DEB: Persia, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
PW: I became a journalist in 1970, and began writing non-fiction books almost immediately. But it took me over a decade to venture into fiction, partly because I wasn't sure I had anything new to say, and partly because I was still raising children and so I didn't have the time.
DEB: Tell us a little about your book, Child of the Northern Spring?
PW: I'm a euhemerist; one who believes that legends are based on real people who did real things in real time whose story has gotten embroidered with the fantastic over centuries of retelling. Consequently, I go back to the origin of a legend and by studying the cultures involved, retell the terms of the character and honor, ingenuity, bravery or majesty of the people involved. I stay true to the original legend, but re-imagine the people so they fit in with the time and circumstances. Hence my Guinevere is a feisty Celtic tomboy who doesn't want to leave her own northern kingdom to go south to meet the king. Their first unexpected meeting makes her rethink that attitude, and sets the tone for the equal partnership that they have enjoyed for some 1400 years since. Naturally many of the famous characters weave into Gwen's early life - Vivian, Morgan le Fey, Gwain and his father, King Lot; Balan and Balin, and of course Arthur himself.
DEB: What was your inspiration for these books? Have you always been interested in the legends of King Arthur?
PW: I never explored the Round Table as a child, and it was only when the musical, "Camelot" came out that I was attracted to the story. So I came to it from an adult point of view, and have always thought of them as real people with distinct personalities and psychological make-ups. And when I realized that no one had told them from Guinevere's point of view, I knew I had the "something new" necessary for my first novel (I didn't realize it was a trilogy until well into the research).
DEB: What type of research did you do for your book?
PW: Lots! Of all kinds, except that back in the '80s we didn't have Google and all the other hand hi-tech advances. I put in 11 years of research and writing - about 4 years reading books and recording TV documentaries before I began to write Child of the Northern Spring. And I made a total of 4 research trips to Britain where I stayed in hostels and carried everything in my backpack. There is no place that Gwen went to that I haven't gone as well, and brought back books on the native flora and fauna, asked people what their weather is like, their favorite foods, their local myths (which are generally based on real people also). I figured that if I could see a Roman ruin now, she would have seen much more of it all those years ago.
DEB: What is your normal writing day like? Do you have things that have to be in place for you to write comfortably?
PW: I'm one of those people who spend a lot of time researching the story and the people before I start to write - sometimes a year or more, including whatever research I do. (For the book I'm working on now, currently called "Ophelia's Tale," I must have read Shakespeare's Hamlet five times, taking more notes each time through, as well as watching every performance on film I could get my hands on.) Then I develop my outline through a carding system, and when I'm finally happy with the content and the structure of the book, I sit down and immerse myself in the world.
With Child, I wrote every morning from 6 to noon and after finishing up my part-time job in an architect's firm, I wrote from 6 p.m. to midnight. No TV, no newspapers, no coffee dates with friends - A) I couldn't afford them on a half-time salary and B) on weekends I wrote literally from the time I woke up 'til when I went to bed - sometimes 14 hours at a clip! And it didn't change much for the other two books, though I didn't have anymore office job and each one took less time as I had more faith in the characters to tell it their way.
Where I write depends a lot on my circumstances. For professional writing, it tends to be at my desk with a full-sized computer. Generally I have a wall on which to put visuals that I associate with the subject, a kind of mosaic I can glance up at as I go along - pictures or paintings or postcards of the places or characters I'm dealing with. With the advent of iTunes I began developing a special soundtrack for each work and happily let it play over and over in the background whenever I'm working on that particular book.
If it's personal or when-the-muse-strikes, writing that happens away from my desk, I write wherever and however I can - in my always-handy notebook, on my iPod, even scribbled across paper napkins. The scene of Morgan investing Arthur with Excalibur was actually written while sitting on that big rock at the edge of Wastwater in the Lake District (I called it Black Lake in Child). And the awful sequence where Margause viciously brags to Gwen about her seduction of Arthur all at once at my kitchen table, one nice cheerful morning. Both of these just flowed out of my pen onto the paper, and each is a very powerful scene in it's book, taken almost verbatim from my handwritten version. Of course there are always many such scribbles that never amount to much and don't get used at all.
DEB: What was it like when you got the word that your first novel would be published?
PW: I had already had to non-fiction works published nationally, but because this was such a labor of love, I was over the moon about it! Mists of Avalon had come out as I was actually finishing my first draft and I was terrified that Marion Zimmerman Bradley had told my story! I rushed to the book store and paid full price, so eager was I to get my hands on it. When I realized her book relies heavily on fantasy and her Guinevere was a scapegoat, I was immensely relieved, and called her on the phone to compliment her on the handling of Balan and Balin, which I still think is brilliant. But after Mists became a raging success, I began to worry no one would want to publish another "female" Camelot. I was wrong - the first agent I queried leapt at it and had it sold within the next four months.
DEB: Do you have advice for new writers?
PW: Write what you love. Do it every day, for as long as you can carve out the time to do so - remember, no one else can practice scales for the pianist. Have faith in yourself and your story - I've never taken a creative writing class, have no degrees in writing, and neither agent or publisher has ever asked me about that. They only look at the finished product. And keep in mind, writing is a terrible way to make a living, but if you enjoy doing it, it's the best lifestyle in the world.
DEB:When you're not writing what kinds of books do you like to read? Do you have a favorite author?
PW: I'm very fond on Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy, of Daphne Du Maurier , Sharon Kay Penman and C.W. Gortner. And Stefanie Freele's short story collection, Feeding Stray's is absolutely amazing.
DEB: What are you working on right now?
PW: "Ophelia's Tale" is in final polishing, and I've put in about 3 years of initial research on the Trojan War, so we'll see what comes next.
DEB: Tell us one thing people may not know about you?
PW: I would love to be an archeologist. Perhaps my historical novels are my way of using the skill I have with words to indulge that interest.
Sourcebooks has generously offered two copies of Child of the Northern Spring for giveaway.
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- The deadline to enter this giveaway is Midnight EST, December 3rd.
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What is your favorite legend related to Arthur or Guinevere?
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