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Researching and writing The Scottish Wildcat

In common with the majority of people reading this blog I had long been aware of the Scottish wildcat and its perilous status, and after working for many years as a scientist the idea of writing a book seemed a natural progression.

I hadn’t written a book before, but had enjoyed reading Mike Tomkies’ accounts of raising wildcats. I first had to assess if there was a niche in the market. My challenge was then to seek out more details and novel information about wildcats in Britain, and of course to find a publisher.

An initial trawl through the literature revealed some previously unmined lines of wildcat history and quirky anecdotes that could provide an identity for the book.

The ongoing digitisation of old texts allowed me to do a fair amount of web-based research at home, and I supplemented this by visiting many libraries and second-hand bookshops across England, Scotland and Wales. Second-hand bookshops were also of great value, but in common with a good library these were places where time could be lost delving into fascinating old texts on every subject but wildcats!

Compared with books, newspaper archives were a relatively rich source of more off-beat type accounts. For example, I was unaware there was once a mini gold rush in Scotland (yes, really! - Sutherland 1868) and a prospector was disturbed in his tent during the night by the noise of a wildcat clattering the cooking implements. Also, there are several accounts of wildcats swimming - contrast that with the sometimes comedy sight of a domestic cat reacting to a splash of water!

I had an initial fruitful period of about 18 months researching and preparing a draft manuscript. My time available for writing then started to slip down the list of domestic priorities and progress slowed-up considerably, and then ground to a halt.

Happily I had managed to find every wildcat reference I targeted, and many more besides. Some texts were difficult to obtain, but there was always a helpful librarian to chat with or answer an email query. Whilst on a family holiday in the west of Scotland I was fortunate to meet a local wildlife enthusiast, Brian, who had a wildcat regularly visit his garden. Some of the material that appears in the book was a result of this chance holiday meeting.

A first draft manuscript of The Scottish Wildcat was mostly complete by 2013, which in Scottish wildcat chronology sits roughly between the end of The Cairngorms Wildcat Project and start of Scottish Wildcat Action.

At this point I hadn’t yet considered a publisher. Although I had published many articles as a scientist, I had no track record writing about Scottish wildcats and at an early stage had decided that I was better to approach a publisher armed with a tangible manuscript rather than a proposal consisting of just an idea.

I did my research and approached Merlin Unwin Books because of their wide ranging catalogue of countryside and natural history titles. As a hopeful author your task is to sell your idea - and to a degree yourself - using a few sample chapters alongside a compelling supporting case. As you can imagine I was delighted that Merlin Unwin Books saw something worthwhile in the manuscript.

The early manuscript was longer than the final version, and late 2016–early 2017 was spent editing text, a bit of photography, and selecting images to get the right pitch of the book, which on reflection I think we managed to get just about right.

The whole process of preparing the manuscript was a team effort between Karen, Merlin and Jo at Merlin Unwin Books and myself, as we worked together to produce a final version for a printing deadline at the end of May, which allowed The Scottish Wildcat to meet its September 2017 publication date.

`The journey from developing the initial idea through to publication was an eventful and enjoyable learning curve, and feedback during the past few months suggests the project was worth the effort.

You can order the Scottish Wildcat book from Merlin Unwin

Dr Christopher Clegg

Heritage Lottery Fund

This content was made possible by our Partners & Funders at Heritage Lottery Fund

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Christopher Clegg is a biological research scientist with numerous published articles to his name. He lived in Scotland for several years and returns there frequently, to walk over the many mountain peaks and along remote trails, with occasional encounters with local wildlife. He saw his first wildcat in the late 1990s. He has a lifelong interest in natural history and in recent years has captured many species on video using trail cameras, including footage of the Scottish wildcat.

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