It happened when I was three or four years old, and it’s one of my earliest memories. That day, I was playing alone outside and happened to find a lump of dark clay in a ditch by the road. I must have been bored, for the lump immediately caught my attention. I picked it up, and with the help of a stick that I’d found I sculptured it into something that looked a bit like a cat. I was very proud of this little thing that I’d made and I wanted to share my joy with someone. And so, with the lump in my hands I ran home to find my mother. I remember the look on her face – it was as if I’d given her a treasure. Gently, she lifted the little thing into the air and studied it, then very carefully placed it in one of our flower pots. We stood there and watched it together a long time. It must have been the first thing I ever created. When I think of it now, so many years later, I realise I should have thanked her. If she had thrown the little black clay cat away I might not have become the writer I am today. People always ask me why I became a writer. It’s really very simple: I want to write a book that would make my mother proud of me.
Gerelchimeg Blackcrane 格日勒其木格·黑鹤 was born in the oilfields of Daqing in 1975, and spent his first years on the Mongolian grasslands. Eight years old he moved to the city to study, but continued to return home to spend his holidays outdoors, in the woods and on the grassland. A voracious reader, he devoured both children’s books and classics for adults, all bought with the money his mother sent him, and he soon started to write stories of his own. Today, he’s the author of more than 60 books for children, young adults and adults. As a tribute to his mother, he chose her name – Gerelchigmeg – as his penname, instead of his Chinese name, Bao Tiejun 包铁军.
Animals and nomadic life are the topics for almost all of Gerelchimeg Blackcrane’s novels and short stories. Although he’s written about virtually all the different species found in Inner Mongolia, his favourites are clearly dogs and horses and when asked which novel he considers his best, he chooses The Blood Colt 《血驹》, a story about a boy and his magnificent race horse. In the novel Black Flame 《黑焰》, translated into English by Anna Holmwood (Groundwood Books, 2013), the reader follows the adventures of Kelsang, a black Tibetan mastiff, who is stolen from his owner and after a series of adventures finally finds a new master he can trust. Gerelchimeg Blackcrane’s descriptions of animal life and the relations between animals and men are quite unsentimental and although the animals are personalities with needs and feelings, they’re seldom anthropomorphized in the way animals often are in Western children’s books. Their life is hard and even the humans they love and respect can treat them with a harshness that may be surprising to someone who is used to regarding animals as pets.
During his school years Gerelchimeg Blackcrane lost most of the Mongolian he’d learned as a child, and as an adult he’s worked hard to regain his own cultural heritage and to create awareness about the nomadic lifestyle and the dangers it’s facing. His efforts aren’t focused on Mongolians alone – he’s also good friends with some of the last reindeer herding Evenki families in the area close to the Russian border. Standing 1.90 meters tall and with long, flowing hair, Gerelchimeg Blackcrane is a favourite among children and makes numerous visits to schools and libraries every year, where he talks about his books, about nature and about the importance of preserving the environment. He lives in Hailar, Inner Mongolia, and has his own campsite outside of town, where he keeps his horses and his more than thirty (quite ferocious) dogs.
A short story for adults – “The Nightjar at Dusk”, translated by Roddy Flagg – can be found in Pathlight, Spring 2015.