In the weeks leading up to the release of my first book, I was asked to prepare answers to interview questions that, on the surface, seem entirely pertinent and natural and relatively easy.
Well. They're not easy for me. 'Where did you get the idea to write your book?' completely stumps me. I can sort of make up an answer, but it might change from week to week and no one wants to listen to me try. Susan Elizabeth Phillips answered that question once with, "From a warehouse in Tucson," which was fantastic and funny, as she is fantastic and funny. If I were to borrow that quip, I think folks would respond with, 'damn, girl, I was just asking.'
The 'how long have you been writing romance' question just… I just can’t. I guess Barbie, Ken and Rika-chan (the Japanese 'barbie') endured some torturous heartbreaks at my hands. Then there were the angst-filled teen diaries. A few playwriting efforts didn’t feel right as I couldn’t control every, single thing. I suppose my first completed work was a WWII romance novella that will never be published. At least, not by Avon Impulse.
Then there are the questions I was given by the publicist assigned to me (poor woman). The first being a perfectly appropriate question that I, again, couldn't answer easily.
I could've lied and just said David Livingstone, and folks would nod and we'd all get on with our lives. Instead, I muddled through something truthful and thought I might share here...
Originally posted on KiltsandSwords.com, 12/4/15. (Thank you, Kilts and Swords, for hosting me!)
This is not an easy question to answer. Kind of a touchy subject, really, if you start delving into the Opium Wars and British Imperialism and religious conversion of native populations and all that. I’ll leave that to other forums, as far better brains than mine have scrutinized those topics.
But even keeping my answer within the realm of the individual, the men and women who sailed to distant lands were motivated by the same things that would motivate any of us: money and ego, security and celebrity. In reading memoirs and accounts of their lives, you find explorers who were all-too human and fallible, governed by self-interest, greed and envy. And through a 21st century lens, what they recorded was often marred by racial and cultural prejudice and a disturbing hegemony.
Exploration was rarely a selfless, humanitarian undertaking, and I find it impossible to argue the history of exploration wasn’t also greatly a history of exploitation. These traveling scientists, surveyors, anthropologists and missionaries were world-changers—for good or ill.
Yet when I lower the volume on my jaded, 21st century voice, and reflect on their achievements and contributions to the collective of human knowledge, there is so much that lures me to those men and women. In them you find amazing acts of survival, intelligence and talent, compassion and sacrifice, and of course, courage. Mountains of courage.
Victorian-era explorers sailed for months over nightmarishly deep, dark oceans. Their ships froze in arctic ice. Cholera killed them in the jungles. Native people killed them for their trespassing. Many left their homes knowing there was a better than average chance they wouldn’t return, or return with their health permanently ruined.
Even the notion of venturing to a foreign land with little ability to communicate and no easy access to information is anxiety-forming for me. I don’t do road trips for fear of reckless drivers, cruises for fear of disease, and don’t even get me started on my phobia of airplane trays.
So for all my conflicted feelings towards them, the emotion that usually edges out the others is admiration. But I can’t name a favorite. What I can do is list the explorers who are most closely linked to my character, Will Repton.
Robert Fortune was a Scottish plant hunter who travelled to China in 1848 for the East India Company. Disguising himself as a Chinese man (yes, really), he was able to learn tea-processing methods and transport thousands of tea plants to Calcutta, which provided the source plants for the cultivation of tea in India. And as for the massacre that occurs in THE LONDON EXPLORERS series, that grisly inspiration was provided by the experiences of another Scottish botanist, George Forrest, and the murders and atrocities that occurred during the 1905 Tibet Rebellion. I learned a great deal of about Tibet from the memoir of Susanne Carson Rijnhart—a Canadian missionary—in her attempt to reach Lhasa.
I’ll never meet those men and women so I’d never presume to judge or pretend to know their hearts. Even bent to the cynical as I am, I have tried to remember what explorer Richard Burton wrote in his 1856 notes on exploring the Lake Regions of Central Africa and Zanzibar, and it is a sentiment no one would object to:
“Of the gladdest moments, methinks, in human life, is the departing upon a distant journey into unknown lands. Shaking off with one effort the fetters of habit, the leaden weight of routine…and the slavery of Civilization, Man feels once more happy… Afresh dawns the morn of life, again the bright world is beautiful to the eye, and the glorious face of Nature gladdens the soul. A journey…appeals to Imagination, to Memory, to Hope…”
Whatever the motivations of those past explorers, we remember that the world is not, and has never been, black and white. I hope you find the London Explorer series full of characters that are as complex and fascinating as their real-life counterparts