And so I find myself at the stage in my life and career where it feels somehow appropriate to look at – and review – the adventures and publications of the dim and distant past. Today, I’m an experienced author with over 10 books to my name. All the books I’ve been involved in have interesting backstories – well, interesting to me, anyway – and in recent months I’ve had cause to write down recollections of those backstories for a larger project. Here, we look at the making of a book I co-authored with my former PhD supervisor David Martill back in 2000 and 2001: Dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight (Martill & Naish 2001). Dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight was (mostly) well received when it came out and seems to have been both inspirational and useful to the sort of people we’d imagined reading and using it. It’s now very much out of print and also quite hard to get, on which more below.
During the year 2000 I was studying for my PhD at the University of Portsmouth, and was thus mostly occupied (as and when possible) with the theropod dinosaurs of the English Lower Cretaceous Wealden Supergroup, Eotyrannus in particular. But other things were happening at the same time, and among those things was the delivery of content needed for the soon-to-open Dinosaur Isle museum on the Isle of Wight, which I was producing with Dave.
Anyway... the plan was for a book to appear in time for the museum’s opening, a job that had initially been given to Steve Hutt of the Isle of Wight County Museums Service (one of the main drivers behind the creation of Dinosaur Isle). But Steve needed help and had gone to Dave. Dave and I were deep in the world of Wealden dinosaurs at this point (in part because of on-going work on Eotyrannus, Neovenator and other theropods), so Dave made the decision to bring me in too. Through his good contacts with the Palaeontological Association (known for short as the Pal Ass... deduct ten points if you think this amusing or find yourself recalling Stephen Jay Gould’s comments), Dave was also able to set up the publication of the resulting work as part of the Pal Ass Field Guide Series (he had previously produced three other volumes in the series, all of which had been successful). This meant that the work would be a technical, monograph-style book and that we wouldn’t ever see any money. Because I’m an idiot who does things because I think they’re worthy, rather than what I’ll get out of them, this never bothered me at all, and so off to work we went. It would have to be turned around pretty quickly if we were have it published in time for the new museum’s opening.
The initial plan was for the entire volume to be ‘Martill and Naish’. However, the chapters vary as goes author contributions and we also had reason to bring in additional authors on some of the chapters. We also wanted Steve to remain involved given that the project was his in the first place. By the time we were about 50% of the way through, we decided that the best option was to give each chapter a different authorship, the whole volume being ‘edited’ by Martill and Naish. This seemed fair, so long as people cite individual chapters as and when appropriate.
As things progressed, the volume expanded into a vast, time-sapping project. Dave and I spent days and days writing the text, often at his home on the Isle of Wight. I have fond memories of racing, late at night, to get the last ferry home to the mainland – and then missing it and having to wait for hours for the next one. We made innumerable museum trips and field trips to relevant historic sites, and also visited numerous private collections on the Isle of Wight, often seeing material that would be revisited in later work (among it, the ‘Angloposeidon’ specimen and a notorious small theropod still in private hands).
As anyone familiar with the British dinosaur literature will know, the species discovered and described here during Victorian times are all too frequently embroiled in what can best be described as hideously complex taxonomic messes. We tried (and sometimes failed) to resolve various of these; I had substantial help from Paul Barrett on some aspects of Wealden sauropod taxonomy, and – my bad – don’t feel that he was acknowledged appropriately for that help. The decision was made to include a chapter on pterosaurs. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, ‘everyone knew’ that the Wealden pterosaur formerly known as Ornithodesmus needed a new name (as demonstrated by Howse & Milner (1993), it turned out that the type material attached to this name was not from a pterosaur as previously thought, but from a maniraptoran theropod instead) and that pterosaur worker Stafford Howse had one waiting in the wings, so to speak. Due to my work as a technical editor for Elsevier (and that’s a whole ‘nother story), I’d been corresponding with Howse, so I made contact once more. The result: a pterosaur chapter that includes the new name Istiodactylus and the publication of a brand-new life reconstruction that Stafford had produced but not previously used (Howse et al. 2001).
Most of the photos that feature in the book were taken by Dave and our then-technician at the university, Bob Loveridge, on trips to the Natural History Museum (London). I missed out on some of those trips. Indeed, I missed out on so much relevant stuff in those days since I had to spend most days of the week at my paying job. More on that in a moment. Confusion meant that a few specimens photographed in the London collections are incorrectly labelled in the final product, as Peter Galton would later point out, at length. We accidentally have Echinodon (a heterodontosaurid from the Purbeck Limestone Group) in there as a Hypsilophodon jaw, for example. There are other errors in the book too (William Fox is referred to throughout as William D. Fox – a mistake, since W. D. Fox was a different person entirely), but such is par for the course in a giant, complex project... especially one turned around in an incredible hurry (recall that we were rushing to complete the book so that it would be published before the new Dinosaur Isle museum opened).
A vast number of diagrams were compiled, mostly by Stig Walsh. Dave and I also thought it appropriate that the book be prettied up with a selection of colour plates and Dave’s idea was that we get a bunch of palaeoart from (.... drumroll...) John Sibbick, who Dave already knew from previous collaboration. So, we went to John’s house in Bath (today he lives on the Isle of Wight, appropriately enough). Somehow, Dave managed to convince John to give us a bunch of work for free... which is not ok, but happened anyway.
