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Danger in the heart of Africa

Danger in the heart of Africa

Look out for adventure, a kidnapping and a chance to put things right in CLOUDBURST, by bestselling author WILBUR SMITH, and CHRIS WAKLING.

Wilbur Smith's adult novels have sold 130 million copies around the world. His first novel for younger readers, written with Chris Wakling, is an action-packed adventure set in a rainforest in the heart of Africa.

When Jack Courtney is taken to the Democratic Republic of the Congo by his parents, who then disappear, it's up to Jack and his friends to save them. Jack believes their disappearance is linked to illegal mining in the rainforest, which his parents were campaigning against.

Here, WILBUR SMITH and CHRIS WAKLING tell us more about CLOUDBURST, the first book in a new series.

Q: What was the inspiration behind your new book, Cloudburst, and what made you decide to write for teenagers?

WILBUR: The Courtney family and where their children are living in today's world which is in danger of disappearing before our very eyes.

The fictional Courtney family appeared in my first novel, When the Lion Feeds. Our hero, Jack Courtney, a teenager, is caught between his parents who want to protect the rainforest of the Congo and his uncle, who wants to destroy it for profit.

I wanted to explore the resource curse of Africa and was inspired by what young people are doing to question what is happening with the environment.

Q: What are the main themes of Cloudburst?

WILBUR: The resource curse of Africa and the vanishing rainforests are central to Cloudburst. But my timeless themes of love, betrayal, and brother against brother are framed in a coming of age story.

Q: Can you tell us about the process of writing the book?

WILBUR: All of my work with co-authors begins with me and my fictional universe. Usually I am prompted by my fans on Facebook asking me what has happened to a certain character - what are they up to now? I will then revisit that novel and begin to ask myself my own questions.

Once I have some answers, ideas come to me for new stories and I share them with a carefully selected co-author, and we work on an outline which then develops, draft by draft, into the finished novel.

CHRIS: I heard on the grapevine that Wilbur was looking for a collaborator to write some children's adventure fiction with and thought it sounded an exciting project. So I pitched him some ideas and was delighted when he approved.

I read the Courtney novels as a teenager (my Dad was a huge fan) and wanted to incorporate the key family traits in Jack - including resourcefulness, bravery, and an urge to do the right thing - that can be traced all the way back to Sean Courtney in When the Lion Feeds.

We batted ideas for the story back and forth and then wrote the book in chunks, incorporating each other's suggestions along the way. It was a fun process. We worked hard to make CLOUDBURST an exciting read, yes, with lots of action and suspense. I hope the story comes at the reader at a good fast pace.

Q: How did you decide on its setting, the Democrative Republic of the Congo?

CHRIS: The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a rich setting on every level. It's huge, full of amazing wildlife, and - sadly - beset by conflict. Hopefully the story will draw attention to some of the difficulty the country faces, as well as its stunning landscape.

The threat to the DRC's national parks and the wildlife they sustain is horrifying, as is the exploitation of the labour force (which includes children) who work in the mines. The more people (of all ages) who know about these things the better.

Q: How much research did you do into the region - have you travelled there?

CHRIS: I've travelled extensively in Africa but haven't been lucky enough to visit the DRC in person. At the moment the Foreign Office advises against all travel in the east of the country (where much of the book is set) because of the ongoing conflict there.

Q: How did your main character, Jack, develop, and why did you decide to write the novel from his perspective?

CHRIS: Jack is a resourceful 14-year-old boy in a terrifying situation, trying desperately to save his family. We wrote the book from his perspective to help the reader experience the story with him, rather than just observing him in it.

Q: There are a range of supporting characters in the novel, who are your favourites?

CHRIS: I like Amelia best, Jack's good friend. She's super clever but socially awkward, as liable to put her foot in her mouth as she is to come out with something brilliant. She's fun to write.

Q: What would you like your readers to take from the novel?

WILBUR: I hope they will learn something about Africa, about the cruelty and kindness of mankind, the beauty of nature and wildlife and something about themselves in the process.

CHRIS: I hope readers enjoy the story, relate to Jack and his friends, and learn something about the DRC. And of course I want them to want more...

Q: Will we be seeing more of Jack and his friends then, do you have more Courtney novels planned?

CHRIS: Yes! Jack's next adventure is called THUNDERBOLT. He and his friends are captured by Somali pirates and imprisoned in a child-soldier training camp. There's a third story called SHOCKWAVE in the works too.

Q: Where is your favourite place and time to write, and what are you writing now?

CHRIS: I write anywhere and everywhere. Currently my favourite spot is in the kitchen next to the dog and the fire.

Q: Would you be keen to visit the places Jack sees in this novel? What has been your most adventurous journey to date?

CHRIS: I'd love to visit the DRC, yes, and I'm hoping to go to the arctic circle to research another of story. I've been on safari in Tanzania and hiked in the Kashmiri Himalayas in the past; both were jaw-dropping places.

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