I’m so very pleased to announce that today my fantasy novel GRAYNELORE is published in paperback! (HarperVoyager Publisher). I’ve been a children’s author for many years. Finally, here is my debut novel for all you grown-ups… in paperback!
As you may well know, the ebook of GRAYNELORE has been out for quite a while now, but I must admit, there’s nothing quite like holding a brand new paperback…
To celebrate the event I’ve recorded my first public reading from the novel. I hope you enjoy it:
How might I best describe GRAYNELORE?
GRAYNELORE is a brutal, lawless world, where a man’s only loyalty is to his grayne (his family). Murder, blackmail, theft and blood-feud are all part of daily life. Faerie tales are myths, strictly for the children. Why then does Rogrig Wishard – a hardened fighting-man – suddenly start hearing voices and seeing faeries for real? What makes him embark upon a seemingly ridiculous quest to restore a Faerie Isle to the world? Is he mad or simply faerie-touched…?
It’s a story of divided loyalty. It’s an epic fantasy, a blood-soaked mystery, a grown-up faerie tale. And, in its own twisted way, a kind of love story…
Graynelore is published by HarperVoyager (paperback and ebook). Available from all good bookstores including:
What am I saying? Sometimes it’s difficult to write? I’m not talking about technique. I’m not talking about, so-called, writers block, or self doubt. We – authors – are full of self doubt! But we only have to look back at our own previous successes* to remind ourselves of our abilities. No, this is something else. The struggle of creativity itself, if you will. Let me explain…
At the moment I’m having problems; progress on my current project is very slow and thin, and I’m beginning to ask myself questions. Does the book I’m trying to write actually want to be written? More so; does it need to be written? Mind you, even as I type this, I can already strike out the second question. Need? Need is not the driver. Once my books are written they always seem to find their own natural place in the literary hierarchy. Sometimes, they may have something important to say. Sometimes they do not… and are written purely for the excitement and pleasure of the adventure.
So, if my problem is a basic creative struggle, what then is the solution? Sadly, there is no magic wand here. Only my gritty, dogged determination to keep at it: to make words; to turn those words into sentences; to keep turning those words into sentences until I reach the very end, no matter how difficult. Then, at least, I’ll know the answer to my first question. It’s either do that or give-up! And I don’t ever intend to give up.
I’ve already talked about the origins of my unifauns in Graynelore; how they are characters inspired by a lyric in a song by the rock band, Genesis. However there’s another song from another band that has haunted me over the years, ultimately becoming the inspiration for Dingly Dell, the homeland of Rogrig Wishard; the reiver, anti-hero and narrator of Graynelore.What was the band? Lindisfarne. What was the song? ‘Dingly Dell’ (of course). Written by singer/songwriter, Alan Hull, it’s the title track from Lindisfarne’s 1972 album of the same name.
Lindisfarne are famous for their enormous crowd-pleasing songs, with highlights that include; ‘Fog on the Tyne’, ‘Clear White light’, ‘Meet Me on the Corner’, ‘Lady Eleanor’ and the like. Their musical sound is an interesting brew; a kind of folk-rock, just occasionally, edging towards progressive rock. If neither label truly does them justice. Alan Hull is one of my favourite songwriters: his thoughtful, poignant, ‘Winter Song’ being my most favourite of all.
Among Lindisfarne’s many songs then, sits ‘Dingly Dell’. When I first heard it, back in 1972, it truly cast a spell upon me. With a spare, musically sparse verse, that is both haunting and lyrical, it finally lifts and broadens out into a truly magical chorus line… Only to end again with pathos, and an almost fey-like organic silence. It’s a beautiful, mesmerising song, both for its music and its lyrics. If I could choose a theme tune from this period of music to go along with Graynelore, this would be it.
The air of haunting beauty, the feeling of almost spiritual loss, the fey, other-worldly nature – the very magic – says it all for me. So, there we have it. And that is why you’ll find Dingly Dell in Graynelore.
GRAYNELORE, published by HarperVoyager. Available from:
“Can you tell me where my country lies?” said the unifaun to his true love’s eyes.”
