Blog Exploring the Past: An Interview with Professor Alice Roberts
Professor Alice Roberts is an anthropologist, author and broadcaster. Specialising in human anatomy and evolution, archaeology and history, Alice has presented more than a hundred TV shows. In the course of filming, she’s travelled widely and filmed in many different environments, meeting communities of hunter-herders and hunter-gatherers. She’s stayed with reindeer herders in the Arctic, learning to lasso reindeer and sleeping in a tipi at subzero temperatures down to -40C. She’s also examined hundreds of bones and archaeological artefacts at first hand.
Her first children’s book, Wolf Road, tells the tales of a boy and a girl from different tribes whose friendship will create seismic ripples in human history. It’s full of wild animals, huge scenery and heart-stopping danger and inspired by real archaeological discoveries.
First of all, can you explain what an anthropologist does?
Anthropology is the study of people - more precisely, the study of the origin and development of humans from a biological, social and cultural perspective. You’ll find that some anthropologists focus on human society and culture, while a biological anthropologist like me looks at how human biology relates to social and cultural behaviour. I’m often to be found looking for clues in ancient human skeletons - and this work means that I work closely with archaeologists, who study the physical evidence of past human societies.
What is your favourite period of history?
I like prehistory. By definition, that’s the time before written history. We have no documents from this very long period of time, and so archaeology is the only way we can hope to find out about our prehistoric ancestors and their ways of life. I’ve set my story in the Palaeolithic part of the Stone Age, when people survived as hunter-gatherers - hunting wild animals and gathering wild plants to eat, thousands of years before farming was invented. I wanted to immerse readers in that ancient world.
What inspired you to write Wolf Road?
I’ve spent years doing research in anthropology and archaeology, making television programmes about these fascinating subjects and writing about them in a factual way. But I wanted to do something different - to bring that world alive and create a story where we actually get to know Palaeolithic people. They may have been different to us in their day-to-day lives, and their incredible survival skills, but they would have had emotions like us - love, joy, fear and hope. I wanted to make my lead characters children - because too often we only think about archaeology from an adult’s perspective.
How would you describe your main character Tuuli?
She’s brave and courageous, but also thoughtful, kind - and funny.
Are there any plans for a second book?
Yes - I’m writing it right now!
Do you have a favourite place to write?
In my VW camper van. I’m a bit of a nomad myself.
What was your favourite book when you were a child?
Can I name a few? Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, Alan Garner’s Weirdstone of Brisingamen and Joan Aitken’s The Stolen Lake.
What is your number one tip for young writers who aspire to be an author?
Read lots of books. And have a go. Share your work with your friends and ask them to give you feedback on it.
Where can fans find out more about you and your work?
I have a website with links to other books, art, tv projects and events: www.alice-roberts.co.uk
And I’m on Facebook and Instagram as @prof_alice_roberts
Thank you so much taking the time to answer our questions, we can't wait to read the second book!
Published: Thu 10th Aug 2023