Two at once challenge – DP : Reel Talk and Frizztext’s EEE
Everyone who comes to this page is a reader. Bloggers love to read as well as write: poems, flash-fiction, memoir, novel excerpts, reportage, long pieces, short pieces; it’s how the blogweb works: exchanges to entertain, enchant, enthuse, encourage and elucidate.
Some of my stalwart followers and followees boldly read and create in second and third languages, which for me who only has proficiency in English is a great source of admiration and envy. And if that’s not enough ‘Es’ already, I have some more. But first a question: what about those (old and young) who find reading a struggle? What about those who find a page loaded with text a total turn-off, or the average sized paperback too daunting in scale to broach?
And to answer my own questions, this is where the book cover below comes in, because one of the things I do besides loitering in cyberspace is to write good stories for unkeen teen readers, (or for anyone else I can corner for that matter).
Cover: copyright 2013 Ransom Publishing.
The title of this new edition of my very short book Mantrap clearly begins with ‘M’ ( which means you can look forward to more mentions further down Frizz’s alphabet.) So what is it doing here now? The elephant is of course the excuse I needed to write this piece, also the fact that Ransom Publishing will shortly be bringing out an e-book version for Amazon Kindle and Apple, as well as a paperback edition. It is part of their Shades series. Full details of this and other books in the series can be found HERE. The series is being printed as I write this and will be launched in August.
Interest-wise, the stories are aimed at readers of twelve years and upwards, but whose reading ability is deemed to be a few years younger. The text is a piece of short fiction but presented in a novel format i.e. 6,000 words divided into several chapters, and over 64 pages. There is plenty of white space on the page.
Ransom publishes a wide range of fiction and non-fiction for all ages. Personally, I think the Shades’ quick-read formats are ideal for just about anyone who wants a good story, but has limited time to read it. You can slip these nice little books into your pocket. However, this is not so much a sales pitch as an explanation: the why, where and how this story about ivory poaching came into being. There’ll be an excerpt at the end.
I can also tell you precisely where the Mantrap story began – under a baobab tree. And here it is, the very one:
The fact that it was in leaf at the time was perhaps auspicious. Baobabs are usually bare. This one could be a thousand years old. We stopped under it for a noonday picnic after a get-up-while-still-asleep and go on a dawn game drive. The location is South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. It is a glorious place with parkland vistas, much shaped by the local elephants who knock down the thorn trees, but rarely the baobabs, to encourage the growth of their favourite food – grass.
The other great shaper of the territory is the mighty Luangwa River as it endlessly carves new meanders through the bush country.
As the river shapes a new channel, so the old meanders are left behind, some becoming stagnant lagoons where hippos wallow amongst the cabbage weed. The local people call such places Luangwa waffa or Dead Luangwa.
But back to Mantrap. It was while I was standing under the baobab, and peeling a very English hard-boiled egg, that our guide happened to point out the narrow strips of wood that had been driven unobtrusively into the tree’s hard, smooth trunk.
“It’s a poachers’ ladder,” the guide told me. “Ivory poachers. This tree has been a look-out post for years.” He went on to tell me how earlier that week an elephant had been killed nearby. The tusks had been taken, but then later, when the coast was clear of poachers, the local villagers had come to grab the meat.
My spine tingled: horror and pity, and not only for the elephant. I knew that rural Zambians were in a poor state. This was the reason why we had come to Zambia. Team Leader Graham was responsible for the logistics of delivering EU food aid to drought-stricken villagers. (See Letters from Lusaka.) Also, elephants and other game can destroy a farmer’s whole crop in a single night. The conservation of wild game, then, and the protection of neighbouring people’s livelihoods are matters not easily resolved. Game parks across Africa generally do not have fences. Animals move about at will, and many farmers are maimed or killed by buffalo, crocodiles, hyenas and elephants. Their families rarely receive compensation.
We, however, belonged to the fortunate segment of the world’s population that had no shortage of food and also the leisure to take a few days holiday, staying in a small tented camp run by Robin Pope Safaris. On the way to our campsite from Mufuwe airstrip we crossed a dried up river where a girl was digging deep into the sandy bed in hopes of scooping out some water. In the gardens of a nearby farmstead, the maize was blown to dust. It was hardly surprising that there was a poaching problem in the district. People were starving.
But then to my mind, there’s a big difference between hunting antelope and small game for the pot, and particularly when the park and surrounding licensed hunting blocks occupy the local people’s former hunting territory, and the obscene and pointless slaughter of elephants solely for their ivory.
Yet the temptation to some locals must be enormous. They have families to support, children to send to school, medicine to buy. Big business cartels, especially in the Far East, are apparently more than glad to arm and fund local hunters in the pursuit of ivory and rhino horn. This means that park rangers are at great peril. Many are murdered in their attempts to protect wildlife so tourists like us may come and stare, and snap away.
One way to combat poaching is to give people good reasons to protect the game. Robin Pope’s Safaris have pioneered schemes to involve local communities in conservation.
So these, then, were some of the things I wanted to explore in my story. What emerged was a life-and-death adventure that had its beginning the moment my fingers touched the rungs of the poachers’ ladder.
Here then is an excerpt – the opening scene. It is dawn in Luangwa. Hunger has finally driven Danny and his father, Jacob, into the National Park to hunt antelope. But Danny is a schoolboy, not a hunter; it is not surprising that, in his panic, he makes a mistake – a mistake that lands them in the clutches of a corrupt ranger who has a far more dangerous quarry in mind.
Chapter One: The Kill
“Impala. A small herd among the sausage trees. Jacob stopped dead and held up a warning hand. Danny froze on the spot and this time, without a sound, dropped behind a potato bush. He peered through the leaves, fixing on a big ram. He was about twenty paces away, grazing the yellow grasses, his harem of females all round. Danny’s eyes stung with longing. There was that beautiful ram. So near, and yet so far. The smallest sound might send him bolting. Out of reach!
Danny willed Jacob to shoot. Now, Dadda, now. Then nearly howled when the ram raised his lyre-shaped horns and sniffed the breeze nervously. The ram had scented them. He had. Danny prayed and prayed. Please let our luck change. Please let Dadda shoot. Then we can get out of here. Before the sun comes up. Before the park rangers start their patrol. Before we’re caught and sent to jail…
And finally, here’s a short clip that shows Luangwa in all its rain-soaked glory. One of the earth’s most beautiful places, and over four hundred species of birds.
© 2013 Tish Farrell