Lonesome George: A Tribute To My Hero

Tortoise Soup brings you an elegiac post today. There was very sad news today from South America, as the Charles Darwin Research Centre on the Galapagos Island of Santa Cruz confirmed the death of Lonesome George, the last known Pinta Island tortoise. We will truly never see his like again.

The sun is out today but the mood is dark and sombre, one sole creature has died peacefully in his sleep but the world has become immeasurably poorer for his passing. Lonesome George was very much my hero. I was a contestant on television quiz show ‘The Chase’ earlier this year. When host Bradley Walsh asked me what I would do with any winnings my response was immediate and heartfelt. ‘I want to visit the Galapagos Islands to see Lonesome George’, I told him. Sadly I didn’t win the cash and now my dream will never come true in this world. Here is my tribute to the wonderful, beautiful tortoise that the world came to know and love.

I love tortoises, I have one of my own (a gorgeous Horsfield tortoise called Ovid) and of course my recently finished children’s novel ‘Tortoise Soup’ stars an adventurous tortoise called Byron Tinker. My tortoise is very small (around four inches long) whereas George was absolutely huge (Charles Darwin used to ride on the back of similar tortoises on his groundbreaking tour of the islands) but in other ways they are very similar. When I see Ovid stretching his neck out to eat food he looks just like a miniature George.

Very little is known of George’s early life. He was ‘discovered’ on Pinta Island in 1972. This species of tortoise had been thought to be extinct for some time until he was found, and his discovery rocked the scientific world. George was moved to the nearby Charles Darwin Research Centre where efforts to save his species began.

Everything was done that could be done to find George a mate. With no Pinta Island female alive, they introduced him to tortoises from similar species of giant tortoises. He did mate with a female Wolf Island Tortoise but the eggs were infertile. He was then introduced to females from Espanola Island. The Espanola tortoise is genetically very similar to the Pinta tortoise and so hopes were high that there could be offspring. George however had different ideas, he just wasn’t attracted to the Espanola girls and refused to mate with them.
At this point the story gets a little, ahem, ‘steamy’ – young readers may want to look away now. A young Swedish conservationist was hired to ‘befriend’ Lonesome George and arouse him so that he would find his inclinations growing towards the Espanola tortoises. She spent four months getting ‘intimate’ with him but alas, George could not be roused.

The attempts didn’t stop there. A huge reward was offered to anybody who could find a Pinta Island female – there was the supposition that a private zoo somewhere in the world might have one in their collection. To date none has been found, and the reward remained unclaimed.

Scientists were also looking at the possibility of cloning Lonesome George. Mammals have been cloned with varying degrees of success (notably Dolly the sheep) but the concept of cloning a reptile such as George divided scientific opinion. Artifical insemination of one of the Espanola ladies was also considered, but again it is much more difficult to artificially inseminate an egg laying reptile so this proved unfruitful.

George lived an exciting life on Santa Cruz. He was once taken hostage by Ecuadorian rebels who stormed the research centre and threatened to blow Lonesome George up unless their demands were met. He was also held hostage in 1995 by fishermen who were enraged at cuts in their fishing quotas. A machete was held to George’s head until the government backed down.

So George survived all of these threats but not even George could defeat the march of time itself. His age is unknown but he was guessed to be in his nineties. The various species of Galapagos giants can live for around 200 years so Lonesome George’s death was untimely and unexpected. Perhaps he finally pined away? He achieved a lot: he became an icon for the conservation movement and brought much needed funds for various conservation charities. Thousands of tourists visited the Galapagos every year just to see this beautiful creature.

Run free in the heavens, Lonesome George, with others of your species at last. Humankind and our ravaged nature has destroyed another beautiful species of animal. I never got to see you in this world after all, but I do hope to see you and your friends one day when I too make the final journey.

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Football And Patriotism

Today I am tackling a big subject (or maybe two big subjects?), football and patriotism. Tonight there is a huge football match taking place: England are playing Italy in the quarter finals of Euro 2012, and I can’t decide who I want to win. I’m hoping that writing this blog will help me to decide!

Now, I know that my indecision may make some England fans apoplectic – they will be wondering how I could even countenance cheering on Italy against my home nation? Well let me explain.

 

Samuel Johnson summed it up nicely when he said :”Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Of course what he was railing against was not love of ones country, but a false patriotism where people use a veneer of patriotism to attack other countries, other peoples, other beliefs. It is this false patriotism, what I would call ‘vicious patriotism’ (maybe I could invent the word ‘vitriotism’ here?) that turns me off from supporting England at football.

