About the Author -- John Gaudet

When I arrived on the shores of that lake, Lake Naivasha, to continue the research I had begun in Uganda, a program funded by the National Geographic Society, I concentrated on one of the plants that grew there, the ancient aquatic plant, papyrus.  As time went on, I worked so extensively on papyrus that African villagers in several places knew me as ‘Bwana Papyrus.’   Soon I was an expert on the plant, its history, its use in the ancient art of paper-making, and its general ecology.  Some of that work was discussed in the British journal, Nature, by Peter Moore, and on the BBC show Science Now.  Later my work on the lake was reviewed in The New York Times in an article by Alan Cowell, called, Kenya Lake Outlives Comedy of Ecological Errors.  Coincidentally, I married the grand-daughter of the author and famous white hunter, J. A. Hunter, formerly of the Kenya Game Department, which helped in understanding the history of the region and the lives of the early settlers.  Still later I managed environmental oversight over hundreds of US projects in Africa, in virtually every habitat, from savannah to coastal reef, tropical forest and the lakes of the central region, to city slums.  I’ve also been a Fulbright Scholar to both India and Malaya and was trained as an ecologist (I hold a Ph.D. from Univ. of California, Berkeley.)  I’m the author of forty scientific papers, co-editor of a book on African aquatic plant ecology and a former associate editor of the journal, Aquatic Botany.  My work has appeared in The Washington Post and local magazines, including Pleasant Living a bi-monthly magazine dealing with life in the Chesapeake Bay area.

Why I Wrote The Book – John Gaudet
“This is the bloody end,” George Whitehouse announced to the seven jacanas. Sure-footed, long-toed birds, they ran quickly across the lily pads floating in the shallow water of Lake Naivasha in front of his tent. One of the seven stopped when he said that and cocked its head as it listened. Perhaps, George thought, that was a sign that they were getting used to him. He continued to watch the one bird, which had definitely turned its back on its breakfast, the host of insects, snails and worms that lived on the underside of the lily leaves.
Was it ruminating on how peaceful this past week had been? he wondered.

  That’s how I felt as I sat on a log by that same lake.  I badly wanted to be writing something about what I had seen in Africa.  For the two years previous I had taught biology at Makerere University in Kampala during the early reign of the eccentric and brutal dictator, Idi Amin, a man responsible for 100-400,000 deaths.  I had traveled to Kenya to continue my scientific research.  In my spare time I began writing The Iron Snake, my first attempt at fiction.  I started with the idea that I’d write about a railroad and the way it affected a host of ethnic tribes and historical characters.  As an ecologist I felt I could deal with the habitats that it passed through, deserts, savannahs and forests.  After the first draft I realized I had left out an awful lot, especially about people.  It took me several years to correct that.  I had to find particular types in order to develop the characters.  Some came from historical real life, such as the African tribal leaders who knew and understood the implications of the railroad; others were modeled after resourceful white adventurers, including second and third sons of British aristocrats with no inheritance and thus no future back home. The amazing thing was that even in those days Kenya was overrun by unusual and interesting people, black, white, male and female, missionaries and vagabonds. Thus, once I began writing in earnest, it was easy to see how the main characters could get so involved, all in the face of resistance from the original owners of the land, the local African tribes.  Some of this action, by the way, foreshadows what happened fourteen years later with the outbreak of WWI and the bitter fighting between British and German colonial troops in East Africa.