I asked Tim to share a bit with us about his research process. Here’s what he had to say:
For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects about writing this book was the research.
I usually don’t research that much. The book I’m writing right now is a fantasy novel, so I get to make stuff up. On the island of Skythe there are birds called merrows, herd creatures called hat-hat, fire-breathing creatures called lyons, stinging things called stark blights, and a god named Aeon. That’s all made up stuff, and the world I create is inhabited by creatures and people that require no research … because none of them are real. At least, until I’ve finished the novel and it’s published, whereupon I hope they come across as real to the readers. That’s one of the great pleasures of writing a fantasy novel––the geography, flora, fauna, and sometimes even the rules of nature and physics are mine to do with as I will. As I often like to say about my first fantasy novel, Dusk, I can have sentient tumbleweed without having to explain why.
That wasn’t the case with The Wild, of course. And I discovered that I enjoyed the research process far more than I’d anticipated.
First, I had to start reading a load of Jack London material. He’s a superb writer, so that was a pleasure rather than a hardship. It took me back to my teens, which was the last time I’d read The Call of the Wild. And I discovered books that I hadn’t read before, such as John Barleycorn, and enjoyed reading Jack London biographies. But the real pleasure came from researching the period and place where the book was set––Alaska, and the Yukon, during the Gold Rush.
I knew a little about those times, but not much. I had visions of people travelling comfortably into the wild, making huge gold strikes, and then returning home with their fortunes and futures secure, luggage loaded with gold and their skins a healthy sheen from the bracing weather.
The reality was far different, and far grimmer. The journey itself to the site of the gold strikes was terribly harsh, taking months for most people to make their way across mountains and through forests, along rivers and across lakes, all the time struggling to survive the worst that nature could throw at them––drenching rains, snow, ice, and temperatures that would freeze your spit before it hit the ground.
Camps were set up along the trail, such as the landing place of Dyea and the inland town of Dawson, and many people only made it this far. They were lawless places, where the law of gun and knife ruled. Beyond, along trails like the Dead Horse Pass––so named because its treacherous slopes were littered with the bodies of hundreds of horses that had fallen and been left to die––men and women ventured into the Yukon in search of their fortunes.
Thousands of people formed the Gold Rush, but the sad truth of it is that few struck lucky. Many died on their way to these base camps, and many more starved or froze to death in the wild. Scurvy was rife, as during the frozen months food was scarce.
Jack London himself almost died during his time in the Yukon. He returned with gold dust worth less than five dollars, loose teeth, a malnourished body, and memories and scars that would last him a lifetime. His time in the wild informed the type of man he became, and although it was probably one of the harshest times of his life––in later life he would become wealthy from his writing, and live very comfortably indeed––it was also the most inspirational. Much of his greatest work is about the land he found when he went in search of gold. And who is to say he didn’t find more than he revealed? Maybe he truly did bear terrible secrets about his time there, in the inhospitable, brutal landscapes of the Yukon. The wild.
Thanks for sharing, Tim!
The Secret Journeys of Jack London Blog Tour
For the next two weeks, authors Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon will be traveling through the blogs of YA/kidlit bloggers who are also teachers, librarians, and/or adventurers. Each tour stop will offer an exclusive piece of art from Greg Ruth, whose stunning illustrations give life to the characters, locations, and beasts throughout the book. Follow the tour:
Monday, February 28th
Little Willow at Bildungsroman
Tuesday, March 1st
Kiba Rika (Kimberly Hirsh) of Lectitans
Thursday, March 3rd
Melissa Walker, author of Small Town Sinners
Friday, March 4th
Justin from Little Shop of Stories
Monday, March 7th
Rebecca’s Book Blog
Tuesday, March 8th & Wednesday, March 9th
Martha Brockenbrough, author of Things That Make Us [Sic]
Help spread the word about this exciting new series. Download the electronic press kit for THE SECRET JOURNEYS OF JACK LONDON.