- What is your “day” job if you are not a full time author?
For many years, I have been a teacher and tutor of English as a Foreign Language for business and academia, and I am also a book reviewer. As a teacher, I lived and worked all over the world besides the UK – in Thailand, Russia, and China, as well as the US and European countries such as Spain, Germany, and Italy. Over the last few years, though, since I started publishing my novels and particularly during these last couple of years of the COVID pandemic, I have been focusing on my writing. My dream is to become a full-time author.
- If you wrote a book about your life what would the title be?
Interesting question! I never really thought about it. I’m a very private person and am rarely even on social media, so I can’t imagine ever writing a book about myself! If, I did, I’d probably call it something like Girdle Round the Earth taken from A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a reference to my travels and experiences, or Earthbound: “bound” as in “going to” explore Earth.
- What is the hardest thing about being an author?
Although I have no problem with solitude and love my own company, I would have to say the hardest thing about being an author is being alone. Being a teacher, particularly an EFL teacher who travels a lot, is a very social job which not only requires sociability skills but also the gift of being able to connect with others. I’ve had the privilege in my life of meeting and befriending many wonderful people, and experiencing many different cultures first hand. But upon becoming an author, I’ve found the hardest thing is being alone in my place of work. It’s difficult because, among other things, you can lose perspective on your work. As a teacher, your immediate interaction with students enables you to ascertain whether your lesson and/or teaching style is good or not – if people like it or not, if it works or not. Writing is the polar opposite, While you’re actually writing, alone at your desk, there’s no way of knowing whether what you’re writing is going to be liked by others at the point at which they read it; there’s no way to gauge their immediate, visceral, spontaneous reaction. All you can do is wait for the reviews and that’s nowhere near the same thing.
- What is the best thing about being an author?
Creating my own world. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, something I’ve always had in my head, and now I have the chance to do it. J. R. R. Tolkien called it the Secondary World, the act of subcreation, and it is immensely satisfying. I love creating my world teeming with faerie realms and those of other supernatural creatures existing alongside the mortal world, with all of their characters and richness and complexities and internal logic. Because however magical, however extraordinary, however far removed from the human world they may be, they have to make sense unto themselves. Even the historical human world of the books has to be true to its own time and thus can seem to contemporary readers to be as strange as the magical worlds sometimes, because the past, the real past, is also a foreign land to us. That’s the challenge and that’s the joy.
- Have you ever been star struck by meeting one of your favorite authors? If so who was it?
Oddly, I haven’t met many other authors in my life. I once went to a book launch of the author Jill Paton Walsh at Heffers Bookshop in Cambridge, England, which involved wine and snacks and a reading from her. Afterwards, I went up to her with a copy of her new book and asked her to sign it for my mother – it was going to be my Mother’s Day present for my Mum. Jill was lovely and down-to-earth and approachable, and she wrote a beautiful message inside which absolutely delighted my mother when she received it. I’ll always remember that.
- What book changed your life?
That would have to be The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley – the feminist retelling of the Arthurian legend from Morgan le Fay’s point of view. It’s a phenomenal book, massively influential, and was described by Isaac Asimov as the best retelling of the Arthurian saga he had ever read. I first read it when I was 18 at university and it stimulated my interest in Morgan le Fay. And here I am, years later, writing very different books about Morgan, but acknowledging my debt to that first literary encounter with her.
- What were some of your favorite books growing up?
