David Gibbins has worked in underwater archaeology all his professional life. After taking a PhD from Cambridge University he taught archaeology in Britain and abroad, and is a world authority on ancient shipwrecks and sunken cities. He has led numerous expeditions to investigate underwater sites in the Mediterranean and around the world. He currently divides his time between fieldwork, England and Canada.
Interview with David Gibbins for www.parmenion-books.co.uk, 8 August 2013
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.
How does a marine archaeologist become a writer?
I’ve been writing fiction since I was a teenager – my English teacher at school was adamant that I should study English at university, not archaeology – but I hadn’t attempted a full-length novel until Atlantis, which I completed when I was nearly 40. During my previous career as an academic I’d begun to think more and more about how my own experiences as an archaeologist could be the basis for fiction, and when the idea for Atlantis came to me I finally took the plunge, resigned my job and went for it. One of the other reasons I left my university teaching career was to create more time for research and exploration, and my novel-writing has been closely associated with that – so I never left one profession for the other.
What is the most exciting wreck you have dived?
The wreck I’ve just discovered this summer, a 17th century site with cannons and Spanish silver coins! I’d probably always say that the site I’m currently working on is the most exciting. In the past some of the highlights have included a classical Greek wreck of the 5th century BC, but I can also remember my first sighting of an intact wooden wreck looming out of the depths of the Great Lakes in Canada – it only dated from the 19th century but was an incredible thrill.
In the books there are some insanely dangerous dives where Jack risks all, have you ever taken a risk in the search for history, or is that all fiction?
I never felt it at the time, but looking back on my early years I certainly stretched the envelope a few times. Once during a very deep exploration in the Mediterranean my dive buddy panicked and froze, and we very nearly didn’t make it back to the surface. On another occasion I was so intent on excavating that I failed to realise that my regulator was leaking air, and I reached the safety tank on the site just as I was beginning to black out. So the answer is yes, many times, but the occasions when it’s nearly gone wrong have been few and far between. I was superbly trained and that’s what counts. And since becoming a father I’ve been a good deal more cautious about risk-taking!
Are the characters based on people you have worked with?
Not specifically, but yes – on expeditions you get to know people intimately including all of their quirks and strengths, and there’s no doubt my cast of characters is drawn from that.
Jack Howard seems to be on a story arc that is philosophical as much as historical. Was this planned from day one? Or did it evolve?
I think this represents my own intellectual bent, and my intention to keep true to myself even in a genre which traditionally has little of that kind of content. Many archaeologists and adventurers have a strong philosophical demeanour; even Indiana Jones was a professor! The great joy of adventure is in the voyage as much as the destination, and that voyage is often about self-discovery and reflection. Jack’s particular arc probably represents the time in my own life when I’ve been writing these novels, through my 40s, as I’ve begun to reflect more on my own philosophical interests – in the broad sense of the term – and where I’d like to go with them.
The concept of Atlantis in the Black Sea is probably the best put together I have ever read; it seems 100% plausible. How much is based on real life research and how much on speculation?
Thanks very much! It’s great to return to that question ten years after I wrote my novel Atlantis. I still stand by the real-life basis for the story, that the Black Sea inundation several millennia after the end of the Ice Age would have flooded Neolithic settlements along what is now the coast of Turkey. My sequel The Gods of Atlantis was partly inspired by some extraordinary early Neolithic sites recently found in Anatolia, reinforcing my belief that one day something like that will be discovered underwater in the Black Sea.
Where and when are Jack and Costas going next?
Aha! That would be a secret. But those who’ve read my novel Pharaoh will have guessed that the story in the book doesn’t end there, and I can reveal that the sequel Pyramid next year will take up where that one left off. After that they’re on a very exciting adventure in a part of the world where they’ve never explored before. More on that in due course on my website!
How did Rome II: Destroy Carthage come about? (review coming soon on Parmenionbooks)
It was mainly a confluence between an idea from my agent, that the Total War: Rome games might lend themselves to companion novels, and the enthusiasm of the people at The Creative Assembly and Sega for the project. What attracted me was the high degree of historical accuracy and authenticity in the games, similar to my own approach as a novelist. It’s been a great experience for me to do something a bit different, and will undoubtely benefit the writing in my main series.
