Nicola's Really Wild Life Leads Her into Calmer Waters; from Studying Whales in Newfoundland to Presenting the Really Wild Show, Nicola Davies Has Carved out a Career Close to the Animals She Loves. but, She Tells Kirstie McCrum, Being a Children's Author Has Brought Her True Contentment

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Byline: Nicola Davies

* tanding on a research boat off the Caribbean island of Dominica last year, author and zoologist Nicola Davies saw incontrovertible evidence that human beings and animals are closely-related parts of the same glorious natural world.

"There was a young male sperm whale who we'd called Tramtracks because he had two parallel scratches on his tail.

"He was five, so he was beginning to get independent from his mum and he was playing around the boat we were on - he dived underneath the boat, blew bubbles underneath us and then swam round and round the boat with his head out of the water 15ft away from the hull, clicking at us.

"He was clearly intrigued by us and investigating us. I was onboard with a PhD student, two MAs and my friend Hal Whitehead, [professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia], so there were the five of us, all very serious biologists, standing on the side of this boat waving at the whale, going 'hello' like complete idiots with the most ridiculous smiles on our faces," she laughs.

Listening to Nicola, now in her 50s, is a warming experience. Her love for animals is one of the most affecting aspects of her personality, but it's closely followed by a belief in her work, both as a zoologist and as a writer.

A bright child, Nicola loved learning and was devoted to reading books.

The third child born 10 years after her nearest sibling - she has a brother in Australia and a sister in Abergavenny - she says that she was introverted as a child, almost by necessity.

"I was a very solitary child, but very happy in my solitude, just walking around the garden, looking at animals, having all sorts of imaginary stuff going on in my head, talking and singing to myself.

"I always had this incredible passion for animals thatI think I was probably born with but was very much encouraged by my father and my grandfather who were both good countrymen - good gardeners and amateur naturalists and knew lots about the natural world," she reveals.

The family also had a connection to the arts that has shaped Nicola over the years.

"Stories and words and music were all really important in my family.

"My grandfather was a wonderful singer and if he hadn't been born into a very poor working-class family probably would have been a professional musician," she says.

Although she nows lives in Abergavenny, close to her sister's family, Nicola's family originally come from some way to the west.

"There's none of the family left there now, but I come from a long line of miners, steelworkers and smallholders in the Gower.

"Partly because of the way that literature and arts are valued and were valued even in quite poor families in Wales at that time, and partly because it's just the way they were, my father and my mother both really loved poetry and music so I grew up with that all around me, even though my parents weren't particularly academic," she says.

Nicola's father was the first of his family to go to university, where he gained a biology degree. Nicola's very proud of his own particular claim to fame.

"My dad invented butterscotch Instant Whip - he became a food technologist and my mum was a physiotherapist. They were quite old when they had me.

"My father fought in World War II, and was mentioned in dispatches, for a distinguished service medal. He was one of the liberating forces that went into Belsen, which I don't think he ever quite got over," she says.

At home, reading was always encouraged, and Nicola remembers two particular presents from her mother that had a massive impact on her at her most impressionable age.

"Mum always bought me books for my birthday. When I was a teenager, she bought me a book of DH Lawrence animal poems, which were just absolutely fantastic and a total revelation to me.

"For my 16th birthday, she bought me a complete set of Thomas Hardy novels. …