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.