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Jeremy Page
What inspired you to write THE COLLECTOR OF LOST THINGS?
It is difficult to remember the exact sequence of events, but in terms of starting to write a novel itís a usually a case of parts of ideas coming together. In this instance it was a mixture of having a lifelong fascination in the Arctic, being interested by the period of the novel and wanting to write about an event in history that the world didnít need to see: the wilful extinction of a species Ė the great auk. In particular, I wanted to understand how a man in the 19th century might stand up for the environment, in an age when environmentalism wasnít yet an issue. I also wanted to write about obsessions, about a journey towards a frontier, and about an Arctic that Ė if not haunted Ė brings out the ghosts people carry with them. In the confines of a shipís quarters, surrounded by an Arctic void, this seemed exactly what I wanted to write about.
Is it coincidence that you chose to write about the Arctic at a time when it is in environmental crisis?
Thereís no doubt that the Arctic is now in a very precarious situation. However, as far as Iím aware it has also been in crisis for a hundred and fifty years. Certainly the research I undertook showed that in the 1850s (during the time of the novel) whale, seal and bird populations were being destroyed on an industrial scale. Historical novels are most effective when they are actually telling a story about the present, and it did feel especially pertinent to write this story now, as in fifty years time all evidence suggests the Arctic will be unrecognisable.
In all three of your novels, the ocean plays an important part. As Helen Dunmore said about THE WAKE, it offers "a powerful vision of a man alone and at sea, not only fighting the elements of wind and water but becoming a part of them." Do you have a particular affinity with the sea?
Yes. I grew up on the North Norfolk coast, where half of my world was literally sea, and I think as a result half of me probably remains sea water to this day. It was a huge part of my upbringing and remains a huge part of who I am and the novels I write. Iíve tried writing a Ďdryí novel Ė turning my back on the sea as it were, but the tide creeps up and there it is again. And I donít really mind - it makes total sense to me to have water feature so much in my writing. The sea is our frontier, where Britain meets a truly ancient wilderness thatís hard to find on land. I like its restless energy and its sheer size. When you grow up on the edge as I did, living away from it has the tendency to spin your internal compass, and you are always drawn to finding it again.
Your descriptions of the natural world are finely drawn and very evocative. As you live in London, where do you go for inspiration?
Inspiration, of course, is key, and much of a writerís life is about trying to unearth it. But itís a fleeting thing, and where it was yesterday is not necessarily where it will be today. Often the answer is to move, whether itís walking, driving or sitting on a train, motion seems to lubricate the mind. And in that way itís not always the destination but the journey that unlocks inspiration. But travel is not always the answer. Reading a book or watching a film is the most static we can be, but can be the most inspiring.
One of our Norfolk book groups read your novel, SALT, and reviewed it for us. They felt the descriptions of Norfolk family life felt very authentic and chimed with stories that they had heard growing up. They said " We wondered whether the author had sat in a pub listening to the locals and then written a story of 'Norfolk Tales' amalgamating them so that they all happened to one family."? Did you supplement your local knowledge in that way?
Growing up in Norfolk, the main job as a writer is to edit out what you hear because it plain wouldnít be believed in a novel. A dairy farmer called Mr Teat, another called Mr Milk, and two cattle handlers called Mr Bull and Mr Rump Ė these are all true. SALT was an odd combination of things from my childhood and things that might have easily been in it. Norfolk has a long coastline, and stories are washed up all along it. And if you want to overhear some of them, the pub might not be the best place: stand by the mushy pea stall in Norwich market for an hour.
Which writers do you like to read? Are there any who inspire you especially?
I usually manage to swerve this question, because it doesnít seem fair to single writers out Ė not least because there are so many I havenít discovered yet. Favourite writers are like favourite foods Ė it changes across the weeks and seasons, and needs to be varied to make you feel full and healthy. The last book I read was a proof copy of James Salterís new novel, All That Is.
What are you writing now? Can you tell us a bit about it?
A writer usually has several saucepans on the stove at any one time. In one of my cooking pans is a TV series Iíve been commissioned to write. In another there is definitely something that looks and smells like a new novel. Itís contemporary and so far is set partly in the Alps. Not come to the boil quite yet, but Iím stirring, and still adding ingredients.
Jeremy Page

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