What/Who do you read for personal enjoyment
I’ve always been a voracious reader of fiction but less so since beginning to write my own novels, mainly because of time. Most of my reading is research for my novels, and I’ve particularly enjoyed 19th century history, travel and biography where the novel requires it – for Pharaoh one of my favourites was the journal of General Gordon of Khartoum, a really fascinating work. Among fiction I’ve been doing a lot of re-reading of authors I first read years ago, most recently Hemingway, Orwell, Defoe and Patrick O’Brien’s marvellous Jack Aubrey novels.
When/What is your favourite period of history?
That’s really hard to say, and tends to change according to the period of my most recent novel. I’ve always been fascinated by the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly maritime exploration and the early development of archaeology, but also British colonial adventure and war. For ancient history I’d probably say the long period, veering back into prehistory, when seafarers were stretching the boundaries of the Mediterranean and beyond – that really take us from the Bronze Age through to Roman traders on the Indian Ocean, but I’m more comfortable saying I’m fascinated by that breadth of history than I am with a particular period.
Finally if you had to sell someone new on Pharaoh and the Jack Howard series, how would you do it?
I’d say that my novels are often singled out for their historical plausibility, but for me what makes them work is as much the passion that I put into them – they have an authenticity that I think is unusual in this genre because I’ve actually come close to living the fiction myself. But I’m also a dreamer, and have gone one step further into a realm where anything is possible. Then I’d tell them to read this interview!
8 August 2013
THE SECRET OF THEIR POWER IS BURIED IN THE CURRENTS OF TIME.
Marine archaeologist Jack Howard has made an astounding find in the depths of the Red Sea: proof of a mass suicide by a pharaoh and his army. But what could have driven the most powerful people of their age to hurl themselves to their deaths? What terrible new king, revered as a new god, came to take their place?
Howard’s search leads back through the ages to the discovery of the vault of Tutankhamun in 1928, the legacy of American adventurers in Egypt, the fate of General Gordon’s doomed garrison in Khartoum – and a long-shrouded catastrophe that saw a unit of Gordon’s would-be rescuers swallowed by a mysterious Nile whirlpool. Between the story told by a crazed survivor of that horror, a lost labyrinth, and the truth behind a three-thousand-year-old conflict, Howard is on the verge of a discovery that will change history – for good, for evil, and for the future of all humankind.
I have been a fan of David Gibbins since the first Jack Howard book (Atlantis) was released in 2005, when I first started into the series I thought he was one of the new writers opening up a genre of History mixed with action adventure. But it soon became obvious that he had more passion for his subject matter than the average writer in this genre.
His love of archaeology and of diving really brings these books to life, alongside Jack Howard and his friend and sidekick Costas who are an extension of the author as much as a creation. Add to this passion for diving, a true passion for history and a writing skill that has grown book by book. By the time we get to Pharaoh the series is as serious example of how this genre should be written it does not get much better than this. Don’t be fooled into thinking this writer is another guy who writes the implausible and the mythical, and that you the reader have to swallow the imaginary. Gibbins makes the astounding seem more than plausible, he writes the history in such a way that the myth feels factual or at least highly plausible, and its more that just places and names, its a philosophical undertone to the extended plot, to the ethos of Jack Howard and his search for the facts and the truth.
I find every single one of these books so plausible, so real I hate coming up for air. I thought that Gods of Atlantis was the pinnacle of this series, when I should have known that there was more and better to come.
History, Mystery and Myth all brought together to astound the reading senses.
A true leader of his genre and his art.
1. Atlantis (2005)
2. Crusader Gold (2006)
3. The Last Gospel (2008)
aka The Lost Tomb
4. The Tiger Warrior (2009)
5. The Mask of Troy (2010)
6. The Gods of Atlantis (2011)
aka Atlantis God
7. Pharaoh (2013)