Martyn Murray is a field biologist, author and conservationist living on the Isle of Lismore on the west coast of Scotland where he is setting up a nature centre.
He has lived for many years in the wilds of Africa studying antelope society, behaviour and ecology, first in the Zambezi Valley and then in the plains and woodlands of the Serengeti whilst Nuffield Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge. These experiences led to his current work in conservation. Martyn’s concern is with the relationship between humans and wild nature which he sees as intensely complicated, controversial and yet vital to our common future. His passion is writing and he has distilled his thoughts into a debut adventure-travel book, The Storm Leopard, which is the story of a journey across Africa and into the heart of the environmental crisis.
Some literary influences along the way are: Robert Burns, Bruce Chatwin, Charles Darwin, Joseph Conrad, Arthur Conan Doyle, Richard Feynman, Andrew Greig, Thomas Hardy, Sterling Hayden, Ernest Hemingway, Elspeth Huxley, D.H. Lawrence, Aldo Leopold, John Masters, Peter Matthiessen, Eric Newby, Ben Okri, Robert Pirsig, Robert Louis Stevenson, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, J.R.R. Tolkien, Laurens van der Post, Denys Watkin-Pitchford and Kenneth White.
Martyn has recently completed a second narrative travel book, A Wild Call, which begins with the discovery of an old sailing boat in a hidden creek in southern Ireland and the determination to sail to the remote islands of St Kilda; it is a quest for the keys to personal freedom from inside modern life.
"The state of nature begins to mirror our underlying relationship with nature."
"The state of nature begins to mirror our underlying relationship with nature."
The Storm Leopard is an alchemic blend of travel and nature writing that explores the primary dilemma of the 21st century – the conflict of modern lifestyles with the natural environment. This is an account of the author's journey from the Cape to the Serengeti Plains and his search for an answer to the Old Timer, a Kenyan who foretold the end of the wild. Martyn decided on one more trip, but this time without an agenda, without a timetable and without preconceptions: with no purpose other than to know, to feel and to understand. The book is filled with insights of African elephants and antelope, and with portraits of a natural world inhabited by Bushmen, game wardens and scientists. Running through it is an outspoken and highly ethical regard for humankind's relationship with nature. From his first contact with Bushman rock art in the Western Cape, the author is drawn into a spiritual journey as he grapples with the quandary of balancing our lifestyles with protecting the environment. His travelling companion, Stu, a fellow scientist and arch cynic, is nettled by this lack of rationality. Marooned together in their 4A--4, the friction, humour and hardship of their journey carry the reader across the continent from one adventure to another, to the final revelation atop an isolated kopje in the heart of the Serengeti Plains. The Storm Leopard is a unique book that emanates from the author's passionate affair with nature and many years of experience in the field as an ecologist and consultant in conservation - nothing deals with today's environmental issues in the same way.
'A lively, informative, and very well written meditation on all aspects of back country travel in Africa'
'I spent the whole evening and late into the night reading the Storm Leopard… the issues raised must be considered by everyone concerned with conservation.'
The Storm Leopard is an enthralling book. Martyn Murray journeys from the Cape of South Africa to the Serengeti Plains, sampling the mundane and especially the extreme places, and immersing the reader in the richness of Africa... Whether researching the dynamics of impala, camping with his soul mates, haggling for a roadworthy jeep, or holding forth on elephant welfare with a wildlife reserve director, Martyn Murray captures the vibes of Africa, its customs and its moods. The Storm Leopard is a sheer joy to read. Congratulations to the publishers Whittles for discovering Martyn Murray – this is nature writing at its finest.
One of the veldt visionaries.
The Sunday Times
This beautifully written book is a study of relationships: Bushmen and their art, elephants and their habitat, zoologists and their study animals, scientists and the environment, the author and his children. Like others who have read this book I was turning pages into the night as the trip unfolded, unaware, at first, that each adventure was but another brushstroke on a far greater canvas. Slowly collages of awareness drifted into perspective and became woven together by the relationships that infuse the book, the canvas beginning to look more and more like man's giant footprint on the natural world. Is it a shadow that may pass by if humanity learns to communicate with each other? Or is it stamping on the soil of Africa, even grinding it under heel as selfish interests compete with each other? The author provides the canvas and a vision but there is little sermonizing - you need to read the book to find out if you agree with the old timer's statement that started this odyssey: "they will all disappear one day. Every single wild place."
