PHARAOH: a Canadian Mohawk on the Nile

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 ...


Read More

PHARAOH: the maps

I blogged last month about my pleasure in reading General Gordon's diary from Khartoum while I was researching my novel Pharaoh, and how I particularly relished his attention to detail - describing everything with an engineer's eye, and calculating quantities and distances as closely as possible. One great advantage of this was that I knew that I could rely on his sketch maps as a basis for the maps that my publisher Headline created for the novel, both of which are reproduced here along with a printed original from Gordon's diary


Read More

PHARAOH: medals of the 1884-5 Nile campaign

The two Victorian campaign medals shown here were among my most prized artefacts while I was writing Pharaoh, and appear as illustrations in several editions of the novel. My 19th century protagonist is a Royal Engineers officer in the 1884 campaign to relieve General Gordon in Khartoum, and I was thrilled to discover a medal named to an actual R.E. sapper who took part in the campaign. These two medals were awarded to all British soldiers and sailors who saw active service in Egypt and Sudan from 1882 to 1889, and were dated accordingly ...


Read More

PHARAOH: The Journals of General Gordon of Khartoum

One of the great pleasures for me in researching my novel Pharaoh was acquiring an original copy of General Charles Gordon’s Journals, covering his final months as Governor-General in Khartoum in 1884-5 before the city was overrun by Mahdist forces and he was killed. I’d wanted to find out more about his archaeological and ethnographic interests, but I found myself utterly absorbed by his day-to-day management of the city and the problems he faced. Unlike his other published work of the period ...


Read More

PHARAOH: the sarcophagus of Menkaure and the wreck of the Beatrice

The present-day action in my novel Pharaoh opens with Jack Howard and his IMU team diving deep into the Mediterranean in search of a 19th century shipwreck thought to contain a fabled sarcophagus from ancient Egypt. Their search is based on fact: the ship was the Beatrice, a British merchantman lost in 1838, and the sarcophagus was the stone coffin of Menkaure, pharaoh of the 4th Dynasty of the Old Kingdom who died about 2500 BC. Only months before the wrecking the sarcophagus had been found in the Pyramid of Menkaure ...


Read More

PHARAOH: canoeing in the Great Lone Land

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 ...


Read More

PHARAOH: free chapter preview

I'm delighted to say that my UK publisher Headline have put up a free chapter sample from Pharaoh on their website, in advance of the UK paperback publication next month. The excerpt comes from a chapter about a third of the way through the novel. Earlier, Jack and Costas had made an astonishing discovery in the Mediterranean, searching for looted Egyptian antiquities on a 19th century wreck. What they find takes them up the Nile beyond Egypt to the deserts of the Sudan, to a place inundated by the waters of the Aswan Dam that provides clues not only to an ancient Pharaoh but also to a British officer whose mission in the 1880s becomes part of Jack's own quest. Read more to follow Jack and Costas on of the most incredible dives of their careers ...


Read More

PHARAOH: interview with David Gibbins

Interview with David Gibbins on Parmenion Books

First question: what was the inspiration for Jack Howard?

There’s a good deal of me in Jack – we share a diving and archaeological background, and have many of the same historical and intellectual interests. But I very much think of him as a separate fictional character, drawn from my experience of others in our profession. Like many leaders Jack can be solitary and introspective, but his friendships are intense and down-to-earth and a driving force in the novels. What Jack and I share most is a passion for archaeology and the determination to see a project through, and that’s where I identify most closely with him ...


Read More

PHARAOH: The Illustrated London News and the 1884-5 Nile Expedition

In my novel Pharaoh my Victorian protagonist Major Edward Mayne has a secret purpose for being with the Nile expedition, but he operates in the guise of an intelligence officer whose job is to scout ahead of the river column to spot obstacles and any evidence of enemy activity. He takes his sketchbook with him to record features of the river, and in his spare time back at camp draws scenes of river activity that he sends anonymously to The Illustrated London News for publication ....


Read More

PHARAOH: Lord Kitchener, desert warrior

This photo shows Major Horatio Herbert Kitchener of the Royal Engineers, recognisable from the image of him years later as a Field Marshal in the famous First World War recruitment poster. Here we see him fresh from the Nile campaign of 1884-5, on the cusp of a career that would see his meteoric rise to Sirdar of the Egyptian Army, Commander-in-Chief in India and finally Secretary of State for War in 1914.  The popular perception of Kitchener is built on that recruitment poster, which has become associated with the castigation of British leadership in the First World War. But in researching my novel Pharaoh ...


Read More


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:

My 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 ...


Read More

PHARAOH: A Frightful Incident

In celebration of the hardback publication of my novel Pharaoh in the UK, here's an excerpt from chapter 7. Part of the novel is set during the 1884-5 British expedition to rescue General Gordon from Khartoum, a story that becomes integral to the present-day action and the quest of Jack Howard and his team. Here we see my 19th century protagonist, Major Edward Mayne, sitting in the expedition camp beside the cataracts of the Nile and talking to his orderly Corporal Jones. Little do they know the significance of the creature shown in the print 'A Frightful Incident', and the incredible archaeological discovery that awaits them just across the river ....




Read More