The literary life of EDWARD JAMES, author,reviewer, occasional poet and former pension adviser to the government of Kyrgyzstan
Jennifer Macaire kindly interviewed me on her blog.
Edward James wrote The Frozen Dream, a book that impressed me with its plot, characters, writing, and also the research!
Jennifer: On your blog, you tell about your life and work, and I was much
impressed to see you’d written about economics and poverty in Europe* –
no wonder your book about living with Russia and the Sami rang so true!
Have you ever been to visit the Sami people? Is it something you’d like to do?
Edward: I had a brief contact with the Sami people before writing my book,
on a voyage up the Norwegian coast on the ‘Coastal Express’, during which
I also visited the Lofoten Islands, Vardo (Wardhouse) and North Cape.
After writing the book I went to central Finland, where much of the action was set,
to learn cross-country ski-ing, like my hero Arthur.
I also visited a family of reindeer herders and they took me for a hair raising ride
on a reindeer sleigh!
Alas, I am not so good at time travel as your Ashley.
Since the 16th century the area inhabited by the Sami has shrunk by about half,
and the place where I met the herders has been settled by the Finns since the 17th
century, although I was told there were still some families of Sami descent.
The Finnish settlers adopted the Sami dress and lifestyle but not their language or
religion. Today they follow their herds on skidoos and most have second jobs –
e.g. lecturing at the local technical college. Nor can the reindeer range as they did,
thanks to international frontiers which have divided Lapland. Yes, I would like to
meet the real Sami but their Finnish neighbours are extremely hospitable.
Jennifer: I liked Arthur, the plucky cabin-boy, and thought his character came
across just as realistic as Richard, who was a real person! Did you plan for his
character to become so important to the story? What would a sequel be like featuring Arthur and Kate, I wonder?
Edward: I was inspired by the real life story of Richard Chancellor and Arthur
was introduced to give a voice from the lower deck. However, like Kate,
he became more real to me than Richard.
When Kate and Arthur get together, the intention is that Arthur will run the
trading enterprise and Kate will look after the political side, essential in the
managed economy of the Tudors. Of course Queen Mary’s death will change
all that and Kate’s religion and role under Mary will become a liability.
But they will find a way around that and the break with Europe will force
England to find other markets.
Jennifer: When you wrote the book, did you have it all plotted out, or did you
write usinghistory as a sort of framework and simply advancing, waitng to see
what would happen?
Edward: The plot evolved. I knew Richard would get lost and end up in Russia
and that Sir Hugh would die in the Arctic but the Sami came into the story to
rescue Arthur and then the whole Sami adventure flowed from there.
Jennifer: Kate is an interesting character, it’s rare to find a strong, independent
woman in historical fiction. Why did you choose to create her?
Edward: Originally she was there to be part of the audience in the investors meeting
and was just going to wait until the male adventurers came home. Gradually she
became more pro-active. She starts out as a failed businesswoman looking for a rich
husband to bail her out and ends up as a successful businesswoman – thanks to saving
London for Queen Mary – who can marry whoever she chooses, regardless of wealth
The model for Kate is Dorothy Wadham, the founder of my college at Oxford.
She was the widow of a rich West Country cloth merchant who decided to use her
money to set up an Oxford college. The fact that she was a woman and a Catholic
(by then Elizabeth was on the throne) didn’t seem to be a problem.
She petitioned for the charter and was a very hands-on benefactoress,
taking a firm role in choosing the college Fellows, even though they had to be male
and Protestant. Fittingly, her college became (370 years later) the first mixed college
One agent told me that Kate did not ‘reflect the subservient role of women in
Tudor society’ – nobody told that to Dorothy.
Jennifer: So much research went into that book, and there are several pages on your blog telling about it. If you write another book, will you set it in the same time period,
or does another time period appeal to you?
Edward: My second novel, Freedom’s Pilgrim, is based on another of the stories in
Hakluyt’s Navigations, published in1589. It is probably the best known story, about
14 year old Miles Philips who was marooned on the coast of Mexico and spent 17
years finding his way home. That was published by Endeavour Press, which has
now gone into liquidation, so it is looking for a new home. My third novel,
Beyond the Big River, is not finished yet. It concerns three of Miles’ shipmates who
instead of striking south head off over the Rio Grande and eventually reach Canada,
through territory never visited by Europeans.
Jennifer: Thank you for answering my questions! I will be looking for your other
books – let me know when they are published!
* Dennett, J., E. James, G. Room and P. Watson (1982), Europe Against Poverty: the European Poverty Programme 1975-80, London: Bedford Square Press