Q & A with Author James Bradley Clarke
Which authors and their books were most inspirational as you grew into adulthood?
I was always most inspired by historical adventure stories. Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island was a particular favorite when I was a kid. I could relate to the Jim Hawkins character and I loved the complexity of the Long John Silver character. More importantly, Treasure Island is representative of my favorite type of story: A fast-paced, plot driven adventure with lots of lethal danger and rich cultural details. Jack Schaefer's Shane and Alexander Dumas's The Three Musketeers were both extremely memorable reads. I loved the adventures of both books and I was fascinated with all of the cultural anecdotes. The most important book I read when I was young was a children's version of Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey. The epic poem exposed me to ancient Greek culture, and it inspired me to have a life-long passion for mythology.
Are there more contemporary authors who have inspired you?
The works of Anne Rice, Nelson Demille, and Elmore Leonard have inspired me over the years, but I was more inspired by older literature.
Did you read a lot of fantasy and science fiction books during your teen and college years?
Piers Anthony captured my imagination with his The Magic of Xanth series and his Apprentice Adept series. Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain series was also especially memorable.
Is there a particular book that inspired you to want write fiction?
Gillian Bradshaw's Hawk of May is the book that most inspired me to write fiction. Bradshaw did an excellent job of interweaving mythology into a fictional story. I studied the book carefully as I read it, and I knew I wanted to try to write something similar in the future.
Did you start writing fiction shortly after you read Bradshaw's Hawk of May?
I started writing a manuscript a few months later, but a departure to graduate school led me to shelve writing fiction for several years.
What led you to write a fairy tale?
I wanted to write something special for my two daughters, and they were both enamored with classic princess fairy tales. The Disney animated films and the first two Shrek movies were a big hit with both of the girls. As they watched any of these films, my daughters would call out which character they would "be" as they watched it. I thought it would be nice to resolve this competitive issue by inventing two princess characters for them. I also wanted to take on the challenge of writing a new princess story that could compete with the classic fairy tales beloved around the world.
Do you believe you succeeded with your book, The Enchanted Necklace?
I believe I have succeeded, but the verdict is still out. As a first time author working with an independent publisher, the biggest challenge I face is generating a strong readership. When enough people read the book, I am sure an answer will be known.
What do you think sets The Enchanted Necklace apart from other fairy tales?
I think there are a few elements to the story that make it distinctive. The princess characters are young and stereotypically beautiful, but I make them extremely courageous and resourceful. The adult characters usually underestimate them. I also allow the princess characters to be vulnerable to danger without a male character coming to their rescue. I think the princess characters represent girl power, and I am pleased that I made them tweens as opposed to love struck teenagers. In addition to bravery and self-reliance, I also concentrate on the theme of loyal friendship. The princesses are devoted to their families and to each other. I don't think there is another fairy tale that deals with these two themes in quite the same way. There is also distinctive use of culture and mythology. Norse mythology is much less commonly used in fiction than Hellenic mythology, and I think Viking culture is not well understood by many people. The Enchanted Necklace introduces readers to both topics in a fun and light-hearted way. And lastly, I wrote my fairy tale as an action-packed adventure story to enthrall readers.
What inspired you to set the story in Norway during the Viking age?
I wanted a medieval European setting for the fairy tale that was less familiar. I’ve always been a Scandophile, and focusing on Denmark and Norway allowed me to incorporate Norse mythology into the story. Although The Enchanted Necklace is not a long read, I really like the way the story has an epic feel to it, and that is not by chance. I also thought it would be fun to incorporate Norse cultural details like clothing, food, architecture, customs and beliefs. Although my book is just meant to entertain children, they can learn a lot about Norse culture as they enjoy the adventure story.
Do you believe you present Norse mythology in a traditional way?
Yes, I believe I do. It’s still my own vision of Norse mythology, but I did my best to deliver what I believe is a traditional interpretation. The Norse were a lot like Native Americans in the sense that they were close to nature. Animals and elements of the environment such as rainbows and metals played a sacred role in Norse mythology, and I did my best to emphasize those features. .
Is Tunsberg, Norway, a real place?
It is a real place, and it is considered to be the oldest Norwegian city still in existence. As a harbor city with a fortress on a hill, Tunsberg also matched up nicely with the imaginary location of the bedtime stories I would tell my daughters. The town is spelled Tønsberg now, and I have pen pals who live there. The city embraces its medieval history with a big summer festival every year.
Why are fortitude, friendship, loyalty such important themes in your writing?
I don't think people reveal their true nature until they are confronted with the need to demonstrate courage under fire. The same is true with literary characters. An individual's ability to maintain loyalty as he or she experiences duress is a decisive test of inner strength. I think stories that explore these themes have the potential to inspire readers.
Do you plan to write a sequel to The Enchanted Necklace?
I certainly will write a sequel if a significant number of readers would like to enjoy more adventures with the Hedda and Silya characters.
What would be the next writing project you will pursue after you finish writing about the Hedda and Silya characters?
I won't really know until the time comes, but I am interested in more than just children's literature. I've been interested in exploring President Garfield as a literary character.
What interests you about James Garfield?
I started learning about Garfield when I attended his first alma mater, Hiram College. His story is so obscure even though his presidency and his assassination occurred sixteen years after President Lincoln was killed. A surprising number of history books have been written about Garfield during the past 25 years, but he has rarely been explored as a literary character. That's a shame because Garfield was an extraordinary man of his time. Almost everything Garfield did from the time he first attended college to point in which he was assassinated met with great success. I think Garfield would have been a superb president had he not been hunted down by a deranged lunatic.
Does President Garfield's story involve the themes of fortitude and loyalty?
It does indeed, but not in all ways readers might suspect. We'll have to explore that in another conversation down the line.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Procrastination is your enemy. Find the inner discipline to write fiction now. Do whatever you have to do to acquire excellent editing for your manuscript, and never stop believing in your ability to make the book a reality.
One final message for your public?
I urge you all to read The Enchanted Necklace to your children. Afterwards, I'll bet you all will agree with my opinion that The Enchanted Necklace is a new classic fairy tale that is as good or better than all the other princess fairy tales you enjoyed when you were young.