Please see the Catalogue and Bibliography pages for Richard’s articles and books. Also references to the children’s ‘dark green’ adventure stories which currently enchant him. One, The children who wouldn’t... is already published and the sequel Darkness under the mountain seeks a publisher as we speak. He is currently writing the third in this trilogy, The sort of girl things happen to.
His thesis on the ecology and behaviour of the Cornish Chough and some other related scientific papers may be found here https://richardmeyer.co.uk/index.php/writing/bibliography.
Introduction: I may have doubted my ability to draw (see Art) but never to write – it was something that just seemed to come naturally. One of my earliest memories is sitting at the kitchen table writing a story about aeroplanes and a pilot (I was probably about 6 or 7 and been reading a Biggles story) when I heard my older brother say to our mum “Richard’s going to be a writer.” Strange but this tiny remark stuck and somehow validated me. Otherwise, it's always been a battle with authority figures telling me what I couldn’t do.
Now, whenever in the dumps, I go for a walk, ride my motorbike, or just write, in my diary, a too-long letter or delve into my alternative world where children deny their childhood, and adults are allowed to be children. Some of my old correspondents, those still with us, no longer reply in kind; they ignore my ramblings, or send a short email or, even worse, a txt msg. There are a couple who still write proper letters in pen and ink – brother John, and a dear old retired countryman. The female perspective, always compelling, seems lost to me now; they have all got busy, married (often these two conspire), fed up or been seduced by SMS.
Vincent (van Gogh) had Theo as a repository for his voluminous writing. A year or two ago my family clubbed together and bought me the sumptuous 5 volumes of his complete illustrated letters - now among my most cherished possessions. I too have a brother though not one as regular or as tolerant, and certainly not one as interested in my paintings but a good if erratic correspondent. [I say this confident in the knowledge he will never read it, being even more IT averse than me.]
But, dammit, none of this stops me! And if my diary must be the long-suffering patient (interesting how this word as noun / adjective has diverged from the Old French pacient before that from the Latin patientem, meaning supporting, suffering, enduring, permitting) then so be it. My family can burn them, as my mother did my father's.
I was lucky enough to be published while still in my teens. Wildfowl in Captivity was published by John Gifford - a branch of Foyles in London - when I was 26. As a consequence I got an agent and began a sequence of natural history books (see Bibliography) all of which helped bolster the paltry wages inherent in wildlife work. But it still wasn’t much (£200 for that first book, to include my own photographs).
These early titles came out between 1972 and 1984. The most successful with regard to sales was Cage & Aviary Birds (Collins) in collaboration with my great friend Malcolm Ellis.
The Spotted flycatcher is an example of his work.
Cage & Aviary Birds was successful not because of my writing but because of his illustrations, here is an example of one of the plates:
Fanatical bird watchers known as twitchers apparently bought it to identify escapees!
Before meeting Malcolm at Heathrow (we were both waiting for consignments of birds from East Africa, him for London Zoo, myself for Padstow Bird Gardens), I'd already begun to illustrate my own articles with line drawings (see above and Art) – exactly what I'd been told at school and by grown-ups generally I couldn't do. Maybe we need these knock-backs to spur us on and bring out sustaining stubbornness?
The book which is highly topical is of course The Fate of the Badger (see Have books fared better? below).
This is an early drawing to illustrate an article published in The Lady magazine entitled The Importance of the Badger back in 1971. So, my public involvement with the Badger began, bizarrely, in the very same year the government began to slaughter them. This was not even mentioned in that article, I seemed more concerned about badger pelts as fashion items and their bristles being used in shaving brushes, but I've made up for it since then.
It was long ago but I concluded that article with these words:
If difficult to read it is reprinted here:
"Man has committed more atrocities against other creatures than the mind can grasp, yet still the fur trade flourishes. If we must clad ourselves in the coats of slaughtered animals, let them, at least, be farmed ones. Better still, let us use our technological achievements, and wear superior and cheaper manufactured 'skins'.
There is a real danger that in a few generations, when the badgers and leopards are extinct, when the last crocodile handbag has been sewn up, when the reservoir of wildlife is dry, man, if he is still alive, will curse us for our stupidity and mock us for our vanity. The only badgers to be seen will be the fading and dusty remains in museums, and children will stare at those in the same incredulous way as we might gaze at a dodo."
In all I've written nigh on a hundred articles and papers. Did any do any good? Probably not, but those which didn't end their days on the bottom of a bird cage might still lurk in an attic somewhere.
Have the books fared better?
Books, I'm afraid, like the articles (not the scientific stuff of course) have also at times strayed from their pre-determined path, something which no doubt occasionally tested the generosity of editors, however for me it maintained the adventure and excitement of writing. Nevertheless, after writing or co-writing a dozen, I wondered if I was not simply becoming a desk-bound hack.
Badgers rescued me but not in a good way.
In the mid ‘80s following a public meeting in St. Austell, a few of us got caught up in the scandalous government scapegoating of Badgers as the supposed source of bovine tuberculosis in cattle (see Badgers under Wildlife). From this nightmare came my first book written as ‘Meyer’: The Fate of the Badger was recently republished as a revised 30th anniversary edition (see www.fire-raven.co.uk).