 

I should make clear here that I am a football (soccer to my friends in the States) lover, I have a season ticket for my local club. I have been enjoying watching Euro 2012. What I am not, however, is one of those people that seem to think that because England ‘invented’ the game we have a divine right to be better than everyone else.

 

What is even worse is the assumption that many England fans seem to possess that England itself is a better nation than any other, that we are a race apart – better than anybody else. This is in a word racism, and I despise bigotry in all its forms and its disguises.

 

There is nothing wrong with supporting England if you want to, good luck. If you want to wave an England flag and sing along to the national anthem whilst you watch the match then all well and good, I have no problem  with that. But it seems to me that too many fans, spurred on by the worst elements of our media, cross the line from supporting a country to racism.

 

Let me explain: singing your own anthem is fine, booing other nation’s national anthems is not fine. And we see our ‘fans’ doing it time and time again. Why do they dress as crusader knights? The crusades were nothing to be proud of. If you explained to these fans that St George was not English at all, that he was actually from modern day Turkey, then I suspect that you would get more than a little abuse.

 

And of course the media hype is the most sickening element of all. Whenever we (England) play Germany then the tabloid press are full of references to ‘krauts’ and ‘the hun’ and endless tales of how ‘we won the war.’ When we play France, they are inevitably referred to as ‘frogs’. Let there be no doubt about it: this is racism. And so today we play Italy and what do we have? The Sun leads with ‘Caesar The Day: The Sun conquers Rome in red, white and blue minis.’ The other tabloids follow suit and Talksport Radio plays The Godfather theme tune every time Italy is mentioned.

 

So, taking all of this into account, I am finding it very hard to support England tonight. I don’t believe that any  nation is better than any other, I find it bizarre to think that one person could be inherently better than another simply because he was born closer to me than the other was. Borders are simply arbitrary lines that were drawn up in the distant past, they should not control how we judge people. An English man is no better than an Italian, than a German, than an Afghan.

 

But yet I do love England. I love the beautiful countryside of the Yorkshire dales and moors, I love Shakespeare, I adore the novels of the Brontes, I am proud that we abolished slavery (if not so proud of our earlier role in promoting it), I love fish and chips and a roast beef dinner, I think that the music of Benjamin Britten is incredible, our contribution to popular music is immense.

 

And yet I love so many things Italian as well: the gorgeous climate, vespa scooters, spaghetti carbonara, Puccini and Verdi, the unrivalled beauty of the Sistine Chapel, the plays of Dario Fo.

 

So have I decided? Well I think that when I watch the match tonight (in a good old English pub) I will have my face painted half England and half Italy and I will alternate my drinks between Strongbow cider and Perroni lager. I want the best team on the night to win, and I want vitriotism to lose. If you agree, or if you don’t agree, then please comment below.

 

Keep in touch with this blog, next week I have an interesting article about publishing versus self publishing. Until then I bid you goodbye and arrivederci!

 

How to write a novel – the one big tip!

Hello there guys and gals!

After straying off track with my rant about the terrible treatment that Belfast City Council have dished out to Lennox (it’s still not too late to sign the petition at http://savelennoxpetition.co.uk), I am back on the straight and narrow this week as I reveal the one big secret to writing a novel!

Everybody has a novel in them so they say and (other than David Beckham, oh please spare us that) I do believe that to be true: I myself have successfully completed two novels – the thriller ‘The Girl On The Bus’ (published in 2007) and my new children’s novel ‘Tortoise Soup’ (coming soon, fingers crossed). If I can do it then so can you!

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So here it is, the one big tip to writing a novel that will allow you to proudly and truthfully proclaim yourself a novelist: write. That’s it. Just write. Or possibly type. Now don’t be disappointed because if you follow that simple advice then you will complete the novel.

The biggest enemy of the wannabe novelist is procrastination (and it’s twin evils ‘the internet’ and ‘television’). There are so many distractions around today but if you allow them to gain the upper hand then you will never ever finish your masterpiece.

Don’t get too bogged down too early on in the minutiae of the novel. This will come to you as you write. I advise spending around a month getting the basis of the story going round and round in your head: what are the main characters names? What is the basic idea of the novel? How does the novel end? At this point don’t write or type a single word – just let it stew there for a while. When it feels as though the characters are about to burst out of your head then finally relent and start working.

I wouldn’t advise having too much structure initially. All I have when I start writing is the idea for chapter 1, a few incidents that will occur at some point in the book and how it will all end. You will be amazed how it all comes together as you start to create the book itself: new plot lines will come to you, new characters – you are keeping an open mind to endless wonderful possibilities. If you are too structured from the start, too inflexible, then writing loses its art, its ‘magic’, and can quickly become boring. If you’re bored writing it then how bored is a reader going to be? Even worse, the deadly procrastination could rear its head again and you might spend so long planning the novel that you never get round to actually writing it.

