Wednesday 19 January 2022

From Wildlife Ranger To Wildlife Writer

 Malcolm J Ingham reflects on the move from wildlife ranger to writing.

After spending the vast majority of my working life in the Ranger Service and being involved in conservation and wildlife rehabilitation, retirement when it eventually arrived was a jumble of emotions.  One a feeling of relief and escapism from my post of Head Ranger managing a large ranger service with its multitude of Country Parks, Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI’s.) Even though I had been a Head Ranger / Wildlife Officer for many years, a couple of years prior to retirement my brief had changed dramatically from one of being very much hands on to a much more intense managerial role with not only more staffing responsibilities but juggling budgets, applying for grants and everything else that comes with overseeing the day to day management of a ranger service.   

The second emotion was one of sadness in that my career was coming to an end, I had strived long and hard to become a ranger and when I eventually achieved my goal my life changed beyond anything I could have envisaged.  Even from a seasoned rangers perspective I had a dream job. Over the years I was involved in caring for and rehabilitating many species of wildlife from badgers, foxes, peregrine falcons, barn owls, swans and even a Scottish wildcat and a common nighthawk with the latter being flown out to Belize by the RAF for release.

I had rescued a lanner falcon from an Iranian ship and bobbed around in a rubber dingy trying to persuade a dolphin to leave the Manchester Ship Canal not to mention my experiences with a beached whale or collecting a grey seal and a European eagle owl from a police station plus being involved in the production of wildlife themed TV programmes and working alongside various well known celebrities of the time.  I had lectured and given presentations from as far afield as Inverness to the Isle of Wight on wildlife rehabilitation and worked alongside the police, RSPCA and the National Wildlife Crime Unit tackling and investigating incidents of wildlife crime with a particular emphasis on badger digging and baiting.

But now it was over! What was I going to do? My life had always revolved around wildlife and I couldn’t envisage a life without it.

On a few occasions over the years people had paused the question ‘when are you going to write a book?’ And at one point I did actually get around to making an effort to put my many stories onto paper but after a while I got out of the habit and filed a half completed manuscript to a cardboard box and forgot about it.

That is until one day when my pal Mike McCartney (formerly Mike McGear of the 1960’s 70’s Liverpool chart topping trio the Scaffold) asked the question “how’s the book coming along?” Obviously I had to admit that it wasn’t whereupon he gave me a kick up the backside and offered to read the draft manuscript when finished.

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By this time my wife and I had moved to North Wales with a large, formal, landscaped, tiered garden and a patch of woodland to keep us occupied which, from the gardens perspective at least, we began to transform into a truly wildlife friendly haven.

In between tending the garden, bird watching, walking and generally exploring I took Mike’s advice and rooted out my dusty manuscript and re-read it, after which I binned it and started again! Once reasonably happy with my endeavours I sent it off to Mike who read it, made a few constructive recommendations and once again gave me the proverbial kick up the back-side to crack on with it.  To cut a long story short I eventually received an email from Mandy  inviting me to submit a synopsis and a few sample chapters for her perusal the outcome of which was that in April 2019 my first book ‘From Badgers to Nighthawks’ was published by Beul-Aithris Publishing with of course a foreword from Mike! It was the least he could do after all the chivvying and backside kicking and needless to say he got a freebie copy.

Signed of course by yours truly! 

Despite all the chivvying and endless hours spent at the computer not to mention the never ending proof reading by my wife to see the finished product finally in print made every second worthwhile. But what next? I now had the writing bug and needed to feed my addiction. Could I write another book and if I did would it be published?

 I had so many other stories to tell, not just from my past life as since moving to North Wales I had been dragged out of retirement by the police and the RSPCA Special Ops Unit to once again accompany them on warrant raids and to act as their prosecution expert witness. I was also involved in monitoring badgers and otters plus many other forms of wildlife and was acquiring some wonderful trail camera video footage of previously unseen species interaction such as a dog otter leaping out of the water to nip a badger on the backside!!

