What Do You Do When You Are Not Writing Books?

That’s a question! Often, or so it seems to me, asked by someone who expects the answer, ‘Nothing. Nothing significant. I have no other interest that means anything to me.’ Because there’s something about being a writer that non writers assume is a little bit, a tiny bit, vocational. (Vocational, with a touch of the insane.) Fifty per cent  an irrational compulsion to provide yet more stories for the every hungry consumers of the written word. Fifty per cent a habit that the writer hasn’t the strength of mind to kick. Like nail biting or googling Amazon rankings. Bit scary that. Better get outside.

Outside is the real world, and my first love, and best: natural history. Fantastic, all over the place, and free. I can’t resist it, I never could.

Here’s the toad who lives in my garden.

I found him in a street gutter, all dehydrated and desperate, but he soon cheered up with a bit of damp.

Here’s the frog, or one of them. Look how different. Much more liquid. Much less magical.

This is a hedgehog (there are three) hopefully asleep now in the enormous pile of leaves and hay I built for them behind the shed. I wish, looking at this picture, that I had given him a red plate, terracotta, not that nasty plastic green. He is eating kitten food, chicken flavour.

Of course there are birds and insects and spiders. A visiting badger, squirrels and mice. But look at this! A newly hatched greenfly- in real life about the size of a comma (,)  and yet you can see her antennae are jointed- not bad for a £6.99 Science Museum toy microscope, with my digital camera balanced on top. I love her green shine, and her liquorice black eyes.

And here is my favourite picture of the year. I was so lucky to see this beautiful adder. It flickered across the path in front of me like a ribbon blown in the wind, and I got down on my knees and took this photograph:So that’s what I do when I am not writing books. One of the things anyway.  As Walter de la Mare said, I stand and stare. At the stunning, astonishing, endearing, mesmerising, humblingly gorgeous world on my doorstep.

And what do you do when you are not reading books? Any stand and starers with me out there?

28 thoughts on “What Do You Do When You Are Not Writing Books?

  1. When i’m not writing, or reading, a observe birds. I love them. They’re so full of magic 🙂

    Yesterday, 2 pigeons came just outside my window and just sat in the MASSIVE puddle of water. It was so funny to watched, them just looking RIGHT at the window, at me and then settle down to sit in the water.They did’nt even do the ‘washing’ thing! They just sat there.

    Odd thing is, Animals don’t ever run from me, they just look at me and then carry on their way. I like that. 🙂

  2. Beautiful photographs, Hilary and a lovely reminder of the benefits of stopping to stand and stare. I should do it more…

  3. Standing and staring – this is why the whole go-for-a-brisk-walk thing never quite works for me as exercise! Your adder picture is stunning – and if you’d been being brisk and clumping along, he’d never have let you see him. Er, her. I don’t know how you tell with snakes …

    • Her, I think, going by size. She(?) was a good two feet which is quite big for an adder. I wished afterwards that I had taken the picture at ground level to show her crimson eyes but she was too fast for me.

  4. Gorgeous pics, Hilaryxx
    When I’m not writing, or reading, I’m usually listening. I love music (I’m typing this with the radio going full blast) and own an absolutely VAST collection of CDs and vinyl. I love radio drama, too, and try and to catch the plays on Radio 4 and 4 Extra as often I can.

  5. Hurrah for standing and staring! I’m more of a meanderer and starer, and I do a lot of that in the vast grounds of Alexandra Palace, which is right on my doorstep. I bumble around there several times a week, patting random dogs, noseying at teenagers snuggling and gossiping on benches, then end up at one of the cafes in the park, drinking coffee and smiling at bobbing robins over the top of my laptop. (Much as I love my tiddly little back bedroom office, getting out with my laptop helps blow the fluff out of my head!)

  6. I too love standing and staring with a bit of eavesdropping thrown in for good measure! Thank you for sharing the photos. I wonder how old toad is, I believe they live a long time, and how he ended up in that gutter. Was he staring up at the stars?

  7. Have you ever considered writing a story strictly about animals, Hilary? And if you HAD to choose any natural habitat to live in of all the ones you may have studied – e.g. rainforest or desert etc – what place would you choose? From a huge fan!

    • Yes I have Georgie, but I don’t really know how much appeal natural history has to readers these days. It is a quiet way of having adventures!
      And for my habitat (what a lovely question) please can I have a deciduous woodland bordering a salt marsh? I could be happy there for quite a long time!

  8. Well, usually when I’m not reading/writing I’m at school! 😦 But, when my mum tells me to ”get out of your room, you’ve been reading in there for hours!” then I just watch the world go by and drink in the atmosphere then BAM my brother screams and peace is ruined…

  9. When not reading, writing or being a librarian, I go and sit on my favourite piece of beach and stare out at the sea…

  10. I’d like to say I’m reading or doing “character studies” in posh cafes but I’m probably napping or watching reality TV when I’m not writing.

  11. When I’m not reading or writing, I’m dreaming.

    I’m dreaming of no school, I’m dreaming of heaven, I’m dreaming of purple, of reading, of sparkle and of friendship.

    Dreaming of a place where I’m not judged.

    I’m dreaming and dreaming and dreaming.

    And wishing that it might come true!

    Oh, and cupcakes:-) Can’t forget the cupcakes. Nor the meringues. Now I come to mention it, not the strawberry laces, jelly beans, hot chocolate, salt and vinegar crisps.

    I’m going to stop there.

    I went to the dentist today.

    Enough said.


  12. I love that little Hedgehog, we have a family of four (we think) in our back garden, we think it’s mum, dad and two little ones. They often come out and steal my cats food then curl up in their baskets or in the bushes. SO cute!

    I will admit I might have run in the opposite direction if that snake had been near me. They creep me out.

    • Hedgehogs in cats’ baskets? Fantastic!
      You would not have had to run. The adder was getting away from me as fast as it could. Not creepy at all. Rare, vulnerable and gorgeous!

  13. OMG, I can’t believe you stood so close to that snake!
    (Aren’t adders poisonous?)

    Great post!
    When I’m not writing, I read, write in my blog, watch tv and go on the computer. Oh and go to school.

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