Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written.
I’m a writer for work, so I’ve been writing for over 25 years. I found I tend to be interested in legend and folklore, which led me to investigate the superstitions of 19th century sailors for my first book, The Ghost Ship, and definitely informs my current project, to retell the oldest Arthurian legends to make the emotions and motivations understandable for modern readers.
What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
It is called Our Man on Earth and it tells the real origin story of Merlin, as laid down in what is called the Vulgate Cycle in 1215. As I was reading the old legends of King Arthur, I was amazed that 1) they’re so exciting, different and accessible, and 2) people don’t know them! For example, in this book, the devil wanted a man on earth to counter the influence of Jesus. So he haunted this woman, and finally impregnated her. She had the baby baptized at birth, and THAT is where Merlin came from. But that’s not all, because then the mother is sentenced to death for having an illegitimate child, and Merlin has to save her! So it’s a great, explosive story, and people don’t know that this is where Merlin came from. People also don’t know, say, that Lancelot was kidnapped as a baby and raised in a matriarchal society, or that Arthur begged the knights NOT to go in quest of the holy grail. So the real stuff still has so much left to discover.
People know the “Camelot” version of King Arthur, with romance and swordfights, and it certainly has that, but it also has a lot of VERY strange magic, interpersonal drama, and very dark mysteries. It’s much more “Twilight Zone” than “Camelot!” And I was inspired to try to bring that world to life… in a telling that could extend across several novels, and create one of the largest, most compelling literary universes ever. Believe me, there is NO chance of running out of story, and the plot is all laid down–it was finished over 500 years ago–so there’s none of that “Making it up as we go along” you find in more contemporary series. This has a decades-spanning, massive scope story that is all going someplace very definite.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I find that I FEEL the primary emotion I am writing about, so I often write scenes out of order, according to what I feel most akin to at the time. I also try to just get something down, then finesse it during revision, which helps me continue making progress.
What authors, or books have influenced you?
For this book, my main influences were Henry James (for the interpersonal psychology), pulp writer Jim Thompson (for the shocking casual violence that afflicted the time), Flannery O’Connor (for the strange and harsh spirituality) and the middle english sources of the Arthurian legends themselves, which have a beauty and austerity I would like to borrow from.
What are you working on now?
The second book! And I’m super into it, too. It is much more like the rest of the series, because in it, Merlin is an adult (at seven years old) and steps into his normal role advising kings and controlling the dircetion of Britain. Our Man on Earth has an intimate scale, but in the second book, The Sons of Constance, the scale opens up vastly, and we have a dragon fight, a huge battle, the downfall of two kings, and Merlin creating the round table–and Stonehenge! Which the old sources allege that he built. So I’m having great fun writing that one.
What is your best method or website when it comes to promoting your books?
I’m still new and trying out different things, and I am trying them all hard and heavy! I want people to connect with this series, because I KNOW it’s good, and I KNOW they’ll like it.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Write, because writing happens while writing. Don’t obsess over your first draft, just get something down, because the real action happens during revision. Finally, read a lot.
What is the best advice you have ever heard?
Break your writing down into smaller bits, make notes, write only dialogue… whatever helps you to get something down, because then you have something to work with.
What are you reading now?
I’m reading historical info about Medieval Britain, and I am still very deep in reading one middle english source of the Arthurian legends (called the Vulgate Cycle), which, across 9 volumes, is about 5,000 pages. And as I do that, I am making notes and laying out the entire arc of the series, and planning out what is going to happen in which books, and plotting out the psychology and arcs of characters still to come–notably Arthur himself, Guinevere and Lancelot.
What’s next for you as a writer?
The rest of the books! It’s very exciting, and I adore being in that world as a writer. Book 1 is the birth of Merlin, Book 2 moves us through two kings to Arthur’s father, Arthur is born at the very end of Book 3, Book 4 will be Arthur’s childhood, Book 5 will be his training, Book 6 will be as he vanquishes the kings that oppose being ruled by a teenage boy, and Book 7 will be the childhoods of Lancelot and Guinevere… that’s all that is planned out at this point, but that’s a few years of solid writing for me!
If you were going to be stranded on a desert island and allowed to take 3 or 4 books with you what books would you bring?
The Ambassadors by Henry James
Collected Stories by Flannery O’Connor
The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain (READ IT)
Le Morte D’Arthur by Thomas Malory