Cold Earth tells the story of an archaeological dig in Greenland. The six narrators are excavating the remains of a medieval Norse settlement while becoming increasingly concerned about the spread of an influenza virus back home. I was thinking of avian flu while I wrote the early drafts, but the WHO – rather disconcertingly – declared swine flu to be a global pandemic on the day of publication.
I think I can date my fascination with archaeology to an early memory of becoming obsessed by Skara Brae, the remains of a Neolithic settlement in Orkney, during the first of several childhood summers spent on the islands. I went back to Orkney a few times as an adult, always drawn by the chambered cairns, standing stones and pre-historic dwellings that shape the land. I planned to be an archaeologist, and spent the summer I was seventeen working on a Roman dig in central France, which was when I noticed how the developing community of archaeological workers mirrored the ancient community we were uncovering and thought that the parallel stories would provide the structure of the novel I intended one day to write.
After Cold Earth was published, several childhood friends made contact, remembering how I used to tell ghost stories at sleepovers and on winter evenings. I’d forgotten about those sessions, though as an insomniac child I certainly used to scare myself with dark imaginings, but – without exactly ‘believing’ – I remain interested in the idea of ghosts, the way their stories relate time and place to each other, the hauntedness of particular objects and buildings.
Jane Smiley in the Guardian
Megan Walsh in the Times
Adrian Turpin in the Financial Times
Jan Stuart in The New York Times