I was an avid reader as a child. I didn’t have a favourite book as such growing up because I loved so many! Books were more than books to me; they were my friends. I was a huge fan of all the following:
C. S. Lewis: all seven books of the Chronicles of Narnia
E. Nesbit: The Railway Children, The Enchanted Castle, The Phoenix and the Carpet
Noel Streatfeild: Ballet Shoes, the Gemma series
Roald Dahl: James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr Fox, and my favourite, The Magic Finger
Enid Blyton: the Famous Five series, the Malory Towers series, the St Clare’s series, the Naughtiest Girl series
Lewis Carroll: Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass
Louisa May Alcott: Little Women, Good Wives, Little Men
L. M. Montgomery: the Anne of Green Gables series
Laura Ingalls Wilder: the Little House series
Susan Coolidge: the What Katy Did books
Joyce Lankaster Brisley: the Milly-Molly-Mandy series
Frances Hodgson Burnett: The Secret Garden, A Little Princess
Lorna Hill: the Sadler’s Wells ballet series
Astrid Lindgren: the Pippi Longstocking series, the Bullerby Children series, the Lotta series
Eleanor H. Porter: Pollyanna
Helen Clare: the Five Dolls series.
I still have all these books from my childhood. They’ll never leave me, physically or otherwise!
- What books are currently in your to be read pile?
Although I write what is classed as fantasy, I don’t read a lot of fantasy – with the notable exceptions of Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Juliet Marillier, the latter being one of my favourite contemporary authors and a big influence on me. I also class my novels as historical fiction because I have done a lot of research on the time period so as to accurately describe the mortal world Morgan inhabits, and I do read a lot of that genre. At present, I have Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders and Anne O’Brien’s A Tapestry of Treason on my bedside table waiting to be read.
- Which do you prefer ebooks, print, or audio books?
Above all, I love print books. I get the appeal of ebooks but, as a reader and especially as a book reviewer, I like to flip back while I’m reading a book to re-read a particular page or excerpt or to check on something, and I find that not so easy to do with an ebook, Plus, I love the feel of a print book in my hands, especially one with a beautiful cover. So far, I’ve never listened to an audio book, but I think they are a valuable resource, particularly for the visually impaired.
- If you could live inside the world of a book or series which world would it be and why?
Good question! Apart from the world of my own books, of course, if I could live in any other fantasy world, it would probably be the Beleriand of Tolkien’s The Silmarillion – not the later Middle Earth of The Lord of the Rings but the earlier Middle Earth of the First Age of the Elves. If I had to choose a non-fantasy world to live in, it would be the Prince Edward Island of the Anne of Green Gablesbooks. There’s no literal magic there, but the wondrous beauty of P. E. I. so vividly evoked by L. M. Montgomery, with its unsurpassed “scope for the imagination”, would be more than enough.
Excerpt from Chapter I: The Deluge
Feeling very alone, Morgan hesitated. If she disobeyed Sebile again, she knew she would be in trouble. She looked up again, but there was still no sign of the Horned Man. Whatever was moving towards her in the sea was coming closer. She had to know what it was. Instinctively, she ran towards the shore and felt her way across the rocks that cut through the beach and the water. There she stood upon a rock as the movement came into focus. Her heart began to race once more and time returned to its normal pace as she looked, astounded, upon a sight she had already seen in her mind.
A little dark-haired boy of about her own age was swimming determinedly towards the rocks. On his back, clinging to him was a little girl, who looked almost exactly like him except for her slightly longer dark hair. The little girl’s eyes were pure white with no colour to their centre, wide-open and watery. She was blind.
Morgan watched the two children with fascinated horror, unable to believe what she was seeing. Were they real, this boy and girl from her dream? How could she have dreamed about them without ever knowing them or seeing them before? The boy’s wet hair was plastered to his head and his face was strained with the effort of swimming to shore while carrying the girl. Morgan remembered how he had refused to take her hand in her dream and how, after his refusal, the sky in her nightmare had rained down blood. She recoiled from the memory and for the first time in her life she hesitated whether to help or not. But then the girl raised her head and her sightless eyes seemed to look directly at Morgan. Still clinging to the boy, she pointed at her. The boy, still swimming, followed the girl’s silent signal and saw Morgan. At once he almost imperceptibly changed direction, swimming straight towards her.
As they came closer, the pain and exhaustion on their faces was too much for Morgan to bear.With the strange sense of having entered her dream and done this before, she stepped to the edge of the rock, went down on her knees and held out her hand. This time, however, the boy did not stop. He swam all the way towards the rock until he reached her.