So be strict with yourself – make sure that you write something every day. Even if it’s just one paragraph. On a good day you might write a dozen pages. Very quickly the first draft of your novel will be complete, and you can sit back with a feeling of elation and crack open the bubbly to celebrate. And it really doesn’t matter at this point whether what you have written is brilliant or a little creaky because you are then going to start editing the material: don’t edit as you go, this will again slow you down – editing is only to be considered after you have actually typed the final word and finished your novel.

But editing is a different story altogether, and will be covered in a different blog entirely. So here is my summary of how to write a novel: create, in your mind, a loose framework including the start and the end  – the middle will sort itself out; write or type something every single day, even if it’s only a paragraph – do not switch on the TV or internet until you have done this; don’t be too critical or start editing while the work is in progress; keep an open mind – maybe characters and plots will turn out differently to how you imagined them? Believe in yourself – you are wonderful and so your book will be as well!

Good luck in your novel writing, please hit me back anytime with comments and any progress that you are making. If I can help then I certainly will do 🙂

Seriousness out of the way, I will leave you with a joke. The Bee Gees were great weren’t they? (That’s not the joke, that’s on its way) I was very sad to hear about the loss of Robin Gibb recently (that’s not a joke either, patience!) so here is my favourite Bee Gee related jolly:

I walked past the fridge earlier and I thought that I heard an onion singing a Bee Gees song, but when I opened the fridge door it was only a chive talking. I asked the chive if it wanted to be an onion but it said ‘I’m stayin’ a chive, stayin’ a chive, ah ah ah ah stayin’ a chiiiiive!’

Goodbye sweet Lennox

The sad news has been confirmed. We put up a strong fight but Belfast killed Lennox yesterday. The fight changes now to one where we must combat the evil of Breed Specific Legislation wherever it occurs. We must create a universal ‘Lennox’s Law’. This time we will win. Here is my original blog from June:

Well this is my second blog and already I am making a departure from my ‘norm’. I had planned to write a piece on the wonderful Tove Jansson and how she inspired my love of writing for children, but something has happened today that I had to comment on.

Poor, little innocent Lennox has had a death sentence passed on him by the autocrats of Belfast City Council – a mealy mouthed bunch whose hearts are as small as their minds. For those of you who haven’t yet heard the story, Lennox is (or maybe ‘was’) a pit bull terrier much loved by his owner Caroline Barnes and especially her young daughter who never left Lennox’s side. Unfortunately, unforgivably, pet bull terriers are illegal in the United Kingdom and 2 years ago the dog was seized by a Belfast City Council dog warden and ordered to be destroyed.

Caroline Barnes immediately launched a legal battle to save her beloved pet, but after protracted legal wranglings and delayed decision after delayed decision a high court judge today upheld his fate and confirmed that Lennox will be destroyed.

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Now let us make one thing clear – Lennox has never attacked anybody, never threatened anybody. He is (was?) a safe and happy household pet. This is animal fascism whereby unfeeling, uncaring monsters hiding behind the bravado of anonymity decide which animals can live and which can die. A huge Twitter campaign has been begging for Lennox to be returned to his family united by hashtags such as #SaveLennox and #JusticeForLennox .Alas, today it proved to be in vain. A hundred thousand signatures count as nothing against the say so of a dog warden and three Belfast councillors desperately trying to save at least one of their two faces.

And here is the saddest thing of all. As a pet owner, and dog lover, this is what brings a lump to my throat. The family of Lennox will not be told when he is to be killed and will not be allowed to visit him one last time. The poor little girl will never again see the dog that she loves, that she remembers, that has been hidden away from her for two tortuous years. What kind of human can make such a decision? How can it be? When the law shows such cruel inflexibility it has passed over into the arrogance of evil.

So what can we do? I urge everybody to write to the Prime Minister David Cameron and please do sign the petition at http://boycottbelfast.com/ – I will never visit the city again, it doesn’t deserve my or your custom. Please write to, or email, the website http://www.discoverireland.com, currently running an expensive advertising campaign promoting Belfast, and let them know that you will not be visiting Northern Ireland because of the ruling. Here is a unique idea directly from Tortoise Soup: the decision by Judge Girvan and Belfast City Council is junk so let’s send them our junk! I get so much junk mail every day, and when I open a paper it seems that a thousand flyers drop out. Well from now on I am gathering them up and every Saturday (starting this week) I will post them all to Belfast City Council.