It's the kind of travel writing - passionate and well-informed - that could inspire you to set off on your own voyage of discovery.
—Msafiri - Kenya Airways
Builds up in a kind of crescendo, like a storm itself.
Written from his diaries of the trip, The Storm Leopard tells of the adventures that Martyn and Stu - his cynical travelling companion - get into as they drive their 4x4 into ever more remote territory... After camping with the Bushmen, Martyn recalls, “I’ve come to realise their holistic relationship with nature is something that we don’t have. Their intimate knowledge of the habitat and animals around them is quite incredible. Whilst we destroy, they’ve achieved a balance with wildlife.”
A powerful synthesis of observations and meditations that demonstrates the loss of man's sentimental value towards the environment at traditional, economic, political and policy levels... It attests to our intellectual capacity to think beyond exploitation of the environment.
—African Journal of Ecology
Such fun, and so moving. I felt as though I was on an adventure reading it.
The author was accompanied by his friend, Stu, a reporter, during the trip, who acted as counter balance against Martyn’s (more spiritual) conservation views. This resulted in fascinating debate about conservation issues faced by Africa today. The Storm Leopard discusses some thought-provoking ideas about conservation and the relationship of man with nature… it will open up the window to some new ideas about wildlife conservation that will hopefully force conservation biologists, in fact all people involved in conservation, to expand their knowledge.
—South African Journal of Wildlife Research
...at times, it was difficult to put down. The book is suitable for readers of all backgrounds. I would particularly recommend it to any individual with an interest in the ethical implications of wildlife research and management.
—Ecological Management & Restoration
Someone who has immersed himself in what he believes, and applied it physically and mentally - he wants time and space to think, and also to explore the challenge of wild places and their continued existence... Martyn Murray is the real thing.
Martyn Murray was finding modern life suffocating. Following years of soul searching, his father’s death triggered him into opening the old logbooks and charts to retrace the sailing trips they had once shared together. He determined to revisit those waters and bring home the freedom of the seas. After restoring an old ketch, he set off from Ireland, sailed to Scotland and spent his summer in Scotland’s Western Isles. His one goal was to reach St Kilda – the remotest part of the British Isles. What he came up against was far more testing and turbulent than the tides and gales of the North Atlantic.
“What an exhilarating experience, reading those pages! It's what we need and what many of the younger generation know they need but they don't know where to find it.” —Dervla Murphy
"A terrific read, full of adventure and learning" —Sam Llewellyn
In Scotland, whisky is a sacred drink. Amber as the life oozing from an old Caledonian pine, acrid as the smoke drifting down a ghost-filled glen, subtle as the twilight on a Hebridean shore. One swallow warms your heart like the first kiss on a long winter’s night; two swallows still the raging torrents of your mind as mountain waters in the slow deeps of a highland pool where gravid salmon lie; three swallows awaken your imprisoned soul and a longing for the old way, the merry way, and the chance to live free. Raising your glass is a custom older than the nation. It summons a bygone glory, seals a lifelong pact and etches forever a shared moment on the long journey home. The last thing my father said to me was: ‘Come on over Martyn…we’ll have a dram together.’
I packed my bags and drove over the next morning, but Dad had gone on ahead of me. So I raised my glass alone that night and as I took the third swallow a conversation began. Sailing was our shared passion, our common language. It was what we yearned for when trapped in a dull meeting or stuck in frustrated traffic. Our family boat, Primrose, bore no resemblance to the designer craft that pack marinas today; she was a working Cornish vessel from the 1890s, a wooden-planked, heavy-beamed, deep-keeled, gaff-rigged cutter with a tree trunk for a mast. She carried a press of tanned canvas in a stiff breeze, leaning sedately with the weight of wind yet lifting to the surge of sea, bowsprit thrust forward over the waves. In my imagination her character matched those of my father and mother: like my father, load-bearing and warm hearted, dependable as Scottish oak; and like my mother, brave as the first English primrose and sunny as the spring itself. My brothers and I relished the daily fare of maritime adventure, one day exploring islands or anchorages, the next hunting for lobsters and shellfish, and the next inhaling the curiosity of seaside shops with their racks of comics and trays of sweets. It introduced a wild but disciplined freedom to our urban lives which I didn’t stop to think about at the time.
