Newspaper and magazine journalist, Dr Jane Fynes Clinton talks about her inspirations behind her amazing new book, A Wild Life: The Edwin Wiek Story
This week we speak to newspaper and magazine journalist Dr Jane Fyes-Clinton. Jane has written a weekly op-ed column for News Corp Australia and was awarded a PhD for a thesis on political communication and lectures in journalism at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. Today we talk to Jane about her new autobiography, A Wild Life: The Edwin Wiek Story. Edwin is a true wildlife warrior. A rebel from childhood, this Dutchman is the founder of Asia's largest multi-species wildlife rescue centre, a fearless interrupter of illicit wildlife trafficking and an advisor to the Thai government on animal law reform.
Let's see what Jane had to say as she went Under The Spotlight. 🔦
I did not set out to write a book, but I got talking to Edwin after a tough day as a volunteer at the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand Wildlife Rescue Centre and asked him if he had ever considered writing an autobiography. What they do for animals there was like nothing I had come across before and what I had heard of his life story was really riveting. I knew he was often called by journalists for comment when a wildlife story broke, and film crews from such esteemed places at the BBC and Discovery Channel were often at the centre filming. When he said that he did not have the energy or word ability to write an autobiography and no one had approached him about a biography, the idea germinated.
I have been a journalist since I was 17, when I was taken on as a cadet at a city newspaper. I have a particular love of features and non-fiction long-form writing. I love a story with depth and dimension most of all. Real life is far better than fiction, in my world. But a book was something I had not really considered. I guess I had not come across the right story until I met Edwin.
I have come to realise that the only way to change the sorry state we are in is for every person to do their bit not just to minimise their impact, but leave where they are better than when they arrived. Individuals are the only ones who can change things, and we can't rely on a top-down change. Grass roots is where it has to come from. The Australian Governments have for too long taken the approach that when other nations act, we will join in. It is such a flawed approach and the people of the nation are horrified that this is the face of Australia shown to the world...and you just have to look at the destruction of the massive bushfires that ravaged so many parts of our country to see the result. So much of our landscape has been razed and so many animals have suffered and died. We must change our national approach now -- we have no choice.
Honestly, I am not sure any amount of science or evidence will change some people's stance. I think that only hope is to appeal to their ego. Make them realise that humans may be the apex predator, but that without looking after the other part of the web of life, everyone is doomed. We are part of our environment, not in charge of it.
The Wildlife Rescue Centre Edwin Wiek established is like no place I had ever seen or read about: hundreds of animals; so much variety with native species of so many nations. All individuals have been damaged in some way at the hands of humans and now humans are helping them live as close to a wild life as possible --astounding. My interaction with the rescue centre in Thailand began as a volunteer -- dirty, hot, hard work -- and I just loved it. During one of my volunteer stints there, a gibbon was brought in that could not swing and could not sing. She had been sedated with human medication by her human owners to keep her docile and had been treated like a human baby. Shocking, sickening stuff. But once she was surrendered to the centre, to see her slowly discover the world -- the grass, the open air, the feel of different textures -- was wondrous. Freedom is a glorious thing indeed.
As far as a favourite moment, in the course of researching the book, I had the privilege of going on a couple of rescues with Edwin or his staff in both Thailand and Laos. To see Edwin in rescue mode -- talking quietly to the animal, assuring them that they would have a better life soon, knowing how to approach them and what they needed. It was quite something to see, Edwin's calming effect on an animal in distress. He treats them with such respect, such a deep knowing of their species' needs. On one occasion, I watched as he and his deputy Tom Taylor interacted with a juvenile chained up gibbon at a temple not far from theRescue Centre that a member of the public had called in about. The beautiful, caramel ape was so glad to see them, it was plain to see. He was joyous. I don't think Edwin would be insulted by me saying he has a gentleness with animals that he does not have with human interactions.
While I love dogs and cats, I love wild animals most of all. I am privileged to have travelled a fair bit, and nature is always involved in some way, whether with animals or just getting out into a wild space in the mountains or the sea. But I think my most memorable recent encounters have been in my own backyard. I teach at the University of the Sunshine Coast, where a mob of kangaroos lives and with the students away on the summer break, they are more evident, lounging around in the shade near my office in the heat of the day or casually watching as we humans get about the campus. And surfing with my husband regularly at our local surf break, a beautiful whistling kite recently made a nest at the top of a Norfolk Island Pine. We heard its distinctive call and watched it as it built the massive nest day by day, and then saw it lazily float in the sky as it come back and forth, attending to its young. It felt like having a front-row seat on a natural miracle and that is such a privilege.
I read Jane Goodall's works and some of David Attenborough's in the preparation for writing A Wild Life: the Edwin Wiek Story. They are both game changers in different ways and the writing style was crisp and easy to read. I really liked that.
It is a marathon, not a sprint! It is a process not to be entered into lightly, and patience and time are required. And as with all non-fiction works, if you have a story to share, always consider the reader. Keep the story moving for them and keep it easy to follow. And commit to taking them with you on the journey.
I have a few seeds of ideas, but nothing concrete for another book. I continue to write long-form journalism in features style for magazines; that keeps the writer in me satisfied for now.
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