 My material for writing a sequel to ‘From Badgers to Nighthawks’ was accumulating at a pace and as such began to draft a second manuscript and then Mandy paused the question, “have you thought about a children’s book?” To be honest the thought hadn’t crossed my mind but she had sowed a seed that slowly began to germinate into what was to become my second book ‘The Tales of Old Billy Badger’ published in December 2021 by Beul Aithris and beautifully illustrated by Mark Hetherington.  The idea was that it would be aimed at eight years and upwards and although a fictional story based off fact from my own observations it would also be educational.  The badgers and the otters, Casper and Shadow, aren’t merely figments of my imagination, they actually exist and roam the land and river of Garth Farm.

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The human characters Mr Callum and Mr Harpur are real people albeit under different names even Moggy the cat and Nelly the sheepdog are real.

 But what of the sequel to ‘From Badgers to Nighthawks?’ I’m working on it!!

Tuesday 4 January 2022

The Tale Of One Artist And Several Badgers

 The Tales Of Old Billy Badger illustrator Mark Hetherington discusses what it was like working on the project

If anyone had asked me eighteen months ago there is no way I I’d have told them that the main theme for my 2021 was likely to be badgers!

It all began a couple of years ago when BA head honcho Mandy told me about ‘’From Badgers to Nighthawks’, a manuscript she had received from Malcolm J. Ingham recounting his experiences as a wildlife ranger. Mal had found a lovely Victorian print he wanted to use for the cover and Mandy asked me to do the cover design, to make the print work as a cover image.

Little did I know that Mal was already working on his next project, a book for children inspired by the real animals – and people – he had been involved with. Mandy asked me to draw the illustrations for the book in mid-2020 but as ‘The Tales of Old Billy Badger’ wouldn’t be coming out until Christmas 2021 and I had other projects to work on it wasn’t until several months later that I was able to make a start. Even then had to interrupt work on ‘Billy’ several times as other jobs with shorter deadlines came in.

One unfortunate thing about the timing was that it came during a time when my drawing style was evolving. Artists’ and illustrators’ can sometimes change quite a lot over the course of their careers. Sometimes the change is slow and barely noticeable and at other times, as in this case, it can occur quite quickly. Because of this the original drawing for the first chapter wasn’t very satisfactory and I eventually did three versions of the image and had to change the pose completely for the final version, for something that suited my new way of working better.

Sketch for the rejected image for Chapter One

My process, once technical hitches like stylistic evolution were out of the way, was more or less the same for all of the images. Mandy had sent me the text for the book and I read it through, noting scenes or events that would make a good illustration. I also had to bear in mind certain images Mal wanted to include in the story. He sent some copies of old prints which asked me to use as the basis for two or three of the illustrations. The pictures of the otter hunt for Chapter Four and the otters Casper and Shadow for Chapter Nine, for example, were based on images sent by Mal.

An old print sent by Mal which formed the basis for the pictures of Casper and Shadow in Chapter Nine

To begin with I sent Mandy pencil roughs of the drawings but we have been working together for a while so she trusts me to just get on with it and after the first couple I would just send her the completed drawing. This isn’t to say I can just do it how I like though, if Mandy (or Mal for that matter) didn’t think the result was up to scratch she told me so and I would do it again. This didn’t happen often though and the whole process ran remarkably smoothly.

Once all the drawings were completed, they were scanned and, if necessary, cleaned up in photoshop. This doesn’t necessarily mean the images were dirty or messy, just that certain things need to be adjusted at times. For example, I used both marker pens and Indian ink in the drawings and when scanned some lines or marks can reflect the light from the scanner slightly differently and appear lighter or darker than those made using different tools or media. Adjusting them in Photoshop means you can make the blacks look more uniform and closer to how the image looks in real life.

The difference between the 'raw' scan and the cleaned-up version used in the book

After that the images were all emailed to Mandy who formatted the text and placed the images where they needed to be. I did the cover design based on a template provided by the printer which gives guidelines for things such as the barcode placement and how close to the edge the text can go without accidentally being trimmed when the covers are printed. The cover was then saved as a pdf and again emailed to Mandy. Then, for Mal, Mandy (after some publishing wizardry!) and I, came the task of telling the world about ‘The Tales of Old Billy Badger’!

Click to get your copy here!