New discoveries, danger - and dragons!
29th Dec 20

New discoveries, danger - and dragons!

Step back in time and join Charles Darwin on his fateful journey to the Galapagos Islands, where his assistant Syms Covington makes a dramatic and life-changing discovery.

Author LINDSAY GALVIN tells us more about her new book, DARWIN's DRAGONS!

Q: Can you tell us what Darwin's Dragons is about?

A: Charles Darwin's cabin boy and servant, Syms Covington is shipwrecked on a remote Galapagos island where he makes a dragon-sized discovery...

Q: What did you enjoy about writing a story set in the past, and what were the challenges?

A: I didn't actually set out to write a historical story. I had planned a contemporary plot about real dragons, but I included a background thread, and found a historical voice I didn't realise I had!

The accuracy and research can be challenging, but luckily I really love that side of things. Syms' voice came quite naturally and I really enjoyed writing a story seen through his eyes.

Q: What drew you to writing about Charles Darwin? How did you find out what he was really like?

A: Darwin was a humble genius who questioned everything. He took no joy in the limelight but was endlessly curious, and his discoveries shook the world, but the implications of evolution were so huge at the time, he didn't dare publish for over 20 years.

He's always fascinated me. I probably discovered the most about him on my research visit to Downe House - where Darwin lived for most of his adult life - and speaking to the expert and enthusiastic curators. I read everything I could about him, including his own journal to try to get his voice right.

We think of Darwin as an older man with a long beard but this book is set when he is only a young man. His journal writing was formal but his personality shines through in places and I drew out a playful, more relaxed side to his nature.

Q: You've said that your narrator, Syms Covington, is based on a real character. Can you tell us about him?

A: We don't know an awful lot about him and his journal entries are brief and factual. We do know he was employed as cabin boy to the poop deck and fiddler on The Beagle ships manifest and that he became Darwin's official assistant. We know he joined Darwin back in London, eventually emigrated to Australia, and had hearing difficulties.

What really interested me about him is that there are around three weeks of entries missing from his journal during their time spent in the Galapagos. I was more than happy to fill that space!

Q: Were there any other historical figures that you enjoyed bringing to life in Darwin's Dragons?

A: It was wonderful to write about Queen Victoria. Again, this is a character we usually see as a rather dour widow, but in Darwin's Dragons she is still a teenager, only just appointed Queen and enjoying her new freedom. She was fascinated with unusual 'exotic' animals, so it seemed natural for her to be involved in this discovery.

Q: Why did you decide to bring dragons to life in this story?

A: Everyone loves dragons and they must have been written about more than any other mythical beast, so I needed to find a unique twist. I decided to write about real dragons, and bring them to life without the fantasy element, making them as plausible as possible. Because dragons are real!

Q: How did you decide what your dragons would be like?

A: I researched dinosaurs and the prehistoric flying pterosaurs plus modern reptiles. I stole their life cycles from animals that undergo metamorphosis, and their fire was inspired by amazing natural defence mechanisms.

I love their loyalty, sensitivity and intelligence, combined with their sheer size and magnificence.

Q: Your stories feature far flung places - - What's the most interesting or challenging place you've visited?

A: I am more of a desk chair traveller nowadays, but I did live in Thailand for two years and travelled Asia while I was there. Some exciting moments were a scuba dive at night in a cave, coming face to face with a tiger shark, being trapped in a mudslide in Cambodia, and chased by a pack of huge macaque monkeys in India!

Q: Where and when do you prefer to write?

A: I usually write at my desk as I'm lucky to have an office, but I also write while lounging on the sofa with my puppy draped across my feet.

Q: - And what are you most likely to be found doing when you're not writing?

A: Reading, or out and about in the countryside with my family walking my puppy, Saffy. I also enjoy wild swimming and paddle boarding when it isn't so cold!

DARWIN'S DRAGONS by Lindsay Galvin (Chicken House Books) is now available from all good bookshops

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