Monday, November 22, 2010

Interview (and Giveaway) with Persia Woolley, author of Child of the Northern Spring

I am very excited to have Persia Woolley on my blog today. Ms. Woolley is the author of one of my favorite books, Child of the Northern Spring, which is being republished by Sourcebooks this month.
Ms. Woolley answered my burning questions for quite an intriguing interview. I am inspired by her research and also excited about her latest research and books in the works. The baby and computer woes have delayed my post today - but I'm finally getting it up! And without further ado . . . the interview!
LAG: I first read your Guinevere Trilogy as a teenager in the 1990’s. I recently reread Child of the Northern Spring and I find it just as engaging as I did as a teenager. What inspired you to write about the Arthurian legends from Guinevere’s point of view?
PW: I'd been re-reading Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy one evening on the terrace when all of a sudden Gwen and Lancelot appeared like a hologram in front of me, having a really fierce argument. Fascinated, I watched as he announced that everyone knew she consorted with old witches in the woods, and could easily have concocted the poison which she was being accused of trying to use to kill Arthur. Outraged, Gwen drew herself up and shot back 'Indeed, I've spent time with them, and learned their brewing crafts, AND drunk the stuff down, no matter how noxious. I've done all that and would do more, if it will make me able to give Arthur a child! Now can you, my fine fellow, say you would do as much for the king?" Neither imperious or whining, she was so proud and fierce and direct that I found myself saying "How did a nice girl like you get into a situation like that?" That's when I knew what my first novel would be, and who better to tell it than Gwen herself?

LAG: I love the historical setting after the Romans have left Britain. What made you decide to set the story during this time period instead of during the often used Middle Ages setting?
PW: I've always admired Mary Renault's Theseus books, The King Must Die and The Bull from the Sea, where she took the legend back to the time it would have originated and treated it as history, with reasonable explanations for things that were later overlaid with mythic meaning and power. People who do this are called 'euhemerists,' and I knew I wanted to approach my Guinevere that way. When I began to study the subject, it became clear the earliest references went back the 150 years between the fall of the Roman Empire and the conquering of Britain by the Saxons in 550 A.D. If my research had shown the story to have begun in the Middle Ages, that's when I would have set it.

LAG: How did you research the time period and Arthurian legends? Did you make any trips to the U.K.?
PW: Even in the 1980's there were many scholarly books on the subject. For the entire trilogy I put in 11 years of research and writing, and made four specific trips to Britain where I did nothing but travel the roads she would have, hiked up to every hill-fort and crawled around every Roman ruin mentioned in my work. I carried everything in my backpack, stayed in hostels, traveled mostly by bus and hauled home tons of books, maps and pamphlets. All told, it was one of the most exciting and rewarding projects of my whole life, and I did it between the age of 45 and 55.

LAG: Do you have a favorite character in Child of the Northern Spring? Guinevere is of course my favorite, but I loved Bedivere. His concern for Arthur, and all around gentlemanly behavior is fantastic.
PW: Bedivere is one of the earliest of Arthur's companions, and it is often suggested that the Breton Lancelot is simply a French attempt to co-opt the character of Bedivere. When you live with these archetypical personalities for such a long time, you develop a fondness for and understanding of most everyone. Even Morgan, for all her traditional hatred of Arthur, tugs at the heart when you think of her as the daughter cast aside to make way for her mother's new husband and baby. I'm partial to Nimue who is, to me, one of the most spiritual of them all. Brigit is equally devout but in a Christian vein, whereas Nimue is a total innocent who reflects all manner of Goddess wisdom with a complete trust. When she went off with Pelinore like that, I was awestruck at her courage and faith, and the sincerity of her feelings for Merlin were deeply touching to me.

LAG: Faith is often mentioned in Child of the Northern Spring as the old faith involving Druids starts to compete with the new faith of Christianity. What made you decide to have faith as an issue in Arthur’s court?
PW: I didn't make a deliberate choice on that. I don't write fantasy but the people of that time had a great deal of superstition, faith, credulity and belief in the presence of supernatural powers. I studied a lot of archaeological digs, reports and collections, and it's very evident that belief in and appeals to the gods was a common factor in the daily life of the Romano-Britain, Celt and Saxon so naturally my characters reflect that. It was hard times and life was scary.

LAG: I like how you often used practical to the times explanations for some of the legend, including the round table. Did you find the round table theory in historical sources or was it a product of your imagination?
PW: I studied architecture in college, and have always had a hand in the design of my surroundings, including furniture, so it was fairly logical to design my own Round Table. I like the idea of individual segments as it allows for servants to move around and would be easier to pack up and move to wherever the Court was to meet next--a solid table such as that shown at Winchester is horrifically heavy and probably impossible to move easily. Both the challenge and the fun of finding real explanations for mythic things is what makes me happy to be an euhemerist. For instance, in Child when Morgan lifts the great sword Excalibur out of the waters of the Black Lake, she chants a rather pedantic verse about it's creation, basically saying it was forged on a dark and windy night. A bit of simple fancy? No way! I went looking for a metallurgist who could explain how a Dark Age smith could create a steel blade (which is probably what Excalibur was). He said it would have been made outdoors (as most smithies were by a stream's edge), on a night when there was no moon or starlight because the smith gauges the exact moment when to start hammering on the blade by the specific shade of the glowing metal, and any extra light would affect his vision of it. And there would have been a very heavy wind forcing more oxygen into the fire where he was working to make the temperature higher. So what can be taken by the reader as a bit of atmospheric invention is actually a report on what would have been required to make a special blade in reality.

