Today we're excited to chat with Tom Durwood author of

The Illustrated Boatman's Daughter.

Read on for more about Tom and his book, plus a giveaway!




Meet Tom Durwood!

Tom Durwood is a teacher, writer and editor with an interest in history.  Tom most recently taught English Composition and Empire and Literature at Valley Forge Military College, where he won the Teacher of the Year Award five times. Tom has taught Public Speaking and Basic Communications as guest lecturer for the Naval Special Warfare Development Group at the Dam’s Neck Annex of the Naval War College.

Tom is editor of an online scholarly journal, The Journal of Empire Studies ( Peter Suber, Berkman Fellow at Harvard University, an advocate of the open access movement, praises the journal as “a new opportunity for overcoming access barriers to knowledge and research.”  Dr. Julian Fisher of Scholarly Exchange has also applauded Tom’s efforts. “Creating valuable academic content and then hiding it behind financial firewalls - the traditional scholarly publishing model - runs counter to the essence of scholarship, learning and sharing,” according to Fisher. “To see a journal such as the Journal of Empire Studies breaking that mold is exciting.”

Tom’s newspaper column “Shelter” appeared in the North County Times for seven years. Tom earned a Masters in English Literature in San Diego, where he also served as Executive Director of San Diego Habitat for Humanity. Tom earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard, where he edited an undergraduate arts journal and studied with David McClelland (Roots of Consciousness).






Meet The Illustrated Boatman's Daughter!

Heroes coming of age... and changing history.

"A series of historical novels like this is refreshing, and much-needed ..."

Lauren E. Snyder / Bookseller, Malaprop Books

Timing is everything. In the summer of 1874, sixteen-year-old Salima wishes desperately to escape her mundane life on the Nile. As the world flocks to Egypt for the construction of the Suez Canal, the great waterway which will join East and West, Salima emerges into a world swirling with powerful imperial forces. Against all odds, Salima and her friends Emilie and Mikal (and Salima’s beloved collie, Fadil) stand against the empires who seek to colonize Egypt. 

By a twist of fate, Salima and her new friend Emile are recruited to help the Dutch, and are drawn into a shadowy world surrounding the Suez Canal construction. As she circulates through Cairo and the lands beyond, Salima discovers that her people have been enslaved to dig the canal, working without food, pay or respite. She demands fair treatment, lobbying for decent wages and safe working conditions—an unexpected heroine to the people of Egypt. 

A second, more nefarious plot comes to light when it's revealed that the project's European financiers have swindled the Egyptians, and unless the terms can be changed, France and Britain will own Egypt’s jewel, and likely her people as well.    

Salima and Emilie travel south, to the Valley of Kings, to outsmart the assassins who stalk them. They encounter Khalid, the young rebel leader of the desert tribes. Growing love interests among the band of teen companions threatens to tear them apart, until a mysterious stranger helps them bring the past alive in order to save Egypt’s future.  



Tom Durwood draws on his background as an educator in literature to both educate and entertain readers in his newest historical fiction, The Illustrated Boatman's Daughter. Deftly presenting important literary themes like imperialism through the lens of a strong female protagonist, Durwood provides a dose of history for lovers of mystery and thrillers. The Illustrated Boatman's Daughter is an old-fashioned epic adventure story complete with swashbuckling fights, treachery and assassins. Readers will find revenge and heartbreak, anguish and love, secret identities, brave deeds in the face of overwhelming odds—and a new perspective on one of history's great tales.

Readers are also rewarded with a wealth of original illustrations by rising artists Serena Malyon, Niklas Frostgard, and Oliver Ryan. The story's dramatic visuals range from painterly portraits to storybook landscapes and moody cinematic action sequences.


A true pleasure … the richness of the layers of Tom’s novel is compelling. The forty pieces of art complete the experience. The events of this adventure story progress fast. Confrontations take drastic turns. Salima is a heroine in the true sense. She is captivating.From the Foreword by Fatima Sharrafedine 


Compelling … surprising ... strong characterization … a powerful draw.  

—California Bookwatch 


Amazon * B & N  * Indiebound





~ Author Chat ~


YABC:  What gave you the inspiration to write this book?

It has proven to be more of a compulsion than an inspiration, really.

Years ago, I began teaching a course on “Empire and Literature” at Valley Forge Military College. As I became interested in that connection, and started an online journal on the theme, I had the idea for a set of historical- fiction adventures. I wanted to see what might happen if I let loose a mixed bag of young protagonists at critical moments in history spanning a large timeline – from the Fall of the Maya to World War II.  

The perspective is that of ‘Engineering the Empire,’ depicting the rise and fall of empires through the viewpoint of the working men and women who built them. The aim is to show the people’s history as well as ‘history from above,’ a little like two of my favorite historians, Howard Zinn and Stephen Ambrose.

It’s a ridiculously ambitious idea, yet the collection is now up to about twenty stories, set in twenty separate eras. At this point, I feel that the stories are almost writing themselves. Through my characters, readers sit in on the first farmer, the American Revolution, the Benin Wars of Succession, Pharaoh Senruset’s reign, the Golden Age of Sail, the Boxer Rebellion, on and on. 

A companion idea has emerged, the opportunity to connect the stories with a recurring set of characters. This began as a group of retired seamen who observe the weather. As the stories have developed, this group has morphed into a network of mariners or navigators who share observations over the years. The navigators serve as overseers in my adventures, watchers who intervene to help out our teen characters at key junctures. 

YABC:  Who is your favorite character in the book?

The heroine Salima is my favorite. She reminds me of my daughter (Matthias from Seventh Company bears a strong resemblance to my son).  

