An interview Roebuck author Luke Waterson

Brazil, Peru and Tierra del Fuego are among the locations featured in Roebuck: Tales of an Admirable Adventurer, Luke Waterson’s debut novel. But, like Waterson himself, the story of Roebuck begins in the south-west of England.

Roebuck is based on a true story, and is the story of its main character, Anthony Knivet. Knivet is the bastard son of a West Country landowner whose only chance of “making something of himself” is to attempt to attain his fortune by going to sea. He secures a place within the fleet of the explorer Sir Thomas Cavendish who is attempting a second circumnavigation of the world,” explains the 34 year old author from Somerset.

“When the fleet reaches the coast of South America, things start to go badly wrong. Disease sets in, famine sets in, some of the worst weather ever to wrack those shores sets in. Knivet is abandoned by his crew on an inhospitable stretch of the Brazilian coastline. And it is here, after various misadventures with the Portuguese and the cannibalistic tribes that inhabit Brazil’s interior, that Knivet finds his true calling: to unite Brazil’s indigenous tribes and lead them in battle in an event set to alter the course of Brazil’s history forever,” adds Waterson about his story, which is set during the 1590s.

Becoming a published author

“I have always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was a little ‘un…I guess it was because of the stories my mum read to me back then, which inspired me to start writing my own. When you realise there is one thing in life that you love above all others, and for me that is writing, then “getting into it” is something you never stop unblinkingly focusing on,” says Waterson, who currently lives in north-west Scotland and has experience of writing travel guides.

“It’s a very special feeling seeing your novel on a bookshop shelf. It’s a physical, three-dimensional product that has a longevity beyond an article or even a guidebook. Particularly when you think “every idea inside that cover came from my imagination” or “my imagination is actually marketable to some extent.” Such thoughts, more than anything, give you the motivation to continue. It’s a very important thing as a novelist to feel that you work is respected within the industry – because you are putting your heart on the line out there a lot of the time,” he says with candour.

The challenge of writing historic fiction

Researching and writing Roebuck was a process that took three years.

“Staying focused over such a lengthy time period, sustaining the drive of the plot and keeping all of your characters “in character” – which can be equated to having thirty-odd different voices in your head, all talking at once – and trying to make sense of each and weave them into a meaningful narrative,” says Waterson of the challenges he faced in creating Roebuck.

”Writing historic fiction is like a re-education. You have to learn how to think and speak and act within the time period you have chosen before you can even begin to do anything else,” he adds.

Fiction based on fact

“The story of Anthony Knivet, as previously mentioned, is a true one. Concrete documentation for it is scant but it does exist. I suppose, as with the majority of historical fiction, writing about events that really did take place gives you a definite framework. A particular focus, if you like,” says Waterson.

“History has always fascinated me. And I really relish the research element, it’s far more time consuming than when you are writing other types of fiction. There is far more to get right. And to get wrong. But for me the research is an integral part of the overall enjoyment,” he explains.

Life as a published author

Waterson’s life has not yet changed significantly since the publication of Roebuck.

“I continue with my travel writing – because it is only for a very few people that a debut work of fiction immediately alters their lives. There are a few more interviews to do, a few more people seeking out my expertise on Elizabethan history and the early history of South America. But I would never want to relinquish my work as a travel writer – not completely. That work will always be there – a gleaming horizon for a rainy day. After all, it was my time in South America as a travel writer that partly provided the inspiration for this book. That time coloured in and fleshed out the 16th century Amazonian world I create in Roebuck. The truth is that not so much has changed in the jungle in 425 years as you might expect,” says the man who will be appearing at the Ilminster Literary Festival on 2 June.

Waterson is currently working on his second novel, set in ancient Wales. “If Roebuck was sometimes bloodthirsty, my new book is plain barbaric on occasion.”

Further information

Find out more about Luke Waterson via his website, Luke and his Words.

Roebuck: Tales of an Admirable Adventurer is published by Urbane Publications and has a recommended retail price of £8.99.

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