Brian Connell, conservationist, ethologist and author, is a person who has learned to follow his dreams, and I am honoured to host him today. His most recent blog gives a measured view of what has been in the news recently concerning a lion called Cecil, and here he shares with me his experiences as a writer and a thinker.
Nokuthula – Place of Peace – How I envy you your haven in the wilds of Southern Africa. Do you still live there, and will you always?
Unfortunately no. Due to circumstances that are explained in Msomi and Me, I had to leave Nokuthula. It was a terrible episode in my life, but if that hadn’t happened, yes I would still be there.
You are deservedly proud of your self-published “real” books, which people can hold, smell and pass on. Be truthful now – what is the proportion of your real books sold, to those sold as e-books?
I became a bit disenchanted with the e-book system. I found the distributors to be very heavy-handed and dictatorial, with authors not being nurtured and looked after, as they should be. Consequently, I decided to go for a “real” book and self-publish. My efforts are now firmly with hard-copy books and I do minimal, if any, marketing of the one e-book still available. But to answer the question, real books outnumber e-books by about 60 to 1.
Would you go with a publisher if one found you, and why? Have you any advice on marketing your books, and what problems have you faced?
The initial approaches to established publishers were not successful. I was an unknown and they were reluctant. When asked how I would get known, they responded: “get published”! I left it there as it was a total Catch-22 situation. However, if a publisher approached me and came up with a reasonable deal, I might consider it, it could definitely help with potential sales.
As far as marketing goes – it’s an uphill battle to get known and to let people know that the books are good. I know that sounds immodest, but my large number of unsolicited reviews speak for themselves. I use social media extensively and have a few very special friends in other countries who give me a huge amount of help in raising awareness of what the books are all about.
The problems? Getting people to read! In this modern totally electronic world, books don’t have the same attraction as they used to, which is a dreadful shame as they really don’t know what they’re missing.
What is an ethologist? I’ve read an account of the talk you gave to a school in South Africa. Do you deliver many talks?
Ethology is the study of natural animal behaviour in the wild, with as little intrusion into the animals’ territory as possible. A fascinating branch of animal behaviour studies, and far removed from captive observations.
I give as many talks as I can to the schools. Education is important. If I can touch the emotions and consciousness of just one of my audience, the talk is worthwhile. The favourite talk is one about elephants, with lots of Ah Ha moments and brilliant questions from eager and inquiring young minds.
What made you write those wonderful stories – especially in “Msomi and Me”? Have you ever thought of writing a novel?
When I had to leave Nokuthula, I was in the depths of depression. A dark place that I was battling to get out of. A special young friend of mine suggested that I write it all down to get it out of my system. Oddly, none of the bad stuff appeared on the pages, only the good times, the fun times and the wonders of living in the bush. She also set me on the self-publishing path. I owe her a great deal.
A novel? I don’t think so, Jane. I don’t have the sort of imagination to come up with a handful of distinct characters with different personalities, speech patterns and so on. I have the utmost admiration for novelists and often wonder what it must be like to live inside their heads for a while.
I was fascinated by your sensible blog post on why a leopard was not at fault for attacking a tourist guide in Kruger National Park. Do you have a similar story from your own experiences?
Yes. Also with a leopard. We had inadvertently driven between her and her cubs. She threatened us with fearsome aggression, advancing on us, driving us back with much snarling and baring of formidable teeth. She was relentless, keeping us in retreat for some considerable distance. I, and Msomi, were justifiably terrified and were convinced that we were about to be attacked. We had no idea at the time what had prompted the threat, but when we had been forced far enough away and she called to the cubs, all became clear. She immediately calmed down, gave us look that clearly said “don’t ever do that again”, and headed back into the bush, two jaunty cubs following.
We both share a love of Africa as a whole. 30% of proceeds of your books go to support Wildlife Rangers. All royalties of my Africa novel go towards micro-finance in a tiny Kenyan village. Many in Africa struggle with the question of why benefactors prefer to help animals rather than people. Would you care to address this question?
This is an interesting question, and one I can only respond to from personal experience. Taking the animals first. They are being wiped out by external influences – China, Vietnam, Yemen and so on who drive the market for animal parts. The poaching MUST stop, and stop now. I do not donate money to the rangers, I purchase equipment and supplies, from bootlaces and clothing to GPS units and two-way radios.
I also try to get local groups involved in donating clothing, sewing machines, soccer boots, bicycles, pots and pans – anything really, that can be taken to the communities that border wildlife regions. We get some of the benefactors to travel to these areas not only to distribute the goodies, but also to teach people how to use, for instance, sewing machines and get a small business started. It’s still early days, but inroads are being made and local communities are seeing the benefits of self-sufficiency and no longer support the poaching syndicates.
The other problem with ostensibly helping people, though, is that a lot of the money raised is by questionable charities who actually do little to distribute donations to the right places. Corruption is rife here, and most of the cash raised never ever gets to the intended recipients.
One of your readers has written: “Thank you for all you have done, and still do for Africa. I salute you for being who you are and standing so strongly by your beliefs.” Please tell us the story of your life.
Jane – this could be a book in itself! So in a nutshell ……
I was born in England. My dad was a career army officer giving me extensive experience of a lot of the world’s trouble-spots. When he retired, we moved to Kenya and I came into contact with many of the wildlife greats of the age: Alan and Joan Root, Des and Jen Bartlett, David and Daphne Sheldrick, Armand and Michaela Denis and a number of others. That gave birth to my interest and fascination with wildlife. I did as much as I could in Kenya to travel with and learn from these icons. I vowed then that one day I would live in the wild. It took a long time and required many new beginnings as Africa was a very volatile place in those days, forcing relocations regularly. After working and travelling over most of East, Central and Southern Africa, helping out with ethological research wherever I could, I finally acquired Nokuthula and a dream I had for many years came true. Follow your dreams – it doesn’t matter how long it takes to realise them, stay on track! I now write books and try to raise awareness about wildlife in general, give talks, and raise funds to allow me to help the rangers on the ground. The unsung heroes.
And might you describe – in a nutshell – your beliefs?
I believe that we are here to share the planet, to live in harmony with each other and with every living thing. I do not believe that money solves problems, it simply creates new ones. I believe that only when an individual has truly experienced wilderness, regardless of where it is in the world, only then can he or she realise the splendour around us, the wonder of the world and the fact that their soul shares, at some primal level, the souls of the other inhabitants of our wonderful world.
Thank you Brian for joining me today, it has been a privilege to have you.
The cover price of Brian’s books, in South African currency:
Nokuthula series – R180.00 each.
Colour Me – R120.00
They can be purchased directly from Brian. All he needs is an email from purchasers. The email address is: email@example.com
Msomi and Me can be purchased as an e-book from amazon HERE, where you can read the many glowing reviews – including mine!
Dear Brian, thank you for being you and for following your dreams, that have led to you doing so much for Africa and her wildlife.
Having been diverted from my dream by my overbearing school and thoroughly well meaning parents, I am now working on getting back on track, your words are giving me even more drive to slide towards that comforting direction, thank you again
Thank you for those lovely words, Gilli – Brian is indeed an example to us all.
Gilli – kind words indeed. Like I said in the interview with Jane – if I can get just one person motivated to do something, then all this hard work will not have been in vain. Thanks again.