You can’t beat ‘been there, done that, bought the tee-shirt’

Picture of relaxed tigerWrite what you know. It’s one of the cliches of writing and (like most of the so-called rules) it’s not true. Translate that to ‘write what you can research’ and you might be closer to the mark.

I’m in the midst of writing new tiger story, the sequel to Black Tiger. It’s a stand-alone book, starring the two main characters but the setting is quite different, and based on the tiger trade in the US.

Of course, I’ve done, am still doing, the research and I’ll check with people who know more than I do if I got it right. Thank goodness for the internet, and Google Earth. That said, you can’t beat experience. You can’t beat ‘been there, done that, bought the tee-shirt’.

The story starts in New York and I have been there, for just a few days. Sorry, I don’t heart NY. I’m not a big city person, and neither is Sally, my heroine. We both loved Central Park, though. It so happens, too, that the scene where Sally ends up in Harlem because she failed to realise she’d caught an express train also happened to me. Although I didn’t find a tiger in Harlem. Unlikely you say? Sure – but it has happened. Here’s the story of the Harlem tiger.

Now we get to the reason I’m writing this blog post, because I wrote a scene describing my abused tiger finally being released in a tiger sanctuary. Writing this, even thinking about it now, brought a tear to my eye. Why? Well, the world has turned many times since I was a child. I used to love to go to the zoo and see the animals. Our local zoo was small and these days has an enviable reputation in conservation of animals such as orang utans. But back then, like every other zoo in the world, animals were kept in concrete pens. I thought nothing of it at the time; few people did. But then opinion began to change about how animals should be kept, and the zoo changed its housing policy, first for the non-dangerous residents such as the deer and kangaroos. Then it was the big cat’s turn. Bear in mind these animals were never ill-treated. Many were born at the zoo. I’ll remember forever watching on TV as these cats (they were lions) first went into their new enclosure. And those memories are in this piece, as is footage from Carolina Tiger Rescue of a tiger being released into his new home. The writing is very raw, will probably change a little, but you get the idea. I hope. The tiger’s name is Ulysses.


Barbara Kranstein waved a hand. The forklift roared into life, edging the long prongs into the truck’s interior, then lifting. The operator backed the vehicle and the cage emerged with Ulysses standing, his tail waving. Sally felt his agitation and moved to where he could see her. Max, Bill and the forklift operator shifted the wheeled cage around and through the space between the double gates into the enclosure. It looked good, with a concrete den in a bank, a pool and wide areas of grass, as well as trees.

“We put food in the den for him,” Kranstein said, her gaze fixed on the cage.

When men were back behind the outer fence, Max pulled a cable that raised the second gate, then the cage.

Ulysses just stood for a few long moments. Sally sent him thoughts – safe, good, food, safe – and set her camera into video mode. Ash should see this, too. His head lowered, Ulysses took a step forward. Then another, patting the unfamiliar surface. A stride. And now he was beyond the gate and on the grass. The big cat threw himself down and rolled, this way, then that, wriggling his spine, chuffing his pleasure. Sally’s eyes brimmed, but she kept filming. Eyes closed, the tiger threw his head back and sucked some grass into his mouth. Another roll, back onto his stomach. Now he rose and padded over to the pool, large enough for a tiger to wallow. Once again, he patted, testing with one paw. When he walked into the water and collapsed with an almost human sigh, Sally couldn’t see properly any more.

6 thoughts on “You can’t beat ‘been there, done that, bought the tee-shirt’

  1. rinellegrey

    Beautiful writing. Bought a tear to my eye too!

    I think it really helps to be able to find similarities to scenes in our writing, not necessarily the same things. One that was recently mentioned on my blog was that we could draw on experiences in foreign countries to work out how we might related to an alien world. It takes using your imagination, but luckily, that’s what writers are good at.

  2. carver22

    I wouldn’t call myself an animal lover but I do find it depressing that humans exploit and kill animals for ‘fun’ and I deplore the fact that many species are disappearing as a result of our unthinking selfishness. The tiger’s beauty and power give it a special place, too. Your blog and the extract do a great job of personalising the theory. We are all connected.

  3. juliabarrett

    I cry whenever I read anything about animals or watch anything about animals so I’m with you. When I was a kid, Old Yeller nearly did me in. And don’t get me started on Bambi. I had to be removed from the theater at the ripe old age of five. My parents were terribly embarrassed.

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