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Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Light at the end of the bleeding tunnel

This has been a ridiculous year so far! I took on far too much work at the end of 2007 and I just simply haven't stopped. As of today, so far in 2008 we have released:

10 books
2 issues `Exotic Pets`
1 issue `Animals & Men`
5 20-30 minute webTV shows
14 live broadcasts
1 full length documentary (am hour and three quarters)
plus I have written original music for most of the above.

I am bloody exhausted!

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and I am nearly in a position where I can rest back on my laurels and shout WOO HOO at my own cleverness.

One thing is sure: I am never gonna take on a workload like that again! However, a lot of it has been one offs. For example, the Yearbooks. This year I have restored, and remastered (and in several cases drastically re-edited six of the CFZ Yearbooks (with one left to go), and these will never have to be done again. By next week I hope that the entire run of CFZ Yearbooks from 1996-2008 will all be out inmatching paperback editions, and that I can then quietly forget about them.

The next regular book to come out is an exciting one, and the genesis of this particular project goes back over twenty years!

More years ago than I care to remember, my first wife bought me a birthday present. It was a book about the mystery animals of Britain and Ireland, and I devoured it avidly. When I finished, I was horribly disappointed. It had covered the mystery cats of the country in some depth, as it had done with the black dog legends, and a smattering of more arcane `things` (as the late, great Ivan T. Sanderson would doubtless have dubbed them) such as the Owlman of Mawnan, and the Big Grey Man of Ben McDhui. But there was so much that I knew that the author had simply left out.

Where were the mystery pine martens of the westcountry? Where were the Sutherland polecats? Where was the mysterious butterfly known as Albin’s Hampstead Eye? This was an Australian butterfly, the type specimen of which was caught in a cellar in Hampstead (hence the name) but no-one knows how or why? Where were the butterflies, moths, birds and even mammals known from the British Isles on the basis of a handful of specimens only? And where were the local oddities; the semi-folkloric beasts only known from a specific location.

Although at the time I had no pretensions to being a writer, I started to collect information from around the country, and with the benefit of hindsight it is probably with my disappointment with my 27th birthday present that the seeds of what would eventually grow into the Centre for Fortean Zoology were planted.

Nearly twenty years later to the day, I was sat in my garden at the Centre for Fortean Zoology [CFZ] in North Devon, sharing a bottle of wine with my wife Corinna, and my old friends Richard Freeman and Mike Hallowell. The subject of my disappointing 27th birthday present came up, and someone suggested that we do our best to redress the balance. CFZ Press, the publishing arm of the CFZ, has become the largest dedicated fortean zoological publishers in the world, and we are now in the position to put my vague daydreams of a couple of decades ago into action. We decided that rather than trying to publish one enormous tome covering the mystery animals of the whole of the British Isles (which, by the way, geographically, if not politically, includes the Republic of Ireland, but excludes the Channel Islands) we would be much happier presenting this vast array of data in a series of books, each covering a county or two. Then we realised the enormity of what we were proposing: The series would probably end up being something in the region of forty volumes in length!

However, never ones to back away from a challenge, we decided to go ahead with the project, and now - six months later - the first books in the series are being published.

It seems fitting, that - as he was there at the inception - Mike Hallowell should have the honour of being the author of the first book in the series. I am glad that he is, because it is a stonker!

We argued the toss for months over how we were going to format the series. For a long time we were intending to have a rigid format for all the books, somewhat akin to the Observer’s books of the British countryside. But then we decided `No`. There are as many kinds of researcher as there are mystery animal, and it would - we felt - be more in keeping with the ethos of the CFZ, if we allowed each researcher to present his or her findings in their own inimitable style. The books, therefore, will reflect the character of the individual author.

Some will be poetic verging on mystical. Some will be matter of fact scientific. Some will be from the point of view of a naturalist, and some from the point of view of a folklorist. Some will be short, some will be long. Some will be full of scientific theorising, and some full of metaphysical speculation. But one thing is sure: Whoever gets one of these volumes for their 27th birthday present…..

....They won’t be disappointed!

In other CFZ related news, the museum really is nearly finished. The first birds will be going in the aviary block today, and - all things being equal - the first exhibits will be going into the museum building itself at the weekend. It will be another few weeks before it is respectable enough to receive visitors, but once again there IS light at the end of the tunnel.

Soon the CFZ (or at least me, Graham, Corinna and Oll) will be able to get back to being researchers, rather than builders and printers. Richard, however, is off on another expedition imminently, but THAT is another story...

1 comment:

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Let's hope Richard enlightens us at some point!

You've never been known hit short of any target, Jon. As ambitious as this county-by-county project is I'm sure the CFZ will rise to the challenge. I'm still eagerly awaiting your analysis of the Chupacabra phenomeonon.

The best scientific works are part mystical in nature and conversely the best works of mysticism have a scientific aspect to them. This is why I'm keen on seeing the outcome.