Capreolus and Me
A few weeks ago, on an early morning walk, I spotted a deer in the middle of the path, one hundred yards or so ahead.
We live in rural Dorset, so all was calm and peaceful. The skylarks had just begun claiming their territory, and one was singing overhead in their characteristically strident way.
I admired the deer through my binoculars as he lay in the long, dewy grass - and he watched me. Capreolus capreolus - a Roe deer buck. Just like the one on the cover of a book that I’ve owned since I was a young boy: Capreolus, The Story of a Roe Deer by Raymond Chaplin.
It was 1978. I had just turned seven and had won my first ever prize - Mrs. Blore’s Prize for Creative Writing.
Awarded by the headmaster’s wife, it came in the form of a book token (oh, joy!) with which I bought Capreolus, part of the Collins Animal Lives series. They were early chapter books, written in the third person by scientists and experts in their field — full of fascinating facts, with the bonus of delicate pencil drawings throughout by John Edwards. My bookworm-wildlife-enthusiast seven-year-old self fitted into Collins' demographic as precisely as Talpa the mole (another in the series) fitted into his burrow - unless it flooded, in which case he could swim to safety!
From the author’s foreword:
‘The story of Capreolus is the story of the first few years in the life of a Roe deer buck. I have called him Capreolus partly because the scientific name for the Roe deer is Capreolus capreolus but more particularly because it conjures up something of the essential elegance and vitality of this deer.’
I’m impressed by the level of seven-year-old Tim’s reading. And the fact that I have never forgotten the Latin names of the characters from the five book series (I wish I could remember other stuff that well).
‘For nearly two weeks Capreolus remained apart from his sister, only visited and fed three or four times a day by his mother. At first, he lay there instinctively quiet and still, learning the sounds of the wood. Twice he sensed danger as his nostrils caught the acrid scent of the foxes who had their cubs across the clearing. The fox, had he scented Capreolus, might have attacked him as he had already killed one fawn this year and eaten another that had been born dead.’
I eventually owned a complete set of Animal Lives, and they captured my imagination. Somewhat reluctantly I recently donated the others to a charity shop after we moved house (hopefully some other nerdy bookworm-wildlife-enthusiast is out there enjoying them right now). But for sentimental reasons, I kept Capreolus. Thinking about it, this was one of the first of many wildlife books that have accumulated during my reading life (the very first being a much loved Usborne Spotter’s Guide to Birds; the most recent, Owl Sense by Miriam Darlington). Maybe that’s part of my attachment to it. Looking at it now, my copy of Capreolus, with its dog-eared dust jacket, still conjures up feelings and memories of childhood. I was so proud to receive that prize - the first I’d ever won - and I bought it from a London bookshop on a family day out. The overall effect is of one big, happy mess of memories.
Sometimes I meet proud parents whose kids show the same aptitude for writing as I did.
If you know of any, please - do what you can to encourage them. Don’t crush their dreams, because some will become our writers of the future. Who knows what fantastical story, television drama, Hollywood blockbuster - or even inspiring, world-changing speech - they might write?
I’m grateful that there were people in my life who encouraged my passions - art, writing, creativity, and wildlife. They helped make me the person I am today. I wonder what seven-year-old Tim would think if my future self could say, "Hey, Tim - you’re going to have your name on published books in the future - so keep going!"
On reflection, Mrs. Blore’s Prize for Creative Writing might be the most significant award that I’ll ever receive. It inspired me to read, write, create - and feel good about myself - the first of many stepping stones that have led me to where I am fortunate enough to be today.
God bless you, Mrs. Blore. I salute you!
Good to Read
Stories for young wildlife enthusiasts
All You Need to Know About… Whales and Dolphins by Nathalie Choux (Cherrytree Books 2004)
One Tiny Turtle by Nicola Davies, ill. by Jane Chapman (Walker Books 2005)
Poo: A Natural History of the Unmentionable by Nicola Davies, ill. by Neal Layton (Walker Books 2005)
The Wild Woods by Simon James (Walker 1993)
Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, ill. by Patrick Benson (Walker Books 1992)
Beautiful Birds by J. Roussen & E. Walker (Flying Eye Books 2015)
Watership Down by Richard Adams (Puffin Books 1973)
The Midnight Fox by Betsy Briars (Puffin 1968)
Capreolus, The Story of a Roe Deer by Raymond Chaplin (Collins 1978)
The Animals of Farthing Wood: Escape from Danger by Colin Dann (Egmont 1979)
Animals in Art: Tiger by Joanna Skipwith (Silver Jungle 2006)
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (Harper & Bros. 1952)