I’ve only been to Scotland once: I went to Inverness 25 years ago for my honeymoon, and remember being thankful for the fast-flowing cold water in August to soothe my swollen ankle which I had twisted badly the day before the wedding while trying to wear in my cream satin shoes. I’m more of a Wales person really, due to a teenage obsession with Sharon Penman’s historical fact-fiction about Llywelyn Fawr and the Princes of Gwynedd but I know a number of people who holiday in the Highlands, and looking at the birds, I thought they would make a good book. I found a couple of beautiful photos for the cover and double-page spread (I chose the top one as it had a greater variety of colour and had more obvious mountains), and got to work trying to sort out who I should include.
Deciding which birds is always quite a jostling-for-position sort of process, and I make lots of lists, checking my bird books and the RSPB website for accuracy. It’s also fun to include birds I’ve not drawn for other logbooks and this one had 8 I needed to paint…marvellous news as I have had awful problems with Gardners Books so a bit of gentle drawing and painting was just what I needed. I decided to paint a new oystercatcher as my original one has appeared about 4 times now.
It’s always a bit tricky looking for suitable gamebird photos to use as inspiration as although I know many people who shoot and stalk (and do so with skill and respect) there’s a lot of controversy and bad practise. Thankfully most pictures on Instagram are the other type of shooting, and the photographers generously allow me to use their fabulous captures as reference images. Getting the basic shape is so important, even if I use the books and other pictures to make sure the plumage is correct.
I wanted to get as many birds as possible that are specifically mountain/upland birds, and I realised a hooded crow would be good to represent the corvids, being as they are the carrion crow of the more northerly parts of Britain. I then saw one on a roadsign as I was driving to a friend’s house near Eastboune…I have never seen one: are they further south now?
Hen harrier, dotterel, ring ouzel, red grouse, ptarmigan, black-throated diver, hooded crow and the new oystercatcher (yes twice, I know).
I have been in touch with some places in near Ullapool and the surrounding area and have had positive feedback from everyone I’ve heard from, and the bookshops have said yes, Gardners permitting…
[I will write a separate post on the ongoing Gardners issues as although I am confident it will all get sorted out, a bit like childbirth, I know I will forget the horrors once it’s all dealt with, and nothing but nothing I have read has even given a hint at how frustrating and inefficient it is!]
These books are now with Newman Thompson, and I am hoping to have them back by Wednesday so they can hitch a ride in my friend’s vehicle as he heads north on Thursday to the upper reaches of Scotland, thus saving me a fair amount of postage.