by Margaret Chrystall
AN ambitious novel that blends fiction and reality takes part of its inspiration from the West Highlands after the author fell in love with the area.
Daniel James will publish The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas later this year after a crowdfunding campaign run by small publisher Dead Ink to ensure a print run for the title as well as online sales.
A former journalist for Newcastle paper The Journal, Daniel appears as himself in the book as the would-be biographer of a mysterious Nobel prize-winning artist called Ezra Maas.
As part of his researches into Maas’s life, Daniel comes to the Highlands and records what he learns in the book when he visits locations such as Shieldaig, Lower Diabaig, Torridon, the Isle of Rona and the Wester Ross coastal trail.
Daniel said: “I ’ve been visiting the Northwest Highlands for a number of years and I find it a very beautiful part of the world.
“The first time I went and stayed near Torridon was in about 2010 before the idea for the book came along at all.
“But as I was researching the story there were connections with the Isle of Rona.
“When I came across these connections, I found the area was one of the things I wanted desperately to include in the book.
“I think I’ve probably returned to the region three times in the last four years to do more research.
“I think the history of hotel The Torridon is very interesting with its connections to Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter, who was a pioneering mathematician and possibly the first computer programmer.”
Daniel also mentions other locations and businesses in his book, such as Torridon Sea Tours and the Gille Brigdhe (Oyster Catcher) cafe and restaurant in Lower Diabaig.
“From spending time in the area and speaking to people who own and run cafes, or who work at the hotel and live locally, you get to know so much more of the history of an area," he said.
“You find out the inside story.”
From Cullercoats in North Shields just outside Newcastle, Daniel’s own inside story is that having decided as a teenager that writing fiction was his future, his mission altered as the idea for his Ezra Maas story grew – and he became a character in his own book.
“I think the relationship between fiction and reality became quite blurred even for me,” he laughed.
“I think putting yourself on the path of being in the story does come with its risks.
“I made a commitment to myself during the period of writing the book that anything that happened to me while I was writing, I would include in the story.
“I felt that was the only authentic way to do it, good or bad.
“Then you are kind of at the mercy of things that happen in life!”
Daniel first published the earliest draft of his Ezra Maas story in the arts magazine The Bleed he founded and edited covering the Newcastle area.
“The story went out in the magazine in 2012 as a way of testing the water. And based on the reaction I got, I felt the idea was strong enough to be developed into a full novel.”
“David Bowie is in there and some living people have given their testimonies about Ezra Maas, such as the artist and writer Brian Talbot, one of the fathers of the British graphic novel.
“I met and interviewed Brian many years ago for The Journal and he has kindly written a testimony about the experience of working with Ezra Maas in the 1980s.
“It felt great to include him in the book.”
But maybe the hybrid novel-biography that Daniel’s book is – embracing along the way some of the playful ideas of the post-modern metafiction genre – makes perfect sense when he talks about his parents’ book preferences.
“My father is a huge reader of biographies, not so much fiction, whereas my mum was far more imaginative, more interested in flights of fantasy.
“The book I have written is somewhere in between!
“Someone who has ordered the book as part of the crowdfunding campaign has recently described it as ‘an imaginative biography’ and that’s quite an interesting term.”
Now Daniel is waiting for the next exciting moment on his book’s journey.
He said: “When the publishers got in touch to say they had read the manuscript and would like to publish the book, it was the news that as a writer I’d been waiting 20 years to receive.
“Now it will be amazing to share the book with readers who will inhabit this world I’ve lived in for the last five years.”
For more details of how to get hold of Daniel’s book when it’s launched, go to: www.deadinkbooks.com