When real life imitates fiction

Fay

Way back in 2006, in my book FAY, I wrote about a Town Council sending in bulldozers to clear a village’s garden allotments; with the intention of building on them, and in the process ending a traditional, cultural way of life that had spanned centuries. This was a fictional tale, but over the years I’d become increasingly aware of the continual urban development that had seen my home city gobbling up mile upon mile of green field sites as it relentlessly expanded. I had seen farmland, and livelihoods, disappear and former rural villages literally swallowed up by the urban sprawl, losing their historical identity and individual way of life. It’s a long, slow process, but it is relentless and continues to this day. Indeed, very close to where I live no less than three thousand houses are due to be built over the course of the next decade or so… on what is now green field and green belt sites.

To be fair, my home city is not the only villain here. It’s a story that is being played out in almost every developing town and city in the country, if not the world. And, of course, we do need more housing and more places of work for an ever expanding population… It is how this can be achieved sensibly, which is the point in question. There’s always more than one solution to a problem. Better use of brown field sites for example. And what about the estimated one million properties that currently stand empty in the UK… unused, unloved, often forgotten by their absentee owners?

Let me get back to FAY. What follows is a short extract. We see the scene through the eyes of a young lad called Thomas Dobson, as he comes upon the destruction of his own beloved garden allotments:

I’ll tell you, the allotments were ruined. I could have cried. They had always been such a magical place for us kids, a world of makeshift wooden hovels you could explore forever. Greenhouses built out of old front doors; some of them still with their number and knockers on them. Rooftops made out of corrugated iron, some out of carpet, or pieces of kitchen linoleum. Cack-handed brick chimney stacks, with tin funnels held in place with rusting coils of chicken wire, so the gardeners could light themselves fires and have brew-ups on freezing cold winter days. And each plot was quite different from their neighbour, so that together they looked to me like a giant’s patchwork quilt. Some, a blaze of colour as the summer flowers came into bloom. Some planted out with neat rows of green vegetables. Others were nothing more than patches of grey soil, where the earth had been turned over in preparation. A couple, knee-high with wind-driven weeds, where the gardeners had been too long absent.
Mind you, that didn’t matter now. Now, all the allotments looked exactly the same. All of them, smashed, ruined, obliterated. Bulldozed into mountainous heaps ready to be burned or carted away to the rubbish tips. There was a huge great brute of a machine, with caterpillar tracks and a massive shovel front, standing just where the first line of greenhouses should have been. There were deep furrows behind its tracks where it had cut heavily into the ground. Everything the machine had crossed was crushed beyond recognition and churned into mush.

And where, you may ask, does real life imitate fiction? Let me tell you. My home city has an historical Town Moor; land set aside, and in the guardianship of the Freemen of the city, that has very strict rules to its use and development. It is a sanctuary of green fields among the chaos of iron, steel, brick and concrete that is the modern city. Anyway, on one small part of the Town Moor there is a particular garden allotment (garden plots that have been there since the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign of World War Two) and if I take a bus to the city I go past them… What did I see only a few weeks past? Bulldozers and diggers among the allotments raising them to the ground, exactly as Thomas Dodson described the Oldburn allotments in FAY. You might imagine; my heart sank. I could not let the moment pass.

I did a little bit of digging around (forgive my pun) into the allotment demolition, and fortunately, on this occasion, I can give a little sigh of relief. Among other reasons, the City Council has explained that the demolition is taking place because of possible toxic wastes, notably asbestos, thought to be present in some of the temporary structures plot holders historically built on the site. The allotments will be fully re-established and improved upon for the use of the local community. And for that, I shout hoorah! If I shall also keep a very wary-eye…

Our world around us is always in a constant state of change. But let the changes we make be the right changes, and for the right reasons.


Fay Fay

This e-book edition of Fay is published by Crossroad Press and is available from all good e-book stores including:

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Where did the Idea for “Graynelore” come from?

Graynelore is a brutal, lawless world, where a man’s only loyalty is to his grayne (his family). Faerie tales are myths strictly for the children! Why then does a hardened fighting-man, who likes to solve his problems with his sword, suddenly start hearing voices and seeing faeries for real…?
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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.

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Graynelore

GRAYNELORE, published by HarperVoyager (paperback and ebook):

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“Graynelore” Publication Day!

Graynelore largeI’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 large

GRAYNELORE, published by HarperVoyager (paperback and ebook).

Suggested Readership: Grown-ups

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Graynelore: The landscape of the book

Graynelore large

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.


Graynelore by Stephen          MooreStephen Moore’s GRAYNELORE. Published by HarperVoyager (paperback and ebook.)

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Judging a book by its cover: Graynelore

Graynelore large

This week marks HarperVoyager’s (my publisher’s) official reveal of the cover for GRAYNELORE my new fantasy novel for adults. What better way to celebrate than to tell you something more about the cover’s creation. For if every book has its story, then surely, so too does every book cover.

GRAYNELORE is a brutal, lawless world, where a man’s only loyalty is to his grayne (his family). Murder, theft, blackmail and blood-feud are all part of daily life. Faerie tales are myths, strictly for the children! So why then is Rogrig Wishard – a hardened fighting man who prefers to sort out his problems with his sword – suddenly hearing fey voices and seeing faeries for real? GRAYNELORE is a strange world indeed.

And how best to capture that on a book cover…? If my books are akin to my children, then their covers are akin to the faces of my children, can there ever be a perfect image? This cover for GRAYNELORE was designed by the talented Cherie Chapman, part of the design team at Harper Collins, and she’s done a great job!

Let me describe it to you. We can see an armed man, Rogrig Wishard, creeping tentatively through a very murky and jaundiced-looking woodland glade. And he is moving in company with a strange band of crows. The designer has deliberately scratched and defaced the overall image emphasising the gritty, truly eerie fey-like nature of the scene portrayed. It’s a wonderfully moody and brooding other-worldly image. Perfect for a grown-up faerie tale! Whatever the designer’s exact intentions, I see it as representing a particular moment in the book; one where Rogrig and his company are travelling through a forest called, The Withering. In The Withering danger lurks at every turn. The men of Graynelore are up in arms and attack is not only likely but imminent – and from any quarter. More so, as neither Rogrig nor his companions are quite what they seem to be. You see, they are fey… faerie-touched in a world where their discovery would bring about certain death.

I will leave my description there, for you to ponder…


Graynelore by Stephen          Moore Stephen Moore’s GRAYNELORE. Published by HarperVoyager (Paperback and ebook.)

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