would be difficult if the drawings were not already waiting. I started putting together Ride the Wings of Morning when I was living in Africa but only added the illustrations once it was formatted, filling natural gaps between the letters which make up the book with sketches and paintings. I ended up using about 120 graphics, accumulated over the twelve previous years. Someday I am hoping that a version will be produced in full colour as a coffee-table book that will motivate others to get out into the wild and start painting. You can read about Ride the Wings of Morning here: