Elizabeth McGregor Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Elizabeth McGregor
Photo Credit: Steve Pallant

Elizabeth McGregor

An interview with Elizabeth McGregor

An intriguing look into The Ice Child with Elizabeth McGregor as she shares what got her interested in Sir John Franklin's expedition and the research she conducted.

What first got you interested in writing fiction?
I always loved books. They held such glamour and excitement--and a kind of special secrecy--for me, I wanted to be part of that. Opening a book is like opening someone's front door. I wanted to invite people into my life. I once heard an author described as "being loved by people she had never met". I thought that was incredible.

Did you base any of this novel on your own life experiences?
A whole series of personal changes set The Ice Child in motion. I had already decided that I wanted to write a different kind of book to the psychological thrillers that had gone before. Then, in the two months before I began to write, events took a more serious turn. My marriage ended, I had to move house, and my mother became ill very suddenly, and died.

So this theme of getting through the dark, on an unmapped route--like the ones travelled by both Augustus and Sam in The Ice Child--was also a very personal journey for me.

What got you interested in Sir John Franklin's expedition?
The setting was what first intrigued me. I was fascinated by the last few remaining wildernesses in the world; and I began to wonder what it was about the North and South Poles that cast such a powerful spell, even today.

What kind of research did you do?
I started by going to the Scott Polar Institute in Cambridge. I spent a long time reading through Jane Franklin's journals, but it was there that I came across Francis Crozier's original letter (see author's note). He seemed to have a premonition of the disaster, yet his loyalty and courage were faultless. And I knew that the book had to be about facing down the worst that life has to offer--not just enduring it, but taking it on.

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that the moment I read that sentence in Crozier's letter, I knew that I had the centre of the book right there in my hand. I had to tell Crozier's story. It was as if he were reaching out of the page, across 150 years. When I begin a book, I know roughly where I'm headed with it, but this was far stronger than that. It was an absolute conviction that this book was waiting for me. I was surprised by the sense of compulsion. During the writing of The Ice Child, I would also get the eeriest feeling if I were late starting work any morning--as if a lot of unseen people were willing me to get going. It really was the strangest thing. And I dreamed the same dream over and over--the crews walking towards me across the ice.

I was helped in the modern-day research by the Aplastic Anaemia Society, Great Ormond Street Hospital, the Anthony Nolan Trust, and those families named in the author's note. Beth Heaton was a very special case: she was born with AA, and her parents, who also had a little girl of eight or so, had already lost another daughter to a different illness. When Beth was found to be ill, her sister wrote a "letter to God" which was broadcast on the BBC in the UK. It asked God please to find a donor for Beth and not to take her to heaven.

When I spoke to the Heaton and Burrowes families, and to the Anthony Nolan Trust, I realised that I was talking to people who had lived through another nightmarish world, a world unknown to the rest of us….just like Franklin.

Probably the single most crucial person in the research was the transplant surgeon Paul Veys. I gave him the scenario in the book and asked if John could possibly be a match for Sam. Paul sat for some time working out the ratios, before deciding that a match was possible. I found it incredible that such a very busy person could spare the time to get interested in this story.

It's for the sake of these people, who daily face the trauma of transplant, that I really want the donor issue to get some publicity out of this book.

Are there writers who have inspired or influenced you?
I read anything really. A mixture. On my bedside table at the moment are Anita Shreve, Robert Goddard, Bill Bryson, Laura Zigman.

How has being a writer affected your life?
Oh, God! Well, The Ice Child has turned my life upside down and inside out.

I once had my palm read and the person said, "I see you in America, signing books. Surrounded by hundreds of books. But be careful the books don't wall you in."

That was five years ago. I suppose she was right in that although writing is my joy, it can also be very isolating. You are on your own so much, and almost forget how to be social.

Nevertheless, it had always been a major ambition of mine to see my work published in the USA, so now that it's happened I couldn't be happier.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Courting Mr. Lincoln
    Courting Mr. Lincoln
    by Louis Bayard
    19 out of 21 of our First Impression Reviewers rated Louis Bayard's latest novel, Courting Mr. ...
  • Book Jacket
    Transcription
    by Kate Atkinson
    Over her two-decade-plus career, Kate Atkinson has reinvented herself as a writer several times by ...
  • Book Jacket: Exhalation
    Exhalation
    by Ted Chiang
    Exhalation is an assemblage of nine short stories and novellas written by Ted Chiang, a computer ...
  • Book Jacket: Disappearing Earth
    Disappearing Earth
    by Julia Phillips
    On the remote peninsula of Kamchatka—tucked away on the far eastern corner of Russia and ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Women Rowing North
    by Mary Pipher


    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Guest Book
    by Sarah Blake

    "An American epic in the truest sense…"
    Entertainment Weekly
    Reader Reviews

Book Club
Book Jacket
Her Kind of Case
by Jeanne Winer

A highly-recommended emotion-filled legal drama with three starred reviews!

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Miracle Creek

My husband asked me to lie. Not a big lie...

A thrilling debut novel for fans of Liane Moriarty and Celeste Ng.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

I I T S Form O F

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.