Want to join in my ‘Belfast Council is Junk’ campaign? Well why not save up your junk mail too and send it to: Belfast City Council, Donegall Square, Donegall Place, Belfast BT1 5GS. Inside place a single piece of paper saying ‘SAVE LENNOX’. Oh, and don’t forget to put a stamp on or else Belfast City Council will have to pay for it all, and I’m sure that we wouldn’t want that happening. Or would we?

Of course all this is in all likelihood too late to save Lennox and to mend the broken hearts of his family, but I feel that we must do something to keep the memory of this lovely, kind dog alive. REST IN PEACE LENNOX (2005-2-12), MURDERED BY BELFAST CITY COUNCIL.

I am sorry for such a digression from my normal blogs but I feel so strongly about this that I had to have my say, please feel free to leave a comment to show your support too. The usual levity will be resumed later this week, and I leave you with a quote from Tove Jansson that feels very appropriate now. I sign out with a heavy heart and glistening eyes.

“It is still summer, but the summer is no longer alive. It has come to a standstill; nothing withers, and fall is not ready to begin. There are no stars yet, just darkness.” (Tove Jansson)

Welcome to Tortoise Soup!

Welcome to my first ever blog at Tortoise Soup! First thing’s first – there will not be any recipes for tortoise soup on this website. Tortoises are for life, not for supper.

My name is Nicky Holland, ‘Tortoise Soup’ is the name of my recently completed children’s novel. I am starting the process of finding an agent and approaching publishers for the book, so this blog will follow this journey to (hopefully) a successful conclusion later in 2012 or 2013.  I will be telling you how I write novels, how my quest is going and will post any feedback and knock-backs that I get. Hopefully other writers and aspiring writers will find this blog useful, and who knows – I may even inspire one of you to create a masterpiece of your very own! Writing is the greatest thing in the world, you can all do it – the hardest thing is typing that first sentence.

This blog will be about much more than writing and publishing. It will also feature contributions from some of the novel’s characters themselves so here is a quick introduction to them:

Ruby Tinker was orphaned when her parents died in a car crash that has left her disabled. Her only friend is her pet tortoise Byron who has grown up alongside her. They live together in a children’s home run by an evil woman called Miss Scratbakk. Scratbakk wants to turn Byron into a tortoise soup to complete a magic spell that will allow her to turn children into slaves.

Byron Tinker is a fun loving, adventurous little tortoise. He tweets daily under the name @ByronTinker. When Scratbakk tries to separate him and Ruby forever he doesn’t let his smallness get in his way, defeating death itself in his determination to be with the girl that he loves.

Uncle Peter has been working abroad (some people think that he is a spy, but he won’t admit it). He has returned home and takes Ruby to live with him. A secret in his past means that he won’t allow Byron to come with her, but if Ruby can break through his icy exterior then maybe he can thwart Scratbakk before Byron ends up in the soup!

My blog will be a mish mash of everything and anything that enters into my strange ol’ head and will be updated on a regular basis so please keep checking in! I see that some blogs like to contain jokes, some contain recipes and some contain little snippets of philosophy. As this is my first ever blog, I am finishing with all three!

Joke first: A man walks past a farm and sees a pig with a wooden leg. The man stands there transfixed staring at the piggy. The farmer sees this and ambles over. “That pig is the best pig that has ever lived”, says the farmer, “he can add up you know – watch this: here pig, what is two plus two?” The pig goes ‘oink, oink, oink, oink.’ The man is impressed so the farmer continues: “And he saved my families lives. There was a fire and we were all asleep. Pig sees this and he nudges his water trough to the house with his snout, tips it over to douse the flames, and then runs into the house a squeelin’ and a hollerin’ until we all wake up and escape. Yes I owe that pig everything, he is the most amazing creature alive!” The man is astonished and says, “that is incredible, but why has it got a wooden leg?” The farmer replies, “well with a pig as good as that you don’t eat it all at once!”

Secondly, its recipe time: This is provided by Auntie Francesca, the lovely Italian wife of Uncle Peter. I know nothing about cooking but I have followed her recipe and it sure is a winner!

Slow Cooked Rice Pudding

4oz long grain rice

1 tin condensed milk

1 pint milk

10z sugar

1oz margarine or butter

Put all of the above into a slow cooker (I think they are called crock pots in the States) and stir well. Cook for around 5 1/2 hours or until it takes on a nice rice puddingy consistency. This is the best, creamiest and most foolproof rice pudding you will ever taste. Auntie Francesca adds a handful of raisins to the recipe but I prefer it sans fruit!

I hope that you have enjoyed my introductory blog, if so then please let me know 🙂 Let’s finish with some wise words from one of the greatest philosophers of ancient times:

“Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.” (Casey Kasem)