Margi Prideaux has written about wildlife, international politics and law almost every day for the past 27 years. As an international negotiator and independent academic, with a Ph.D. in wildlife policy and law, her words have been tuned to inform policy audiences in more than 20 different international conservation processes. She is the author of two nonfiction books, Birdsong After the Storm and Global Environmental Governance, Civil Society and Wildlife, and co-author of All Things Breathe Alike: A Wildlife Anthology. Along the way, her shorter musings have been published online at openDemocracy, Global Policy, Live Encounters, AlterNet, Wildlife Articles and Ecologist.
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Interview with Margi Prideaux
Margi was recently interviewed by the Writing Forum.
WF: Welcome Margi, and thank you for agreeing to this interview. What first piqued your interest in conservation and environmental issues?
MP: My first memory of connecting with an animal was when I was five. I think I mention this story in the introduction to All Things Breathe Alike. We lived in rural Canada, and as a small child, I spent hours alone with trees and bees and flowers and birds, and often went on walks alone through the surrounding countryside.
One day I met a horse on the edge of a woodland. He wasn’t wild, but I didn’t know that. The day was cold, and steam billowed from his nostrils with each exhale. I remember slowly approaching him and resting my hand on the powerful ridge of his face, then letting my fingers drift down the soft down of his nose. His breath roiled around my fingers. That is the first moment I can remember feeling a soul connection to nature. Moments like that have shaped and driven my life ever since.
WF: Your work has taken you to places all around the world. Which is your favourite, and why?
MP: I probably love Thailand more than anywhere else I’ve been. The country is beautiful and steeped in history. I spent a month there and had amazing experiences with elephants that have stayed in my heart to this day. There is nothing quite as awe inspiring as standing next to the body of the largest land mammal. It’s humbling and moving.
I also have to say that working with people in Samoa was a fabulous experience. It’s a profound thing to begin to see the world through another’s eyes, and the Samoans showed me that insight.
WF: Your book is ‘Birdsong After the Storm’. Can you briefly tell us what or who inspired this so-called ‘grass roots’ approach to conservation?
MP: My grass-roots approach to conservation has been inspired by the communities in Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands I’ve worked with over the years. It’s propelled into the book because my frustrations are working within big organisations that want to homogenise everything. I’ve witnessed so much tradtional knowledge lost when it didn’t need to be. In its place is massive international tourism– a poor substitute for the cultural wisdom that was there before.
WF: I enjoyed reading All Things Breathe Alike: A Wildlife Anthology that you wrote in conjunction with fellow nature writers Jessica Groenendijk and Donna Mulvenna. The book describes itself as a ‘miscellany of creative non-fiction and fiction tales’. As a primarily factual and research driven author, what challenges did this genre present, and how did you overcome them?
MP: Working with Donna and Jessica was a terrific experience. As you’ve identified, my writing is quite different. I try to inject creativity into my writing, but I know I am sledge hammer to their feather-light touch. Nonetheless, I was keen to meet the challenge!
It required me to switch off the researcher inside my head–the little voice that is constantly on the prowl for information. I had to close google and my research library which felt like standing on the edge of a cliff. I knew I had to open Scrivener and just write. It took a little while to break to ‘fact-check’ habit, but I am glad I did.
WF: Forgive the pun, but what is your ideal environment for the process of writing?
MP: I love the pun! My ideal place is the space I’ve created. I live on a farm, enveloped by wilderness, on an island. My small, comfortable office surrounds me with books, my walls and shelves are festooned with pictures and figures of wildlife (mostly elephants, if I’m honest), and I look out on wildlife every day.
There are hundreds of birds, from parrots to small fairy wrens, all living their wonderful lives in full view of my window. Some mornings a koala comes down from a large eucalyptus near our house, and ambles across the lawn. At dusk, there are kangaroos on the ridge. I hear birdsong and the music of the wind all day long. This place is my soul and my inspiration. It’s where I write best.
WF: Conservation is sometimes given much-needed publicity by the support of celebrities. Ideally, which celebrity would you choose to promote your own conservation work, and why?
MP: I am a bit wary about celebrity around environmental causes because, so often, the celebrity overshadows the people who are doing to hard graft. Nonetheless, the celebrity I would choose is another author, Naomi Klien, because her books resonate with the same intent and she understands that conservation is complex, and not something that can be designed from afar.
WF: Regarding conservation, can you think of one change (political, commercial, etc) that would make the most immediate impact?
MP: Hands-down, the biggest impact would come from the international political class inviting civil society to the decision making a table, with standing and an equal vote. Saying this, I appreciate my effortless sentence simplifies the massive political shift that would ripple across many other areas. But, it’s what I believe needs to happen.
WF: Of course, conservation is concerned with all aspects of the environment, but do you have a favourite animal, and why?
MP: I’ve already betrayed my favouritism in an earlier question, so it won’t be a surprise when I say Asian elephants have captured my heart. There is a gentle intelligence in their massive heads and a quiet grace about how they move and hold themselves. I am in love!
WF: Do you have any advice for readers who might be interested in taking part in active conservation?
MP: Keep your minds open and read widely. Inform yourself and don’t take issues at face value. There is so much misinformation around, and it’s easy to pick up the wrong fight if you take things on face value.
My second piece of advice is stay grounded. It’s even easier to become so lost in the fight that you can’t see a way out. When you decide what moves you, go looking for people who resonate with your soul. Work with them. Don’t do it alone
WF: Which other writers, nature or not, have inspired you?
MP: The writers that inspire me are radical political thinkers. Richard Falk’s ‘Predatory Globalisation’ remains a touchstone for me today. More recently, I’ve been inspired by Micah White’s, ‘The End of Protest’, Peter Frase’s, ‘Four Futures: Life After Capitalism’, and Naomi Klien’s ‘This Changes Everything’.
WF: Are you working on anything at the moment?
MP: I am part way through two projects. The first book, Wild Tapestry: Weaving Wildlife Survival, delves deeper into my investigation of the power of community conservation in the developing world, and the international forces that are undermining these efforts. I am writing of the terrible risks these activists take and the wild and wonderful solutions they propose.
The second book is a collaboration with my friend Donna Mulvenna, Shock and Awe: The global assault on wildlife and where to find hope. We are looking at 20 or so high profile wildlife issues, uncovering the shock of what is happening and the awe that inspires people to keep fighting. I also have some conference papers to prepare, but they are nowhere near as interesting!