“This is my fourth book – my second with SPP. It is hard to describe the joy and satisfaction of first seeing and handling the beautiful cover, which encapsulates the soul of the book. Then opening, flipping through the pages that please – to see well placed drawings aligned to their accompanying text, sustaining interest, variety and anticipation through its 380 pages. The designer has created what was in my mind’s eye.
This sense of achievement in a finely finished book without memories of relentless explanation and persuasion, or any nagging undercurrent or regret, is what sets SPP apart.
I am, first and foremost, a scientist… a zoologist… with a mission. The natural world has been my passion since childhood, and communicating its beautiful and intricate mechanisms and connections has been my life… so has Art. The beauty of plants and animals is the beginning of looking, then trying to portray that in pencil, paint or clay takes one into seeing and understanding, and the journey deepening to understanding and context – the science, the inevitable next step. The author, J.G Ballard advised me when I was a teenager wanting to write: ‘Look every moment as if it were your last’ – an absolute must for any descriptive writing or natural history observation.
This wider context of seeing got me into troubled waters with traditional commercial publishers – twice. In the early 1970s my maverick agent beguiled a publisher with my very individual cross-boundaries approach (not the norm at that time). Their confidence fell when potential co-publishers backed off in horror at such a ‘hybrid’ – my book was relegated to the ‘unfortunately we’re stuck in the contract’ back-burner.
Ten years later, perception had not changed. This was a book on the understanding of flowers in all their aspects in the time of, and including, Charles Darwin; a natural progression reflecting a time, attitudes, people and their cultural context. The publisher’s preoccupation was still how would the bookseller choose the shelf for display… Nature? Social History? Botany? Science? Plant Hunting? Gardening won and it appeared in a glossy catalogue next to specialist techniques in Growing Pelargoniums! When my copy flopped through the letterbox it was a contrast to the SPP experience. Printed in America, production timing had gone awry; I had checked gallery proofs (reams and reams of text), the publisher would check page proofs with placing of the 101 photos and drawings – I was not given that opportunity. In tears I discovered two illustrations were upside down, and two had the wrong captions. (In spite of the publisher’s grudging ‘errata slips’ it had 19 reviews in national newspapers and magazines.)
The passage through the publishing process of ‘Wild Encounters – Try Not To Smile’ (2016) and ‘Wild Encounters – Southern Seas & Shores’ has been delightfully smooth. My original concepts have not turned into battlegrounds of justification. There has been no questioning of my attempt to bridge the gap between casual viewing of animals and going beyond into the science of their lives and connections with their/our environment. Nor has there been any challenge to writing science with accuracy but without Latin names and jargon. SPP editing was straightforward and helpful… Editor and Internal and Cover Designers were magnificent when faced with my request to hold everything in limbo while I sent the pdf out for expert comment to add to the covers. Quotes from Callum Roberts (Chief Scientific Advisor to Blue Planet II) were rapidly and beautifully integrated into the cover designs, and the team then worked at an exhausting top speed to meet the publication date. Each of my 105 drawings in place – perfect!”