My passion for wildlife began early. I used to smuggle roadkill into the house despite my mother’s preference for flowers. A fascination with nature started with pond-dipping; while other girls were experimenting with makeup and exploring the impact on the boys of rolling up the waistbands of their skirts to show more leg, I was nerdily nose-down in our garden pond, learning about reproductive behaviour in minuscule cyclops and water-fleas. This interest grew and blossomed through fossil collecting and hamster breeding. In between times I swam a great deal and learned to sail. My ecological passion persisted and I signed up to study zoology in Plymouth, a perfect place for me because of the proximity of the sea, various rivers and the wilds of Dartmoor. I learned to SCUBA dive from Plymouth Hoe and even did sub-marine ecological surveys. I indulged in all possible water sports, including white-water canoeing and cave diving; I went exploring in seach of blind white eels. One summer while still an undergraduate, I joined a big ecological team cataloguing the flora and fauna of Shetland. I documented the invertebrates and could be seen face down in the peat or in pursuit of the occasional Bombus.
After graduating, I organised an overland trip to Nepal. That first expedition provided my first astonishing glimpses of sub-tropical wildlife which made me enthusiastic about sharing the wonders of the natural world with others. I wrote long letters home; people seemed to love them so I was encouraged. Some authors have always known they would write, but that desire has rather crept up on me. My dyslexia made me reticent. I was a late starter and it was a long time before I developed the confidence to write for people outside my circle of family and friends.
Travel gave me a particular loathing of leeches and parasites, as well as an indignation about inequality of access to health care. Ultimately this pushed me towards becoming medically qualified. I have worked as a GP (family physician) in Cambridgeshire for 15 years and have worked in other medical roles overseas for about 11 years. My blundering language forays have made me privy to a wealth of fascinating cultural material some of which appears in my writing particularly on Nepal. I have published a novel set in Nepal and the first two books in an eco-adventure series for 8 to 12-year-olds. I live in the Kathmandu Valley Nepal and when the mists clear I can see the Himalayas.
Author time line
click here for Jane’s blog
Click here to hear her talk on poo
She has three novels and five non-fiction books in print so far :
A Glimpse of Eternal Snows
How to Shit Around the World
The Essential Guide to Travel Health
Lemurs of the Lost World
Your Child Abroad: a travel health guide
Dr Jane Wilson BSc (hons), MSc (Oxon), BM, DCH, DCCH, DFSRH, FRSTM&H, FFTM RCPS (Glasg)
“I have worked as a clinician and health advisor in remote regions for 11 years. On many trips into usually inaccessible, orthodox communities, I have been treated as an ‘honorary man’. My male hosts think I am being paid a compliment, and the celebrity treatment certainly facilitates my work: I am regarded as having an intellect almost equalling a man yet I am allowed to talk to their women even if they are kept in purdah.”
How to Shit Around the World page xiii
I practise medicine under my maiden name, but since there are so many Dr J Wilsons in the world I write under my more distinguished married name. You'll see below that I've been elected a 'fellow' half a dozen times, but my younger son still says I throw like a girl.
Jane boasts an array of "internationally recognised postnominals"
What the letters after her name mean
My Inspirational Dad
It is easy to take families for granted – especially if the family is a good supportive one, and I guess I have only recently recognised what a huge influence my Dad had on me in so many ways. Early on, our chore on a Sunday was to write to our grandparents “across the water”, in Belfast. Although it did feel like a labour, it was a great discipline so that when I started to travel it was natural for me to want to write letters home describing all the wonders and excitements I was experiencing. And now look where that discipline has got me.
My Dad was a superb role model. He was self-effacing, but with high standards and principles and he loved water sports and team sports - photos of him are here. Quietly Joe encouraged me to follow my passions too. I know he inspired many many others to achieve beyond their expectations. Read more
Sir Peter Scott asked me to describe the natural history projects I wanted to do in the Himalayas. I gabbled and blathered. I contradicted myself. No-one asked any difficult questions. I started to think I might get through this, even if much of what I told them felt like blag and bullshit. I've always lacked self-confidence and so repeatedly I am surprised when when anyone sees any talent in me. The board seemed impressed. Amazingly.
So it was that I won a Churchill Travelling Scholarship which allowed me to quit - heroicially - the Surrey suburbs I grew up in. It gave me the money and kudos to make the overland trip to Nepal.
The trip was a life-changer. My confidence was boosted. I saw first hand - by doing it - how a little hygiene education can help villagers who don't know about germs and microbes, and I met a man who understood and shared my passions. And so - I guess - I have, pretty much, lived happily ever after.
Leiston, Suffolk, September 2010
Autumn, ajrak, Ankarana
Bacon, beechwoods, butterflies, books, Bach
Dragonflies, dung beetles
Eccles cakes, Earl Grey, Echinops
Family, friends, frangipani,
Hoarfrost, Hot Fuzz
Jalja La, June
Kakapo, kestrels, kayaking
Lemurs, lily of the valley, lapis lazuli
Plums, plumbeous redstarts
Quiche, quokkas, QI
Rowing eights, rhubarb
Sinistrality, springtails, shooting stars
Thunderstorms, toast and marmalade,
Wildebeasts, woodlice, wablers
Mountain / Desert / Ocean / Jungle... which one are you?
No doubt about it: it has to be jungle. I just love trees and all that live in them.
What was your first great travel experience?
David Attenborough’s Zoo Quest to Madagascar first started me dreaming, but it wasn’t until I was 22 that I really started travelling – I drove the dope trail, overland to Kathmandu, via a few caves and a digression to Cape Comorin.
What has been your favourite journey?
A month long trek with my family: from Baglung and Beni, W. Nepal, up over the 11,500ft Jalja La into towering ancient hemlock forest and on through astonishing glades of magnolias.
Which are your Top 5 places worldwide?
Ankarana Reserve, Madagascar; Annapurna Reserve, Nepal; Tetibatu, Lombok; Kruger National Park;
the Lima to Huancayo railway journey, Peru.
Recommend a special place to stay...
Crystal Springs private reserve, South Africa.
Which three items do you always pack?
Torch, notebook and insect repellent.
Which passport stamp are you proudest of?
Nepal – the first time.
Which passport stamp would you most like to have?
Guyana – I’d love to work there.
What is your guilty travel pleasure?
Bathing / swimming naked in open water – but I’m always nervous of scaring the locals.
With a title like that you know this book is going to be sad. Surprisingly I didn’t feel sad until the end. The story is actually very uplifting. You feel for the family having a son born with profound disabilities, but the pleasure they receive from his short life and the decision to spend that time in Nepal, is full of hope. The British medical system is deemed to be the devil in this book. The family wanted to be left alone to enjoy their child for a long as they had. I was at first like the grandmother in the story who questioned the decision to take the child from the best medical care, but when you look at the quality of life and love he had in Nepal, without medical intervention, the decision seemed very wise. The mother, who was also a doctor, was full of angst about the decision. It was incredibly moving to read about her guilt and uncertainty but eventual faith in what the family decided to do.
“interspersed with light hearted anecdotes which serve to reassure parents that most problems are usually minor and easily dealt with, despite how terrifying they seem at the time.”
Looking for a book on squat toilets, getting the runs, and getting the runs while using a rough squat toilet? Not the best mealtime read, but good preparation for what the road throws at you. There's a wealth of info on eating right, drinking right, the risks of seafood, and keeping the little ones healthy. The differentiating factor for this book though is it doesn't stop there. Where else can you get a whole chapter on toilet paper and the lack thereof, bathing in a stream, or what to do when it's that time of the month and you're on a mountain ascent?
Throughout the book there are short snippets from doctors, from aid workers, and from others with life experience combating nasty bugs and diseases. If you're a parent wanting to make sure your about-to-leave child knows how to keep healthy, or you're the type who likes to be ready for anything, this is a valuable book. Anyone about to go off on a long-term volunteer assignment in a rural environment should make room for it in the pack.