DolphinThe Indian Ocean on Sunday was cold enough to steal your breath, but we barely noticed. For the fourth time in my life I had the privilege of swimming with dolphins in their own environment – on this occasion with Rockingham Wild Encounters. There are approximately 200 dolphins in the area, and every day the boat sets out to find them. If they are lucky enough to come across a group willing to socialise, tourists enter the water in small groups and form chains by holding onto each other’s weight belts, while being towed along. This calm entry and relaxed behaviour in the water causes minimal disturbance, and the dolphins respond enthusiastically, swimming close enough that I was half expecting to feel the hefty flick of a fin or tail. There is a ‘no touching the dolphins’ rule on the tour – stipulated because skin contact can pass on harmful bacteria. However, this also means is that these dolphins are used to humans who keep a respectful distance, and as a result they are prepared to come much nearer, and even bring their young close too. At one stage on Sunday we had nine dolphins around us – and a dolphin even stopped and ‘buzzed’ me – just like Nicky the dolphin does to Desi in Shallow Breath (and if you’ve read the book you’ll know what that means!)

They stayed and swam with us on Sunday because they wanted to – there was no feeding, no tank walls, no training or tricks. When they’d had enough they moved on, and we got back on the boat and tried to find another group who might want to play. We saw them nursing, playing, rooting in the sand for prey, and swimming as a pod, the mothers and aunties hovering protectively over the youngsters. It was beautiful. As always, while in the water with them I briefly forgot everything else.

A dolphin’s use of echolocation gives them a kind of X-ray vision. They can see right through us. Scientists are still examining exactly what they might see, but perhaps it’s more interesting to note what they won’t see. They don’t see us driving our cars, building houses and cities or destroying them. They don’t see the shopping malls, the skyscrapers, our artwork, our aeroplanes, our space rockets, or our televisions. They know nothing of the world wide web. What they might see is an ungainly group of visitors, who can’t hope to match their graceful silhouettes, who breathe heavily through plastic snorkels. Masters of their own environment, they can see right through us.

The dolphins on Sunday reminded me of exactly why I wrote Shallow Breath.

 

 

I hope you have all had a fantastic Christmas and New Year. I’ve spent the last week enjoying some much-needed R&R with my family, and I’ve also loved having time to read. As a result, there will be more Book Loves coming up shortly!

I’m already busy planning everything that’s going to keep me busy over the next few months: there’s a new book that needs writing, events at UWA Extension, South Perth library and the Perth Writers Festival coming in February, and Come Back to Me and Shallow Breath should be available in new territories on Amazon Kindle in the coming weeks.

2012 finished on a high. Monique from Write Note Reviews listed Shallow Breath as one of her favourite reads of the year, and Susan from An Adventure in Reading gave it a wonderful review. On Saturday it was also Pick of the Week in the Sydney Morning Herald – fantastic!

I was really touched when Anna Lee Huber, an author in the US, tweeted that Beneath the Shadows had been one of her top reads of 2012. It means a lot to me when people take time out of their day to let me know they have enjoyed one of my books, and I’d like to thank everyone who has been in touch over the last year.

For 2013 I’ll be signing up to the Australian Women Writers Challenge. I nearly did last year, but I was into the intense writing process of Shallow Breath and couldn’t see where I’d get free time to read a book that wasn’t research! The AWW challenge began last year, the brainchild of Elizabeth Lhuede, and it has been fantastic watching everybody taking part and helping to promote all those brilliant books out there by Australian women. I’ve signed up for the ‘Miles’ challenge, to read 6 books, although I’m secretly hoping I’ll make it to ‘Franklin’ status. If you go on to the AWW website you’ll see there’s an absolute smorgasbord of choice, and I’m excited to be taking part this time. I’m also looking forward to seeing who takes out the inaugural Stella Prize – my money at the moment is on ML Stedman for her fabulous book The Light Between Oceans.

In 2013 I’m keen to keep spreading awareness of the conservation projects that form the backdrop to Shallow Breath – particularly the plight of orangutans in Indonesia, the dolphin atrocities in Taiji, and the elephant genocides in Africa. And I hope I have more opportunity to be involved in projects and fundraisers run by Room to Read, who are doing fantastic work helping children’s education in the developing world. All in all, it’s shaping up to be a busy year!

Wishing you all many hours of happy reading in 2013.

Sara x

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It took me months to pluck up the courage to watch The Cove. During the time I hesitated I couldn’t help but hear of it – this place where each year hundreds of dolphins are rounded up, pushed into a small inlet and butchered with long poles, the sea turning crimson around them. This was a real horror movie, and I don’t even like the ones that are made up.

