Thursday, September 15, 2016

On Unicorns, Expecting the Unexpected, and the BMV

image courtesy pixabay
"Writing is a journey of discovery because until you start, you never know what will 
happen, and you can be surprised by what you do. Expect the unexpected. " --Mini Grey

Funny where you meet the unexpected. This time for me, it was at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles where I went to renew our car tags. It's a place where you wait in line and hope this won't take too long since you have a bunch of other errands to run. You might pause long enough to notice some of the characters...I mean, people...around you and ponder if maybe they'd someday show up in one form or another in your stories. But really, you're just enduring it all until you're out of there.

But this time there was a new element introduced to help pass the time: an electronic slide-show on the screen behind the desk. Not much of note until this line came up: "The national animal of Scotland is the unicorn."

I'm not sure what I expected when I walked into the BMV, but I know I didn't expect that!

And as so happens when we start at one unexpected place, we end up at another...

For example, I never gave much thought to unicorns before other than they were some sort of mythical creature and part of my daughter's My Little Pony collection when she was small. But I found myself wondering why Scotland would name the unicorn its national animal. Research (including here), showed how much of the the unicorn's story is woven through centuries of history, mythology, religion, and heraldry. And so, Scotland's unicorn first shows up in the country's coat of arms as far back as the 12th century. And before that--who really knows where the unicorn came from? The figment of someone's imagination?  The misinterpretations of carvings early on, as some say, that depicted bulls and goats from a side-view showing only one horn? Marco Polo's confusion over the rhinoceros?  Certainly the unicorn's story is woven into symbolism and fantasy. Oh, as Dr. Seuss says, the places we'll go!

And then there's the subject of national animals themselves. Did you know that most countries have one? Ours here in the United States is the American bison. Interestingly, the national animal of Belarus is the European bison. Other countries' designated animals include Australia's kangaroo, Peru's vicuna, Greece's phoenix, Mauritius' dodo bird, to name a few (more here). Each one carries its own interesting story.

All of this also took me on a hunt for a quote and thus the above selection by Mini Grey. Maybe you're familiar with Ms. Grey's work, but this search introduced me to her--and I'm so glad for the discovery. For she is an award-winning children's book author and illustrator, noted particularly for The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon, The Pea and the Princess, and the Traction Man series. She is from Wales (neighbor to Scotland!) whose country's national animal is the Welsh dragon--fiery red--dating back to 1485. And beyond learning all of this (unexpectedly) about her, I had to chuckle at the source of her name. She goes by the nickname 'Mini' because, as she says on her website, she was born in the front-seat of a mini-car. Talk about the unexpected!

Stories, stories everywhere. Waiting to be plucked out of the air, or at the BMV as the case may be. What unexpecteds have come your way recently?


  1. Kenda - glad you're back! I've missed you!

    I never gave much thought to national animals, but it doesn't surprise me that Scotland chose the unicorn. It probably lives near the Loch Nesse Monster. (And as a lover of fantasy, it's nice to know we can still find a little magic in this world!) My grandchildren introduced me to Mini Grey several years ago. They loved GINGER BEAR, so I read it many times.

    The unexpecteds in my writing life include a month-long struggle with a WIP that I finally put aside. They also include picking up a different WIP I'd had trouble with and seeing a small breakthrough that might let me move forward. And then there's my picture book. A friend asked me to write one, so I did. I have no idea whether it's marketable, and right now, that's not the point. I'd been wanting to write one for years, and I just couldn't boil any story down to 500 or so words. Now I have, and it was actually fun! Maybe I was having a unicorn moment. :-)

    1. Peggy, I love it, unicorns and Loch Ness monsters as neighbors--I think you may have hit on another story idea! I like the way you think :-) And thanks for recommending Ginger Bear. I'm adding it to my list to find for my grandkids...

      And so glad to hear about your WIP breakthrough--and picture book. Great news--may the unicorns continue to inspire you, ha! We're fine over this way, just been busy this summer. But one of my unexpecteds has been partnering with my 8-year old granddaughter to write children's poems. She's been supplying titles for me to jumpstart from. That's been my writing fun lately. Thanks for your support. Always enjoy being in contact with you :-)

    2. I love that you're working with your granddaughter - a whole different kind of inspiration!

    3. Yes, it is a whole different kind of inspiration for sure, and such fun. Tonight she called to interview me for the 'newspaper' she's putting together, asking me how it feels to be published (those few credits I do have). I feel like a celebrity! Wishing you a great weekend... :-)

  2. Huh, if I was asked our national animal, I probably would have said eagle. So good to know! Or it that just our national bird...Is there a national bird? Lol!

    1. Leandra, we have both--national bird (bald eagle, yes) and national animal. I was surprised to learn that, too. The bigger surprise is in learning how significant it seems for countries to name a national animal. I wonder how the trend got started....hmmm, now that would take us down another road of unexpecteds, wouldn't it?? Thanks for stopping by :-)

  3. Ah, yes. National birds, national animals, national birds, national flags. There are also state versions of the same. There are also national and state flowers. Our national flower is the rose. I don't know what kind of people decided on these things, or when it happened, but it seems to have come from a simpler age. But very charming, as long as there weren't any fights over the decision.

  4. Cathy, nice to 'see' you--been thinking of you :-) And I think you're right about these things having come from a simpler age. I do remember that our high school graduating classes also had a class song and class flower, so these things have been common in the past. What traditions will future generations carry on? That's another subject for another time! Take care...

  5. That's a great story about Mini's name. On another note, I've never thought much about national animals, but I'm charmed by the idea of the unicorn being Scotland's. And the dragon being Wales's. It's interesting that both were originally Celtic countries and that their national animals are legendary creatures, while other countries have chosen real animals. But it makes you wonder, doesn't it? Maybe there were dragons and unicorns once upon a time.

  6. Elizabeth--hmm, real dragons and unicorns? The imagination does take off sometimes doesn't it with so many different triggers :-) And the thought of Wales and Scotland having similar backgrounds makes me want to look into how their histories are linked. Thanks for sparking the thought... :-)