Today I’m honored to feature an interview with Kim Headlee, a fellow Arthurian author whom I’ve admired for years. She and I were on the same Arthurian list-serve back in 1999 when I was first conceiving my own Guinevere books and I’m so thrilled to have connected with her once again!
1. Please tell us a little about Dawnflight.
Dawnflight is the first installment of The Dragon’s Dove Chronicles, a series that I hope will span at least eight volumes, including two which precede Dawnflight in terms of the characters’ chronology. Dawnflight features the romance of Gyanhumara (“Gyan”) and Arthur beginning in the aftermath of the first of Arthur’s twelve battles, in which he defeated her people and established the treaty clause that she must marry a nobleman from his side of the border.
Of course, treaties, like all other rules, are indeed meant to be broken. The trick lies in how to break them without creating calamity for all involved. Throw in an enemy invasion for good measure (battles two and three on Arthur’s list of twelve), and our heroes have quite the conundrum, indeed.
2. What inspired you to write it?
A combination of factors contributed.
When I was 7 (I’m dating myself, but I stopped caring about such things decades ago), my parents took me to see the movie Camelot in the theatre. The two images I liked best from that first viewing were Guinevere in her white fur wrap and the knights fighting on top of the Round Table and breaking it. Both foreshadowed the direction of my Arthurian fiction.
At age 9, I read a modern-English rendering of Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur cover to cover and became hooked. I began devouring every Arthurian title I could lay my hands on. In those days, that meant editions such as The Boy’s King Arthur, a version of Malory illustrated by Howard Pyle, an umpteenth reprinting of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and an almost-umpteenth reprinting of The Once and Future King.
In high school, my parents gave me a first-edition copy of The Hollow Hills, which made me thirst after historical adaptations. The highest compliment any reviewer has paid my work to date is to give it a favorable comparison to Mary Stewart’s novels; she was my primary literary hero in those days. She still is, come to think of it.
High school was when I first started writing my own version of the Arthur-Guinevere relationship. I still have a couple of drafts of that—and read them recently, in fact. What a hoot! 100% teenage girl, no question about it.
Then Marion Zimmer Bradley came out with her iconic entry into the Legends (Mists of Avalon and, yes, I have a first edition of that, too), which concentrated on “rehabilitating” the reputation of Morgan le Fay.
Through all of this—and I include the works by Nancy McKenzie, Persia Woolley, Sharan Newman, and Helen Hollick—I couldn’t find a rendering of Guinevere that I well and truly liked. So, as the adage goes, “If you want something done right…” 😀
3. You are a woman after my own heart! What’s different about this new version from the award-winning one released in 1999?
Glad you asked!
The most obvious difference at first glance is the inclusion of my digital line-art renderings of images engraved on Pictish standing stones found throughout Scotland, plus some of my original artwork inspired by said stones. These drawings function throughout the text as clues to the reader of an imminent viewpoint shift: the doves represent Gyan, the dragons Arthur, and so forth. With more than ten viewpoint characters, I decided my readers could use a bit of help!
Linguistically—aside from tighter wording and hotter sex—I have expanded my characters’ vocabularies to include additional epithets, endearments, insults, and mythology in order to more richly define their world. I never would have dared to do this had I not decided to include a glossary. Since my work has truly epic scope, I also include an index of characters who appear or who are referenced in the book. This index defines each character’s function in the story and gives other pertinent details.
4. I’ve heard you say that yours is a Guinevere “people will actually like.” What do you mean by that? What makes her different?
She’s smart (and sometimes a smartass!), she’s strong willed, she has a fairly firm idea of who she is and what she wants from life—and from her life-partner—and yet all that strength forms a shell around a compassionate, vulnerable core. She wants to do the best thing for her people but sometimes doesn’t have the first clue how to accomplish it and seeks approval along the way. Consequently, she is mercilessly hard on herself when she perceives that she has failed to meet others’ expectations. In short, she is very much a woman that female readers can relate to despite the fact that most of us don’t rule clans or collect heads. I once described the book to a coworker as, “a female assertiveness training manual.” It’s not far from the truth. Male readers can simply sit back and enjoy the view, along with the battles and political intrigue and whatnot.