There is a wide variance among young-adult heroes and heroines. Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games) and Bella Swan of Twilight, for example, are very different figures when it comes to class. Bella is a commoner who longs to join the upper class. Her father is a cop, she drives a beat-up truck. She desperately wants to join the elite class -- the Cullens, who are aristocratic, time-defiant, and inexplicably well-off. Katniss, on the other hand, is only there to overturn the existing order, or die trying. She is a working-class figure devoted to the downtrodden factory and farm districts, pitted against the purple-haired elites.

My protagonists are mostly working-class. Salima, in “The Boatman’s Daughter,” is more like Katniss. Her family runs a barge service on the Nile, her people are the workers.  She joins the national effort to build the great Canal, but quits when she realizes that the Canal is built on the slavery of the fedayeen. She comes to place the good of the workers above her personal interests.

YABC:  Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you've learned as a writer from then to now?

One: characters are everything. If your readers are engaged with a character, anything is possible.  

Two: perseverance counts. I am not a gifted writer, so I tend to make up for my talent deficit in doggedness. I recently found notes for The Boatman’s Daughter from the mid-90’s. Most of these stories have simmered for decades, waiting for me to arrive at the right configuration.

I have a high rate of written-to-used pages, 3 to 1, or 4 to 1, sometimes even higher. I rewrite a lot, over a long period of time.  So if I have a final Word Press file 40 pages long – the China section of the upcoming adventure, for example – then the ‘Notes’ file of unused writing is 120 pages long, or more. 

I once read an interview with Bernard Cornwell in which he says he writes his novels in a single draft, no outline. Boom. I am the opposite. The main story in the Ulysses S. Grant in China collection came easily, that’s an exception. 

In those pages that I do not use, the flaw is usually one of two things: lame or typecast characters and dialogue; or a lesser, inauthentic level of understanding. It takes me a long time to time to fully figure out these stories. The contours have to grow out of the realities of the times, and the realities of the characters. As my understanding grows and deepens, the narrative line re-shapes itself, and everything has to be redone. Then you have to go back yet again and unleash the characters, so that they act in some kind of natural, independent way.

I now have certain rules for myself. You can’t introduce a character without him or her returning into the narrative stream. No sprawl. 

“Earn it” is another rule. Try to earn the readers’ respect: if your action takes place on a dam, present the dam and its inner workings correctly A good story emerges from those correct details, at least it does for me. 

YABC:  What do you like most about the cover of the book?

I love that cover! A young illustrator named Niklas Frostgard came out of left field with this compelling, mostly-blue composition. It is understated, asymmetrical, and completely mysterious. 

I also love the forty illustrations inside the book, artwork that really guides readers through my narrative, which is constrained by my lack of talent. (see above). 

I spent days online, scrolling through artists’ portfolios. I was able to put together a global group of rising illustrators -- Faustine Dumontier lives in Paris, Oliver Ryan in London, Ardalan in the Middle East, Serena in Canada, Niklas in Sweden.  

I was careful not to give the artists too much direction, so they could make their own interpretation of the characters and settings.  Their work really lets the story breathe. I hope it helps readers enter the story. It took almost two years, but I am very happy with the results. 

YABC:  What’s on your TBR pile?

Books on architects --  

When I taught at Valley Forge, we did a study unit on architecture. This quickly proved to be a successful topic for all kinds of critical thinking essays and presentations. Everyone has opinions on Sam Mockbee and Mies van de Rohe (much less Zaha Hadid).  

I am still buying picture books on Shigeru Ban, Frank Lloyd Wright, and this new generation of memorials. The most compelling is a gigantic volume on FLW by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer and Peter Goessel (Taschen Publishers)


YABC:  What’s a book you’ve recently read and loved?
Jane Tomkins’ West of Everything is a book with effortless writing that delivers powerful ideas. One of them is that all modern American heroes derive from the cowboy hero: 

The hero, provoked by insults, first verbal, then physical, resists the urge to retaliate, proving his moral superiority to those who taunt him ... The villains, whoever they may be, finally commit an act so atrocious that the hero must retaliate in kind. 

Jane Tomkins gives a breakdown of this special American myth, with an extended set of symbols, structures and conventions. An amazing book. 

On my permanent reading-table rotation: Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk and anything by Rachel Carson. 

YABC:  What’s up next for you?

I am very, very happy with the way “The Illustrated Boatman’s Daughter” has turned out, so I am now deep into the process of generating illustrated versions of the complete set of stories. A big undertaking!

An illustrated version of “Ulysses S. Grant in China and Other Stories” will be next, closely followed by the “The Illustrated Colonials” and King James’ Seventh Company, an epic adventure set in 1609 England.


We have finished artwork in hand from Boell Oyino, Yu Yu Ming, Zelda Devon and three other young illustrators who all bring a great deal to the stories. We are working on a design scheme that ties them together. 

One advantage I have is that these great events are unknown to my audience. I am introducing young readers to history’s greatest hits.  “More and more,” warns the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “our students graduate from an American college without a basic grasp of our history.” One out of four students cannot find the Pacific Ocean on a map. Therefore, when I present the true circumstances of the King James Bible translation, for instance, it’s all new to my readers. 

YABC:  Which character gave you the most trouble when writing your latest book? 

The villain in King James’ Seventh Company is giving me fits. I keep driving down the same boulevard – the evil cardinal, acting out of a papal conspiracy to prevent the people from getting their hands on God’s word (i.e., the King James Bible).  

So many fictions fall short in Act Three because the underlying conflict falls flat, and here I have a legitimate, epic clash. I am determined to get this character right!  

# # #




The Illustrated Boatman's Daughter

By: Tom Durwood

Publisher: Empire Studies Press

Release Date: October 27th, 2020






Ten winners will each receive a e-book copy of The Illustrated Boatman's Daughter (Tom Durwood)~ (US Only)



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