by Margaret Chrystall
WRITER Sarah Fraser starts breathing life into the almost-forgotten prince who is the subject of her latest book, by looking at the tatty wooden model of him in Westminster Abbey.
For Sarah, her new book – The Prince Who Would Be King:Tthe Life And Death Of Henry Stuart (William Collins £25) – has been a chance to shine a spotlight on a golden prince who might have made an unforgettable king if he hadn’t died from typhoid at just 18.
"The effigy of Prince Henry was being renovated for display when I saw it," Sarah says.
"It was on a forensic white slab in the conservation room in Westminster Abbey, just lying there.
"And it struck me it was almost like an enormous cold case – what’s the story behind it?
"A biography is very often a forensic exercise – how do you put together this human being from what remains?
Sarah knows the drill, having launched her career as a historical biographer with her first book about the 11th Lord Lovat.
The Last Highlander: Scotland’s Most Notorious Clan Chief, Rebel and Double-Agent won the 2012 Saltire First Scottish Book of the Year and became a New York Times bestseller.
"The job of the historical biographer is you must make the person and his world come to life, if you possibly can," Sarah said, revealing her teacher Mr Ward brought history alive for her as a schoolgirl.
For Sarah, working on the story of the Jacobean Prince Henry was a chance to immerse herself in a different world.
Having studied at Bristol University where she met her first husband Kit Fraser, Sarah came to live in the Highlands and went on to study Gaelic, later completed a PhD in obscene Gaelic poetry and in 2010 married her second husband Kim Fraser, uncle of the current Lord Lovat.
"After my PhD, I had to decide whether to stay in academia which I admire profoundly because they are the people who break new ground in their field – or would I go to writing for a general reader?
"I always wanted to write but I had four children in six years and that kept me very quiet, wiping bottoms and mopping floors – and driving to and from Millburn Academy for a long time. So I’m a late starter," laughed Sarah, who lives eight miles west of Inverness.
"After the Last Highlander, I wanted to stay with history and then my husband Kim had a truly terrible stroke from which he has partly recovered and so I am his carer as well as a writer.
"When I read about Henry, he sort of leapt out of the page.
"And I’d be quite unashamed about saying that I was in a hurry to create a parallel world again at that point because it helped and it was a sanctuary. And that is partly what my writing is to me."
Sarah talks passionately about the prince time has almost forgotten – he will be with her, she says, till next year when the book is published in America.
And the writer is pleased that "an action portrait" of the prince drawing his sword stares out from the cover of the book in which she gives him a voice.
"You get a sense of contributing your little pebble to the cairn of history and I’m really pleased to have put that pebble there."
Sarah launches her book on Waterstones Inverness on Thursday, May 25 at 6pm.