When I was six years old or so, I wanted to be a naturalist. I pictured myself studying the world of Nature to learn her secrets. Nurtured by children’s picture books with lush watercolors of forests and seashores, this desire was fed later by the kinds of detailed illustrations of birds and plants that today become stylish wall art.
A local nature preserve within bicycling distance became one of my favorite (and secret) hangouts. I walked the familiar paths noticing how flowers and birds changed through the seasons. I poured over exhibits in the nature center to learn about turtles, frogs, snakes, and owls, mice, and voles.
I remember reading about Gregor Mendel and George Washington Carver, men who brought scientific precision to their observations of what plants were doing naturally. By the time I got to high school, Jane Goodall and Dian Fosse fascinated me. I wanted to study anthropology in part because they, and other intrepid pioneers like Margaret Mead, went out into the wilds to learn things wholly new to us.
Looking back, it should be no surprise I chose to create a society of naturalists and explorers as the focus of my series of romance novels. After all, the essential elements are there: Exotic settings, dangerous adventures, high stakes, and colorful characters.
The world of exploration includes the full range of heroes from alpha, through beta, and definitely including the rogue. Explorers were celebrities. Major expeditions began with parties on the docks at which Society would arrive to fête ithose about to embark.
The fact that some were doomed to perish on the journey added an edge to the festivities. The ones who successfully returned from their voyages were lionized. Stories of derring-do in the Sahara, in Timbuctoo, in the snows of Canada, and the farthest reaches of the Arctic fascinated the attention of readers.
Heroines, also, abound in these settings and not only in supporting roles. Mary Anning of Lyme Regis discovered several key dinosaur fossils that opened up what is now known as England’s Jurassic Coast. Of course, the fact that she was a woman in 19th century England meant she was not credited as a scientist, but therein lies a conflict that could be explored in a variety of fictional ways.
Villains were likewise abundant. Sometimes rival expeditions left at similar times with the same objective with each captain vying for advantage. Even within a single expedition, dispatches and logs told of rivalries, conflicts, and sometimes alleged (or documented) criminal behavior. In wild settings, among unfriendly natives, anything could (and did) happen.
And all of this unfolded in the some of the most beautiful and most dangerous landscapes on Earth. My first book, Wild at Heart, begins in London and follows artist Nora Nicholson and explorer Hugh Beaumont to West Africa.
This part of the world is, from the point of view of English explorers, Mary Kingsley territory. Born in 1860, her story falls later in time than the ones I am writing, yet her history shows what a courageous, adventurous woman could accomplish despite formidable obstacles.
As I dive into the history of these explorers and this time, I find more idea for stories and more characters waiting to be written than I could ever exhaust. I hope you’ll join me for my journey of exploration to celebrate naturalist explorers, the trouble they get themselves into, and the romance they find along the way.