These enigmatic lyrics are the first line from the song, ‘Dancing with the Moonlit Knight’, a track on the 1971 Genesis album ‘Selling England by the Pound’. (A personal favourite of mine, it has accompanied me for most of my adult life.)
My influences, as a fantasy author, are many and varied, and are just as likely to come from art, music, or popular culture as they are to come from any literary or imagined source. This particular song lyric has always intrigued me. Images of folklore and faerie abound in the early prog-rock music of bands such as Genesis. But what on earth is a unifaun and where did it come from? As far as I’m aware there is no unifaun in any existing story or traditional folk tale. I have always assumed that the lyricist (Peter Gabriel) was simply playing with words, and brought together, unicorn and faun to create a new word of his own making: unifaun. It’s a wonderful creation which has stayed with me ever since I first heard the song. As a fantasy author, I have been waiting for the day when I might include a unifaun in one of my fantasy worlds, and that is why you will find unifauns in GRAYNELORE…
In fact, two of my most favourite characters in GRAYNELORE are my unifauns; Sunfast and Fortuna. They are glorious fey creatures, who, in human form, are sensual beauties in the extreme. Instinctively a pair, in their natural state they have cloven hooves, a main of finely braided goat’s hair, and a single golden horn. Their story – not to give too much away – is poignant, and essential to the central plot of the book.
GRAYNELORE, published by HarperVoyager. Available from:
In the Borderlands that lie between Scotland and England there are many families who can still claim direct ties to the original Border Reivers. Surnames such as Charlton, Armstrong, Elliot, Graham, Fenwick, Robson, Bell, Kerr (my own link), Milburn, Forster, Douglass, Riddel… oh the list goes on and on! (So please forgive me if I haven’t included yours in my example.) These were family groups who lived in the region, roughly between the Fourteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (historically unsettled times in Great Britain). Their allegiance was first and foremost to their families and their surname, rather than to their kings or countries. And their lifestyle was one of constant raiding and blood feud. In essence, theft, kidnap, blackmail, pillage and murder were all considered just part of their daily lives. Their strongholds were Castles, for the rich few, Peel Towers, fortified tower houses [see above] and Bastle Houses, simple fortified farmhouses [see below] many of which can still be seen today.
How had this strange state of affairs come about?
In late Medieval Britain a big political power struggle was played out between the Crowns of England and Scotland. The issue of sovereignty finally coming to a head in the Sixteenth Century with the dispute between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. In a sense, while the Crowns were embroiled upon their endless bloody conflicts it suited both sides to have the borderlands of their kingdoms in a state of constant lawlessness. The area was a kind of buffer zone or no-man’s-land that made government, by either side, extremely difficult.
Politically the Borders were divided into Marches and there were Wardens who were meant to keep the law, but it was an obvious breeding ground for trouble. When their world around them was constantly at war and their lives an endless struggle, who could blame the Reivers for trying to get by the only way they knew how? The Reivers preferred to settle their own disputes and lived out their lives by their own bloody rules.
What became of the Border Reivers?
In truth, the Border Reivers were not a major part of political history (one reason so few of us have ever heard of them). Rather, theirs was the largely unwritten history of ordinary men; a fate, sadly, I fear most of us are condemned to. When the Crowns of England and Scotland were finally unified after the death of Elizabeth I, having a lawless borderland no longer suited the politicians… During the course of the Seventeenth Century many of the Reiver families were effectively neutralised. By rule of law, death sentences, deportations; and that old political trick whereby some of the more influential families became a part of the ruling political establishment.
But theirs is an important story. It’s part of my family history and maybe yours too? There are many reminders of the Reivers. On the ground, you can still find good examples of their stone Peel Towers and Bastle Houses. While the list of Reiver family names goes on and on… and can be found worldwide! Then there are the words they popularised in our dictionaries: notably, blackmail and bereavement! Oh, and let’s not forget their unbridled, if sometimes misguided, freedom of spirit!
Where can you find out more about the Border Reivers?
Let me say emphatically, I am not a historian. I’m a writer of fantasy fiction. Mine is only a personal reflection on how I see the Border Reivers! If you want to know more about them, why not visit the borderlands of England and Scotland for yourself, with their museums and amazing historical sites? [see above] For further reading I recommend two books: my favourite, The Border Reivers by Godfrey Watson and The Reivers by Alistair Moffat. Oh, and let’s not forget the amazing Reiver tales to be found in the original Border Ballads, famously collected by Sir Walter Scott.
I’ve just dipped your toes into the world of my fantasy novel Graynelore. But where, exactly, did I find the idea?A few years ago I had a most revealing conversation with my mother about her family roots. I discovered, to my amazement, that my ancestors include infamous 16th Century Border Reivers.
Who? The Border Reivers were inhabitants of the English/Scottish Borderlands; family groups who considered theft, kidnap, blackmail, murder and deadly blood-feud as all part of their day job. While the crown heads of England and Scotland were engaged in endless bloody conflict over sovereignty that reduced the borders to a virtual no-man’s-land, ordinary folk were effectively left to get by as best they could. And if that meant turning up on your neighbour’s doorstep and beating the hell out of them to take whatever little they possessed (up to and including their lives) then so be it! Reiving, as it became known, was a way of life for close on three hundred years.
What’s my connection to the Reivers? Well, my mother’s family name is Kerr, and they originally hailed from the Scottish Borders. Let’s be blunt. The Kerrs were notorious Reivers back in the day! With blood-feud a speciality! If one fact about them tickles me: unusually, the Kerrs were left-handed. It meant they fought with their swords left handed and built their defensive tower houses with left-handed spirals to their staircases. It just so happens I’m also left handed. I like to think it’s in the blood.
You’ll not be surprised. I was instantly intrigued by my infamous ancestors. What author worth their salt would not want to write about them? And so, the idea was born…! I only had to find the right story to tell.
I took the historical world of the Border Reivers; their way of life, their society, their homes, their landscape, their goods and their chattels. In true Reiver fashion I stole it all, misused and abused it and made it my own. I like to think of it as twisting history. (And, with my own family links, I’m just a little bit proud of that.)
However, there was an issue to overcome: I’m an author of fantasy, not historical fiction. To satisfy the writer-within-me I had to combine the two; fantasy with my own version of Reiver society the bedrock to stand it upon.
Where did my fantasy storyline find its birth? I’ll tell you. One hot summer’s day I was sitting in a beautiful garden overlooking the Welsh coast. In the middle distance, out upon the sea, I could see the Isle of Lundy. There were warm currents of air rising off the sea, twisting and turning, and as is the way on hot summer days, they slowly obscured the scene, until at last Lundy Isle disappeared. There was only the sea, and the endless blue sky. Of course, it was a simple trick of the eye. But in that moment I knew I’d found the idea I was searching for. This wasn’t Lundy Isle at all, but the Faerie Isle. Sometimes there, sometimes not, ever moving…
And so began a long and winding journey of research and creative adventure that ultimately lead me down the path to my novel, Graynelore.
Mind you, at the outset I had to make one further inspired leap of faith. You see, up until this point, all of my books had been written for older children (and I’ve been writing for almost twenty years!) However, I knew that if I was going to write authentically about Reivers, the story might well be a faerie tale, but it could not possibly be for children. A Reiver’s world is naturally brutal, sometimes cruel, and often graphically blunt. Graynelore had to be my first novel strictly for grown-ups. And so it is.
GRAYNELORE, published by HarperVoyager (paperback and ebook):
There are many ways I could introduce you to my fantasy novel Graynelore. I could explain the birth of the idea that brought me to write it. I could describe the nature of its twisting fey storyline. But I would prefer to begin with the man who narrates the tale. A man who not only lends his very distinctive voice to the story but who is also the sole source of our knowledge concerning the world of Graynelore… Without him there would be nothing to tell.
You see, Graynelore is narrated by the central character of the story. The book is graphically written in his unique turn of phrase and coloured by his very individual way of thinking. Who is he? Well, I can do no better than to let him introduce himself in his own words:
“I am Rogrig, Rogrig Wishard by grayne. Though, I was always, Rogrig Stone Heart by desire…. I am a poor fell-stockman and a worse farmer (that much is true). I am a fighting-man. I am a killer, a soldier-thief, and a blood-soaked reiver. I am a sometime liar and a coward. I have a cruel tongue, a foul temper, not to be crossed. And, I am – reliably informed – a pitiful dagger’s arse when blathering drunk…. You can see, my friend, I am not well blessed.”
