In 1850 young Scottish tree-hunter John Jeffrey is dispatched by an elite group of Victorian subscribers to seek highly-prized exotic tree species in North America. An early letter home tells of a 1200 mile transcontinental journey on foot. Later, tantalising botanical samples arrive from British Columbia, Oregon and California, yet early promise soon withers. Three years after setting out John Jeffrey disappears without a trace. Was he lost to love, violence or the Gold Rush?
The secrets of the extraordinary adventure lie in his precious journals which remained lost, until their discovery, 160 years later. Green Gold is a fictional biography based on a true story told by Gabriel Hemery, a contemporary tree-hunter, forest scientist and author of award-winning The New Sylva.
Shasta Valley, California, 25th October 1852
I remember it was a big sky, and lonely of clouds, at it surely forewarned a sharp night. Therefore, I raised a modest fire and added an extra layer of springy branches under my bedroll as a spectacular red sun descended between two giant boulders before me. Thus prepared I drifted to sleep, lying with some satisfaction beneath the canopy of another fine specimen of the new pine I had discovered a day or two before. A myriad of stars flickered between its gently swaying branches.
Sometime later while wrapped tightly in a meagre blanket, my hat drawn deep down over my head, such was the cold, I was woken by a great weight upon my chest. It has been more than one month since I last enjoyed close human comfort and I became alert immediately.
Yet, before I could react a terrible pain lanced my cheek, and I found my face to be held in a foul stinking vice. Despite finding myself blind, and with one arm caught between blanket and beast, with the other I managed to strike out, my bare hand encountering solid fur-clad muscle. So short was the coat of my foe there was no handhold. I thought then that I was confronted, not by a Grizzly, but most likely a Mountain Lion. I raised my legs to grapple with its body and rolled over to one side. I felt the flesh on my face tear open as I felt for my gun. With the stock I aimed a blow blindly at its body and, on making satisfying contact, felt its jaws loosen. Yet still it did not retreat, its claws raking my body. I fought viciously with every limb and ounce of my strength for what seemed many minutes, but must have been mere seconds, before it fled. By the time I had torn the remains of the hat off my head, I managed to glimpse only its long tail disappearing between the two boulders where the sun had earlier retreated. Yet there it paused to turn and stare. I feared for a moment it was to return, its unblinking eyes reflecting two startling golden moons, yet it evidently decided that discretion was the better part of valour. With a turn of its head it was eclipsed by the night.
I'll be talking about GREEN GOLD at Oxford Blackwells on Friday 13th October (19:00-20:00).
The event is a 'pledge party' organised by the publishers Unbound, and I'll be keeping good company with five other Unbound authors offering short talks on an eclectic selection of topics. It promises to be an interesting evening.
Kalypso Nicolaidis – Exodus, Reckoning, Sacrifice: Three Meanings…
Drawing of the cone from a Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi) by Nicola Macartney.
Botanical artist Nicola Macartney and I are collaborating to help make an exhibition together at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RGBE) in 2018. Nicola is hunting for plant material associated with John Jeffrey, the main protaganist in GREEN GOLD. Some reward levels include an invitation to the exhibition and other…
Now I've completed the draft of my first full-length novel—a work of historical fiction—I feel as though I travelled alongside my protagonist as he walked thousands of miles across North America in search of plants. Yet I went on a very real journey myself, learning about Victorian exploration, the wildernesses of North America, the Gold Rush, and Native Americans. Then further challenges came…
Behind the scenes I've been collaborating closely with Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) ever since starting work on GREEN GOLD.
Plant-hunter John Jeffrey, the main protagonist in Green Gold, was employed by RBGE, and his exploits managed by a newly formed group - the Oregon Botanical Association. I therefore relied on the archives of RBGE for my research as it holds many letters and the…
John Jeffrey, the main character in my latest book Green Gold, walked, paddled and rode at least 10,000 miles across North America while hunting for plants from 1850-4. During the two years I spent researching and writing the book I plotted his travels in detail and can now publish the route in full for the first time.
After sailing 2,600 nautical miles from London, via Stromness in the Orkney…
In September 1852 young Scottish plant hunter John Jeffrey came across an attractive flowering plant in northern California. After samples were received by his sponsors at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh it was named in his honour.
Jeffrey's shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi) is also known as Sierra shooting star or tall mountain shooting star. Its glowing pink flowers, which appear between…
I'm delighted to see my first book with Unbound Publishing launched.
It's taken two years of research and writing, interupted frequently by a busy day job, to reach this day yet I've enjoyed writing the story more than I ever imagined.
They say truth is stranger than fiction, and in the case of the true story of John Jeffrey I've learnt it's even more extraordinary too.
During the winter…
These people are helping to fund Green Gold.