5. What made you choose Scotland as the location for your novel when England is the traditional setting?
Several research works I read in the 1980s—before Dawnflight first took shape upon the page—suggested to me that the Border Country was an ideal location for Arthur’s military operations. Plus, I was attracted to the cross-cultural aspect of having Arthur be a Romanized Celt and Gyan a Pict (or “ban-Caledonach,” as she would call herself in my newly invented Pictish terminology). In fact, the more I delve into Scottish Gaelic to create Pictish terms for place-names, the more I am convinced that southern Scotland/northern England was Arthur’s home turf, in spite of what others may insist. The wording, in comparison to traditional Arthurian place-names and battle sites that nobody can identify with anything approaching certainty, fits far too nicely to be mere coincidence.
And, yes, I firmly believe Arthur, his wife, and their associates existed. To do anything less would be a gross disservice to my writing and to my readers.
6. I’ve read that you purposefully stripped your tale of the magic usually associated with Arthurian legend to focus more on the history. Why?
Oh, the magic is there, trust me! But it is the magic of visions and prophecies, the magic of prayer, the magic of curses and blessings, the magic of herbal lore…and most of all, the magic that happens when two charismatic individuals unite to forge a better world for themselves, each other and their people.
7. The summary for your book puts forth an interesting premise: Gyan (Guinevere) marries someone other than Arthur. What made you choose such a bold departure from previous legend?
Good question! I think it may have been inspired by some obscure, ancient tale…after having studied the Arthurian Legends for more than four decades, it’s safe to say that I’ve forgotten far more than most people know about the subject.
Actually, to be fair—and this isn’t really a spoiler alert—Gyan is betrothed to Urien. After she and Arthur meet and become attracted to each other, they spend the rest of the book trying to figure out how she can extricate herself from the betrothal without making Urien start a civil war.
8. Dawnflight has a sequel, correct? What can you tell us about this book and when it will be available?
Morning’s Journey picks up the morning after Dawnflight leaves off and follows Gyan & Arthur through more battles and family changes and triumphs and tragedies. And it delves a little farther into the relationship of Gyan and Angusel (Lancelot). Morning’s Journey will be available as soon as I can get a cover commissioned & delivered, since my copyeditor has given me her input.
9. What else might readers like to know about Dawnflight?
If you choose to buy the print edition, email me (kimheadlee at earthlink dot net) or message me on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/kim.headlee) for instructions on how to obtain an autographed bookplate. If you buy the e-book edition, I can mail you a magnet… but I wouldn’t advise putting it anywhere near your device!
10. When and where can readers find your books?
Amazon.com link to all available editions (this link format earns me a few extra pennies as an Amazon Affiliate): http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00BLNN6XS/systemsupportser
Nook e-book edition:
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dawnflight-kim-d-headlee/1003548584, which includes a link to a 30% discounted edition of the CreateSpace paperback.
Also available in EPUB format via Smashwords, and it is now listed in their Premium catalog: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/289281
In other countries – all English-language versions:
Apple, Sony and other distribution channels will be available as soon as possible.
11. How can people find out more about you?
Friend me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/kim.headlee. I like to share stuff about cats and Star Wars and writerly things and inspirational sentiments and, oh yeah, the occasional original thought. 😀
Thank you , Kim, for joining us here. I hope you find great success with Dawnflight, and best of luck on your future works!
If you have a comment for Kim, please leave it here. She will be monitoring this site periodically.
Today we have a very special guest, author J.P. Reedman, whose historical fiction novel, Stone Lord: The Legend of King Arthur, The Era of Stonehenge, was recently published.
