NNFN: A Q&A with explorer and author Simon Chapman

Today we’ve an interview with a modern day Indian Jones who also just happens to be a non-fiction author!

Simon Chapman, a self-confessed jungle addict who has canoed the Armu River in Siberia looking for tigers, crossed the Bolivian Lowlands by horse, canoe, and on foot and taken his family on an intrepid trekthrough a rainforest in Thailand writes books and articles, for both adults and children, telling of his adventures.

His latest book came out last month: Discovering Dinosaurs, illustrated by Rudolf Farkus and Mike Love, is an adventure book where you’ll come face to face with all manner of prehistoric animals, crammed full of stats, wild pictures, a brilliant pop-up (don’t get eaten!), realistic artworks, journals, flaps and even… the insides of dinosaurs.


Given Simon’s love of exploring we thought that today, on offical “Take a Hike Day” we’d ask him some questions about heading off into the wilds and finding adventures. Here’s how our conversation went:

What motivated you to start exploring? And then to write about it?
When I was young I had a jungle explorer get-up for my action man and I remember playing all sorts of jungle explorer games, but the jungle exploration thing really started up after I started teaching. I read a book about a river trip in Borneo and it fired my imagination, so I taught myself some Indonesian, quit my first job and went to Borneo. On my first jungle trip – in fact after I had spent my first night sleeping in the rainforest- I had a very close view of an orangutan swinging through the trees in front of me. A couple of years later In Bolivia, I was bitten by a small crocodile, wrote about my experience and it got published in a magazine

In Discovering Dinosaurs, how did writing from research differ from writing based on first-hand experience? Is it harder or easier to turn it into an adventure?
It’s not all that much different. I read a lot and research whatever I’m writing about

What made you want to write about dinosaurs?
To be honest I’ve been into dinosaurs even before jungles. I’ve been reading about all the latest discoveries for years and liked the idea of looking at how expeditions went to wildernesses like the Gobi Desert or the Argentinian Badlands in search of new fossils to discover.
What were your favourite books as a child and what made you want to write for children?

I enjoyed imaginative stories like The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia and Watership Down but I was also really into animal encyclopaedias- and books about dinosaurs.

What’s the scariest experience you’ve had while exploring or travelling?
Sinking in quicksand. I was with two Australians and a Tacana Indian guide down the Undumo River in the Bolivian Amazon. We had built a raft out of balsa wood logs to get across a maze of river channels. Five metre long caimans (crocs) kept surfacing around us then our raft got stuck in a narrow channel. I went scouting ahead on foot and had gone about a hundred metres (and was out of sight of my friends) when I went up to my waist in slimy mud and swamp water. I shouted but no one heard me, then when I was at my most panicky I calmed myself down, spread my arms out and floated forward. Luckily my feet came up a bit and I was able to wriggle through the mud, pulling on plant roots until I got to hard ground.
Also- my torch suddenly going out in a burial cave in Indonesia. That was pretty scary too.

How do you conquer any fears or worrying situations that arise?
I don’t always. I worry about things beforehand but luckily – so far- when dangerous things happen, I go calm concentrate on getting things done.

Which is your favourite dinosaur?
Velociraptor- and the Dromaeosaurs which are similar. I’m quite excited by the fact that recent research has shown they were feathered, probably warm blooded and intelligent.

What would you say to the next generation of young explorers? Where would you tell them to go?
Read up on where you want to go. Get really prepared. Learn the language you need- even if it’s only a few phrases. Getting to really wild places is getting more difficult, but is still possible if you do the research.

Who is your favourite explorer?
Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett. He’s famous for getting lost in Brazil in 1925 whilst looking for a lost city. Before that he did a lot of exploring in the Amazon and found giant anacondas, jaguars and uncontacted tribes. I have followed his old routes on several of my trips.

Do you think we will discover even more dinosaurs?
Fossils yes. New ones are still turning up every month. Live ones. I doubt it- but wouldn’t it be great- a lost valley in the South American rainforest with prehistoric monsters? – I’d personally love to discover them.

Have you got any more adventures planned?
In the planning stages for next summer- possibly Gabon in West Africa, looking for lowland Gorillas- but a I’ve got a friend who’s interested in trekking with me into a huge canyon in Tibet called the Yarlung Tsampo- so I’m looking into that too.

What’s next in the series?
Discovering Bugs – which will be about insects, spiders and  scorpions, ranging from gigantic beetles and camel spiders the size of dinner plates to army ants and parasites like fleas and tapeworms.

Our thanks go to Simon for answering our questions! You can find out more about Simon on his website, http://simonsjungle.co.uk/ or by following him on Twitter: @simonsjungle.

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