Rosemary Fox, me and James Champion at The Boat House Club, Nainital, India.
I met James Champion at The Kumaon Literary Festival. We were fellow speakers with newly published books.
From the moment I met him, he captivated me with fascinating anecdotes of his weird and wonderful travel experiences. Having spent the evening with him (and his travelling companion, conservationist, Rosemary Fox) at The Boat House Club in Nainital, we struck up a great friendship. The following day, I was lucky enough to be invited to hear him do a reading at Gurney House (Jim Corbett’s old home). He is a naturally gifted and charismatic speaker and had the audience captivated.
James kindly agreed to answer my Author Questions…..and here is the result…a brilliant insight into his passion and commitment to retrace some of his ancestors footsteps and explore the wonderful places this leads him to.
What form does your writing take?
My chief writing passion has to do with history and travel, and luckily I have a whole series of fascinating ancestors who have left diaries, photographs and letters behind them, so I like to write about my journeys in their footsteps. I’m currently working on a book about an incredible journey I made in Guatemala and Panama, in the footsteps of my great grandfather, who was an entomologist who spent four years in Central America from 1879 to 1883, travelling around by mule in remote areas collecting insects. By the end of his career, he had named more than 4,500 new species. We still have all his diaries and the letters he sent home to his mother, describing his adventures and mishaps. My book, entitled “Under the Tail of the Diplodocus” (it’s a lovely story as to why I chose this title, but I will not reveal that yet!), will incorporate my great grandfather’s writings, interspersed with my descriptions of my journeys 140 years later to the places he visited. In some cases I even ended up staying in the same farmhouses that he had stayed in, with the same families! The journey culminated in my re-locating (with my fabulous volcano guide Luisa Zea) a butterfly that bears his name, Drucina championi, on the south side of a Guatemalan volcano in a bamboo grove, 140 years after he had discovered it.
James Champion holding the Drucina championi butterfly, 140 years after his great grandfather discovered it.
How often do you write?
Whenever I can fit it in between my journeys and my “other jobs”, as an English language trainer and freelance tour organiser. I find it hard to look at the computer screen for long periods, and I often find myself wanting to get out and look for birds or other wildlife rather than sitting indoors, but I have to discipline myself more in future! I have so much to write about, and only one lifespan!
How does writing make you feel?
Perhaps because I am by nature and profession a teacher, I love to share my experiences with others, and writing allows me to do that. I want to let people know about the amazing things that I experience, and in some cases of course I also want to alert people who might not otherwise be aware of the awful things that are happening due to human interference in the natural world. On the other hand, though, I like to be able to tell good news stories too. Many people are highly dedicated to wildlife protection, and some incredible achievements have been made. Writing about these also makes me feel happy!
Where/when do you write?
Anywhere! I usually wake up at around 03.00 AM, and then work through till 06.00, and then go back to bed! Not very healthy, I’m sure, but that’s when I am at my most productive, and when my mind travels back best to the journeys I have made.
What do you write about?
As I previously mentioned, I love the combination of history, geography and wildlife that writing about my ancestors’ travels and exploits and my journeys in search of them brings to me. One of my forefathers, Col. Patrick Stewart, was responsible for laying the first cable from Europe to India, between 1863 and 1865. One of the first messages relayed down the cable was that announcing his untimely death at the age of 32. Following his footsteps would be an exciting journey indeed!
My recent book “Tripwire for a Tiger” did not really involve me writing a huge amount myself; it is a collection of the evocative writings of my grandfather, F W Champion OBE IFS (1893 – 1970), who was a pioneering wildlife photographer and wildlife protector at a time when his colleagues were much keener on shooting the animals he loved with a rifle rather than a camera. I collected these articles, which had been published in the 1920s, 30s and 40s in such diverse journals as Country Life, The Field, the Illustrated London News, the Indian State Railways Magazine and the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, and then made a selection of those which I felt reflected best the development of his conservation ethos, and added a biographical introduction. It was a huge pleasure putting it together, and it is wonderful to be able to use his conservation messages and his incredible wildlife photographs to inspire a modern audience. His pleas for action to save tigers and other wild creatures are just as relevant today as they were back in the 1920s.
His grandfather’s most famous tiger photograph, taken in about 1927.
What’s the best thing about writing?
The ability to share my extraordinary experiences with others through writing about them. I wrote several articles about a trek I made in 2006 to the Pindari Glacier, in the Indian Himalayas, retracing a journey that my grandfather, grandmother, father (then aged 8) and his governess made in October 1936, staying in the same resthouses and photographing the same scenes as they did, precisely 70 years later to the day. I was even shown a letter of recommendation that my grandfather had written for his guide, Gopal Singh, which had been kept in his family’s home in a remote mountain village for 70 years, by Gopal Singh’s grandson. To share that kind of experience is a pleasure indeed.
Pindari Glacier, photographed on 11th October 1936.
The Pindari Glacier, photographed exactly 70 years later, to the day! It reveals the shocking degree to which the ice has receded.
How long have you been writing for?
I started writing after that great journey in India in 2006, but only in the form of articles. It is only recently that I have really started to think of putting my experiences and those of my forebears into book form. I hope this will lead to many more exciting adventures, and I look forward to sharing them with as many people as possible in the future!
My very own signed copy!
If you would like a copy of James’s superb book, you can purchase it from his website: http://www.James-Champion.com.
You can also obtain a copy directly, by contacting James via email: firstname.lastname@example.org