Give us a brief synopsis of your story: Britain is a country rich in legends and myths. Any writer seeking inspiration for a story concerning battles, skirmishes, mythical creatures or heroic deeds could do worse than research the many wonders of our misty Isles. For my second Heroika story, “Black Quill”, I did exactly that.
I’m from Hampshire, southern Britain, and soon unearthed the legend of a cockatrice that reportedly lived near a local abbey. When I also discovered that this abbey had connections to Queen Ǽlfrida, mother of Æthelred, called the Unready, I simply had to combine the two stories.
Queen Ǽlfrida became the prioress of the abbey after her husband, King Edgar, died, and she reportedly had Edgar’s son killed so her own son, Æthelred, could inherit the throne. Æthelred, whose nickname ‘the Unready’ is a derivation of ‘unraed’, or poorly-advised, forced his mother to give up her powerful status as queen and become prioress of the abbey as penance. And it seems that tragedy and sly dealings dogged the former queen because before Edgar married her, he sent his best friend, Æthelwold, to check her out. Æthelwold fell for her and married her himself, and Edgar was so furious when he found out that he had Æthelwold killed. What a family!
In my story, “Black Quill”, the life of a disabled farm girl becomes irrevocably entwined with the fates of both the abbess and the cockatrice—producing a denouement that is anything but simple.
What are the challenges in writing historical fiction/fantasy? I find the main challenges revolve around invoking a realistic, visceral atmosphere, enabling the reader to immerse themselves in the story as fully and naturally as possible. In many ways, I find it easier to achieve this with a historical fantasy rather than one which comes purely from the writer’s mind, because there will be readers already familiar with the chosen setting. The hard work comes in the research which, if thoroughly and successfully carried out, enables the writer to surround themselves with ancient sights, sounds and smells, allowing the writing to flow seamlessly, already imbued with the ambience of the time. Solid historical facts play their part too, although in fantasy, of course, facts can be twisted and adapted, providing hours of fun for playful writers and readers alike.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? When I first started writing I was definitely a pantster, mainly because I hadn’t intended to become a writer and certainly didn’t know what I was doing! I was simply filling a few bored hours by writing out a little scenario I’d had in my mind since watching a kids’ TV show in the ’70s. Wow, did that open some floodgates! Before I realized it, I’d written around 300,000 words, and those words eventually became my first Artesans trilogy. The second and third trilogies were written in a similar way; although this time I understood more about my craft. Since that heady, exciting, scary and immersive time, however, I have learned the pleasures of plotting, very necessary seeing as I’m writing a prequel to the events in that first trilogy. But I’ll admit that I still crave that incredible, irresistible feeling of words desperate to be written, rushing through my mind and onto the page.
What did you want to be when you grew up? When I was a kid, I really had no idea what I wanted to do. I was average at most things scholastically: best at English, abysmal at anything to do with numbers (still am!). The exams I took were generic, and I only achieved good passes in English, Biology and Art. I did toy with the idea of going to art college to study fabric design, but throughout my childhood my heart really belonged to horses. My parents couldn’t afford for me to have one and neither could they really afford to send me to college, so I finally found a good school of equitation and enrolled as a working pupil. This meant you had living accommodation and meals provided, and received a clothing allowance for work clothes, but there was no wage and you worked with the horses in return for lessons in equitation and horse care. It was a good arrangement and I had a great group of co-workers around me. I passed my initial exams to become an Assistant Instructor, and remained at the establishment for several years as a wage-earning instructor. Now, I incorporate horses into my writing, as my love for them has never waned.
Name: My name is Gytha
Tell us a bit about yourself: I am the daughter of Rathgar, a farmer. I had a twin sister, Larna, who was killed. My father took another wife, Anice, after my mother died and she gave him two more children: Anice cared nothing for me. They call me the cursed girl because I saw great evil but didn’t die like Larna did. They say I caused her death, and that evil is sure to find me again.
How do you come to be on this adventure? My father had to find a place for me because my crippled legs mean I cannot work on the farm. I was useless to him and no one would wed me. But I am quick and clever with my hands and so he sought a place for me at the Benedictine abbey, where I might learn to copy manuscripts and scrolls. The abbess, who once was Queen Ǽlfrida before her son forced her into the abbey, took pity on father’s sorrow over the death of my sister and eventually agreed to take me. That is the reason I was here when the evil finally found me.
Tell us a bit about the society in which you live: Our Anglo-Saxon society is structured and ordered. Our countryside has been formed into areas called hundreds, and shires. We have laws and government. The language we speak is known as Old English. We worship the Christian God and there are many abbeys and monasteries throughout the land. Although there are also kings, the bishops, abbots and priors wield great power. We have been relatively peaceful for many years but recently there has been an increase in Viking raids on England. The Danes are keen to take back the land King Edgar took from them—land they first stole from us. But these are matters for kings and leaders. I come from a line of simple farmers; all we can do is farm and try to survive.
Are you brave? Is it brave to run from a monster? Is it brave to leave your twin sister to a horrific fate? Is it brave to survive being crippled, faced with a useless life? If so, I am very brave, for I have done all these things. Larna’s voice in my mind tells me all will be well, and so I endure for the sake of my sister.
How do others see you? I am called the cursed girl—I am the girl who survived seeing the devil, the girl who should have died instead of her sister. They see my twisted, ruined legs; they never see my nimble, clever fingers. They hear me speak of Larna’s voice in my head and hear madness. They would much rather not see me at all and, in the abbey, they do not have to.
Do you believe in a god? I believe in the Christian God. Most of England believes in the Christian God—the bishops and abbots make sure that we do. Yet we also believe in the ancient evils, and there are some in the countryside who still practice the old rites, the forbidden rites, the druid rites. There are hedgewives and witches still and, of course, there are Danes who refuse to spurn their pagan beliefs.
How do you define a hero? I have never met a hero. I suppose a hero would be a great warrior, someone like King Edgar who subdued the Danes in England. Or maybe a hero would be someone who rescued people from disasters, who gave up his life to save others. I am a simple girl with no life—what do I know of heroes?
Do you love anyone? Do you hate anyone? I adore my twin sister, Larna. I speak to her all the time and she speaks to me, even though she’s dead. She is my only friend. I love my father, even though he gave me to the abbey. It was not his fault; he could not afford to feed a crippled, cursed girl. I don’t really hate anyone, although I don’t like father’s second wife, Anice. Anice only cares for her two young children.
What do you REALLY think of your author? I am not sure why she decided to tell my story above all the others she could have chosen. But I am grateful to her, because she has given my useless life some meaning.
Do you have a moral code? Father taught us to be honest, to be kind to others, and to respect others’ property—especially Seyerd, the farmer who owns land next to ours. He grows delicious fruit and father says we’re not supposed to pick it without permission. But if the branch grows across father’s side of the hedge, why should we not? The abbey where I now live has strict rules, and everyone must obey the abbess.
If you could have three wishes what would they be? The first would be that my sister had not died. The second that I was never crippled. The third that father had never wed Anice.
How do you view yourself? I was a happy, cheerful, helpful child before the monster came. After, I was quiet, because I was shunned by people who thought I was cursed. I became sad, fearful that father would send me away because no one would wed me. At the abbey, I work hard and make no trouble because I need the shelter the abbey provides.
What is your favourite thing? My favorite thing in all the world is to hear Larna’s voice in my head. It is my redemption, my promise that all is not lost, that I will one day be with her again.
Do you think you make a difference in your world? Of course not! What difference could a useless girl like me make to the world?
AUTHOR BIO (short)
Amazon UK Bestselling author Cas Peace lives in the lovely county of Hampshire, southern UK. Originally, she trained and qualified as a teacher of equitation. She also learned to carriage-drive. She then spent thirteen years in the British Civil Service before moving to Rome, Italy, where she and her husband Dave lived for three years.
As well as her love of horses, Cas is mad about dogs. She currently owns two rescue lurchers, Milly and Milo. Cas loves country walks, working in stained glass, growing cacti, and folk singing. She is also a songwriter and has written and recorded songs or music for five of her Artesans of Albia fantasy novels. They are available to download free from her website.
As well as being a novelist, Cas is also a freelance editor and proofreader. Details of her Writers’ Services and other information can be found on her website: http://www.caspeace.com.