In short, Rogrig Wishard is a typical man of Graynelore. Once you’ve met one, believe me, you’ve met them all!
The world he grew up in is lawless, and dominated by its graynes, its feuding families. It’s a world where everyone who isn’t family is an enemy. A world where, theft, blackmail, kidnap, murder and pillage are all considered an acceptable part of daily life. And do you know what? Rogrig Wishard likes it that way. He’s used to settling arguments with his sword. Everything is so clear cut that way! When his Graynelord tells him to fight, he fights. It’s a world he understands.
His father was murdered in a blood feud when he was a child. He is used to cold-blooded killing and he’s used to death. His grayne is his family. Man or woman, they’re his friends, his work mates, his right hand in a fight, his drinking partners and his bed-fellows. Indeed, to put it none too politely, they all piss in the same pot. Just don’t talk to him about love, and leave faerie tales to the children!
Mind you, if Rogrig Wishard was only the callous, stone hearted reiver described here, there would be very little story to tell. Fortunately, he’s a more complex character than initially meets the eye. There’s another side to this man. If it’s a side he’d rather not have, and certainly would never discuss. You see, Rogrig Wishard is faerie-touched. He has ties to a forgotten fey kin that can only be found outside of his grayne. And there are fundamental parts of his true nature that can only be fully revealed by him turning his back on his old family, and finding a new cause to fight for; one he could never have foreseen; one that includes faeries!
So, he’s a fighter then, and an opportunist; a stubborn thief and a mischievous liar… A man, more than a man, very much at odds with himself! Might the revelations, the insights, the unlooked for personal journey he’s forced to take, finally melt the heart of the reiver who would prefer to call himself, Rogrig Stone Heart? Well, I guess that’s to be seen. Graynelore is a truly twisting epic fantasy.
And there I think I must stop! I’ve told you enough about the man who gives his voice to Graynelore. And I want to leave it to him to tell you the tale…
GRAYNELORE, published by HarperVoyager (Paperback and ebook). Available from:
I’m excited and extremely pleased to announce that today is publication day for my fantasy novel GRAYNELORE (Publisher: HarperVoyager). I’ve been a children’s author for many years. Finally, here is my debut novel for all you grown-ups!
GRAYNELORE is a brutal, lawless world, where a man’s only loyalty is to his grayne (his family). Murder, blackmail, theft and blood-feud are all part of daily life. Faerie tales are myths, strictly for the children. Why then is Rogrig Wishard – a hardened fighting-man who solves his problems with his sword – suddenly hearing voices and seeing faeries for real? What makes him embark upon a seemingly ridiculous quest to restore a Faerie Isle to the world? Is he mad or simply faerie-touched?
If he’s going to make any sense of it he’s going to have to go right to the source – the faeries themselves. But that’s easier said than done when the only information he has to go on is from bards and myth.
How might I best describe GRAYNELORE?
It’s a story of divided loyalty. An epic fantasy. A blood-soaked mystery. A grown-up faerie tale. And, in its own twisted way, a kind of love story…
GRAYNELORE, published by HarperVoyager (paperback and ebook).
Suggested Readership: Grown-ups
As part of #VirtualVoyager – a week-long celebration of Harper Voyager’s digital authors and their books, I had the good fortune to talk with my fellow author, Stephen Moore, from across the pond, in England.
[A] That’s a great question, Nancy. You know, for me, the ideas come first. From there I can usually see the path the resulting story will take and the audience it might best be aimed at. Which means, essentially, the inspiration for books for what are very different audiences – children and adults – comes from very different places. For example, the inspiration for Graynelore came about when I discovered I have a direct historical family link to the infamous 16th Century Border Reivers. Family groups who lived…
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With the publication of my new fantasy novel GRAYNELORE less than two weeks away I’m excited, and I wanted to tell you a little bit more about it, but without giving too much away. I thought the landscape of the world I’ve created was a good place to start.
I remember reading a comment made by Robert Louis Stephenson explaining just how important he considered a map to be, when he was writing a story. It gave him a visual way of making sense of the fictional landscape he wanted to describe. It’s why you’ll always find a version of his map at the front of Treasure Island.
