The literary life of EDWARD JAMES, author,reviewer, occasional poet and former pension adviser to the government of Kyrgyzstan
In 1552, as Edward VI lay dying in Greenwich Palace, a group of London merchants launched an expedition to send three ships across the North Pole to open up a trade route to China. They were loaded with woollen cloth and a wide range of English products to test the market.
The small fleet was separated in a storm off the Norwegian coast. Two ships pressed on to meet the pack ice off Novay
a Zemlya – the furthest any ship had ever reached. The commander, Sir Hugh Willoughby, turned back to winter on the coast of Lapland and try again in the Spring. The vessels were discovered in the Spring by local fishermen, the ships’ officers gathered around the Admiral’s table all stone dead. According to the chronicle by Richard Hakluyt they had frozen to death ‘twixt cup and lip’. He did not record what became of the crew.
This seems quite unlikely. In ‘The Frozen Dream’ I prefer to think that the officers were murdered by carbon monoxide poisoning so that the men could escape returning to the ice pack. The men found their way home by boat, except for the cabin boy who was left to walk home (he knew too much).
Meanwhile the third ship, commanded by Richard Chancellor, had found its way into the White Sea and made contact with the Russia of Ivan the Terrible, to be sucked into the political intrigues of the Russian empire, intrigues which the errant cabin boy was to frustrate.
My novel ‘The Frozen Dream’ is also a love story and a story about rivalry and deceit among the English, war and betrayal among the Russians and the struggle of an indigenous people, the Lapps, to survive in the face of an imperial power.
Go to the page FROZEN DREAM to read the Prologue, which won second prize in the Mail on Sunday novel competition.