Tell us your biography in 3 sentences and fewer.
I’m Coventry-Welsh (it’s a thing), but have lived a peripatetic life, moving around England, Wales and, for two years, Ireland so I’m never quite sure where I really come from, or who I am. One version of me is a historian, specialising in the early history of Wales, Ireland, England and Scandinavia; another is writer of literary fantasy. I’m owned by 3 cats.
How and when did you begin writing, and what was your first published piece?
I don’t remember not telling myself stories: I’ve always lived in my imagination, and I started writing stories down as soon as I learnt to write. I spent several years alternating between being a horse, and having adventures saving an imaginary country (my Pippa dolls were all fierce revolutionaries), before moving on to fan fiction (Star Trek, The Three Musketeers, the Arthurian legends) and first attempts at original fiction in my early teens and just went on going. I even chose my direction at university because of the career path of J. R. R. Tolkien. My first publication was non-fiction and academic – “Cynan ab Iago and the killing of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn,” in Cambridge Mediaeval Celtic Studies 10 (1985) and I went on to publish a string of articles and 5 books on early mediaeval history (and one on my beloved Musketeers). I went on writing fiction (including the first 2 drafts of what became my first published novel) and submitted the odd piece, but not often. My first published short story happened as a result of a conversation at a party – “Strong Brown God,” which appeared in the anthology Glorifying Terrorism (ed. Farah Mendlesohn) in 2007.
What’s so special about writing speculative fiction?
My favourite books as a child were all fantasy – Alice in Wonderland, Narnia, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Lord of the Rings – so to me speculative fiction was always my home territory. Those were the worlds I wanted to inhabit: they seemed to offer far more than the mundanity of school stories or teen romance. They felt magical and wide open, they were filled with wonder. So for me that specialness is the freedom and the imaginativeness that our genre permits.
What life skills and experiences, other than writing, do you bring to your work?
I never know how to answer questions like this, because stories are all around us every day, and everyone sees them differently. But… As an early mediaevalist, I learnt how cultures differ, how they change and adapt, and the varied ways in which they define and present themselves. I also learnt a lot about voice and viewpoint – how no text is free from opinion or bias or underlying message – and how to look for the stories that were not being expressed directly. Being rootless, too, has taught me that we are all strangers and outsiders sometimes and none of us know as much as we think we do.
Tell us about your most recent publication or current writing project
I have a novella due from New Con Press later this year, called Rose Knot. It’s a variation on the Arthurian legends, exploring some of the lesser known and less-written about characters. Told from the point of view of Sir Gareth’s wife Llinos after their marriage, it’s about the consequences of all those magical tests of fidelity that crop up in the stories. It’s linked to an earlier novella, Serpent Rose, which came out in 2019, but does also stand alone.
I’m currently working on a novel about revolution and elemental powers, set in the same world as my two previous books (Living With Ghosts, and The Grass King’s Concubine), which I seem to have been writing forever – I am a very slow writer, sadly – but which is finally in a shape I like. I hope to get it finished by the end of this year.