LAG: Do you have any plans for any additional novels?
PW: I have a finished manuscript of "Ophelia's Tale" which needs just a bit more polishing and an agent--as with the other 'legends,' I don't present anything counter to the source, which is what Shakespeare gives us on stage. But you'll never look at Hamlet the same way again. And I've already put in several years of research on a novel of the Trojan War. Other than that, who knows.

LAG: I always have to ask . . . who are your favorite authors and/or what are a few of your favorite books?
PW: Among the Arthurians, it's Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy by far. But I also admire various works of Daphne Du Maurier, Saint-Exupery, Lawrence Durrell, Margaret George, Tracy Chevalier, Sharon Kay Penman and C.W. Gortner...for starters.

“The standout opening volume of Woolley's Guinevere trilogy, first published in 1987, describes the Celtic princess's childhood in loving, sensuous detail with an uncannily accurate historical eye for day-to-day details... Woolley does a marvelous job of portraying the political upheaval of the time... an engrossing and satisfying addition to the canon.”
Publishers Weekly STARRED REVIEW of Sourcebooks Landmark Edition

Among the first to look at the story of Camelot through Guinevere’s eyes, Woolley sets the traditional tale in the time of its origin, after Britain has shattered into warring fiefdoms. Hampered by neither fantasy nor medieval romance, this young Guinevere is a feisty Celtic tomboy who sees no reason why she must learn to speak Latin, wear dresses, and go south to marry that king. But legends being what they are, the story of Arthur’s rise to power soon intrigues her, and when they finally meet, Guinevere and Arthur form a partnership that has lasted for 1500 years.

This is Arthurian epic at its best—filled with romance, adventure, authentic Dark Ages detail, and wonderfully human people.

Persia Woolley is the author of the Guinevere Trilogy: Child of the Northern Spring, Queen of the Summer Stars, and Guinevere: Legend in Autumn. She lives in Northern California. You can find Persia and more information on Facebook.
Giveaway Details
Danielle of Sourcebooks has been kind enough to offer two copies of the Child of the Northern Spring by Persia Woolley for this giveaway.
If you would like to win a copy of Child of the Northern Spring, please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel or this interview.
As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.
I will be using to pick the winners from the comments.
This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).
No P.O. Boxes.
The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday December 3rd.
Good luck!


  1. Sorry all for the spacing issues on this post - Blogspot seems to be working against me tonight!

  2. What I liked was how hands on the author was in her research for the book, actually visiting the places and specific pathways that appear in the book. That's dedication.
    caliblue7 at gmail dot com

  3. I always appreciate 'author's notes' in the really good historic fiction novels. This is a kind of author's notes as a preview. I am too much of a realist to accept the 'sword in the stone' legend, so I liked the bit about how a smithie would have created Excaliber. Thanks for the giveaway; I would love to read this book.

  4. It is so refreshing to see new takes on old stories. I love historical fiction this way!
    thx for giveaway!

  5. No need to enter me in the contest as I have the book already -- just wanted to say I enjoyed the interview and I'm looking forward to reading the trilogy.

  6. This sounds like a good read, very adventurous.


  7. I love it when authors try to get the historical facts that go along with legends.

    hewella1 at gmail dot com

  8. This book sounds so interesting! I haven't read any Arthur books before and this looks like a good place to start. I like how she found practical answers to parts of the legend, very cool!


  9. I read Rosalind Miles's Queneviere trilogy a year or so ago, and liked it ... I liked seeing the Arthurian legends I love so well told through a girl's perspective - and what a girl! :o) So I am definitely interested in this "new" trilogy -- in getting another take on Gwennie's story :o) Great interview!!!


  10. I didn't realize that the book was being republished; thought it was new. Great interview!

  11. I'm reading a book about King Arthur right now. I love that time period and all the legends and romance that go with it. This was a great interview. Hearing about all the research that went into the book was fascinating. Thank you for the chance to win the book.

    leesmithwriting at yahoo dot com

  12. You had me at "Arthurian." :)
    (Email available via blog profile.)

  13. Wow! Great, in-depth interview, Laura. I started reading it yesterday but ran out of time, so I returned today.

    I am intrigued by the little details of every day life during this era, as well as the role of the supernatural and superstition in people's lives. It actually ALL sounds fascinating!

    Thanks for hosting this giveaway. I will post it in my blog's sidebar.


  14. I'm interested to see how the Guinevere/Lancelot dynamic is handled, and also how Nimue is portrayed. There's so much you can do with an Arthurian retelling and I don't think I've read many (if any) from Guinevere's perspective!

    Thanks for the giveaway :)


  15. What intrigues me is how the author will handle the Dark Ages in her book and the love relationship between Guinevere and Arthur. I'd love to read the book.
    polo-puppy-fluffy at hotmail dot com

  16. I am intrigued by how accurate she is historically when she writes. Thanks for the great giveaway :)

    mrsjohnson1982 at yahoo dot com

  17. I am impressed by how long she researched this. I would love to win this. Thanks for thre giveaway.

    lizzi0915 at aol dot com

  18. It's always the research that intrigues me, plus who doesn't any story about King Arthur?

    icewoman96 at gmail dot com