My latest novel is taken straight from today’s headlines. It is about the illegal rhino horn trade that will see these magnificent creatures become extinct in the lifetime of most people reading this.
And it’s happening on our watch.
I got the idea when I ghost-wrote The Last Rhinos for the late, great conservationist Lawrence Anthony. We initially wanted to call the book Bloohorn, but the publisher said that sounded too much like a Wilbur Smith thriller.
He changed the name to The Last Rhinos, and I’m glad he did as sadly Lawrence died the week the book was published. Lawrence was one of a kind, and the title The Last Rhinos in a way sums up his unique and irrepressible personality.
It also gave me a chance to use the title for a Wilbur Smith type thriller.
In this book I have weaved fact and fiction in an adventure saga of what is really happening in the world of wildlife poaching; from rogue game ranches of South Africa where every whim – often illegal – is catered for to the streets of Ho Chi Minh city, where rhino horn powder is believed to cure every ailment from impotency to cancer.
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Bloodhorn (perfectly titled!) is packed with action. I loved the emotion Josie shows when she sees the rhino slaughtered, its horn removed. Very moving. It certainly helps move the story along, propelled by the strong emotions of people for these majestic animals, as well as for each other. It’s an adventure-conservation-love story all rolled into one! I don’t want to give anything away, but readers of action/adventure should definitely grab Graham Spence’s “Bloodhorn” for a good read! Beverley Scherberger
This was our first book and took us five years to get eventually published. Lawrence defied all odds to arrive in Baghdad during the Iraq war of 2003, and once there saw something you would expect to find in a dystopian Mad Max movie.
The few surviving animals were dying of thirst and hunger. The city was in chaos. With a few loyal Iraqi zoo-keepers Lawrence scoured the ravaged city, which had just been extensively looted, buying donkeys to feed the starving lions, tigers and bears that had not been killed by rampaging mobs. You may argue about the morality of killing one animal to feed another, but the logic was that there were many donkeys but only a handful of carnivores left at the zoo.
How Lawrence managed to turn around such an apocalyptic situation beggars belief – it’s all in the book.
When things had calmed down he phoned me in England, where I now live, and asked me to come out. I was on the next plane to Kuwait and from there he and I skipped illegally into Iraq as Kuwaiti bureaucracy was just too cumbersome for someone like Lawrence to bother with.
There I interviewed soldiers, zoo-keepers, aid workers, mercenaries and got a vibrant picture of a city recovering not only from the ravages of war, but also from the psychosis of Saddam’s brutal dictatorship.
Babylon’s Ark reminds that ordinary people do extraordinary things. And that war can unite divided camps, despite who is shooting and stealing. A surprisingly positive detour from the horrors of war. Genene Murphy
The Elephant Whisperer
Although the Elephant Whisperer is the second book in the trilogy, much of the timelines are prior to Babylon’s Ark.
Lawrence got the rogue elephant herd in the late 1990s and had pacified them before the Iraq invasion in 2003. In fact, during his lowest times in Baghdad when everything was going pear-shaped, he would feel the presence of the matriarch Nana with him, comforting him.
This has so far proved to be the most popular of the three books and the readers’ comments tell us why. It has action, adventure, wild animals, wild people and the African bush. A wonderful mix.
I initially wanted to call the book The Herd, a nice simple name, evocative of much of the African wilderness. But our publisher pointed out that many Northern Hemisphere readers would think they would be buying a book about cattle.
As it is, the title’s a controversial one and initially didn’t go down well in wildlife circles in Africa. Lawrence was opposed to it from the start, which is why we wrote a prologue explaining that he was not the whisperer; the elephants were whispering to him. Anyway, Lawrence has a thick skin – an absolute prerequisite in conservation circles – and shrugged off somewhat derogatory comments from fellow game rangers who had not read the book.
However, the name struck a chord with readers and journalists, who regularly referred to him in headlines as the African elephant whisperer. To Lawrence, if anything highlighted the plight of our fellow travellers on this planet, he was happy.
I have read many, many books in my time but none as good as this one. I can’t say how often I realised that I was holding my breath waiting for the outcome of certain events. At times the book made me laugh out loud and also brought a tear to my eye. Carol Dickinson
The Last Rhinos
The last of the trilogy, made even more poignant for me by the fact that Lawrence died the week we received the first copy hot off the press from the printers. I’m not even sure if he saw the book, although he did see the galleys and approved the drafts.
This book, possibly even more so than the others, shows how determined Lawrence was to practise what he preached. Whatever he did on his game reserve Thula Thula, he wanted to try and do in the ‘real’ world as well. And make no mistake, in conservation you have to visit some very rough neighbourhoods.
There have been a few negative comments about the title of the book, saying it was not all about rhinos, and that rhinos are not extinct (although if we don’t wake up, they’re heading that way).
Those comments are valid. Much of the book is also about Lawrence’s game reserve Thula Thula, the joys and heartaches of living in the wild, and the ‘last rhinos’ concerns a sub-species, the Northern White Rhino. Initially Lawrence and I wanted the title Blood Horn, as we thought that was a more vivid description. But the publishers said with a title like that, readers would think the book would be a Wilbur Smith novel, rather than a true account of fighting poaching at the frontline.
Anyway, I’m glad they stuck with the title as The Last Rhinos is, in my opinion, a magnificent metaphor for Lawrence himself.
In this story Lawrence and I tried to pull two threads together; the tranquillity of Thula Thula as opposed to the violence and mayhem in much of the rest of the continent. I like to think we pulled it off.
Lawrence had Southern White Rhinos on Thula Thula and knew from personal shoot-outs with poachers the critical threat these iconic creatures face. To save the species, or in this case a sub-species, the Northern White Rhino, he had to shake hands with the devil himself. He would need to go alone into the wilderness to speak to the world’s most wanted terrorist at the time, the leader of The Lord’s Resistance Army, Joseph Kony.
Lawrence did just that and made probably the bravest plea in conservation history to Kony’s second in command, Vincent Otti, as you will read in the book.
One of the more tragic aspects of Lawrence’s untimely death is that had he lived I think he may have achieved the impossible and established some kind of a truce in Uganda between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the government, but maybe I’m being fanciful. He certainly got further than any politician has so far.
Anyway, this is a different book from the others, and I like to think that one thing Lawrence and I did manage to achieve ‘literary-wise’ (being pretentious) is that none of the books are ‘more of the same’ sequels. I hope you agree.
The best book I’ve read in a long time, really couldn’t put it down. What an amazing, inspirational man, so sad he’s no longer with us. His dedication and the connection he had with animals, particularly elephants, is simply astounding. A must-read. M Connah