Monday Motivation: What has natural history to do with writing?

 In Monday Motivation, Richard Beynon's blog, Tips for Writers

Monday Motivation: What has natural history to do with writing?During my end-of-year-break, I’m reposting old blogs: the 100th, 200th, 300th and 400th in the sequence. This, my 200th Monday Writing Motivation, was inspired – as many subsequent ones were – by a bird on the water on which our narrowboat was moored. Abigail was her name, and, though her story is tragic, the lesson she taught is not.

Monday Motivation: What has natural history to do with writing?

We returned to our narrowboat Patience this week and found on the foredeck, neatly deposited within the bounds of the lifebuoy we keep in case of aquatic misadventure, ten ivory coloured eggs.

One was broken, spilling out its deep yellow yolk onto the deck.

There was no sign of the bird that had laid the eggs. We scraped away the yolk and tossed it and the shell into the murky waters of the marina in which we moor Patience and, imagining that the clutch had been abandoned, we carefully transferred the eggs from the deck to a container.

Later, we heard peeping and chirping sounds of evident distress coming from the bow. We opened the doors and surprised a large and obviously discombobulated mallard duck sitting next to the bowl of eggs. Her name quite obviously was Abigail.

Consternation on Patience. What to do? Finally we settled on transferring the eggs into a large shallow dish and placing it in the lifebuoy. Then we retreated into the boat and watched Abigail regard our handiwork with deep suspicion. After some minutes, however, instinct overcame whatever hesitation our interference had caused, and she settled on her eggs, whumffing out her feathers to cover every last one of the nine survivors.

We watched from the confines of the saloon. Abigail made small contented noises which triggered in us, respectively, a sense of paternal and maternal duty done. We’d saved Abigail’s brood.

Now, what, you might ask, has this little slice of natural history to do with writing? Well, watching Abigail purr atop her brood of eggs, a metaphor sprang to mind that seems singularly instructive.

We all give birth to ideas. For most of us, most of the time, those ideas are as ephemeral as the mist on a chilly morning in the marina. Like dreams, they evaporate, and just hours later we have no real memory of them at all. Damn, we say, I wish I could remember that thought I had. It had real promise.

If we’re wise and, even more important, diligent, we write those ideas down. We ponder them. We turn them this way and that. We incubate them. Some, no doubt, will never hatch. But if we’re faithful, if we’ve paid attention to the possibilities inherent in them, if we warm them and nurture them, if we love them – then those ideas will grow wings and fly.

So there’s the lesson that Abigail can teach us. It’s a simple one, but it’s an important one.

Right, now I need to put metaphor aside and return to the real Abigail, and her prodigious output (although Mr Google tells me mallard clutches range between eight and thirteen eggs, and that their combined weight is half the poor mother’s).

Abigail proved to be a flighty parent. During the first night of our return, she sat her eggs with admirable scrupulousness. The next morning, however, she took some hours off to fraternize with a friendly drake.

And now, on the evening of our second day, there is no sign of her. Her eggs lie cold and abandoned on our prow. There is no hope of them ever hatching.

I’m all for turning them into omelettes. Trish won’t hear of it. She says it’s a little like eating the offspring of a friend.

Happy incubating,


P.S. Newsflash: While Abigail was gallivanting, a beady-eyed crow alighted on our prow and scoffed all the eggs. See what happens to ideas when you don’t properly attend to them?

P.P.S. Need some help with your writing over the holiday season? Check out Jo-Anne’s blog on honing your craft and developing your writing practice over the holiday season.

P.P.P.S. Dreaming of a holiday where you can devote yourself to your writing with no distractions? How about joining us in Stow-on-the-Wold in the UK, Barrydale in the Western Cape, South Africa or Venice, Italy?

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