Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Holiday reading habits, by Elizabeth Kay



  

Cinnamon hummingbird

I’ve recently returned from three weeks in central America. The first part was an organised tour of Nicaragua, with seven participants, including me, plus our guide, and the second part was staying with a friend in Costa Rica.
     I’ve always used these holidays as material for stories, but this time I was intrigued by the differing reading habits of the others on the first trip. Most people brought books, not e-readers, much to my surprise. When you have a 20 kilo weight limit on an aircraft books take up quite a lot of it, so for me an e-reader has been a real bonus as I never run out of something to read.
     What seems to happen is that people read the paperbacks they’ve brought, and then leave them somewhere for other people to read and use the resulting space to bring back souvenirs. It never seems to occur to them that authors get nothing when a book is passed on, or sent to a charity shop. I’ve nothing against charity shops, they do good works, but it does rankle when someone asks you to sign a copy that they’ve bought in Oxfam. Not all authors earn a fortune, the way so many people assume they do, and a few sales can actually be rather important, both for income and rankings. So hurrah for the e-reader, which no one is going to leave behind for someone else to read.
     My husband and I do share books on our Kindles, but that’s just two of us. Charity shops encourage their clients to read something, and then bring it back so that it can be sold over and over again. I wonder how the managers would feel if they were expected to work for nothing? PLR has made libraries a positive force for the writer; we’re all in favour of them as some recognition for the amount of work that goes into a book, however small, is good news.
      I’m always surprised by how much more expensive books seem to be in other countries. Costa Rica is not a third world country by any stretch of the imagination; it’s become a very popular tourist destination, especially with the US as it’s on their doorstep. Books there cost more than they do over here. A lot of countries have English Language sections in their bookshops now, but as the books are all imports it makes them even more expensive.
Howler monkey
Sally Lightfoot Crab, illustration
Sally Lightfoot Crab, taken in Galapagos
        Although I read nearly all my fiction via the Kindle, I still buy field guides in hardback. I’m fussy, too, having illustrated a few myself. There’s a good reason why the best guides contain illustrations rather than photographs. Try taking a picture of an animal from the right angle that shows all its features, doesn’t have a shadow on it somewhere or a bit of foliage obscuring part of a leg. It’s really difficult. Illustrations can be derived from several photographs, or even the animal itself. I used to wonder why, in the Natural History Museum, they have an entire drawer devoted to one insect – it’s so that you know what the majority of the species looks like, because there are always aberrations. Butterflies, with white patches on their wings. Moths that have oddly-shaped antennae. Crickets that never reached full size. Mistakes get made, too. Many years ago I was doing an illustration of a swordfish. Like most people, I’d assumed that the fish was dark on top, and silver or white underneath. Not so. It’s copper-coloured. The books that first showed it were in black and white, and other illustrators simply copied previous illustrations. This is why I always buy reputable guides, and update them every so often. Even using the live creature can pose problems. I was illustrating a stick insect for a T-shirt, and obtained a live specimen. I was really pleased with the result, and a lot of them were printed. And then someone pointed out that the antennae were too short. I couldn’t believe it – the insect I used had clearly had some sort of mishap, and both its antennae had been broken off at the same place!

Friendly mantis

Anyway, here are a few photos from the holiday in Central America, and a wildlife illustration as well, so that you can see the difference. These days, I try to paint from my own photographs, as not only does it avoid royalty conflicts, I also know a bit about the animal concerned. 
Pacific parakeet

1 comment:

griseldaheppel said...

Your photographs are superb and show what your (also very fine) illustration doesn't: the animals in their environment. I find I get a better idea of the colour, texture and solidness of the creature wrapped round a branch, or scoffing seeds from plants. But obviously from a study point of view the accurate illustration is necessary and I'm fascinated by your story of the swordfish, erroneously copied over and over again by other illustrators - and the stick insect who appears to have had an argument with a lawn mower. Guess nobody's perfect, even in the animal world!
I hadn't thought about the loss to authors from charity shops before. I heard on the radio about a second-hand bookseller who makes a point of sending a - small, but still something - proportion of their book sales to the authors, if they can. But without a standard national system in place this must be quite fiddly for them (all the more impressive that they bother). And yes, being asked to sign a charity shop copy of your book... I was briefly aghast on a school visit when a girl presented me a copy of Ante's Inferno with the title page missing, for me to sign - aargh, how did this faulty copy get into the shops? Should I offer to replace it for her? Luckily she explained her mother had bought it off the internet...