Friday, June 17, 2011

SocNoc 17 - Magical Madagascar

Today's Wordcount: 2,174
Total Wordcount: 39,046
(includes the part written before SocNoc - 4143 words)
Percentage: 69.8%

One question on everyone's mind (all two or three of my readers, that is) might be: "why lemurs? Why Madagascar?"

And this is a good question. Those of you who know me well will know of, if not understand my near-obsession with lemurs. I have adored them for years - I have over 30 plush l emurs and I have even been to Madagascar so I could see them in the wild.

So why lemurs? Where did the obsession begin?

Well, the answer is - I don't remember!

There are two points in my past that I can put the finger on and say "that fed the addiction" but I'm not sure at which point I went "I love lemurs, give me more!" The first was in 7th form biology, when we were studying primates and I discovered tarsiers, possibly for the first time. Tarsiers aren't lemurs, but they're awesome! And the whole prosimian group of primates. Before then I had been aware that they existed (I read a lot of Gerald Durrell, for one thing) but I'd never really rated them more highly than say the African Wild Dog or the Cheetah. For the record, through my older childhood years, my favourite mammal was the Aardwolf, and I had an overwelming obsession with birds (all of them, but I particularly liked the hoatzin). I still like birds, but at one point, lemurs started to trump them.

I started doing volunteer work at a local wildlife park - Orana Park - when I finished my University degree (B average, I was very average) in Zoology and Psychology, and it was then my lemur obsession started to grow. They had two species there - the ring-tailed, which everyone knows, and the ruffed lemur, which I didn't know so much about it. I had to learn to be a decent tour guide, but as I'm a natural show-off I loved showing people around and telling them all about the animals. I even knew the names of all the ring-tailed lemurs. I think they've all passed on to the great forest in the sky now, except perhaps Isalo (named after the National Park in Madagascar, where I've been). Anyway, I used to spend my lunchtimes sitting beside the lemurs' island, watching them sunbathe and play.

I think the appeal of lemurs is that apart from being amazingly cute and cuddly in appearance (like red pandas, the animated plush toy of the animal kingdom) they also exhibit behaciour that is not unlike humans - when they sit in the sun with their arms upraised, looking like they're meditating for example, but they also look animal enough so that they don't seem like a twisted caricature of human-kind. I have associated for a time in Furry circles, and whilst lemurs are popular, monkeys and apes are almost considered aberrant - aside from the tamarins and marmosets. I think because they are a little bit TOO close to human kind. But lemurs, well, they look a little cat-like, a little fox-like but they behave in a manner that is utterly endearing. Most of the time.

Slowly but surely, lemurs began to work their ways into my fantasy worlds. In my first creation, a world called "Halcyon", my imps looked a bit like tarsiers and my pixies were ringtailed lemurs. More-or-less. Somewhere along the way the imps evolved into sort of rabbit/monkey hybrids, but the pixies remained the same. I started on the 'Net in furry circles and created my fursona based on a ringtailed lemur. I played a shape-shifter in a LARP that could turn into a lemur. I called my character "Kataryna", based on the scientific name for the ring-tailed - Lemur catta which later evolved into LemurKat which became my internet moniker (except on Myspace, some US lass bet me to it there). I created a lemur Pokemon. Basically, lemurs crept into everything I did. Mainly ringtaileds, because even with 30+ species to choose from, they were still the most charasmatic. At least at that point!

I wrote up Kataryna's story. Or started at least, lost track of the plot and set it aside.
I wrote a sequel to Kataryna's story focusing on her daughter (a lemur/wolf hybrid, don't ask). Stopped writing at around 90k words. Still have it, but have no idea where it's going. It's not bad though.
I wrote Pokemon fanfic with a lemur pokemon as my main companion. Lost steam. One story from the end of the series!
I wrote a novel called "Quest for Lemuria" which featured an aye-aye called Mephistopheles. Set it aside. Rewrote it. Rewrote it again. Gave up on it. Still got it too, all 3 incarnations, all incomplete.

Then I went to Madagascar.

I fell in love. But Madagascar is not the beautiful place you see in documentaries. True, those are a part of it, but most of Madagascar's wild beauty has gone. Around 90% deforested.
To compare, I think NZ is nearly 75% deforested, so pot - kettle - black...
And our fauna is just as unique. We've lost a lot, and so has Madagascar.

Anyway, this novel has been in the pipelines for a while - an epic journey around Madagascar based partly on my own experiences and also using lemurs as the dominant life-force. It includes some of the characters from other novels or works that I had given up on - significantly Kataryna (now Karazana, the Malagasy word for "kindness") and Mephistopheles (whose name I have not changed, he's an aye-aye, he's supposed to have a creepy name). But I have also decided that my Madagascar is not going to be 90% farmland and wasteland, I'm going to give them back their forests.

Which is harder then you think. When you start trying to decide - "so what should the main city, Narivo, look like? What used to be on the highlands before Antananarivo?" And then you guess and approximate.

I recently acquired "BBC Madagascar", of which I have watched the first episode. It has some rather intriguing footage of such things as a young babakoto trying to pull off her older brother's nose, a swarm of baby tenrecs, flycatchers trying to stop a drongo destroying their nest, crowned lemurs climbing down the Tsingy, a spider moving a shell into a tree and bandro making reed bridges to cross parts of Lake Aloetra. Apparently they can swim. I have been almost in tears on several occasions, not because they have said how bad the situation is in Madagascar, but because I know. I know that many of these animals will probably be extinct before I am. And they are far more unique and precious.

And that's why I'm writing this novel. To preserve not only the memory of these strange and beautiful creatures, and to increase awareness, but also to try and capture the charm of Madagascar, an island that stole my heart.

No comments: