James Wilson was born in 1948, and brought up near Cambridge, England. After attending a small village school, run by an eccentric but brilliant teacher who fired his enthusiasm for history and stories, he was educated first at a ‘progressive’ boarding school (which he hated); then at Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology (which he loved); and finally at Worcester College, Oxford, where he read History. While still at Oxford he wrote his first attempt at a novel (now mercifully lost), and began to develop his deep interest in native north American history and culture.
After working variously as a clerk at Oxfam, an English teacher, and an assistant in a children’s home in London-all the while trying to write fiction, and researching his historical interests-in 1973 James persuaded the Minority Rights Group in London to commission him to produce a report on the native people of Canada. This project involved an extensive trip to indigenous communities from Quebec to Alberta, and led to the offer of a Ford Foundation grant to research and write a companion piece on the Indians of the US, which was published in 1976. In the same year, at the invitation of the Canadian National Indian Brotherhood, James attended the first World Congress of Indigenous Peoples on Vancouver Island.
From 1976 to 1990, James was Director of Studies at the British and European Studies Group, an academically-intensive programme for US undergraduates in London. He continued to write during this period-producing articles, new editions of his MRG reports, and several plays-and remained active in native North American issues through his involvement with Survival International, a London-based charity campaigning for tribal peoples’ rights, for which he served (and still serves) as a board-member and consultant.
In 1989, James was asked to act as consultant for a British TV film, Hunters and Bombers (dir. Hugh Brody, Channel 4, 1990; winner of the Mannheim Festival Best Documentary Award), about the Innu people of north-eastern Canada, which involved an eye-opening trip to Labrador. A year later, he was commissioned as consultant and scriptwriter for a two-part BBC documentary, Savagery and the American Indian (producer Ken Kirby; BBC2 and A&E Network, 1991; winner of a National Education Association Award, 1992), travelling widely in the US to interview historians and visit reservation communities. The same year, he left his job in London and moved with his wife and two sons to Bristol to pursue his writing full-time.
During the early 1990’s, James made another extended research trip to North America and worked on several more TV projects, including The Two Worlds of the Innu (BBC2, 1994), for which he acted as Associate Producer. He also continued to write plays-two of which, Let’s Do It and Rough Music, were produced in Bristol. At the same time, he began work on The Earth Shall Weep-the distillation of his twenty-year experience of researching, thinking and talking about Native American history-which was published by Picador in the UK (1998) and by Grove/Atlantic in the US (1999), where it received a Myers Outstanding Book Award in 2000. The Earth Shall Weep has also been (or is being) translated into Swedish, German and French.
The Dark Clue continues James’ passion for historical storytelling-and finally returns him to his first love, fiction. It springs from a long-standing fascination with J.M.W. Turner and the disturbing ambiguities surrounding his work and reputation. It was published by Faber in the UK and by Grove/Atlantic in the US, and has also been sold to Canada, Germany, Holland, Portugal, Sweden, Spain and Catalonia. James is currently working on a second novel, The Bastard Boy, set on the eve of the American Revolution, which has been commissioned by Faber and is due for delivery in early 2003.