Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Wigtown Book Festival

It’s time I put together my talk for the Wigtown Book Festival next week. I was excited to read that the festival programmer Adrian Turpin selected my book/talk for the first of two “Festival Director’s Cuts”. He says:
Everyone loves pandas. But until 150 years ago they were unknown outside China. Now they've become diplomatic pawns. Henry Nicholls' black-and-white tale should be read all over.
I will be talking about The Way of the Panda (and hopefully signing a copy or two) at the County Halls in Wigtown at 3pm on 30 September. I think you can buy a ticket here.

As one friend put it, County Halls this year, Carnegie Hall next.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

FT Weekend Magazine

I have an feature in today's Financial Times Weekend Magazine. It starts and finishes in Baoxing (left), a few hours' drive north of Ya'an City, and uses the town and surrounding panda habitat to explore two sides of modern China:
one determined to extract prosperity from the natural world and another intent on conservation even at the expense of development.
The feature opens with a double-page photo of a young panda hanging the fork of a tree.

What I've written builds on a blog post I put up after I got back from China in March.

Friday, 17 September 2010

First review

My first review of The Way of the Panda appeared today in The Daily Mail. It's a very thorough run-down of what's in the book.

Here's a nice pull-quote:
"Henry Nicholls expertly charts the panda’s decades of fame and binds together many intriguing facets of 150 years of Sino-Western interaction" Peter Forbes, The Daily Mail.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Galapagos Day

I was at Galapagos Day last night, an annual event held by the Galapagos Conservation Trust at the Royal Geographical Society in London. Last year’s speakers were so terrific – with Sir David Attenborough, Andrew Marr and Felipe Cruz – that I did think it was an impossible act to follow.

And so it proved. The problem was Stanley Johnson (far left), a writer and the father of the somewhat more famous Boris. He spent 15 minutes showing off photographs from his latest trip to Galapagos. Now, it is not difficult to take a passable, even a very good photograph in this wonderful place but Johnson had failed spectacularly. His commentary was little better. “This is a penguin,” he said of one slide. “This is another penguin,” he said of the next. “Here is a sea lion. And another.” And so on.

Ironically, his photographs were so bad and his commentary so thin that the whole thing became quite an entertaining farce. Unfortunately, this didn’t sit well with the gravitas of the evening’s theme “Galapagos, where next?” And I do wonder what Johnson’s illustrious co-speakers – the Ecuadorian ambassador to London Anita Alban Mora, the executive director of the Charles Darwin Foundation Dr Gabriel Lopez and botanist Sarah Darwin – made of his irreverent style.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Today Programme?

I got a call on Wednesday to tell me that Radio 4's Today Programme wants me on to discuss the point of pandas with BBC natural history presenter Chris Packham. You'll remember that he said - in my opinion - some strange things about pandas back in 2009. I blogged about this at the time and have talked to a lot of people who were really annoyed by what he said. I'll admit that the responsiblity of being the one to represent their views - especially on Today - is somewhat daunting. But someone needs to do it!

Originally, Today was talking about this happening this morning but they hadn't got in touch last night. It may yet happen, on Monday, apparently. I'm game. But is Packham?

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

It's printed

I returned from a two-week break in time to receive delivery of The Way of the Panda. It looks great.

It even comes with a very generous quotation from zoologist and author Desmond Morris, who describes it as "A fascinating story of an extraordinary animal".

Profile Books have sent out masses of copies. For example, I am gladdened to see that novelist Clare Dudman has received a copy and has mentioned it on her blog. And I'm getting the first inklings of feedback. Several broadsheets and magazines have now commissioned articles from me based on aspects of the book. Of course, much of this is just down to the allure of pandas but there are also very heartening comments filtering back about the book. The run-up to publication and review is a nail-biting time for me, probably for most authors. You've tried so hard to produce something really good, you are pleased with it but are niggled by the concern that others won't see it as you do. That said, it's an exciting time too.

22 days and counting. I have a lot on just now, features for New Scientist (on epigenetics) and Nature Biotechnology (on marine biodiscovery) to wrap up and these panda commissions to write, but if I can get my act together, I hope to post every day from now until publication - -30 September.

Inidentally, if you are thinking of buying a copy, now would be a good time because the prepublication price on Amazon is usually lower than post-publication and has just dropped to a very affordable £9.11, that's more than £6 off the cover price.