I guess I feel the same way about GRAYNELORE. In my imagination I can clearly see the landscape I’m writing about in the book.
What does Graynelore look like?
In the novel, Rogrig Wishard – the narrator – gives us a unique description of his world and I close this piece with that extract. However, what I want to do here is give you my own personal impressions of the landscape of Graynelore. The images I can still see in my head, even now.
In my mind’s eye, Graynelore is made up of two major islands – a mainland and a Faerie Isle. The greater landmass is an island perhaps the size of Wales, if not the shape! Rather, its outline best resembles a kind of broken cheese scone. It’s generally oval, but very irregular and badly misshapen. Can you see where I’m going here? The second island – the Faerie Isle – is very small in comparison. If the Graynelore mainland really was a cheese scone, then the Faerie Isle would be the small knob of butter that went with it!
As to their actual physical detail, then of course the mysterious Faerie Isle should rightly remain shrouded in secrecy. Whereas the mainland, where the majority of the book’s action takes place, is more easily described. I can clearly see the Blackheaded Mountains; the sprawling mountain range that sits at the very heart of Graynelore, neatly separating the North from the South of the country. The North beyond the mountains is almost entirely taken up by a vast void, a wasteland, named simply The Great Unknown. It’s a region of little importance to this story. (Mind you, who knows about the future and things still to come, eh…?) Rather, it is the South of the country that requires my description.
The Men of Graynelore have split the South into four regions, called Marches, each loosely belonging to the principle Grayne, or family, who live there. Powerful men live in great Peel Towers. While poor men live in small Bastle Houses scattered about the countryside. There are no actual borders marked on the ground. No walls, no fences. In fact there’s hardly a man among them who truly knows where one March ends and the next begins. (Nor do they care!)
The majority of the land is broad rough fell-land, and rudely exposed rolling lowland hills (reminiscent of my favourite English county, Northumberland). And it is endlessly dissected, across its entirety, by the countless streams and tributaries that make up the River Winding. In fact the River Winding is so extensive its name is used to describe all running water throughout Graynelore.
In the central lowlands you’ll find the treacherous Mire; a huge area of swampland and boggy fen, where no road is permanent, no footstep assured, and no man safe. While off to the north east, below the mountains proper is a large expanse of woodlands called The Withering; a woeful, poor and sickening landscape.
Finally, where the long coastline of Graynelore meets the Great Sea, its cliffs, its rocks and beaches, are cut, bruised and battered, crudely shaped and rubbed smooth by an eternal pattern of wind and rain and storm.
And if my rough description seems to describe an overly terrible or desolate place, I beg to differ. It’s the perfect landscape for my grown-up faerie tale.
Here’s Rogrig Wishard’s description of Graynelore:
To look at, Graynelore was always something of a paradox. It was a beautiful land and yet ugly. It was often glorious and yet as often vague and unimpressive. The Great Unknown in the far north was a world set apart. While the black-headed mountains, at Graynelore’s heart, stood up like the spokes of a great fallen wheel, with the hard fought summit of, Earthrise, the hub, at their centre. The burden of time may well have blunted their edges and reduced their heights but they were no less a formidable adversary. It takes a brave man, or perhaps a fool, to attempt to scale their heights. Looking to the south, where the mountains fell away, and the wheel was broken, there was a great vista, a broad open plateau, only hindered by stretches of feeble, withered woodland – The Withering – that chequered and fringed the otherwise, seemingly endless landscape. Beyond this, came the more gentle rolling hills and shallow vales of the southern marches. And if the lowly hills could not hinder you, if the trees did not stand in your way, there was always the mud, the clarts of the stinking bog-moss to stop a man’s progress, the mire to swallow up the unwary horse and rider. Or else the never ending waters, the countless threads of the River Winding that cut the great open lowland fells and moors into uneven pieces across the majority of its face. To my mind, it was always a lonely, endlessly wind-scarred earth. A difficult land to love; it left no easy place for men or beasts to hide or find welcoming shelter. Yet it was mine by my birth. And if I were to admit that my heart’s meat has always been divided, then surely that land must take its due share.