Ichthyosaurs and Emma Tupper’s Diary

21 February 2015

posted by Philippa

The discovery of a fossil of a hitherto unknown species of ichthyosaur hitting the news in the UK this week prompted me to ask Peter whether he had been following the story and whether the ichthyosaur had been the inspiration for the monster in Emma Tupper’s Diary.

Emma Tupper cover

My memory had let me down. The illustration in the original edition of the book was of a plesiosaur cryptoclidus oxoniensis, drawn by B. H. Newman.

Not an ichthyosaur after all but I was still interested to know what had led Peter to this ancient creature.

Q: Where did the idea for the plesiosaur in Emma Tupper come from?

Peter: A university friend of mine lived on West coast of Scotland a few miles away from Loch Morar. They invited me to stay a couple of times and I heard the legend of a monster in the loch.

Q: Why did you think that it might be a plesiosaur?

Peter: I didn’t. If there was a loch monster, the idea that a single monster could survive that long would be ridiculous. So it had to be a tribe of monsters. They had to stay hidden, therefore they could only come out at night. I made sure that they wouldn’t have been much known about as they lived in an underwater cave and only came out to hunt after dark.

Q: So how did it get from that idea to being a plesiosaur?

Peter: Well it wasn’t a plesiosaur in my mind; it was just some kind of dinosaur monster and I wanted to check whether this was possible so I went to The Natural History Museum in London and asked to speak to a paleontologist. B. H. Newman worked in the department and when I explained what I wanted, he said it sounded like a plesiosaur. He also said he thought it was one of the most plausible theories for the Loch Ness Monster that he had heard!

Q: So did you ask him to draw the plesiosaur?

Peter: No. I just wanted some information and he drew it off his own bat and I thought it was so good we put it in the book.

Peter then mentioned that a new dinosaur fossil had recently been discovered on Skye just last month and had been widely reported. The Telegraph’s headline was ‘Was this Nessie’s ancestor? Giant prehistoric monster roamed Scottish waters‘. However the first comment beneath the article reads:

Are these people high? This looks like an ancestor to a swordfish or something. Nessie, assuming it is real, is more likely to have come from a Plesiosaur.

So perhaps B. H. Newman was on the right track.