“Help me with my sister,” was all he managed to gasp. Morgan leaned over, grabbed the little blind girl’s arms and pulled. The boy pushed the girl from the water until between the two of them they got her out. The girl lay on the rock, her sightless eyes staring up into the sky. Morgan then held out her hand to the boy. He didn’t hesitate, but took hold of her hand with one hand and the rock with the other. With Morgan pulling his arm the boy hauled himself up onto the rock and collapsed next to her.
“Are you alright?” Morgan asked them both.
The boy, out of breath, did not answer for a few seconds. “I think so,” he eventually replied.
“What about you?” Morgan asked the girl, who was lying immobile but breathing on the rock.
“She can’t answer you,” the boy said, not looking at his sister. “She doesn’t speak.”
Morgan felt a surge of sadness for the little girl. “I’m sorry.”
The boy looked at Morgan. Morgan felt a cold stab when she saw his dark eyes were exactly as she remembered in the dream. Before she could say anything, the boy said, “I know you.”
“What?” Morgan gasped.
The boy didn’t smile, just stated calmly, “I’ve seen you before.”
“Where? How?” Morgan demanded. The boy said nothing, but merely looked at her.
“Morgan!” came Sebile’s outraged voice.
Morgan started up and cried, “Sebile! I’ve found them! I’ve found the lady’s children!”
“You saw our mother?” the boy asked, frowning. He tried to stand up, but his legs gave way.
Morgan grabbed his arm to stop him from falling. The boy reacted with unexpected violence to her touch, almost as if she had wounded him. He pulled his arm away roughly and took a step back from her, almost cringing. Morgan was startled and hurt.
“She’s alive. They’ve taken her to the castle,” Morgan told him warily. The boy stood looking at Morgan, but this time, oddly, did not look into her eyes. “She asked me to find you,” Morgan went on.
“How did you know it was us?” the boy asked.
“I knew as soon as I saw you,” Morgan said. She couldn’t explain how; she had just known. The boy then looked back at her again, appraisingly and interestedly. This time it was Morgan who looked away.
As Sebile came running up from the beach, Morgan negotiated her way back across the rocks. “It’s them, Sebile!” she said breathlessly. “It’s her children!”
The fury on Sebile’s face subsided when she saw Morgan’s earnest, pleading expression. She looked at the boy standing shakily on the rock and Morgan heard her sharp intake of breath. Sebile then saw the girl lying without moving, made her way across the rocks and picked her up. “Follow me,” Sebile commanded Morgan and the boy, and they obeyed her. Together, Morgan and the boy walked the remaining length of the beach, which was now empty save for a few scattered remains of wreckage and clothing. The survivors and the dead alike were being carried up the cliff path towards Tintagel as the light grew brighter and the wind started to blow itself out.
At the foot of the cliff path, Morgan turned to look back once more at the sea. Like the wind, its anger and force were dissipating. The waves were still high, but not as ferocious as before and not as strong. Morgan thought with a shiver that it was as if the monster that was the sea had eaten until it was full and was now happy with the wreck and its passengers that it had taken that night.
“So you’re Morgan,” the boy said. He had stopped with her and was looking out at the sea as well.
“Yes. My father’s the Duke of Belerion,” Morgan told him.
Morgan could not work out if the words were said with hostility or not. Before she could think of a suitable retort, the boy indicated his sister, who was being carried ahead of them by Sebile.
“That’s Ganieda. She’s my twin.”
“And who are you?” Morgan asked coldly.The boy looked directly at her and this time she held his gaze. At this, the boy smiled for the first time. “I’m Merlin.”
Excerpt from Chapter V: Lights in the Dark
The Jack o’Lantern suddenly went out, plunging them into total darkness. Morgan turned in alarm. A smoke smell trailed into the air. Taliesin had snuffed out the candle.
“What did you do that for?” Morgan hissed.
Down on the beach bobbed another light. It was coming in their direction. Towards Merlin, Morgan thought with a little shiver running down her back.
Adjusting their eyesight to the dark, they gradually saw that behind the light on the beach walked the shadow of a man.
“Myrddin,” Morgan heard Taliesin whisper.
“How did you know he’d be here?” Morgan whispered back.
“I told you. I followed him.”
“But he wasn’t on the path. We couldn’t see him.”
“It’s something Cadwellon’s been teaching me. It’s called sen-sor-y in-vo-ca-tion.” Taliesin enunciated the words carefully, still in a whisper, sounding proud of being able to say such big words. “You focus on someone or something with your mind and you can find it or follow it.
Track it down. That’s how I knew Myrddin had come along the path to this place. I could feel him all along the way.”
Morgan was fascinated and slightly envious, wishing again that she could study with the Druids too. But she didn’t have time to think about that right now.
Taliesin was staring down at the dark cove. “I know this place,” he said. “My father told me about it. He brought me here once. All the fishermen know about it. It’s dangerous.”
The boy pointed out to the black mass of sea. “There are lots of hidden rocks out there. It looks calm because you can’t see them – they’re just under the water. My father says boats get wrecked here in storms, or they’re caught by the currents and run aground. They smash into rocks they don’t know are there. Lots of people have drowned.”
The memory of the big storm and the wreck of the Sea Queen came rushing back into Morgan’s mind. The screaming, drowning people. The bodies strewn on the beach. The groaning, dying ship.
It was hard to imagine anything like that could happen in this quiet-looking bay, its waves softly swooshing under the cover of darkness. She shivered.
“We have to get closer,” she said, trying to brush off her unease.
Taliesin didn’t answer, but nodded in agreement. The two of them grasped each other’s hands and slowly began climbing down the slope, trying hard not to make any noise. It was by no means easy in the dark, with no lantern and almost no moonlight, but they persevered.
Keeping an eye on her footing as they went down, Morgan watched what was happening on the beach. In the dim, distant light of Myrddin’s lantern, Merlin and his Druid Master approached each other. They talked together briefly. Then Merlin lit a second lantern handed to him by Myrddin.
Now there were two lights on the shore. Merlin and Myrddin parted ways and began walking to opposite ends of the beach, each with their own lantern; Merlin walking back towards the slope he had come from.
Towards the very slope Morgan and Taliesin were climbing down.
“He’s coming back this way!” Morgan hissed urgently. “Quick! Lie down!”
She pulled Taliesin to the ground. The two of them lay there still holding hands, flat on their backs against the slope, trying not to breathe. Morgan felt her heart pounding fast. Don’t see us, she thought fiercely again, watching Merlin walking towards them with the lantern.
He didn’t see them. He seemed to be concentrating on the number of steps he took. Finally, he stopped at a certain point on the beach and turned away towards the ocean.
“Ssssssssss.” Something sounding like a whisper wafted through the air. Morgan heard it, but couldn’t understand it. She turned to Taliesin. “What did you say?”
Taliesin had disappeared. There was nothing and no one beside her. Only the stones and shingle on the slope.
But she could still feel his hand in hers.
“Taliesin!” she exclaimed softly. “Where are you?”
“What do you mean?” she heard Taliesin whisper back. “I’m here… what?”
“What do you mean, here? Where?”
“Morgan, where are you?” she heard Taliesin’s panicked voice over hers in a low tone. “I’ve got your hand … but I can’t see you!”
“I can’t see you, either!”
“What? No! What’s going on?”
Morgan wasn’t sure. She let go of Taliesin's hand. As soon as she did so, the boy reappeared next to her, out of the air, as if by magic. Just as he had said she had done back on the path.
“I can see you now!” Morgan exclaimed.
“Well, I can’t see you!” Taliesin sounded really scared. “Morgan, what are you doing?”
“I don’t know.” But she had an idea. Let Taliesin see me, she thought hard.
Taliesin gave a small cry and quickly covered his mouth. Morgan glanced hastily down at the beach. Merlin still had his back to them. He hadn’t heard.
“Can you see me now?” Morgan asked.
Taliesin nodded. Even through the darkness, Morgan could see the normally pallid fair-haired boy was even whiter than usual.
“You were invisible again. You just appeared out of the air.” Abruptly his voice took on an unfriendly note that didn’t sound like him. “How are you doing that?”
“I don’t know.” Morgan said again. She tried to put what she thought was happening into words.
“It’s like … if I think I don’t want someone to see me, they don’t. I can make myself invisible.” She wondered how long she had been invisible before she had met Taliesin on the path. “But I don’t know how. I don’t try to make it happen. It just does.”
Taliesin let out his breath. “It sounds like what Cadwellon says,” he said soberly. “The way he taught me sensory invocation. He says you can’t force it. He’s always telling me you have to focus on the result, not the act itself.” The friendliness crept back into his voice again. “That sounds like what you’re doing.”
It was the whisper again. Louder this time, but she still couldn’t understand it.
“Is that you?” Morgan said.
“Is what me?”
“That whisper. Didn’t you hear it?”
“No.” Taliesin sounded puzzled. And wary again. “I didn’t hear anything … Wait, look!”
Down on the beach something was happening. Merlin and Myrddin both held up their lanterns facing out to the ocean. Myrddin was further away from them, standing on a particular point on the other side of the beach.
Morgan watched Merlin with interest. He had taken off his cloak. He held up the lantern in one hand and with the other he used the cloak to cover and uncover the lantern several times.
“What’s he doing?” Taliesin whispered in bewilderment.
It was darker than ever. They could still just see the white-flecked waves rising and falling on the sand, roaring softly as they washed ashore. The sleepy-eye Moon was completely hidden. Only a few pinprick stars pierced the misty black veil of clouds across the sky.
Suddenly Morgan started. She clutched Taliesin’s arm, making him jump.
“Look! Look out there! Can you see it?”
A light appeared out on the night-darkened sea. It bobbed up and down, then disappeared. Then after a few moments it reappeared again. Then it blinked, going out, then flashed again, went out, then reappeared again.
“It’s getting nearer!” Morgan whispered.
“It’s a boat!” Taliesin whispered back. “It has to be. It’s coming in to land! I told you it was dangerous around here with the hidden rocks. They’re using the lanterns to guide it in!”
Excerpt from Chapter XI: The Treasure of Trecobben
The Giant’s foot was moving again. Morgan hoisted herself more tightly into his bootlaces so she could ride on his boot without straining her limbs. Trecobben went back into the courtyard and swung the boulder shut behind him with a crash. He tramped back across the castle entrance and down the ramp, striding across his massive columned hall. Janniper and the other woman were scurrying back and forth like mice on the floor, up and down the ladders, throwing the fleeces into the clay pot. They were soaked and stinking with urine, their faces utterly miserable and desperate.
Trecobben ignored them, left the hall, and strode into an immense granite passageway lit with more bone-fire torches. Riding on Trecobben’s boot near the floor, Morgan saw they were going past a series of huge chambers from which she caught glimpses of more carved rock furniture and enormous, coloured tapestries hanging high.
She almost jumped out of her skin. Terrible, ear-splitting roaring was coming from inside one of the chambers. It was hard to tell if it was angry roaring or roars of pain. She heard Gargamotte’s voice, soothing and kind. Did the Giants have some kind of wild animal in the castle? Or animalia? It sounded like more than one.
But Trecobben went straight past without stopping. Soon he was descending another ramp, even narrower than the one at the entrance. He was going further beneath Trencrom Hill, deeper into the earth. After a while the ramp came to a dead end, blocked by a wide stone slab. Trecobben took one of the wall torches from its sconce and with his other hand grabbed the side of the slab, pulling it outwards. As the slab opened, a rush of freezing cold air escaped. Beyond, a dark, high-ceilinged chamber glittered in the torchlight. For a second, Morgan thought it was another crystal cavern, like the Spar-Stone Grave. But this was a different kind of glitter.
Trecobben lit several torches along the walls and the chamber came to life in an astonishing blaze of light.
Everything shone. Tall-as-trees steel swords with gilded hilts, glistening hill-sized silver cauldrons,radiant golden chalices, shimmering embellished scabbards, lustrous silk cloaks laden with sparkling jewels, gleaming bronze shields emblazoned with glittering gemstones – every single object in the chamber dazzled with opulence and light. Piles and piles of small round pieces of metal – gold, silver and bronze – glimmered invitingly, stacked as high as mountains. Resplendent ornate mirrors in all corners of the chamber multiplied the brilliance of all the treasures a hundredfold.Magnificent beams of light danced upon the high ceilinglike rays of sunshine, making the gloomy chamber as bright as day.
The glare was so blinding, the richness and beauty so overwhelming, it was hard for Morgan to take in. What was all this treasure? Where did it come from? Did it all belong to the Giants? Had they made it all themselves? Had they stolen it?
Trecobben was tramping across the chamber all the way to the other side. Morgan ensconced herself tighter into his bootlaces so she wouldn’t fall off. When the Giant stopped moving she looked upwards. Her mouth fell open.
A single, slender, Giant-sized pole was leaning against the far wall. Taller even than the Giant himself, it stood out from all the other treasures in the chamber. Unlike the others, the light that emanated from the pole wasn’t a reflection of the torches. It had its own light, radiating from within. Such a simple, ordinary object, yet breathtaking, beautiful, incandescent; forged from a lucent silver brighter than clear diamond and smoother than still water. A silver that was almost white, like moonlight captured and made solid form.
Morgan struggled to breathe.
She knew what it was. She’d seen it before. Not in life.In dreams.
It was the silver lance of her nightmare long ago. The silver lance that had pierced an ocean full of screaming angels and drowning people, wounding the very sea of life itself, turning water to blood.
It was the silver spear that had hovered in a stormy sky as lightning flashed and thunder crashed, as blood spilled out from the wounded land into the sea. The silver spear that had floated in the air before her, just out of reach. The silver spear that had driven her in her dream to leave the ground and fly after it, but hadn’t allowed her to catch it.
Artemis’ Spear. Diana’s Spear. The Sacred Spear.
The spearhead of which she carried in her satchel.
She heard Wodan’s voice, remembered what the Dark Huntsman had told her. “The spear was but a small thing when compared to what she stole from me. But now it has been stolen from me in return. I held on to the spearhead but the silver shaft was taken.”
And it was here. The silver shaft was here, in Trecobben Castle.And attached to it was a spearhead of a different, darker metal, not the original, the one that was meant to be.
She heard a strange soft humming, felt a buzzing in the satchel across her body. Looking down in alarm, she saw that she and everything on her were still invisible. Everything except the spearhead. It was shining from inside the satchel, breaking through her magic invisibility, seeming to appear from nowhere at the Giant’s foot. In response, the silver spear shaft itself grew even brighter, even more luminous, as if it were answering a call.
“Eh?” Trecobben muttered under his breath. He’d stretched out his hand to take hold of the spear shaft but pulled back as it grew brighter. In a panic, Morgan tried to hide the shining spearhead, but she couldn’t do it with her invisible hand.
“What’s this?” the Giant grunted to himself. Fortunately, he wasn’t looking down at his feet, so intent was he on the spear shaft. “Never liked this thing. Always something funny about it.”
Cautiously he reached out again and took hold of it. After a few seconds, satisfied that it was safe, he picked it up and went back across the chamber. With his other hand he took a torch and marched out of the doorway, slamming the stone slab shut with a whoosh.
In her mind’s eye, Morgan could see all the torches inside instantly blown out by the sudden draught. All of that fabulous treasure, save for the spear, lay underground in total darkness.