Glass in hand I walked over to the bookcase in the hall. One of the shelves was packed with my father’s favourite sailing books. I chose half-a-dozen and took them up to bed. They sported pipe cleaners as page markers that smelt of tobacco and margins that were filled with handwritten notes in his familiar tight longhand that few could read, save my mother and the pharmacist who had received countless scrawled prescriptions from his surgery. I stayed up late that night engrossed by the world of sailing in a bygone age. Time passed in a quiet routine: by day I went for long walks and chatted to Mum, in the evenings I went to bed early and read about sailing. On one of those evenings, I began to realise that something in those books was speaking to me. Dissatisfaction with my life had whispered in my ear for years and recently had grown to a shout. I’d taken time off from work to push out in different directions but it hadn’t helped. In fact the more I tried to deal with it, the worse it had become. I felt trapped in my adult skin. Somewhere I had taken a wrong turn.
I kept coming back to one book, Dream Ships by Maurice Griffiths. It had a blue woven cover and well-thumbed pages filled with descriptions of the author’s favourite small craft illustrated by sketches of their construction, deck layouts and accommodation. I marvelled at their swept lines and cosy cabins, imagined myself hauling up the sails, making voyages to distant lands and tying up at the quay in a foreign harbour. An idea began to form, strengthening as each day went by, of finding my own dream boat, bringing her home to Scotland and keeping her on a mooring in the west – in my father’s country – and if the chance should come, of making a voyage to St. Kilda, that tight cluster of rocky isles lying far out in the Atlantic Ocean beyond the sheltering wall of the Hebrides, where the roar of surf mingles with the seabirds’ cry, the sea mist rises to the falling smirr, and what lies beyond enters freely within. I stayed for three weeks and by the time I left, I knew exactly what I wanted. It was the sweetest dram I’ve ever had.
A Wild Call will be published by Fernhurst Books in October 2017. Please check back for updates about the book launch.
On the Origin of Species is Charles Darwin's greatest work—his theory of evolution by natural selection.
Over the last 150 years Darwin's ideas have infiltrated and shed light on all the life sciences, reaching out as recently as the past decade to rejuvenate microbiology and parasitology. Yet Darwin's theory remains almost as controversial today as it was in his lifetime, particularly with regard to the teaching of intelligent design in schools. Strange though it may seem from this perspective, Darwin’s work owes much to the divine interpretation of nature which was prevalent in the Church establishment and society at large in Britain in the early 19th century. The Church’s position on nature was so deeply set, so detailed in its understanding, and so universally accepted, that no alternative could hope to challenge it unless rigorously grounded in careful observation and scientific thought. Darwin had to get it right or risk being unmercifully hounded and exposed. Is it any wonder that he waited 21 years from his pivotal insight into evolution before publishing the idea in his Origin of Species and, even then, only when spurred on by the parallel thinking of Alfred Russell Wallace?
The bite-sized adaptation is about 15% of the total text of the original 1859 edition. It is a section by section account which summarises each significant point. In order to retain Darwin’s voice, his turn of phrase is often used but clarified where necessary. Notable quotations are included to convey an even stronger sense of the original. Students and those with an interest in exploring Darwin’s writing will find the essence of his thinking contained in this concise account of his greatest work. Darwin scholars may usefully read the bite-sized version in tandem with the original work. A short introduction provides a contemporary context for Darwin's Origin.
"When on board H.M.S. ‘Beagle,’ as naturalist, I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of the inhabitants of South America, and in the geological relations of the present to the past inhabitants of that continent. These facts seemed to me to throw some light on the origin of species—that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by one of our greatest philosophers."
"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."
Darwin's style of thinking is unusually fundamental. When discussing the enigma of the extreme perfection of the human eye for instance, he remarks that several facts made him suspect that any sensitive nerve may be rendered sensitive to light. It is this back-to-basics kind of thinking which enabled him to connect so much in his mind. His was the very antithesis of the compartmentalised mind which contemporary science encourages. And as a result Darwin was one of the most creative scientists ever, and surely the most creative biologist. What have become whole subjects in academia roll off his page with alarming frequency, some in the form of single sentences. A careful read of the Origin suggests that Darwin's legacy of emerging disciplines is not yet ended.