Penning the majestic feline book | Daily News

Penning the majestic feline book

Juliet Coombe interviews Louisa Greenish in the field, about packing in her corporate London life to go and help research and write a book on Sri Lankan Leopards. 

Louisa laughs as she plants a tree, saying, “Who would turn down an amazing offer to move to Sri Lanka to research and write a book about leopards with the expert, Noel Rodrigo?”

She goes on to say, “In my first week, I was sent to do research at Noel Rodrigo’s Leopard Safaris in Yala National Park, the area most densely populated with leopards in the whole of Sri Lanka. This was to get first-hand experience in the Sri Lankan wild, the life of this amazing umbrella species. Louisa’a eyes light up when she talks about her first safari drive “My first safari was mind-blowing. The full spectrum of colours from the birdlife was mesmerising, the slow moving rocks that crept on the surface of the eerie swamps intrigued me until I realised they were the heads of stalking crocodiles, the majestic nature of the elephants left me in awe as they strolled by, and finally we came across a leopard. There he was, lying in the middle of the track; a year old male cub that didn’t even bat an eyelid as we stumbled upon his morning siesta. We stop the jeep at a safe distance and try to make as little noise as possible as we all re-arrange our positions to get the best possible view of this majestic feline.”

Louisa realised on her first evening in the camp that wildlife encounters are by no means limited to the borders of the park, which she was soon to learn the hard way. She explains with a mix of fear and fascination, “I returned to my tent to shower and change before dinner and was met by two snakes mating on my bedroom floor. My initial shock turned to mild embarrassment as if I had walked in on something I perhaps shouldn’t have. They took very little notice of me and continue to intertwine one another. One of the rangers kindly removed them who was smiling throughout, ‘You are in the jungle now!’ he laughed. I felt rather foolish; of course he was right. I was in their habitat, so he continued, ‘what were you expecting?!’ Well, not mating snakes on my bedroom floor, I suppose. I am certainly not in the urban jungle of London anymore.”

Louisa, after writing up her days research notes, with a belly full of local curries and homemade bread rolls, returned to her tent and could not believe it - the snakes were back in her room, clearly undeterred by the previous eviction. Rather than interrupt them or the rangers again, she decided to just curl under her mosquito net and fell asleep to the tranquil sounds of love making snakes.

Louisa went on to write, “We returned to civilisation after an incredible three days, learning as much as we could from the naturalists about the secret kingdom of leopards, how they mark their territory and what plants they eat. Without a minute to waste, the team sits around a table and begins to brainstorm a structure for the book. The author turns to me and says unnervingly, ‘Just so you know, you are going to have to learn in six months what most people learn at university in seven years.’ I gulp and attempt to hide my mild state of panic – but I think she knows I am up for the challenge!”

Louisa had never really thought about researching and writing a book until this opportunity arose and wrongly thought that all you need to do is write; it is that simple surely, she thought. “This, I was soon to discover, was very wrong. Writing a book is really a very small proportion of a gigantic task that starts with lots of research, and certainly writing a best-selling book, if taken seriously, is a gigantic task. The writing is a very important aspect but just as important is finding the right designer, printer, and award-winning style photos to go in the book. The look of the book needs working out; focus groups for feedback set up; decisions on size and style of content made; lists need to be prepared for images that will have to be shot or selected, each with individual captions written on them that tell you more than the picture shows; and there’s choosing the shape, size and paper of the book. Where will it sell? Can it go through a letter box? Where do you get an ISBN number from etc? I had no idea that so much thought went into the type of paper chosen for a book and how much this decision affects the way the book is designed and read. You need to find a designer that understands the brief, a publisher unless you are self publishing, an editor, all with a similar vision.

Scheduling interviews with experts is also challenging as they are busy people, and the more research you do, the more interviews need to be set up with people who interact with leopards, from tea plantation workers to local school principals - it all requires lots of co-ordination. Writing the book, I discover, is relatively easy once you have all the information gathered. Once that is done, the greater task begins of editing changes, and checking facts. Some books can take up to 26 edits to make the necessary changes as the book morphs into something near perfection from the original script. This has to synchronise with the page layout by the designer who may change things as text can move around on the page. However structured the creative process is, mistakes can and do enter in at any stage.

Louisa explains “My first research and writing task was called “The Future” and focused on why leopards need to be protected in Sri Lanka and what was being done already to this end. Fascinated by the topic, the research phase was my strength. A quick and avid learner I had read every article on the internet and every Sri Lankan leopard book I could get my hands on within the first week but that was the easy part. Writing an exciting chapter for the book was not so straight forward, so it was no surprise that my first 3,000 words came back with polite but very clear feedback; dull. And it was true. My university technical style essay would send anyone but the most avid lecturer to sleep, including myself, so, I needed to learn, and learn fast, how to bring this incredible story to life.

As I read more and more writing I loved to read, I began to understand what a big job it is to bring a story to life, you need to make it personal, not just an amalgamation of information pulled together in a factual dialogue. It is not just about stating the facts, but about relating these facts to real life and real people as it is these people that live the real story. Around the Gallle Fort in 80 Lives, is hugely successful because it tells the story of the history of the fort from the people that live there and it is their stories that make the fort the place it is today. So, how on earth can you write a book about Galle Fort without them? The same goes with telling the story of the leopards.

So, if you feel you have a book in you and do not have the first idea where to start or what goes into it, book a ticket and meet Louisa Greenish email her at [email protected] book a place at a series of amazing talks on ‘How To Write A Book’ and afterwards enjoy the launch of Donald Trunk & The Curse of Crabzilla on January 16 at Jetwing Lighthouse, Galle. You will meet Louisa and many other writers at this fantastic event where you can ask questions and share contacts in one of the most exciting professions in the world.


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