I think, like a lot of young boys who read and have imaginations, I was blown away by JRR Tolkien at an early age. I can still read 'Lord of the Rings' with great pleasure and the chapter 'The Mirror of Galadriel' still moves me in strange ways - brr-rr. I read a lot of fantasy when I was younger, but the series that stood out was Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea books. It wasn't just the lovely system of magic in Earthsea: it was the intensely mystical, philosophical nature of the book. I'd never read anything like it at the time. Susan Cooper's 'The Dark Is Rising' was also a mind-blowing read and hasn't been bettered, I think, as a story of how an ordinary teenager moves from the mundane world into a fantasy, mystical world and takes the reader with him. More recently, I admired Bernard Cornwell's skills at writing action and battles. I thought his 'Winter King' series about Arthur was terrific and had a fantastic narrator in Derfal who brought a real tragic melancholy to the story.
Outside of fantasy/history, my big literary hero is Graham Greene and I'm so grateful for my old English teacher for introducing me to him. His Catholic angst and sexual longing are always wonderful. I particularly like 'The Quiet American' and 'The Comedians'. The book that amazed me recently was David Michell's 'Cloud Atlas' - what an amazing achievement!
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
'Inspires' is hardly the word. My alarm tells me I have to go to work! I teach at a local grammar school but I have the good fortune to live opposite the school, so no long commutes for me.
I try to get either an hour's marking or an hour's writing in before work every morning. If there's a chapter that's just itching to be written, then my students have to wait for their essays back, I'm afraid.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I teach Psychology and Religious Studies, so there is always a lot of reading to be done there and a lot of writing too - but handouts and activity sheets, not books. I get together with likeminded friends once or twice a week for tabletop roleplaying games or board games: that's been my hobby and passion since childhood. I'm a pub quiz nerd and sometimes host them at a local venue, but otherwise I make up part of a team, the 'Motley Crew'.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes! I was at Primary School, I think maybe 9 years old, and I was so inspired by Star Wars that I started my own science fiction saga. I filled several exercise books. But the problem was, I had no ideas of my own! All the characters were just blatant rip-offs from Star Wars, just Luke and Han and Chewie and the comedy robots but with different names. THen, when they'd all escaped from the evil space station, I couldn't think of anything that might happen to them next. So I decided writing books was REALLY HARD and abandoned writing novels for the next 35 years.
How do you approach cover design?
For Tinderspark, my daughter Juliet photographed one of her lovely friends whose red hair qualifies her to model for Quality Durrand. They did a great job! Laura LaRoche at LLPix put the cover design together but I needed some pagan icons to indicate the book's theme and genre. I sat down and drew the flintlocks, knife and horned wizard freehand. Wow! I've not drawn anything like that since I was a schoolboy.
The rest of the series is going to have themed covers, with different images of Imogen-as-Quality. The next book, 'Hexenfire', is set in winter, so hopefully Laura has some arctic, ice-crusted forest scene to use for the backdrop.
What's the story behind your latest book?
I wanted to write a sort of teen-friendly novel for my younger daughter Juliet. She's 16 and studying A-Levels so I could pitch it a bit older than 'Hunger Games' or 'Twilight'. I wanted an action heroine who plausibly grows into her skill and courage, so 'Tinderspark' is very much an Origins story.
Quality Durrand is abducted from her family farm in the middle of the night by a group of young boys who live as outlaws in the Black Forest in southern Germany. At first, there are shades of 'Peter Pan' here, with Quality as Wendy, kidnapped by the Lost Boys. They take her into a world of pagan mysticism and involve her in their obsessive campaign of vengeance against five leading men of the age they believe are responsible for the persecution of their kind.
Quality emerges as a heroine in her own right in stages. At first, she's the boys' prisoner, later their friend and she falls in love with one of them. When her parents are burned as witches, she returns home and takes up her father's craft as a gun-smith. This is where the book takes on a steampunk tone, since Quality's weapons are advanced for the time. Even here, I wanted to develop Quality's action credentials slowly, so that by the big showdown at the end of the book, you want to punch the air and cheer her own as she faces down a small army.
Five books are planned. Poor Quality's going to be put through the mill, but she should emerge stronger with each book until she can face her final test. The later books bring in more historical context, but also a stronger supernatural element with ghosts, angels and vampires getting involved in the story.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
It just didn't seem to me there's an avenue for books like mine to hit bookshelves. I've had some dealings with literary agents and they've mostly been helpful and polite, but they're only interested in a narrow type of book. The response I got to 'Tinderspark' was, "I wouldn't know what to do with this or how to promote it." As for publishers, they seem completely insulated from writers now. I'm still interested in print-publication and I'm still corresponding with agents, but I think the future of 'The Burning Times' is in e-publishing.
What are you working on next?
The sequel to 'Tinderspark', which is 'Hexenfire'. This pits Quality Durrand and her friends against the next Name, who is Hans Vollair the fanatical preacher. However, Vollair is a more dangerous proposition than Johann George Fuchs Von Dornheim. Vollair works for the Swedish king and has a small army of mercenaries doing his bidding. He also has a guardian angel! During the course of 'Hexenfire', Vollair recruits more weird and deadly allies. He knows about the Hexen and intends to kill them before they kill him. The stakes are definitely higher. The heroes meet with the Reinhardt Gypsy clan who are also victims of the Burning Times. This creates new relationships and a heartbreaking conflict for Quality.
Describe your desk
A complete mess! During daylight hours, there's a cold mug of tea. After sunset, a cold glass of wine.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Scotland, in Edinburgh. I got really attached to the romance of Scotland, the wild and relatively empty landscape, the austere stone houses and the tall Edinburgh tenements. It's an 18th century city and you an't escape history there. I went to Saint Andrews University to read English and Philosophy. There's a spot on the pavement outside St Salvator's Chapel where Patrick Hamilton was burned at the stake by the bishop for his Protestant faith. His initials, PH, are set among the cobbles. As students, the folklore was that if you stood on the PH you would fail your Finals! It seems now that Patrick Hamilton's gruesome death was a bit of a stimulus for 'The Burning Times' too. I'd urge anyone to visit Saint Andrews though - it's a beautiful town and they don't burn people there any more.
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