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When family ties really matter


As a writer, I am always on the look out for ideas. It doesn’t have to be plot lines I’m searching for necessarily, but I find observing the way that people behave under certain conditions is very useful when creating new characters. It’s not usually my type of programme, but I’ve found the ITV series ‘Mission Survive’, in which survival enthusiast Bear Grylls puts a group of celebrities through their paces in a South American jungle strangely compelling.
My husband has been shooting me some odd sideways glances as I sit enthralled by the way in which this group of mainly typical urbanites deal with the pressures of the jungle. But I’m picking up some valuable insights into how people cope with the unknown. What has particularly struck me, is the way in which acting cousins Lawrence and Emilia Fox have formed a tight bond during the expedition. The group are pitted against one other in the tasks they are asked to perform, with Grylls choosing one person to leave after each episode. You can see how the celebrities are having their nerves frayed by the pressures caused by lack of food and sleep. They are sniping at one another in their exhaustion and don’t quite know who to trust.
Yet the Fox cousins remain united. Despite the frustrations and the perils of the unknown, they obviously are aware that they can rely upon the other one. When Lawrence Fox experienced a night of delirium brought on by low blood sugar and a fever, his cousin kept watch over him. The next day she threw her arms around him and comforted Lawrence, assuring him that he wasn’t ‘going mad’.
Only people who have grown up together – as friend or family member – can offer such reassurance and love. I found it very touching to see. I think that Emilia would have really struggled through this whole experience if Lawrence wasn’t there with her – even a very gentle rebuke from Bear Grylls had left the actress deeply upset. Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t last five minutes out there. But perhaps if I was experiencing the ordeal alongside a member of my family, I might just last that little bit longer.
Watching this relationship played out on screen has made me think. We don’t often find ourselves in situations like the ones inflicted upon the celebrities in Mission Survive. So the importance of family ties aren’t often put to the test in such a stark way. When I was ill recently, I found it very difficult to tell people what was wrong – even if my behaviour may have seemed a little odd during that period. However, there were certain family members and old friends who I was able to tell straight away – without any hesitation. I believe that the reason for this is that they’ve know me for so long that I’ve become a part of their pack. I feel comfortable enough that I’d not be rejected simply for displaying a temporary weakness.

I’m already thinking of ways in which I might bring this concept into a future novel or short story. For this reason, reality television can be a useful tool for the writer, although it’s no substitute for your own life experiences. The difference with Mission Survive, is that because of the severity of the conditions, the responses of the individuals involved are usually quite genuine. There is very little ‘playing to the camera’. So for us voyeuristic writers, it’s a perfect watch.

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