I’m not sure why I eventually sat down and switched it on. It may have been the urging from other conservationists to ‘be informed’. It may have been because I felt uncomfortable about looking away. Or that I shouldn’t speak out if I didn’t know what I was talking about. But when I did look it was just as terrible as I feared. I cried for much of the movie.

Since then, it is one of the issues I cannot turn away from. I want to write about it, and talk about it. At the end of last year I visited Taiji. I spent the morning watching the fishermen go out on their daily hunt, returning empty handed. Later I was taken to visit the ‘training pools’ – small roped-off squares where dolphins are trained to become captive performers. They are starved unless they do tricks. They swallow the detritus in the pool and have hands plunged into their stomachs to pull it out. Sometimes they go mad or waste away – those dolphins disappear overnight.  They have all witnessed the deaths of their pod members – who are their families, bonded from birth. Dolphins do not suffer silently, and their noises of distress and pain are much like our own.

These dolphins are all destined for the entertainment industry – to be ogled, and petted, and ‘loved’. Some go to other parts of Japan, and all over the world – if you have been to a dolphin show, you may have unknowingly seen dolphins who have been through the tragedy of the Cove.

There is a difference between witnessing distress and experiencing helplessness. I looked away at a time when I felt powerless to do anything – but now I don’t believe anyone is powerless, especially when they join forces and stand together as they do on Japan Dolphin Day. I want to use the anger and pain at what I witnessed to galvanise efforts to work for compassionate, lasting change – whether that’s through writing, supporting a cause, signing petitions, or making donations. I am learning to withstand my fears and take a closer look at things that trouble me. Already, life seems much more rewarding that way.

Over the next few days there are peaceful protests about Taiji in 93 different cities. The one in Perth is at 1pm outside the Consulate General of Japan, 111 Colin Street, please join us if you are able. You can view the events in other cities here: https://www.facebook.com/Savemistythedolphin/events

1st September is the first day of the dolphin hunting season, which runs through to March.

Nicky the dolphin at Monkey Mia

Sunset at Monkey Mia

I’ve just returned from a short holiday on the Western Australian coast with my family, where we camped at one of my favourite spots, Monkey Mia. Many people know Monkey Mia for the family of dolphins who come into shore – at 8 am there is usually a crowd of tourists standing ankle-deep in water, marvelling at these friendly cetaceans. However, apart from this daily gathering, it is a quiet place in winter. The water is unbelievably tranquil, as clear as polished glass, and the temperatures are still pleasant. From the water, all you can see is the long stretch of the Peron peninsula, where the sand gradually changes from pale yellow to a vivid ochre. It makes for a perfect, restful break.

This one-of-a-kind place has found its way into part of my upcoming novel, along with Nicky, the matriarch of the shore-visiting dolphins, who makes a very brief cameo appearance. How does Nicky fit into a psychological suspense novel that spans five continents and twenty years? All will be revealed in December, when Shallow Breath is published in Australia!

Geiki Gorge landscape, in the Kimberley

It’s not about rights
(though it seems some rights mean more than others?)

It’s not about need
(who can say about greed)

It’s not about whales
(or this rare, safe place they calve)

It’s not about flora, fauna, or natural heritage
(or dinosaur footprints left 130 million years ago)

It’s not about a wilderness few will visit
(out of sight, out of mind)

It’s not even about pollution
(the inestimable clog of it)

No, it’s not about any of this
(It’s all of this)

 It is that all this damage is irreversible
(i.r.r.e.v.e.r.s.i.b.l.e.).

Land and sea are irreplaceable
And afterwards
They are all we’ll have left.

S.A.V.E. T.H.E. K.I.M.B.E.R.L.E.Y.
(and all places like it)

Not since April, when I found two brilliant books in the same month – Jasper Jones (Craig Silvey) and After the Fall (Kylie Ladd) – have I read a novel from start to finish. It’s incredibly frustrating, because I love curling up on the sofa for a regular dose of escapism, but my problem is not going away any time soon, because my two-year-old has decided she doesn’t need a nap. My lunchtime to do list has now largely moved to the evening, and all those books I’m desperate to read are piling up on my shelves.

