Monday, November 23, 2015

Blog Tour Q&A with Sophie Schiller, Author of Race to Tibet

Please join me in welcoming Sophie Schiller to Let Them Read Books! Sophie is touring the blogosphere with her newest historical fiction release, Race to Tibet, based on the true story of a Victorian-era expedition fraught with peril and drama. I recently had the chance to ask Sophie a few questions about penning this exciting tale. Read on and enter to win a signed paperback copy of Race to Tibet!

By 1889 Tibet is the last unexplored country in the world. Gabriel Bonvalot is determined to be the first Westerner to reach Lhasa but lacks a sponsor. When the Duke of Chartres promises to pay his expenses Bonvalot agrees, even after he learns he must bring along the Duke's wayward son, Prince Henri d'Orléans. Along the way Bonvalot meets Camille Dancourt, the wife of a missing surveyor, who attaches herself to the expedition in order to find her missing husband. During the journey the intrepid explorers are besieged by freezing temperatures, volatile winds, mountain sickness, hostile Tibetans, and duplicitous Chinese Mandarins. Nearing collapse, Bonvalot realizes they will have to resort to force if they ever wish to escape Tibet alive.

RACE TO TIBET is an adventure thriller that will take you on a suspenseful journey to the Roof of the World.

"Fans of Jules Verne’s travel adventures will find Schiller has done a solid job of transforming an obscure real-life Victorian expedition into a thrilling yarn." — Publishers Weekly

Hi Sophie! Thank you so much for taking the time to appear at Let Them Read Books!

How did you first learn about Gabriel Bonvalot's expedition to Tibet, and what inspired you to write about it?

Gabriel Bonvalot
Thank you for having me! I found out about Gabriel Bonvalot's expedition in a roundabout way. I had originally planned to write a novel about Princess Marie Valdemar, an obscure Danish princess whose poignant life and tragic death reminded me of a Victorian-era Princess Di.  But while I was researching the obscure details of her life, I faced many roadblocks and obstacles, especially with regard to the Royal Danish Archives. Instead of giving up, I began to look into all her relatives, to see if any one of them might have written about her, but the only relative who wrote an extensive number of books was her younger brother, Prince Henri d'Orléans, a notable French explorer who paired up with another famous explorer, Gabriel Bonvalot to become the first Westerners to reach Lhasa, the forbidden capital of Tibet. This was a story that immediately pulled me in. When I began researching their expedition, I was so taken with their story that I eventually dropped my plans to write about Princess Marie and switched to writing about this harrowing journey to the Roof of the World. In a way, Princess Marie led me to this story, and for that I owe her all the credit.

What kind of research and sources did you use to bring the story to life?

Prince Henri d'Orleans
Primary resources are the best. Thankfully, all the men on the journey wrote about their role in the expedition in books and memoirs. I was able to locate copies of all their books both in the original French and in English translations, so I got a much better picture about what happened on the Roof of the World. I also read history books about Tibet, the Great Game and Central Asian history and geography. I spent weeks, if not months, reconstructing maps of their journey, locating obscure mountain passes in Tibet and Northern India, using Google Earth to track their journey. I also loved reading what other people wrote about them, namely in newspaper articles and gossip columns. You can learn a great deal about a person by reading their obituary and hagiographies, which I was also lucky enough to find. To recreate the caravan men (memorable characters in their own right), I turned to documentaries and articles about the Kirghiz, Kazakh, and Uzbek people of Central Asia, their appearance, their culture, their history, and their characters.

Did you learn anything in your research that surprised you?

K2, 1909 Expedition
I thought it was funny how mountains got their names. Like in the case of K2, the K stands for the Karakorum mountain range in the Northern Himalayas, and the 2 is derived from the notation made by Thomas Montgomerie during the Great Trigonometric Survey of British India. The British didn't know the local name for K2, so they named two of the most prominent peak K1 and K2 and the name stuck. K1 is actually Masherbrum.

I also was surprised at how many of these early explorers were really espionage agents in the Great Game (The rivalry between Russia and Great Britain for political and military supremacy in Central Asia.) I was also surprised to learn how much danger existed in these expeditions, with some of the explorers, missionaries, and caravan men ending up getting beheaded or hacked to death, or dying of dysentery, frostbite, or altitude sickness.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing this novel?

The most challenging aspect was setting aside everything else in my life and diving into the study of these amazing characters and their journey to the Roof of the World. Then I had to bring it all to life in the pages of a novel. That was very challenging but also extremely rewarding!

If you could pick any place in this world to explore, what would it be?

I would love to go to Tibet! I would also love to explore some of the Silk Road cities that appear in the novel, like Gulja and Korla in the Xinjiang Province, where you can still find the mud-bricked hovels and ancient bazaars that appear in the novel, and the Taklamakan Desert, where camel caravans still cross much the same way they did since the beginning of time.

What are you working on now?

I am working on a new historical adventure novel set in the West Indies called "Island of Eternal Fire". It takes place during one of the greatest natural disasters to occur in the Western Hemisphere in the early 20th century, one that has been largely forgotten today


We have a signed paperback of Race to Tibet up for grabs! To enter, see the GLEAM form below.


– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on November 27th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open internationally.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Race to Tibet

About the Author:

Sophie Schiller was born in Paterson, NJ and grew up in the West Indies amid aging pirates and retired German spies. Among other oddities her family tree contains a Nobel prize-winning physicist and a French pop singer. She loves stories that carry the reader back in time to exotic and far-flung locations. She was educated at American University, Washington, DC and lives in Brooklyn, NY. She is currently working on a new historical thriller set in the Caribbean.

For more information visit Sophie Schiller's blog. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Race to Tibet is on a blog tour!


  1. Thank you so much for hosting Race to Tibet on your blog today!

  2. Great interview -- so fascinating how she landed on this story! (Bummed that Marie's story won't come out, though -- I'm intrigued by her!).


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