Of all the larger-than-life character portraits that have entered popular memory from the 1884-5 British Nile campaign – the future Lord Kitchener, a desert spy, disguised as an Arab and carrying a cyanide tablet in case of capture; the wiry and imperturbable General Wolseley, sticking to his plans against the odds; the extraordinary Colonel Fred Burnaby, greatest adventurer of his age, wearing a deerstalker and blasting away at the dervishes with his shotgun – none are more impressive for me than James Deer, known to his people as Sak Arakentiake ...
I’ve just returned from a canoeing expedition with my daughter in Algonquin Park, a huge expanse of more than 7,600 square kilometres of forest and lake in central Ontario first mapped by Royal Engineers surveyors in the 1820s and 1830s. At the time, the main interest was in finding a new route from the Ottawa River west to Georgian Bay on Lake Huron, but as any modern canoeist will attest that was never going to be feasible – there are too many portages! Instead the region became a focus for logging, much of it to supply the British shipbuilding industry, until that was stemmed by the creation of the park in 1892 and the preservation of large tracts of wilderness that remain today, with abundant populations of bear, moose and other wildlife, and much of the park interior only being accessible by canoe and portage. My novel Pharaoh was very much in my mind throughout our trip, and the extraordinary fact that the Nile expedition of 1884 depended on Canadian voyageurs of aboriginal descent who had learned their skills on lakes and rivers very similar to those that my daughter and I were traversing ...
This week I'm guest-editing 'The Afterword' for the National Post, one of Canada's national papers with a circulation of nearly a million. Here's my first post:
most recent novel, Pharaoh, is really
a novel within a novel, a modern-day archaeological adventure also set in the
late 19th century during the doomed British attempt to relieve
General Gordon in Khartoum. I’ve always been fascinated by British colonial
history, party because of my own family background – in this case, an ancestor
who was a Royal Engineers officer and chair of the ‘Gordon Relics Committee’,
responsible for safeguarding Gordon’s collection of ethnographic and
archaeological materials after his death. During my research I immersed myself
in first-hand accounts and artefacts ...