I have a small gold owl on the lapel of my jacket, with the letters B and e underneath it, and people often ask me what it represents. I tell them it's from the Bookend Trust, and then explain that, despite the name, it's not a reading organization. It's an environmental charity, and I'm one of its patrons. (The owl is a Tasmanian Masked Owl, an endangered species.)
I love Tasmania. Really love it, and I first visited it, along with George R R Martin, as guests of honour when the Australian National Science Fiction Convention was held in Hobart, long before Tasmania had become a cool place to go.
During that first visit I met some of the people who would go on to found the Bookend Trust. When they asked me to become part of it, I was more than happy to agree.
Since being a part of Bookend, I have, with Amanda, hand-fed Tasmanian Devils and echidnas. (The echidnas were both called Eric. Baby echidnas are called Puggles. THIS IS TRUE.)
Because of the Bookend Trust, I've sailed under some of the tallest and sheerest sea cliffs in the southern hemisphere. And I've had close encounters with rescued Kangaroos.
Bookend grew from a small education support program funded by the people involved in it, to, as they explain, "a major initiative assisting students and teachers at all ages within the education system. From high achievers to disadvantaged students, Bookend has developed clever interactive and online projects that engage students with scientists and explorers on the ground. It's also provided students with opportunities to directly visit and learn from these experts in the deep wildernesses of south-west Tasmania, Antarctica, Lord Howe Island, Thailand and other fascinating locations." You can see a great snapshot of their projects here: http://www.bookendtrust.com/about-bookend-trust
When I visited Tasmania in January 2013, we had plans to run a Bookend fundraiser to help support this work, but the nightmarish wildfires broke out just before I got there. (Bookend helped me and my publishers at Hachette Australia and Bloomsbury to deliver materials to rebuild the libraries for the wonderful Dunalley School and community.) You can read about it and see photos here.
Bookend has continued to grow. The people who are growing it need help to expand their work to more schools across the world.
And they are making a film...
It's a creepily fantastic natural history story called SIXTEEN LEGS (www.sixteenlegs.com). It's yer normal run-of-the-mill never-before-filmed story of still-living, giant prehistoric spiders the size of dinner-plates trying to find love in the dark.
This project is gloriously mad: they've just launched a touring public exhibition, complete with Izzy von Lichtan's giant replica spiders 18 feet across. Although the main documentary won't be finished until next year, a shorter 'making-of' piece on the filming to date (called 16 LEGS: SPIDER LOVE) will have its world premiere on November 9 at both the Breath of Fresh Air (BOFA) Film Festival in Australia and the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival in Canada.
On top of all of that, I am pleased to announce publicly that Australian singing star Kate Miller-Heidke (I once compared her voice to having sex with butterflies) (and two weeks ago I sang a chorus on her cover of Pogues song for Christmas) will be singing on the soundtrack, in collaboration with the superb spidery music of composer Dean Stevenson.
And SIXTEEN LEGS really needs your help.
Public support for this project will allow Bookend to complete filming, editing and distribution of the documentary and allow them to expand and tour the SIXTEEN LEGS exhibition to other locations around Australia and off around the globe. (It will also help support scholarships and research throughout all of Bookend's educational and environmental work.)
Rewards for donors include postcards, posters, and books of production art and photos. There's a book with the dark fantasy storyline that weaves through the documentary, with Production Art by Jodee Taylah. There's also a photographic collection on the science behind the project. The books are available as standard, or signed Limited Deluxe Editions with your name in them. For donors with more money or time, there are expert-guided tours of Tasmania and visits from the film-makers, as well as the option to simply donate.
Whatever size contribution you make, you not only get the items you purchase, but (provided the total fundraising exceeds AUD$100,000) then with every dollar you contribute (excluding postage) you get a a chance to win a trip to Tasmania with me, from anywhere around the globe, when I return there to film for the project next year. You'll get to see the Tasmanian Devils, wilderness landscapes and tourist attractions of Tasmania (which is about the coolest place there is).
You can order fundraising items and find out more about the project at http://www.sixteenlegs.com, and there are photos and video links to some of the Tasmanian places http://www.bookendtrust.com/caves/win
Fundraising will be running until late November. And you should do it. Because there is nothing like handfeeding echidna. Or being the catering department for a bunch of hungry young Tasmanian Devils...