"I'd love to hold a bird of prey," I said to my son and his girlfriend as we chatted in his room about all things feathered.
"Oh no," said his girlfriend in horror, "I've got a thing about birds; they make me shudder."
The chances of me holding a bird of prey were remote to non existent but I was in that mindset at the time because I was writing Free Flight, which was set in a bird sanctuary. How I envied my main character Constanze (Connie) with every word that I wrote. (I must confess I wouldn't have liked to have cleaned up after the birds though, I don't do mess of any kind, I'd only have wanted the nice bits.)
She adopted a snowy owl, then a mate for it and hoped that they might breed. She did displays in schools and at the village fete and I'd been with her every step of the way. My research had mainly been via the Internet as I struggle to get out because of my health - I run my world from my armchair - but I'd have liked some actual input. How to go about that was another matter. Then one Saturday morning I got a phone call from my sister.
"I've just stroked an owl," she said.
I was green with envy. "Where?"
"In Hanley Market Square. There's a man there showing them. I told him about you writing the book."
"How long will he be there?"
"Until about half past four. I'll come back with you if you want to go."
I picked her and my niece up at 4 p.m. and I couldn't get there fast enough. My eyes scanned the town as we approached the display and our footsteps quickened. There was a small crowd gathered round the man holding the owl and although I'm not normally one for muscling in we managed to squeeze our way to the front. The owl he held was gorgeous, quite large with wide amber eyes, which he told us was a Bengal Eagle Owl and his name was Muggle. I told him about writing the book and he recognized my sister from the morning. I had loads of questions for him about care of the birds and I tried to remember all of his answers - I'd never thought to take a notepad I was too eager to see the owl. I was dying to hold him and asked if I could. He gave me a glove and as I put it on he transferred Muggle to my hand.
IT WAS FANTASTIC!
I couldn't take my eyes off the beautiful creature perched regally on my hand. He was quite unperturbed by everything that was going on around him and seemed very accepting and comfortable with it. He wasn't the only bird there with the man, who'd told us his name was Dave. There was a barn owl, a little owl and a red tailed hawk - Dave said that the little owl was the most awkward! They were tethered to perches inside a trailer to shelter them from whatever the elements were doing until it was their turn to go onto Dave's glove. On the walls of the trailer was information about the birds' natural habitat.
As the crowd thinned out we got more of a chance to speak to Dave who said he collected donations on behalf of Gentleshaw Wildlife Centre in Eccleshall Staffordshire http://www.gentleshawwildlife.co.uk/
When I got back home I wrote down everything he'd told me and put the card that he'd given me in case I needed to contact him for more information safely with my notes. My next thought was how to get to Gentleshaw. Although I drive my health isn't good enough to drive that far so I was thrilled when my sister said that my brother-in-law would take us.
This time I was more prepared and wrote my questions down to take with me and I couldn't have been more excited as we all piled into their Volvo. We had a lovely time looking round the wildlife centre and the staff very kindly took time out of their busy day to answer my questions. A couple of anecdotes I used for the book went thus.
The lady at Gentleshaw told me of a kestrel being hit by a lorry and the driver rushing in with it. Thankfully they were able to save it and return it to the wild. For the book I made it a sparrowhawk being hit by a farmer's tractor and the farmer rushed it in to Connie.
The other little touch that I liked was at Dave's display. When there were children there he got the owl to wave to them by adjusting his hand so that the owl raised one wing slightly to keep its balance. The children loved it! I used that for Connie's display in the school with her owl.
The love interest came from an experience of my own; I once met someone on a car park but it had a different outcome to Connie's.
Dave now runs a pet hotel in the Staffordshire Moorlands where he has all manner of usual and unusual guests.
If you are interested in reading the book it can be downloaded from Amazon
or ordered in paperback from
Free Flight is the third book in the Willow's Dip series but it will stand alone, or you might want to find out about the characters who appear in it from the first two books, A Lapse of Sanity and its sequel After the Solstice. Both can be purchased from Amazon and FeedARead.