I spent my young life frightened of creepy-crawlies. My fear has ruined countless picnics, barbeques and showers. And then one day, after getting two degrees and feeling pretty confident in my own cleverness, I was stunned to discovered that I didn’t know what a beetle was.
I didn’t know that beetles fly, pollinate more plants than bees, control disease, fertilize the soil and are the most essential creature to the health of our planet.
When I discovered that beetles breathe through tiny holes in their exoskeleton called spiracles, I wondered if, on a subconscious level, my fear was routed in the illusion that these creatures appear not to respire? They appear to be dead, then shock the hell out of you by moving. Your brain screams WALKING DEAD! ZOMBIE! And before there’s time to process the information you’re running away, or, if you’re feeling brave, imprisoning the poor unthreatening invertebrate in a glass whilst your heart is hammering in your chest.
I can’t overstate the impact of these revelations. How could I be an educated grown-up and not know what a beetle is? My fear of insects had prevented me from ever looking at them properly, and in turn my ignorance had fueled my fear. I wondered if I could have avoided twenty years of the screaming heebie-jeebies dance if I’d learned more about insects when I was young?
My life has been guided and informed by stories. It is a form of information sharing that has a sustained impact on me. I find it hard to retain facts on their own, but put them in a story and I’ll remember them for the rest of my life. So, I looked to see if there were any good stories about insects, which showed them in an appealing light. Actually, invertebrates get a pretty bad press in fiction and in film. Remember the creepy-crawly scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, or the flesh-eating scarabs in The Mummy? The only stories I could find that embraced mini-beasts were Charlottes Web and James and the Giant Peach.
I wanted Beetle Boy to exist, but the only way that was going to happen was if I wrote it myself.
We experience the pendulum swing between biophilia and biophobia acutely when we watch a David Attenborough show, but it is there in our everyday lives. I embraced it, and as I did the research for Beetle Boy, I found my fascination with the natural world grew, and my fear reduced.
My fear has now reduced to the degree that a week ago I went to The Bug Farm in Pembrokeshire and let flower beetles crawl up my arm. It was wonderful. So wonderful that I have purchased a pair of rainbow stag beetles, and am eagerly awaiting the arrival of our new family pets. My boys are beside themselves with excitement. No other kids at school have pet beetles.
I won’t pretend I’m not proud of Beetle Boy. I am. This crazy adventure story about a boy and a beetle has changed my life. But I don’t feel the success of the book, which has so far been a bestseller in two countries and is being translated into twenty-seven languages, is down to any cleverness on my part. I feel like the story was waiting for me, under a rock, till I was brave enough to pick it up and confront my fear and ignorance.
‘Bug me! This is as good as it gets! This book will have you scuttling with joy! Beetlelicious, fantastic fun for everyone. I was crawling with joy from every page that I read. Gross, funny and heart warming - a flapping great read, this book has imagination with wings.’ MR RIPLEY’S ENCHANTED BOOKS for more Beetle goodness check out the authors website: http://www.mgleonard.com