Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The things you find out when you're fact-checking your book reviews

Pav knew she had cousins in Sydney, but this is ridiculous.

I'm in the middle of doing a final copy-edit and fact-check draft of my SMH weekly fiction review column, which this week includes a short review of a novel called Natural Selection by New Zealand writer Neil Cross, the lead writer on Series 6 of the BBC's Spooks and clearly one of nature's storytellers.

There is, in this novel, mention of the Beast of Exmoor and it's quite important to the story, so I thought I'd better Google it rather than relying on my memory. (Yes yes, I know one's memory is often more reliable than Google, but this is where training and experience as an academic come in very handy, as with, I should think, being a detective: if one is to survive in the profession, all one's natural gullibility about truthiness must be bashed out of one sharpish.)

So I Googled the Beast of Exmoor, followed a few links and ended up here.

Eek -- and I've been in western Sydney within the last ten days. Good thing I'm a cat myself.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Claims are always made, proof is never found, but it makes for great newspaper copy, so when yiou have to choose between printing the truth or the legfend....

Pavlov's Cat said...

I know Blogger makes it hard to post a comment without registering with them, but if you need to choose the Anonymous option please sign your name at the bottom of the comment.

(Formal comments policy coming soon to a sidebar near you.)

Kathleen said...

Pav, I grew up in the Blue Mountains and my local paper often had stories (and blurry photos) of the legendary escaped panther.

Now, I mock this legend but...I also mocked my father when he claimed he regularly saw a black wallaby grazing in our backyard. I maintained that wallabies couldn't even *be* black, anyway. (Teenagers know everything.)

And then early one morning, Mum called me out of bed. There he was, the little black wallaby.

I now have a little more time for the panther story, too...

Pavlov's Cat said...

I've got an open mind about it, and have great respect for other people's expertise. If a big-cat expert says something is not only possible but likely, then that is good enough for me. I also get worried every time I read about the numbers of feral pigs, cats, goats and camels in Australia, so why not other introduced beasts? (Panther, this is Wombat. Wombat, meet Panther.)

I think Tim Winton's In the Winter Dark is his most underrated book precisely because it draws on these kinds of legends (so some critics would dismiss it as a bit nutty) to produce a brilliant psychological chiller and thriller. Like Neil Cross he uses the unknown, unseen killer as a symbol for everything we fear the most -- in Winton's case, of course, this beast is Evil itself, though he's too good a writer to labour that point for a nanosecond -- and also like Neil Cross he makes a credible case for its being real as well as symbolic.

Cross has his characters converse about the way humans are hard-wire-evolved to fear predators, which makes me think two things: one, that maybe such fears do get projected onto big dogs and so on but that doesn't mean real feral beasts don't exist (note the expert in the article said 'a colony', not just one), and, two, that I can think of much worse ways to die than being killed by an animal. Although I did find it a bit chilling, when I was in the middle of the Cross book, to read that last week a man in India, and I mean in the city (can't remember which city) was killed on his own veranda by a pack of monkeys.

Ampersand Duck said...

heh. I'm sure our neighbourhood are quaking in fear since we bought a posse of big black cats. They prowl around Downer, terrifying small children ;)

meggie said...

What ?? I live on the Central Coast.
Mudgee is not close!

Peter said...

He was a Deputy Mayor of Delhi, and he fell off his balcony while chasing the monkeys. I think the monkeys can only be charged with manslaughter.

Anonymous said...

Hm, after some consideration (perhaps not enough!) I'm going to out myself here. I have actually seen a humungous panther-like animal on a deserted dirt road near Lake Eildon. It was dusk, I hadn't sighted another car for an hour and there it was...about 50 metres ahead. Jet black, bigger than any dog, and moving fluidly, just like a cat -- it jumped down from the embankment, crossed the road, and padded into the bush. Fortunately, I was with my partner -- after a brief moment of silent disbelief we both cautiously asked each other what we thought we had just seen. All we could come up with was a panther. Back home, we googled "panther Victorian high country", only to find dozens of reported sightings (and no, as New South Welsh-people, we had never heard these stories). Coy Lurker

Pavlov's Cat said...

Oh, wow.

What a great story. Which I believe absolutely, BTW. This is the kind of thing that makes me think I should just leave my camera permanently in my handbag.