Q: Thank you so much for joining me and my readers. By way of introduction, please tell us a little about yourself.
Janet: Stone Lord is my first published novel. I began writing fantasy when I was 11, back on the west coast of Canada, where I grew up. I had lots of stories and poems published in the small presses in the ’80s, and had a long foray into ‘fan fiction’ but slacked off when I moved to the UK in 1992—I was too busy traveling around and having fun! A serious illness ten years ago kick-started my writing again; I knew then that it was time to sit down and really make an effort, and not to think you had all the time in the world.
Q: Stone Lord is a very unique take on Arthurian legend, as most books about King Arthur are set the Middle Ages or Celtic times. What inspired you to set yours in the Bronze Age?
Janet: I have read all the different Arthurian versions, plus non-fiction and the legends in the Mabinogion. There were so many versions of the Arthurian legends I began to think that, like Robin Hood, there may have been more than one source of inspiration for the character. I believe there probably WAS a dark age Arthur who stemmed the Saxon tides for a while…but certain mythic qualities in the legends speak of an older time, long before the Dark Ages. In the Welsh Mabinogion Arthur fights monsters and witches, not Saxons, and his company have the thinly disguised names of gods. Then there were Geoffrey of Monmouth’s anachronistic mentions of the building of Stonehenge, a monument many thousands of years older than the historical Arthur. Add to that, stories of weaponry coming from and being deposited in lakes (a custom that began in the Bronze Age), swords in standing stones, and you start to see what may be the root of some aspects of the legend.
Q: In reading the excerpts from your book available online, I noticed the main characters have names that are derivations of the names we normally associate with Arthurian legend. How did you determine what you would call them?
Janet: With great difficulty! I knew that it wouldn’t sound right to call them by their traditional established names, which are a mix of Celtic, French, and even a bit of Germanic. So I looked for older or more ‘primal’ sounding versions of the names, and found them most often in Irish myth—for instance Arthur’s sword Excalibur seems to have the Irish hero’s sword Caladbolg as its direct ancestor, so I used a version of this. I decided I wanted ‘Celtic sounding’ names, but with alternate spellings so as not to sound TOO familiar or confuse people about the timeline. And if anyone is wondering, it is now thought that Celtic languages were in Britain at least from 2500 BC.
Janet: Visit the monuments if you can! There’s nothing like being in the field. There are several brilliant books on the subject of Stonehenge and the British Bronze Age. Stonehenge by Mike Parker Pearson contains much of the recent findings in the Stonehenge landscape, and Aubrey Burl’s Rites of the Gods covers the ritual side of things.
Q: You’ve also done some archeological research. That’s something few people can claim. Please tell us a little about this research, how it came about and how it influenced your book.
Janet: I work part-time at Stonehenge itself and have been lucky enough to talk with many of the top archaeologists in the field. I also have worked myself on a marvelous site just 2 miles from the stones where there is an ancient sacred pool full of deposits that spans the ages from the Mesolithic to medieval times. A rare type of Bronze Age dagger was found in the spring, and this really started to make me think about the Excalibur tradition. The site is on private land and covered in trees; an iron age hill fort stands next to it, and the Avon river curls around it like a serpent…it’s a truly magical place and may well become a site of worldwide importance.
Q. You have some very nice nods to traditional Arthurian legend in your work, such as Ardhu (Arthur) moving a stone and taking a sacred dagger from underneath it. What made you choose to portray the Sword in the Stone in this manner?
Janet: I saw a video about someone who could move large stones. He did it using a pivot point and I thought, ‘Yes, that could work!’ I began to think again, about Geoffrey of Monmouth’s description of Merlin dismantling Stonehenge when it was still in Ireland. It wasn’t magic that moved the stones but his ‘ingenious machines.’ I didn’t want to use magic in Stone Lord, so I had to come up with something that could be done and would look visually impressive to onlookers.