I don’t want to start anything that’s important to me until I get a good run at it. Therefore, I’ve been getting some rather random and ill-chosen things out of the library, literary heavyweights that I start at about half past ten at night, and struggle through approximately three lines before my eyelids betray me. However, while I attempt to fix this problem and rediscover my reading time, I have been doing plenty more reading of another kind. If it’s by Mick Inkpen, Eric Hill, Lucy Cousins or Julia Donaldson, chances are not only that I’ve read it, but that I can recite it to you verbatim. And the squeals of excitement and enthusiasm they engender in my daughter make these books rather special. I’ve been asked before what books we read together, so here, in honour of my new toddler-imposed reading regime – are some of our favourites right now:

The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Schiffer. The ending makes me well up every time.

Watch Out Little Wombat by Charles Fuge. We particularly love shouting SPLAT and CROC-O-DILE!

The Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. Everybody’s favourite – but one of mine because I love hearing my daughter name the foods, and the cute way she says ‘pickle’ and ‘alami’ for ‘salami’, and the satisfaction on her face when she gets them all right.

Duck in the Truck by Jez Alborough. Despite it’s questionable moral ending when Duck leaves all his helpful mates completely in the s**t, my little one loves it and has great fun getting things ‘stuck in the muck’ in the back garden.

Snore by Michael Rosen and Jonathan Langley. My little girl loves to imitate the snores and animal noises.

Tiger by Nick Butterworth. The illustrations are gorgeous and make me want another kitten!

The Great Pet Sale by Mick Inkpen. We also love Kipper and Wibbley Pig, but this book is brilliant, and the quick-tongued rat makes us both laugh.

If You’re Happy and You Know It by Jane Cabrera. The illustrations are lovely and there are lots of great simple actions for little ones to sing and dance to.

Shhh Little Mouse by Pamela Allen. We do lots of finger to mouth and whispering until the cat wakes up and it all breaks loose.

Follow the Kite by Anna Nilsen and Mark Burgess. A really unusual book with a kite that you can lace through the pages as it blows up and down in the wind.

I’d love to hear your favourites too?

I usually have to brace myself to read the latest news and events of the world, so much of it shocking and senseless. Yesterday I learned about child marriage in northern India, girls who are wedded by their early teens, and have their pregnancies explained to them at the onset of labour. I also came across ‘fracking’, a new method of obtaining natural gas which turns tap water into explosive. And then there are the 25 dolphins that swam free days ago, and are now bound for the entertainment industry on Sentosa Island, Singapore, where the few who survive will be oohed and aahed at by visitors while they adjust to life in their swimming pool prison.

And I wonder, if you want to effect real change, how do you ask people to open up, past their fears, prejudices, beliefs, traditions, sense of selves embedded far deeper than vital organs, and re-examine their lives? To ask them to turn over each heavy stone of truth and see what it might really be made of? For a society to do this successfully, doesn’t it have to happen within each individual too? And if we ask this of others, shouldn’t we first ask it of ourselves? What might our own stones reveal, if we have the willingness to recognise them and the courage to examine their foundations?

Last night, one of the last images I saw before I went to bed was of a terrified Chinese toddler being held at knifepoint in the street by her father. The horror of that situation was not distilled by the frozen photo, the detached computer screen, or the fact I could flick away when I chose. Horrendous fear and suffering were transmitted in an instant.

I hadn’t searched this out. I wasn’t planning to read the news at that point. But it broke its boundaries and affected me. As did the Four Corners story this week, which I found out about thanks to twitter. I’m grateful I didn’t have to watch that footage, because I know it would still be haunting me. The photographs I did see were enough.

No one has taught me how to deal with these moments. I have had to teach myself, because, quite frankly, they have brought me to my knees at times. And the way I have come to terms with this is by becoming a more conscious guardian of my emotions, knowing when I can take action and when there is nothing I can do. From what I could gather (the article wasn’t clear), the little Chinese girl was rescued. Twelve hours later, the news has moved on, and I can’t even find it on the same site. I’m pretty sure I won’t ever know what happened to them.

However, with the push to ban live exports, there were at least petitions to sign. Where once upon a time I would have felt this was a fairly unremarkable gesture, I don’t any more, because of the emergence of a few amazing, energetic sites that have recorded some brilliant, measurable breakthroughs as a result of people power. Sites like Avaaz.org and getup.org.au (who ran a live exports petition), and organisations like the Wilderness Society (who send you the results of their actions) are doing a great job of bringing some critical issues to our attention. And despite the desperate, depressing news they bring to my door, they make me feel that there is something small but very important that I can do. They wouldn’t exist unless we were all choosing to add our names to causes we believe in. This weekend my family will be going to climate change rally in Perth on Sunday (there are also rallies in Melbourne, Hobart, Brisbane, Adelaide and Sydney), thanks to the information and reminders from GetUp. Our voices might be small, but they all count, and I’m buoyed by the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead: Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.