And here is the lovely cover of 'Sword of Light', the first of the 'Pendragon Legacy', a magical Arthurian fantasy for children by my friend Katherine Roberts.
This is just the sort of book I adored as a child. It has everything - sword fighting, magically beautiful mist-horses, elves, dragons, a couple of truly evil villains, more than a hint of Celtic folklore, and on top of all that a brave, frank, adventurous heroine with red hair and freckles. Think Anne of Green Gables in a suit of armour!
Katherine Roberts' writing is perfectly pitched for any romantic ten-year old who likes a tale of adventure with a strong dash of magic. It can also be slyly witty. I loved the episode where Rhianna meets the langorous Nimue, Lady of the Lake (who, disconcertingly, has gills):
"Rhianna Pendragon," the fish-lady repeated, and the name sang around the cavern, making the anemones flare brightly. "Hmm. A damsel with a warrior's name. No tail, I see," she observed as Rhianna squeezed the water from her hair.
"Of course I haven't got a tail! I'm human. And I need that sword so we can take it back to Avalon for my father, as soon as Merlin shows up again."
"Ah..." The lady's turquoise eyes went distant. "Dear old Merlin. Strange, I can't see him. How is he?"
So here is my interview with Katherine Roberts. I think it sheds interesting light on the writing process - the way themes or an idea can occur years before they are used, and work their way slowly to the forefront of a writer's mind, morphing and shapeshifting as go - and on the way a writer's 'world' slowly emerges, too.
Rhianna Pendragon, King Arthur’s daughter! Such a simple but marvellous idea - how did it first occur to you?
I first came across the idea of King Arthur having a daughter in a collection of novellas by Vera Chapman (“The Three Damosels”), which I won in one of the infamous Fantasycon raffles organised by the British Fantasy Society. That was way back before I’d had any books published myself, but the concept of a Pendragon princess certainly caught my imagination. As Vera Chapman says in her introduction to the story: “Nobody can say that King Arthur did NOT have a daughter. King’s daughters, unless they make dynastic marriages, are apt to slip out of history and be ignored.”
The idea resurfaced when I wanted to write a series about a warrior princess for younger readers. I’d actually begun a book about Queen Boudicca’s daughters, but found the rape scene to be a stumbling block for children’s publishers. So I ditched that idea and combined my red-haired Celtic warrior princess with Vera’s more courtly Princess Ursulet… and ended up with Rhianna Pendragon!
It’s refreshing to read an Arthurian story in which a girl is active and heroic rather than a damsel in distress. But Rhianna Pendragon has been kept ignorant of her parentage, and is called into action at the darkest possible moment, after Arthur’s death at the hands of Mordred. Why did you decide to begin Rhianna’s adventures at this particular late stage of the story?
I wanted to start where the traditional Arthurian legends left off because I knew that would give me more freedom to work up some new stories for Rhianna. The TV series “Merlin” takes the Arthurian legend backwards, which can work too, but for me a story is usually more interesting when you don’t know the ending.
Rather than the medieval period, you’ve set the novel in the much earlier Dark Ages at the time of the Saxon invasion of Britain, thought be the likeliest period for a historical Arthur. But the narrative also makes room for magic and ghosts, for Celtic myths and legends, for the Wild Hunt, dragons, and gallant knights. The blend of history and fantasy is seamless, but was it hard to balance these elements?
It wasn’t seamless in the first draft! I had to do a lot of invisible stitching... But yes, the Dark Ages appeal to me as a setting simply because they are historically dark and therefore leave me more freedom to work in fantasy elements. There’s actually very little historical fact about Arthur, so I haven’t been too strict on the historical details in my series – I’m aiming to give these books the feel of a fantasy age, occurring somewhere between our Dark Ages and the Middle Ages, but not entirely of our world. If you look closely at my maps, you’ll see I’ve taken the same approach with the geography – familiar, but not too familiar!
Rhianna has good friends to assist in her quest: the faerie Prince Elphin of Avalon, a stocky squire named Cai, and of course her beloved little mare Alba, a silver-shod mist horse who can mind-speak with her mistress! I don’t think I’ve ever met a mist-horse before, so are they even more special than unicorns?
In the first draft of the book, Rhianna’s horse was just an ordinary white mare. Then I remembered the Irish myth of Oisin and Niamh, where the fairy horse carries Oisin across the sea to his lover in Fairyland, and decided to make Alba more magical. When shod with silver, mist horses can trot over the surface of water – a useful talent when Rhianna needs to escape her enemies. They also have the ability to “mist”, which is a kind of vanishing/reappearing act and (as you can imagine) makes a mist horse tricky to ride. And, of course, all fairy horses can talk.
In your ‘Fairytale Reflection’ (coming on Friday!) you chose to write about ‘The Snow Queen’ and Andersen’s steadfast heroine, Gerda, who sets out to rescue her brother. Do you think there is a connection between her and Rhianna – who sets out into the world on a quest to defeat another powerful queen, Morgan le Fay?
Now that you mention it, the two quests are very similar, aren’t they? Rhianna’s ultimate quest is to bring her father King Arthur back to Camelot from Avalon. Gerda’s quest is to bring her brother Kai back from the Snow Queen’s palace. Both involve going into an enchanted place and rescuing a loved one from the cold kiss of death.
I know Rhianna has many more adventures to come: and she hasn’t even met her mother Queen Guinevere yet! Given her parentage, which do you think she takes after most - the noble and brave King her father, or the beautiful Queen?
In looks – freckles and red hair – Rhianna takes after her mother. But in courage and spirit, she’s definitely more like her father. Though having grown up on the enchanted island of Avalon in the care of Lord Avallach with brief visits from Merlin, she is also her own person, and sees no problem with using magic to help her on her quest. She finds it hard to relate to the other damsels at Camelot, and poor Arianrhod (her maid) has a hard time trying to turn her into a princess!
SWORD OF LIGHT is published in hardcover by Templar (www.templarco.co.uk)
You can follow Rhianna Pendragon on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PendragonGirl
Katherine’s website with details of all her books is at www.katherineroberts.co.uk - where you can also read the first chapter of 'Sword of Light