The Age of Ice, is J.M. Sidorova’s first published novel. I attended Clarion West with Julia and her work has always been fascinating and dense. Her first novel offers the reader the promise of more good things to come.
The Age of Ice is a very dense novel. The language is beautiful, the world is rich and you have a very intriguing character with an intriguing condition. What was the source of inspiration for your main character and what made you decide to give him this particular condition?
It so happens that The Age of Ice has a very specific point of origin. One day in 2006 I was reading the New Yorker article called Ice Renaissance written by Elif Batuman. The article described two actual events: the building, in 1740, of an Ice Palace in St. Petersburg, and then the palace’s recreation in 2006. The first time, the palace was built as a figment of imagination of the ruling empress, an ultimate of courtly entertainment, as exotic as it was savage: two jesters were forced to wed and spend their wedding night in the ice palace. The second time around — the palace was built as a tourist attraction, with kids climbing all over ice balustrades and ice cannons. Like the author of the article, I am fascinated by these kinds of ironies and haunts of history. When I next read that there was an actual child, a boy, born to the ice-wed parents, I knew I had to write a novel about it. All I did was add another boy to the narrative, a non-identical twin. It was self-evident to me that because of the circumstances of their conception, the boys would be extraordinary. One, Alexander, would be different in a very profound way. Another, Andrei —in a way that was more subtle but nonetheless important to the story.
It’s a great debut novel, Julia. What was the most challenging part of writing it? How did you overcome that challenge?
Thank you. There was more than one challenge along the way. One of the bigger, if not the biggest one was probably my self-imposed challenge to adhere to historical facts, big and small, on the one hand, and on the other, to “own” the historical characters whom I invited into the narrative, to be able to take over their voices, make their decisions for them, and ultimately, to make a story and a plot out of their lives. How did I overcome this challenge? By writing and rewriting some parts of the book three-four times.
How much research did you have to put into this novel? What was the resource that was most helpful to you in the writing of it?
A lot. There were many different kinds of resources, each helpful in its own way. Books in Russian, in English. Any old (a hundred, two hundred year-old) British books or periodicals, relevant and seemingly irrelevant, digitized by Project Guttenberg or Google, or reprinted by small publishers who are dedicated to old, odd, obscure books. YouTube videos in which some retired guy lovingly put together a manual on how to shoot a circa 18th century black powder pistol. Folks who do reenactments of Napoleonic battles. The library of my university, where you can go and ask for some quality time with a two-hundred year-old book of beautiful drawings, a tome so frail you have to rest it on foam blocks to open it.
Say someone decided to turn your novel into a film and wanted you to play one of the characters, who would you choose to be and why?
Now that’s a hard question. Unfortunately, most of the parts are not for me – people are either too old or too young, or of another ethnicity or the wrong gender. I was in a school play once, in a leading role, and in retrospect I do not think I did a very good job. So I guess I’ll take some minor supporting role or a cameo, like that of a Princess Dashkova — look all important in a corset and a crinoline and speak only three lines or so.
What has been the most interesting experience about being a published novelist?
Hmm. I haven’t been a published novelist for long enough to collect observations that might be particularly interesting. In general, it is curious how nothing really changed and yet it has. I think I now expect —demand — more of myself, too, though I still do not know what I am doing, half the time. It will be an interesting journey out.
Where can we find you on the internet?
Thanks for your time, Julia. Big Sis Weng’s review of The Age of Ice is here as are links to where you can obtain a copy of the book. Julia is also offering a free copy of a companion story to The Age Ice through Amazon. Get your free copy of The Colors of Cold.