I had the pleasure of meeting Luke Waterson at his book launch last December. It took place at The Cutty Sark Pub in Greenwich and it was just the perfect venue with wonderful views. I really enjoyed learning about his debut novel, ‘Roebuck’.
Here’s an interview I have done with Luke.
For the benefit of my readers can you tell me a bit about ‘Roebuck’ please?
Purely and simply, Roebuck is a cracking good adventure – and an adventure based on events that really did take place. It follows the story of Anthony Knivet, a common English sailor with most uncommon ambitions, who sets sail with the explorer Sir Thomas Cavendish’s on his fated circumnavigation of the globe in 1591. Circumstances conspire against the somewhat luckless Knivet and after the fleet reaches Brazil he gets abandoned on a hostile coast populated by cannibalistic tribes and Portuguese colonists who are little less hostile. But Knivet is not a man to be discouraged. And, finally, deep in the South American jungle, he does find his calling in this strange New World – setting in motion events that will change Brazil beyond recognition.
On another level, however, the story is a psychological study – on what we do to get noticed in this world, the extent to which we are prepared to go to get that recognition, and where exactly the line is between sanity and madness.
I always hesitate over assigning a particular genre to Roebuck. It is perhaps best categorised as historic fiction, and so it has been for marketing purposes, but I like to think of it as historic literary adventure fiction with elements of travelogue thrown in. Perhaps most of all, Anthony Knivet is the ultimate traveller. Not only did he describe, for the first time by western eyes, many places throughout Amazonian South America, but he is prepared to go anywhere, do anything and bear every level of physical and emotional hardship that epic journeys can throw at you.
What inspired you to write this book?
Originally, it was a small column in the Economist in 2011 that inspired me. The Economist article was on unsung explorers, as I recall. Knivet is unsung, but unfairly so, as I believed from the very beginning. After all, he spent a longer period of time with the indigenous tribes of Amazonian South America than any other foreigner until the mid-twentieth century (almost a decade). And his observations on these peoples, many of whom died out completely in the decades following his time with them, are of lasting importance. Knivet captivated me the more I read about him, and about seafaring during his lifetime. But the backdrop of Knivet’s story was also one I was very familiar with. As a travel writer I have visited the Amazon a lot for work, and therefore the scenes I wanted to write were quick to come alive in my mind.
How long did it take you to write?
From first research to final edit , almost three years. I might need to speed up a little for my next novel, but that was three years writing around a full time job, I should say.
Did you have to do much research for it?
With historic fiction, part of the pleasure of the writing is doing the necessary research to me. I don’t claim that every single line of Roebuck really happened, but it all COULD have happened based on what we know of the period, and I think that is the important thing. To get to the stage where everything you write about a period centuries in the past takes a great deal of research. In Roebuck’s case this totted up to several months altogether.
Would you like to see ‘Roebuck’ made into a film and if so who would star in it?
It’s every writers’ dream to see their book made into a film, so yes. As to who would star in it? An interesting question. A little-known lead, for sure, that can really bring out the personality of Knivet and stamp some of his own personality on the role.
Will you be having any more books published?
I hope many more. I’m working on a new novel at the moment. The research has gone well and I should be beginning the first draft soon: watch this space! My website http://lukeandhiswords.com will have the latest on how all my new writing projects progress.
What exactly does travel writing involve?
Perhaps two to four months away travelling in total per year and most of the rest of the time at the desk, invariably endeavouring to meet umpteen simultaneous deadlines. There is an element of uncertainty about it occasionally – where the next commission is coming from, etc, but the other side to that is that life is thrillingly open-ended. Just to dispel a common misperception though, it’s not all cocktails on beaches, by any means!
Do you take lots of pictures?
I am primarily a writer but where travel writing is concerned, many publications also want me to take pictures of the places I am writing about. My pictures have appeared on the BBC and for Lonely Planet, among others. I also took the majority of the images for the first guidebooks I ever wrote on Scotland. Pictures are also an invaluable personal record as well, of course.
I take it you’ve been to Brazil where you book is set?
Yes. Mainly in the jungle. There are lots of places in Brazil I would like to go – particularly in the north.
Do you spend a lot of time away in rainforests etc.?
The Amazon rainforest is one of the main areas I write about as a travel writer. I spend probably a month on average every year in the Amazon jungle – be that the Peruvian, Ecuadorian, Bolivian or Brazilian parts of it.
Can you tell me about some of the amazing sights you’ve seen?
In the Amazon? Doing the three-day trip by slow cargo boat by river through tangled jungle nothingness to emerge in Iquitos, the world’s largest city not to be connected by road to the outside world, goes up there with the very best experiences. The sudden stark contrast between wilderness and 450,000-strong metropolis has to be seen to be believed.
Is travel writing something you’ll always do?
I think so. I love the sense of discovery. Perhaps I’ll never quite enjoy the level of craziness or intrepidness Anthony Knivet did, exploring in the sixteenth century, but I’d always like to think I’ve enough spirit of adventure left to give it a good go! Travel writing is also an incredibly challenging industry to succeed in to the extent where you are earning a living from it, so having got there, I would like to stay there! In any case there is no better job to have for novel inspiration…
‘Roebuck’ is available to buy from:-
Urbane Publications – http://urbanepublications.com/books/roebuck/
Twitter – @Lukeandhiswords
Matthew Smith is kindly giving away three copies of ‘Roebuck’. To enter just leave a comment telling me where you’ve travelled to or would like to travel to.
Terms and Conditions
This competition is open worldwide.
The closing date is 11:59 p.m. on the 3rd April 2016.
The winners will be randomly chosen within 7 days of the closing date. Their details will be passed on to Matthew Smith who will send out the prizes.