As if that wasn't enough, while writing the original Fate in 1985 for Batsford – a late and much lamented gentlemanly old publishing house - I also began researching the Chough's decline in Cornwall (see Chough under Wildlife). Four years later this beget a 100k word thesis (see http://chough.org/research-papers). Even though, due mainly to my unconventional background, of which I speak elsewhere, I’ve never really gained access to elevated scientific circles, the work itself has never been criticised.
Nevertheless, tired of head-butting glass walls, I qualified as a Primary School teacher and despite spending a fascinating few years probing the heads of 'Later Years' children, and partly as a result of this decided to concentrate on Fiction.
Let’s call it that out of respect to convention but it is really far more. Remember the old saying 'Life is stranger than fiction'? Well let's say that 'Fiction may be truer than life'. “Stories are the means by which we navigate the world. They allow us to interpret its complex and contradictory signals” as George Monbiot has said recently.
'Fiction' implies everything is made up whereas I believe what is written for children can, and should, embrace fundamental truths: obtained through observation and imagination, in short, metaphysical ideas. It is believed that (some) animals can 'see beyond the veil' meaning they may see Truths obscured to older people. And I'm sure this is true. The same is true of children. They are capable of deep and great insights; that is, until education gets hold of them. Sadly, schools teach only imitation (of adult knowledge, traits and ideas). So much so, it becomes a closed loop.
In my early twenties, I wrote a light-hearted romp The Frustrating Friends of Ferdinand Finkle – certainly influenced by Gerald Durrell’s writing, especially his novel Rosy is my relative (Collins, I have a 1968 1st edition but don't suppose it's worth much). Mine was never published. An agent at the time said there was too much bickering in it – which is exactly what I liked about it! The old type-written pages still sit in a trunk or on a shelf somewhere. It wasn’t until a magical holiday on the Scillies that I began my first ‘serious’ children’s story when my own two were still quite little. As with Durrell’s Rosy, it is also based on a real event.
After persuading me (in order, he said, to break into the lucrative American market) to do a Higher Degree, my literary agent dropped me; during those 4-5 years, he'd found celebrity authors and didn’t handle children’s work anyway, but this was what I now wanted to do. I had another agent but he too was not ‘into’ children’s work and only wanted animal adult non-fiction, so that didn’t go anywhere either.
I rewrote The children who wouldn’t… many times and think it's a thumping good yarn, as did, I’m pleased to say, the few people who have read it including kids who heard it aloud in schools when I was supply teaching and trying to kill a lesson. Well all children love being told a story even if they don't want to read one. But could I get another agent...?
So, frustrated and wanting to write the next, I decided to self-publish and will maybe do likewise for its sequel Darkness under the Mountain. It's a risky business this, as our little team found when setting up Fire-raven Writing (www.fire-raven.co.uk), for it involves an awful lot of paddling below the surface. Darkness concerns the same four children; this time in the Lake District, where I used to live, and another magical place when you escape the tourists (not that difficult because they tend to stick to a few well-trodden places like Kendal High Street and 'Pay&Display' car parks, some of which are squashed into tiny corners of spare land).
A brief synopsis:
Myrrhis is probably a witch. The four Leigh children, on holiday in the Lake District, couldn't be sure until she began to lure them into a dark world in a hunt for some mysterious 'bodies' buried deep in the mountains near their holiday cottage.
Locals, suspicious or cunning, seem determined to thwart them. The Bard (with his crow, Corax) and Myrrhis (with her cat, Finklestein) hate each other. In fact, The Bard hates everyone, especially his reluctant partner, Harry Entwhistle, the creepy museum man with a morbid interest in death-masks.
In the bowels of his gloomy collection, Jojo is convinced the effigy of witch Alison Ratcliffe moves.
Girl on a motorcycle, Shirley, Entwhistle's assistant and Myrrhis’s sometimes reluctant hand-maiden, befriends the children who have begun to explore the brooding mountain, its caves and forest. Goaded by Myrrhis, the children's courage is strained to breaking as they venture through dangerous tunnels in the bowels of the mountain. Eventually they discover an enormous cavern – where an astonishing tomb awaits them.
The Bard and Entwhistle close in but, through their own trickery, become entombed by an earth tremor – Myrrhis claims by “the darkness under the mountain”.
The discovery presents the children with yet more problems. They seek the advice of Dr VG, who helped them on Balerium the previous year during the Grimbeard adventure. This wise recluse, in his unearthly woodland shack, would know what to do. But back home, when all seems resolved, Jojo answers the phone. She hears a menacing voice, “I know you. I'll find you. I get even with you.”
A trilogy? The third tale brews slowly. It will either return to the Scillies or go farther north to the Scottish Highlands; either way it will be a winter story. I read the entire Arthur Ransome canon twice to my children as they were growing up and loved Winter Holiday as much as any.
So Ransome is a big influence, as is Alan Garner. Others are J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, Rudyard Kipling, John Buchan, A. Conan Doyle, Wilkie Collins, Philip Pullman and Enid Blyton (of course but how strange to have them rubbing shoulders) are all in mind. I can't say he is an influence but dear old Anthony Buckeridge's Jennings kept me chuckling through my childhood.
You might glean from this that I am not much of one for celebrity gimcrackery. Give me good solid well-told stories - like a well, dark and deep.
Finally, I want to mention the brilliant crime writer and personal friend Frances Fyfield who has been kind to me and has even bought some of my paintings, so no praise can be too high. I flatter myself in hoping that some of my paintings are imbued, or have become so, with the quirky deep brooding psychological resonances found in her books.