Sultan's Seal: Interview with Tom de Freston and Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Wedding in Goa, India, 2017. Photo: David Boynton Wedding in Goa, India, 2017. Photo: David Boynton

I received the following in emails sent to me from Australia and Hawaii. The British artist Tom de Freston and writer Kiran Millwood Hargrave, who live in Oxford, are a talented couple who have been together for over a decade. They were married two years ago in Goa, but spent their honeymoon in the Seychelles. By the time this interview appears online, they will be back in Oxford, having also been in New York. They always have their plate full with beautiful projects – books, and journeys. And sometimes, as in this case, they are not physically together while they happen.

The London-born Kiran Millwood Hargrave is a poet, playwright and novelist. Her debut book for children Girl With Ink & Stars (2016), published when she was 26, brought her international fame. This September her first young adult novel, The Deathless Girls, appeared, and in February 2020 her first adult novel (and sixth book) The Mercies is due to be published in both the United Kingdom and the United States. Kiran’s books are filled with myths, magic, islands and sea. “I’m fairly convinced I’m a selkie,” she admits in our interview, going on to describe the terrible storm that preceded the Vardø witch trial in Norway in 1621 – and inspired to write The Mercies.

In October the London-born artist Tom de Freston’s upcoming nonfiction book Wreck: The Art of Being Lost at Sea is – to appear in autumn 2021 – was announced. Tom’s practice involves the construction of multimedia worlds – combining paintings, film and performance into immersive visceral narratives – and this book is an exploration of the painting The Raft of the Medusa (1819) by the French artist Theodore Géricault and how it impacted his life, The story is also a personal one. “For over a decade, it became a leitmotif in my work as an artist,” Tom reveals in the interview. “But when my father died, the engagement developed into something more all-consuming and troubling: I became obsessed.”

Kiran and Tom collaborated more than once before, blending their imagination and skills to create unique universes. Even now they are working on a joint book, which is still secret but will feature a lighthouse and a Greenland shark. I interviewed them together, although each was on a different continent when I received their answers.

How often do you collaborate?

Read the interview on Sultan’s Seal.