Creating Owerdale Zoo: The Research
When I first pitched this book to my editor, the zoo was always going to be central to the story. In essence it was going to be a tale of three mums who regular met at the zoo to catch up. This was the original pitch:
Never work with animal and children, but a weekly coffee can’t hurt, right?
When three old school pals meet at an antenatal class, they decide to support each other through motherhood and get an annual pass to the zoo to meet once a week. But as past secrets come out, and a meerkat becomes a changing bag stowaway, will they make it through their maternity leave as friends, or enemies?
The book evolved from the original idea to be focused on Dawn who is acting as surrogate for her sister-in-law, Rebekah. But the meerkat idea was still going to be central and turned into the best research I’ve ever had to do.
At the point of only having a story outline, I needed to do some research to find out as much as I could about meerkat behaviour. In All That is Left of Us, Dawn’s son, Archie, is obsessed with the Owerdale Zoo meerkats and spends every Saturday morning documenting what they’re up to so it was important to have as much knowledge as possible.
When it came to research, books and documentaries weren’t going to be enough so I contacted Paulton’s Park to see if they could help. They have their own mob of meerkats so I asked if anyone would be able to answer some of the weird and wonderful questions I had in relation to the storyline. Thankfully, they were really helpful and I met with the livestock manager, Geoff Masson, and he helped answer all of my questions regarding meerkats and their behaviour. I’ve tried to portray them as accurately as possible and any mistakes are my own. I have to confess to this being one of my favourite parts of the novel. The friendship Archie has with the meerkats is very real and his relationship with animals reflects that this is a story of love in its many forms, even the ones we don’t understand.
I really hope any readers of All That is Left of Us enjoy the relationship between Archie and his meerkats as much as I enjoyed researching and writing about them.
Now I just need to decide what research to incorporate into the next book.