Q: One of the most fascinating aspects of your story, at least to me personally, is the mythology of the people and how it affects their daily lives. Can you please tell us a little about how you came to learn about it and the role it plays in your story?
Janet: When reading many books about prehistoric people, I was nearly always disappointed by the usage (or lack) of personal mythology/ritual. People laugh when archaeologists dig a mysterious mound and say it’s ‘for ritual’ but it WAS a very different world to ours, one when you really didn’t know if the Sun would return every Midwinter, where a simple virus or a bad tooth could kill you, where you would have to placate the powers for your continued survival.. I studied anthropology briefly in the ’80s and tried to make a fairly realistic portrayal of what I think Bronze Age Britons might have believed in—a world where the spirits of the dead co-existed with the living, where trees, stones, rivers all held tutelary deities. It wasn’t the ‘fluffy’ time some authors like to make it either; there is plenty of evidence that strange and not-so-nice rites did take place on occasion.
Q: Your pre-historic version of Guinevere, whom you call Fynavir, is Irish. Why did you choose this background for her? How did you choose how to place the other characters since they are very much out of their traditional element in your book?
Janet: The name Guinevere has the same origin and meaning as Fynavir—White Phantom. Findabhair was daughter of the Irish Queen Maeve in the famous saga The Cattle Raid of Cooley. I liked the idea of a marriage alliance being made, especially as much British gold work of the Bronze Age came from Wicklow. It is now also thought that the Irish hero sagas have roots in earlier prehistory rather than just in the Iron Age. As for the others, I did try to keep some of Arthur’s familial ties in tact. I used Cornwall for his mother’s Y’gerna’s home as not only was Tintagel in the original, it was a very important place in prehistory—the source of Britain’s tin. Lancelot (An’kelet) is a prince from Brittany in France…not a million miles from the ‘canon’ Lancelot who was also from that area; Brittany has had strong tied to Britain since the Stone Age and also has a great megalithic culture.
Q: Some reviews have likened your book to Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel. Obviously they are both set in pre-historic times, but beyond that do you find it an apt comparison? How would you describe your book to those trying to decide whether or not to read it?
Janet: Auel’s book is set at a very much earlier period than mine, but I can see some resemblance. She may have been writing an adventure epic but she knew her stuff about the people and their lifestyle.
Q: What is one misconception you’ve heard voiced about your work and what would you say to clarify?
Janet: I’ve had a few people who don’t seem to recognize that it is fiction! I am not expounding a theory on King Arthur in any way. You could almost call what I write a form of alternative history, I suppose.
Q: Do you believe there was a historical King Arthur? Why or why not? Or do you think it really matters?
Janet: I do think there was, but whoever he was, he has assimilated both mythic characters and a whole handful of different historical figure into his mythos. That’s why there are legends in various parts of Britain concerning him, from Cornwall to Wales, to Scotland.
Q: Is Stone Lord a stand-alone book or part of a series? What are you working on next?
Janet: There will be a second part which carries through to the end of Ardhu’s life. It introduced several new main characters, including Ardhu’s illegitimate son, Mordraed.
Q. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Janet: I hope that this book might also give people a better idea of the Bronze Age era in Britain. Too many people still have this image of ‘cavemen’ in shaggy skins grunting as they haul stones around a landscape. These people are our direct ancestors and no less intelligent than us—they wove cloth, wore gold jewellery, forged bronze weapons, used razors and had buttons on their clothes!
Q. Where can readers find the book, online or in print? Where can people connect with you online?
Janet: Stone Lord is available in print and kindle on Amazon. Other e-book variations are available on SMASHWORDS, and print copies from Barnes and Noble and Waterstones.com. There is a blog at stone-lord.blogspot.com, and also a Stone Lord Facebook page. Both have lots of archaeological items as well as information on the book.
Thank you again for spending time with me today. I wish you the greatest success with your work, both now and in the future.
Do you have questions or comments for Janet? Add them here and she’ll respond.