Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The Return of the Jungle Book - Dianne Hofmeyr

Yesterday I was a green-eyed monster. I saw Michael Morpurgo’s latest novel Running Wild in the bookstores. It’s the story of a boy and an elephant who rush off into the jungle because the elephant senses a tsunami coming. Four years ago (in 2005 to be precise... as I still have all my paperwork) I researched Sea Gipsies and elephants who escaped the tsunami because of their intuitive knowledge… a sort of 6th sense. I discovered these insights while reading Ian McCallum’s book, Ecological Intelligence. Fascinated I broached the idea of a story based on this. But the tsunami had devastated too many people’s lives and it was believed to be too close to the event. Four years later out comes Running Wild!

How often this occurs… writers have an idea, and then someone else brings out a similar story! On the positive side, Michael’s book with its handsome cover and lovely endpapers, made me wonder if we’re seeing a revival of ‘jungle’. Hopefully it bodes well for frogs too… seeing that my new series is called The Frog Diaries.

In the stakes of frogs versus vampires, it’s a no-brainer as far as popularity goes. Yet geckoes, chameleons and mammoth Madagascan moon moths were great draw-cards with 9 & 10 yr olds in the butterfly tent at the Natural History Museum this summer. And recently at the Saatchi Gallery it was the photograph of the toxic looking Blue Poison Dart frog (dendrobates azureus) that had a ring of children around it. Is this a trend? Will the jungle book return? I’d like to think so.
‘New jungle’ mixes nature with suspense and adventure. What’s not terrifying about the Golden Poison Dart frog (phyllobates terribilis) from the rainforests of Colombia, that’s capable of killing 10 to 20 people with its poison? A single gram on an envelope would kill anyone licking it.

So I’m playing herpetology and writing my Frog Diaries and soon to be Frog Blog. I’ve hunted down reed frogs in the Okavango Swamp (in reality often) with a frog-trafficking, dynamite-throwing villainess and I’ve trekked (in my imagination) the rainforests of Madagascar to track down its ghostly lemurs and Golden Mantella frogs and found much more… secret distilleries of ylang ylang flowers and modern-day pirates too.

I love doing what I’m doing. Because what does a primitive ylang ylang distillery look like in the heart of a rainforest? And how will my hero’s tree-house be suspended in the forest canopy by steel cables? Never mind plot problems and jungle-fact problems, I wake up each morning to engineering problems… and its fun. Fun because I love doing what I’m doing.

My frog stories join the dogged drafts of a few maniacs seeking new encounters. And if there’s to be an encounter with the world (and ourselves), then it’s up to us maniacs to do it. The root meaning of the word enthusiasm is enthosiasmos which in Greek translates: to be filled by the gods. I hope you are all filled by the gods this morning!

Book recommendations:
Here's a book list of my recommendations on


Katrina Germein said...

Go to and then search 'purple frog'. It's fabulous.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Thanks for that Katrina! What an incredible photograph... its captured such an amazing expression. The site is wonderful too. One can get lost.

Anonymous said...

I heard Michael explain at the Edinburgh festival why and how he wrote the book. I think he looked for the right way to do it for quite some time, while feeling he just needed to take on the subject.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Yes, I think when you base a book on an experience that is so horrific, one has to be sensitive. I haven't read his book yet but I imagine he's done it well. The pictures in the papers this week of the carnage in Indonesia have highlighted the horror. A foreign 7 yr old boy asked me the other day after reading about some tornado's... 'What do you have to worry about in England?' It shows the scary impact uncontrolled forces of nature have on children.

adele said...

The Frog Diaries sound fabulous! And writers getting the same idea at once happens quite a lot. I noticed it when there were suddenly four books about Noah's Ark published within months of one another. My ITHAKA came out just before Margeret Atwood's The Penelopiad ....and so on!
As for the terrible pictures from South East Asia, they are truly sad and scary.

Nick Green said...

Some animals may be able to sense a tsunami coming because the vibrations from the earthquake that causes it travel faster through the earth than through the water. And natural selection in eons past would have favoured those elephants who, on sensing a minor vibration through the soil, ran away from the coast instead of staying put. Still astonishing, though.

Similarly sheep, witnessing a landslide, have been observed not to run away from it. They run to the side.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

That's amazing about sheep, Nick. I have to rethink my idea of them!

Sonja said...

May your Frog Diaries secure a new encounter soon. Very imaginative! Nothing is greater than loving what you do and feeling it because then you really do wake up every morning and do it just for the fun of it.

Pablo said...


Leslie Wilson said...

lovely blog, Di. That's all I have time to say at the moment, but it was fascinating and jewelled and all one expects from you.