I should also mention the fact that – thanks to secret knowledge I had acquired via Luis Rey – I included an illustration of a psittacosaur with tail quills. When the book came out, this was the first time such a thing had been shown; some journalists knew what was going on, and were sniffing around for a story on the specimen concerned. A science journalist based at a well-known science journal devoted to science contacted me for comment (a big deal to me at the time) BUT, again, my intermittent time spent at university (no internet access at home in those days!) meant that I missed out (Stokstad 2001). I also pulled favours and got illustrations by Tracy Ford and Luis into the book. And what about the cover? Julian Hume – extinct bird expert and artist – was also based at Portsmouth at the time (we occupied adjacent offices), and Dave commissioned him to knock something up.
Anyway… the problem with producing a semi-technical monograph-style work is that the only constraint is your own time and thoroughness, and I wanted to be thorough. So, the project ballooned into a monster because I wanted to cover everything (causing one reviewer to complain that the book was just too big, that it tries to do too much). It was the biggest Field Guide manuscript the Pal Ass had ever received, and – on Thursday 8th March, 2001 – I bundled it up in a box – with the original photographic plates and everything – and mailed it off. Yes, this was the time when everything was submitted in hard copy. Proofs, copyright assignment forms and so on were dealt with by the end of May 2001… all of which was happening at the exact same time as Eotyrannus was being published (Hutt et al. 2001), as the giant Dorling Kindersley book Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life (Lambert et al. 2001) was being finalised and as I was moving house. Oh, and we began filming for the live TV series Live From Dinosaur Island at the start of June, a project with links to everything discussed here (except my moving house).
I finally got to see and handle the published volume in July – in fact, a copy was handed to me on the street (by Dave) just as I was returning from an (unsuccessful) museum-themed job interview on the Isle of Wight. At 433 pages, the final volume is huge. But it was insanely affordable for its size – just £16 – and immediately sold well. Indeed, last I heard, it was exponentially more successful (in terms of number of sales) than any other volume in the series. Remember that we got not a single penny for this volume. Today, it sells for quite a lot. I only own a single, battered copy (now marked with lots of pencilled annotations). Many people said kind things about it, which I appreciate, and I think it includes a lot of stuff that isn’t covered elsewhere (as goes books – rather than technical papers – anyway). Did we succeed in getting it published in time for the opening of Dinosaur Isle museum? Yes: Dinosaur Isle’s official opening was on Thursday 30th September 2001 (an event I had to miss due to being in exotic Weston-Super-Mare at the time). Mission accomplished.
There has, for some time, been the idea that a 2nd edition of Dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight should appear. Indiana University Press were interested in this at one point and invited me to submit a proposal, but this invitation had been forgotten when I actually got round to submitting it. I’ve also been in dialogue with the Pal Ass on the prospect of producing a 2nd edition, but the fact that I cannot possibly do it for free is a deal-breaker and no progress has been made. I’m constantly in quest of new copies of Dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight today but never see it on sale at a reasonable price, and the Pal Ass sold all of its stock some years ago. So, if you don’t already own one, you’re perhaps unlikely to ever do so.
A shorter, slightly different version of this article previously appeared on the Tetrapod Zoology facebook page and at my patreon. If you thought it at all worthy or interesting, let me know and I’ll publish similar ‘back-story’ articles on other books I’ve been involved in. If you thought it trite or boring, why are you still here?
For previous Tet Zoo articles on Wealden dinosaurs, see...
- The world's most amazing sauropod (Xenoposeidon)
- Of Becklespinax and Valdoraptor
- Where the scelidosaurs and iguanodontians roam
- Oh no, not another new Wealden theropod!
- My dinosaur colouring book # 2 (Wessex Formation dinosaurs)
- Concavenator: an incredible allosauroid with a weird sail (or hump)... and proto-feathers?
- The explosion of Iguanodon at Scientific American
- Goodbye super-inclusive Iguanodon, hello Mantellisaurus, Owenodon, Dakotadon, Dollodon, Barilium, Kukufeldia, Hypselospinus, Sellacoxa, Proplanicoxa etc. etc.
- A truly tiny Cretaceous theropod... from England?
- The Iguanodon explosion: How scientists are rescuing the name of a “classic” ornithopod dinosaur, part 1
- The explosion of Iguanodon, part 2: Iguanodontians of the Hastings Group
- The explosion of Iguanodon, part 3: Hypselospinus, Wadhurstia, Dakotadon, Proplanicoxa …. When will it all end?
- The Wealden Bible: English Wealden Fossils, 2011
- The Jehol-Wealden International Conference, 2013
- Ostrich dinosaurs invade Europe! Or do they?
- 10 Long, Happy Years of Xenoposeidon
Howse, S. C. B. & Milner, A. R. 1993. Ornithodesmus - a maniraptoran theropod dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of the Isle of Wight, England. Palaeontology 36, 425-37.
Howse, S. C. B., Milner, A. R. & Martill, D. M. 2001. Pterosaurs. In Martill, D. M. & Naish, D. 2001. Dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight. The Palaeontological Association, London, pp. 324-335.
Hutt, S., Naish, D., Martill, D. M., Barker, M. J. & Newbery, P. 2001. A preliminary account of a new tyrannosauroid theropod from the Wessex Formation (Early Cretaceous) of southern England. Cretaceous Research 22, 227-242.
Naish, D. & Martill, D. M. 2001b. Boneheads and horned dinosaurs. In Martill, D. M. & Naish, D. 2001. Dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight. The Palaeontological Association, London, pp. 133-146.
Naish, D. & Martill, D. M. 2001a. Armoured dinosaurs: thyreophorans. In Martill, D. M. & Naish, D. 2001. Dinosaurs of the Isle of Wight. The Palaeontological Association, London, pp. 147-184.
Stokstad, E. 2001. Mysterious e-photos vex palaeontologists. Science 293, 1573.