Allison's Book Bag

Interview with James Deem

Posted on: April 18, 2012

As part of my research into bogs, I interviewed author James Deem who has written extensively on bodies of all kinds including those from bogs, ice, and ash. Do you have experiences with bogs? Have you done any research on them or know individuals who have? I’d love to hear your stories! My interest in bogs also led me to a novel called Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd. Tomorrow I’ll share my review of it. Save the bog dates: April 17-19!

Allison: What interested you in studying bogs? Why Europe?

James: I was visiting the British Museum in the fall of 1989 and I encountered my first bog body on display there. It was Lindow Man, and as soon as I saw him, I knew that I had to do some research on the subject and perhaps write a book about bog bodies. I ended up writing two: HOW TO MAKE A MUMMY TALK and BODIES FROM THE BOG.

Allison: What is the most recent bog body to be discovered in Europe?

James: The finds are not always well-publicized especially if the body is not in the best condition. The most recent well-publicized body was Clonycavan Man who was found in Ireland in 2003.

Allison: Bog bodies have been discovered in Florida. Are you aware of others in North America?

James: None that I know of.

Allison: What is the difference between those discovered in Europe and North America? Why do you think there is a difference?

James: Only brains inside skulls found in N.A.

Allison: Which discovery is your favorite?

James: The discovery of Yde Girl in the Netherlands is one of my favorites, because she scared the two finders badly (they thought they had found the devil).

Allison: What information can scientists learn about bog bodies? Why is this valuable?

James: Scientists can learn what life (and death) was life 2,000 years ago. When they analyze the body, they can sometimes determine what the person last ate, whether the person did manual labor, what types of diseases the person might have had (based on an a skeletal analysis). They can also determine how the person died which may hint at certain rituals.

Allison: For more information, what other books would you recommend about bogs?

James: The best book about bog bodies (I believe) is Wijnand van der Sanden’s THROUGH NATURE TO ETERNITY. Don Brothwell’s THE BOGMAN and Asingh and Lynnerup’s GRAUBALLE MAN are also good sources.

Allison: You have written about other body discoveries. What interested you in studying buried bodies?

James: It’s not the bodies per se, it’s the fact that they are old and can teach us about what life was like in other times. The bodies become a kind of window to the past that helps educate us about a certain time period.

Allison: Which type of burial do you find of most interest?

James: Any historical burial can be interesting.

Allison: What is the research process like for you? (For example, how many sources do you seek out? How many hours does it take? How do you compile this into an interesting book?)

James: I don’t have a set research process. I just begin, usually by reading some books and/or journal articles and then go from there. Often I will try to visit museums or archaeological sites which pertain to my topic. I also continue to read as much as I can about the subject. I look for out of print books that might have useful information. In the end, I try to interview experts on the subject (once I feel that I can ask intelligent questions). This is often the most rewarding part.

Allison: You have written both nonfiction and fiction? Do you draw upon your research for your fiction? Which fiction book that you have written is your favorite?

James: My nonfiction research does creep into my fiction, but it is never planned that way. I guess you could say that I am interested in the impact that the past has on the present (and sometimes vice versa)–and I think that is reflected in both my nonfiction and fiction. My favorite novel is my most acclaimed: 3 NBs of Julian Drew (Houghton Mifflin). It’s a very different, intense reading experience.

Allison: What are you currently working on?

James: I have just finished a book entitled FACES FROM THE PAST: FORGOTTEN PEOPLE OF NORTH AMERICA. This book looks at  number of different historic skeletons that have been found in North America and that range from 10,000 to 150 years ago. The book discusses how the skeletons were found, how scientists have inferred what the persons’ lives and deaths were like, and then (most amazingly) how artists have reconstructed their faces to show us what these people might have looked like when they were alive. This book took me on quite a journey–60,000 miles to be exact (flying and driving). It will be almost 200 pages long (my longest nonfiction book) and will bring to life a series of forgotten people from the history of this continent.

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