Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.
Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.
Tim Cope is an adventurer, film maker and author who has travelled the world, and conducts treks all over the world. On one trek, he met his beloved travel companion, Tigon, and has recently released their story for younger readers. Whilst the book came out last year. Tim had author appearances and treks postponed. He talks about those here, and what he plans to do during the pandemic. The map and headshot in this post were provided by Tim.
Hi Tim, and welcome to The Book Muse
- You’re an author, an adventurer and a film maker – which did you start with, and how did you get into all three?
It all started with a writing project I did in year nine English in which I chose to describe what it was like to come out of a coma (at age ten I had contracted encephalitis). My teacher told me that I could be a writer one day. I’ve always loved writing, particularly the way in which it can harmonise and express the complexities of perception, allowing for the synthesis of thought, feeling and of the senses.
Parallel to that, I grew up in the countryside with a father in the outdoors. I began dreaming of adventure in my teens and by the time I finished school decided to delay university and pursue travel. During a year of working and travelling on a shoe-string budget travel in the UK and Europe I decided that writing and adventure fitted hand in glove for me.
- Of all the places you’ve been to on your adventures, do you have a favourite, and why?
I’ve been travelling to Mongolia just about every year since the year 2000. It is an extraordinary country where traditional life still holds sway. It’s a place where we can reflect on the many alternative systems available to us as societies. In regional areas Mongolians are still predominantly nomadic, private property is almost unheard of, and people mostly only own as many possessions as they can fit on the back of their camels, or on their trucks.
- Tim and Tigon – your new book – is aimed at middle grade to early young adult readers and comes out in September. What is Tim and Tigon about, and where did the inspiration come from?
My inspiration originally came from Tigon himself – my Kazakh dog. A few months into the trip a man who accompanied on horse back for a couple of weeks gave me his small puppy. “In Kazakhstan dogs choose their owners. He is yours” he had told me. I looked down at this scrawny six month old pup, named Tigon, and wasn’t sure he would make it more than two weeks through the perilous winter of Kazakhstan (where it regularly drops below -40 degrees). I would soon learn, however, that his spirit was much larger than his tiny frame. As we travelled together for three years across the Eurasian steppe to Europe, I watched Tigon grow into an adult, and live through untold challenges and scrapes. His sense of humour, his bravery, his curiosity and ability to appeal to the better side of human beings inspired me and lifted my spirits every day. And somehow, across all cultures, young people could immediately relate to Tigon.
Back here in Australia I visited hundreds of schools and organisations with my story, and the feedback from parents and teachers was always that it was hard to find engaging non-fiction for young people. Eventually I was able to fulfil the dream of writing about Tigon in this new book.
- Have you had to cancel any author events, launches or appearances due to COVID-19 yet, and if so, what were they? If not, what are you looking forward to?
2020 for me was a slated as a year in which I would do three main things:
1.Tour schools nationally with my book.
2.Run expeditions to Mongolia
3.Buy a house.
By mid March, all three of these had been more or less wiped out. Like for many my life has been turned upside down.
In terms of book events I had schools scheduled across Victoria, NSW, WA and Queensland that have all been indefinitely postponed or cancelled. I am in the process of trying to convert these to virtual appearances but it is a very fast changing landscape as everyone knows.
- What other books have you had published, and what audience do you primarily write for?
I’ve published three books: Off the Rails (Penguin), On the Trail of Genghis Khan (Bloomsbury), and Tim & Tigon (Pan Macmillan). I write for a wide audience including those interested in adventure, travel, history, culture, and more recently animals.
- Most of your books are non-fiction or memoir – any plans for a fiction book, either based on your experiences or in another genre?
My COVID lockdown project is to fulfil another dream, which is to complete an illustrated picture story book about Tigon. I don’t intend to write fiction at this stage although that idea has always been brewing in the back of my mind.
- You present to schools a lot – what are some of the things you love about doing this, and what sort of things do you speak to students about?
In my talks to students I talk about the adventures I’ve been on, and the lessons I’ve learned – primarily from the people and lands I travel through. These lessons revolve around resilience, patience, friendship, grief, risk taking, and learning to embrace the unfamiliar. I think it’s crucial for young people to look at the wide variety of options that exist for pathways in life. By looking into cultures, lands, and people who are different from ourselves we can extend ourselves and our understanding of the world – and of course assess our place in it. I enjoy the type of questions and reactions that young people have. They don’t self-limit their imagination, or aspirations, and have a natural curiosity about the great unknown. For adults sometimes adventures can seem like crazy, dangerous projects for which there are untold reasons not to undertake in the first place.
- Your adventure dog is Tigon – where did you meet Tigon, and what sort of writing and adventure companion is he?
