LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS... welcome to the big top blog of Douglas McPherson, author of CIRCUS MANIA, the book described by Gerry Cottle as "A passionate and up-to-date look at the circus and its people."

Friday, 23 February 2018

Why circuses should have animals, by Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington

It was refreshing to read an article by noted animal behaviourist Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington stressing the positive benefits to both humans and animals of having animals in the circus ring.

In this quote from Country Squire Magazine, Kiley-Worthington doesn't just defend the practise but endorses it.

"There are very important arguments why pleasant interested contact between animals and humans should be encouraged and fostered and circuses can do this.  These are: 1) because relationships between humans and non-human animals can be mutually rewarding and enriching for both (and not just for therapy). 2) Because humans then have some experiences of direct contact, experience the emotions and mental abilities of different animals and realise that they too are sentient, thinking beings with desires and needs of all kinds, have value in themselves (not just an instrumental value for humans to benefit from) and therefore must be conserved. No TV documentaries, films, or watching through binoculars will provide these emotional exchanges & experiences that contact with others does provide "

Dr Kiley-Worthington was previously the author of Chiron's World, a ground-breaking study of circus animals that was sponsored by the RSPCA but not published by them because its findings conflicted with the Society's anti-circus agenda. Click here to read it in full.

She is currently a director of the Eco Research and Education Centre and has just published a paper on the similarities between all mammals, including humans. Read it here.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Circus books for teenagers and children

Do kids still grow up wanting to run away with the circus? They might after reading Bunty Armitage Circus Girl by former circus performer Pixi Robertson.

This lively Young Adult adventure sees the life of an everyday high-schooler turned upside down when she reluctantly accompanies her glamorous friend Cilla to an open audition for a part in a television mini-series.

Cilla doesn’t get the part, but the producers immediately latch onto Bunty, because of her uncanny resemblance to Louise Ireland, an historical circus performer that the series is about.

Things get really weird, however, when Bunty finds herself on set wearing Louise’s old costume... and is mysteriously transported back in time to an Australian circus a hundred years earlier.

The tale was inspired by Robertson’s friendship with the late nonogenarian circus pioneer Alice Evelyn Hyland and is packed with atmospheric insight into the life on a travelling show in the early 20th century.

Photos of Robertson riding circus horses in her younger days (that’s her on the cover) help to bring the spirit of the big top alive, while the sparky teenage voice of Bunty, the narrator, creates an engaging mix of past and present that will keep you turning the pages to the end. Click here to buy the paperback or ebook.

There’s more circus magic in Robertson’s Young Adult romance Tempo, which comes with a great cover illustration of Australia’s Flying Ashtons painted by Mitzi Allison Tilley.

Lina Casamiro, just back from college, is struggling to fit into her family’s flying trapeze act, which forms the centrepiece of their traditional travelling circus. She becomes more focused, though, when the dashing multi-millionaire Giles Deglorian, owner of an international Cirque du Soleil-style enterprise, arrives on the scene with a plan to hire Circus Casamiro and make Lina the star of his next equestrian spectacular.

Once again, there’s plenty of insight into circus life, and in particular circus life in Australia, which adds its own layer of interest to the story. The issue of animal rights is explored in some depth, although the animal rights protesters are perhaps overly caricatured - circuses find them a much harder foe to deal with in the real world.

This is, however, an escapist romance and it rattles along with enough intrigue, skulduggery and excitement to make life under canvas look like an appealing career choice for any teen. Click here to buy the paperback or ebook.

Finally, for much younger readers, Robertson has written A Book of Circus - an alphabet book in which A is for acrobat, B is for balancing and big top, C is for clown and... well, you get the picture.

This A4-size, landscape shape book has a soft cover and, with a page for each letter of the alphabet, is crammed with colourful photos of circus life. It’s a pro-circus animal book with elephants, giraffes, horses and monkeys, and comes with a two-page section at the back to explain to children (and their parents!) how well the animals are looked after. Even the study by behaviourist Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington is mentioned.

There’s also a two-page section telling the history of the circus and, particularly, the circus in Australia. Did you know the first circus performances down under were performed by Robert Avis Radford in 1847? Or that bushranger Ned Kelly was a circus fan who visited Ashton’s Circus on many occasions?

Such facts, and the fact that the photographs are from Australian circuses such as Ashton’s, Webers and Stardust will make the book of interest to grown-up circus fans in other parts of the world, too. Click here to order by messaging Pixi via Facebook.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

"Circus Mania is a brilliant account of a vanishing art form"

But don't take my word for it, take the word of Roger Lewis who said that about it in Britain's biggest-selling Sunday paper, the Mail on Sunday.
Click here to read the full review.