Tigon was born in a small village called Zhana Zhol (‘new road’) in Eastern Kazakhstan. (Rest of this question more or less answered in question 3).
- You’re also a film maker – what sort of films have you made in the past, and what do you have planned for the future?
I made a documentary for the ABC about my journey by recumbent bicycle across Russia to China. It was called ‘Off the Rails: On the Back Roads to Beijing.’ Following on from that I rowed a wooden boat through Siberia to the Arctic Ocean with three mates. We sold the footage to National Geographic who made a documentary film. In 2010 I directed and co-produced a three hour TV series for the ABC and for ARTE in Europe. It was called ‘On the Trail of Genghis Khan.’
All of my films to date have been based on my adventures with a focus on the people, culture, and lands that I travel through.
- Was there a certain book or film that you read or watched as a child that sparked your interest in taking on big adventures across the world?
When I was a teenager I watched Sea to Summit, a film about Tim Macartney Snape walking from the bay of Bengal to the summit of Everest. I later read classic adventure stories such as Arabian Sands (Wilfred Thesiger), and the iconic mountaineering book Into the Void (Joe Simpson). I knew then that adventure was what I wanted to pursue in life.
- When you’re not on treks or adventures and at home, what do you enjoy doing during these down times?
I love reading, spending time with family and friends, hiking, walking, cycling, and surfing. I follow politics closely, and try to study to improve my language skills (Mongolian and Russian).
- In all three fields you work in, which authors, explorers and film makers were your inspiration?
In terms of authors, my inspiration were both fiction and non-fiction. As an 18 year old I loved reading Tolstoy classics, as well as the above mentioned author Wilfred Thesiger. In terms of adventurers, Mountaineer Tim Macartney Snape was definitely a big inspiration, as were Australian modern adventurers Eric Phillip and John Muir. My passion was adventure filmography. Michael Dillon, who made Sea to Summit was someone I looked up to. Amazingly many years later Mike joined me briefly as a videographer on my trek by horse from Mongolia to Hungary.
- Adventuring, like writing, is often a solitary and isolated quest – do you feel that the impacts and feelings that come with each intersect, or are there differences in how isolated you are writing versus heading off on an adventure?
It’s a really good question. I think I’m a naturally introverted person. For me both writing and adventure offer time to reflect and digest in solitude. On an adventure I love being out there in new environments, meeting new people, then retreating to the wilds and the inner of my tent where I have solitude and my diary. I think the difference between writing from the confines of a house, and being on an adventure is that the adventure offers more of a rich sensory experience. Adventure for me is about seeking new experiences, and writing is about reflecting on them and learning from those experiences, and preparing myself for new ones.
- You also run group treks with World Expeditions – which of these treks are the most popular, and have any of these stories made it into your writing?
My most popular trek takes us through the Altai Mountains in Western Mongolia. The route roughly follows the trail I took in 2004 during the early phases of my trek from Mongolia to Hungary. I love returning there. People still live a life mostly free from mechanical transport. They live with the seasons, closely tied to the land.
- When you’re at home, which local booksellers do you enjoy visiting?
Well until recently I lived in North-East Victoria in a small village called mount beauty. So the nearest place for new books was the local library. I think libraries are an underestimated resource these days.
Having said that, I am now in Melbourne, and I do enjoy going down to Readings in Carlton from time to time.
- Exploring and adventuring feels as far from the arts as it can get sometimes, but do you find that there is some intersection between the two industries?
Most adventurers that I have admired are people, like artists, who challenge society to think critically, and who have chosen an unconventional path in life. Adventure can take on so many meanings, but for me it is largely about the creative concept of that adventure. One I have come up with a theme, and driving question, I assess everything through that prism, much in the way that many kinds of art projects might be driven. Yes I believe there is a very strong intersection between the arts and exploration.
- Once travel is open again, where do you hope to do your next trek?
I had a trek in New Zealand all planned before COVID came along, so I will probably be headed to the South Island as soon as its possible. I also look forward to getting back to some of my favourite local hunting grounds in the Victorian Alps and Wilsons Promontory.
- Have nomadic people always been an area of interest – and where did this interest first come from?
When I was a kid growing up in rural Gippsland, I often used to try to imagine the landscape pre-colonial times. My Dad had a book about indigenous Australian cultures and I spent untold hours gazing at the photos. I wanted to know what it was like to live more in rhythm with nature, rather than locked in to human constructs of time, space, and land. those same elements drew me to Nomadic culture in Mongolia many years later.
- Finally, what is next in terms of writing? Are you working on anything while you’re at home?
My upcoming project is to complete a picture story book for 4-6 year olds about Tigon.
Beyond that I would love to write a book about living in Mongolia for a year with nomads, or perhaps following the trail of the Roma people (Gypsies) from India to Europe.