Draca – an interview with author Geoffrey Gudgion

This week I’m very pleased to welcome author Geoffrey Gudgion to my blog. I came across Geoff’s first book Saxon’s Bane a few years ago and loved the combination of a thriller with British folklore and magic. Geoff’s latest book Draca follows this same format, by weaving Viking folklore into a modern, exciting thriller.

Draca is the story of Jack, a veteran haunted by his service in Afghanistan. It is the story of George, a yachtswoman, born with a caul and able to see things that others can’t. And it is the story of an old sailing cutter that seems to have a life of its own. As Jack restores the old cutter and begins to sail it, the story unfolds. This is not a run-of-the-mill thriller. It deals with serious issues like PTSD, whilst also being a fantastic voyage of escapism that will make you shiver with suspense and keep you on the edge of your seat!

Geoff very kindly agreed to answer some questions about the book, which I’m delighted to share here:

Andrea: Where did the inspiration for the book come from?

GG: Unusually, the setting came before the concept. I was sailing in the English Channel in a friend’s boat, and we anchored one night in Poole Harbour. We found a desolate backwater, a place of crying gulls and salt smells where there was no sight nor sound of humanity, apart from us. We sat drinking whisky with the easy familiarity of long friendship, and watched the sun go down on a long summer evening. The place was so evocative that I had to write it into a story. Then as the tide went out the bones of dead ships appeared in the mud, and I wondered what stories that decaying wood could tell. A few miles away lay Wareham, which was sacked by the Vikings in 876. What if that wood was from a longship? In a moment I had the setting for Draca. There’s even a Dorset saint called Witta who’s said to have walked on water.

The concept took a little longer to crystallise out of two themes that took a lot of stitching together. Firstly, I wanted to explore the idea that an object might be evil, in a Stone Tape kind of way. I once looked at an Aztec stone carving in a museum and that inanimate thing gave me the shivers. I wondered if human atrocity could be stored like an echo in, say, a venerated object, and perhaps influence behaviour millennia afterwards.

The other theme was how differently people can interpret events. They observe the same facts or behaviours, apply their own prejudices or filters, and come up with totally incompatible narratives. I love playing with ambiguity. In Draca there are three main ‘voices’; there’s Jack, the veteran who’s close to breaking, there’s his father who thinks he’s just a pig-headed fool, and there’s George, the feisty yachtswoman. She’s fey, ‘sees’ things no-one else can, and thinks Jack’s passion for his boat has become possession; the boat owns the man. I leave it to the reader to decide who they want to believe. Perhaps they’re all right, some of the time.

Those two themes eventually, with much editing, became Draca.

A: In Draca and your previous book Saxon’s Bane, you weave ancient myth and magic into a modern story, can you explain how that came about?

GG: I’ve always been interested in English history, and the way it is written in the landscape around us. That dates back to University, when I specialised in Historical Geography. I’m also fascinated by faiths, because you can’t understand behaviours without understanding beliefs. How, for example, could Viking warriors face death in battle with such unholy joy?

I also like researching how faith interacts with nature; the medieval wise-woman who muttered a few words and cured a wound by packing it with bog moss might have been burned as a witch. These days we know that sphagnum contains a form of penicillin. I think there’s still a lot that can’t be explained by science, perhaps will never be explained, and personally I keep an open mind. My cultural heritage is Christian, but I have a problem with God giving man dominion over nature and I find the pagan concept of living within nature appealing.

Sorry, that’s a really long answer. Sometimes writing books is a way of working things out in your own head.

A: Are you an avid sailor? If not, how did you research the sailing and boat restoration elements of the story?

GG: For about six years I had annual voyages crewing that friend’s boat in the Channel, Biscay, and the Baltic. I’ve only experienced one storm under sail and I drew on that but mainly relied on research. I found a 1935 book written by a man who sailed a pilot cutter like Draca, so if anyone ever says ’that can’t be right’ then I can point to the writings of a hugely experienced sailor and say ‘oh yes it can’.

A: Your protagonist, Jack, suffers from PTSD and you’ve chosen to share royalties from the book with the veteran’s charity Combat Stress. Why was this important to you?

GG: I’ve lived with PTSD for much of my adult life, though Draca isn’t cathartic; the book isn’t about PTSD per se, it’s about a troubled character who’s haunted by his past, or might be just haunted. Ambiguity again. I drew on personal experience to craft some of that. I’m an ex-serviceman, though I never saw action, so I’m motivated to support those who’ve been damaged in much more heroic circumstances. I won’t put a downer on your blog by spelling out some nasty personal history, but there’s as much as I’m prepared to place in the public domain on my web site here, and yes, the crash scenes in Saxon’s Bane were drawn from life.

But the book is much more about behaviours than trauma; there are family tensions, relationships, love, even a frisson of lust. There are happy moments mixed in with the stresses. A bit like life, really.

Andrea: Thank you to Geoff for sharing some fascinating background to the book. The eloquence of his answers gives you some flavour of the quality of his writing. Please do buy a copy of the book if you can and enjoy!

Buy links:
Amazon paperback here.
Amazon Kindle here.

Waterstones, Foyles, and other retailers here

87 thoughts on “Draca – an interview with author Geoffrey Gudgion

  1. Andrea thank you so much for having me on your blog. Really appreciate it and I’m delighted that you enjoyed Draca. I’ve ticked to be notified of follow-up comments so I will be happy to answer any questions your readers ask. Geoff

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a story that sounds right up my alley. Once we can get out and about properly again, I shall enjoy looking for this novel. Thank you too for those interesting responses, Geoffrey!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pat, my agent tells me that cross-genre novels like Draca and Saxon’s Bane are hard to sell into the Big 5 publishers – with a little history, a little myth or legend, a little romance, and a lot of drama they don’t fit an Amazon tick-box. He encouraged me to write a ms in the ‘Historical Fantasy’ genre, rather like Guy Gavriel Kay. He’s currently touting the first in a series and I’m working on the sequel. Geoff

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I read Tom Cunliffe’s book Topsail & Battleaxe (about sailing the North Atlantic in the early 1980s) too many years ago but always wished I’d found a book of fiction to match it! Perhaps I just have, after 40 odd years! I might just look into both of these books. Thank you Andrea for this post and thank you Geoffrey, I look forward to reading your book.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for this introduction, Andrea. It’s always fascinating to learn more of a writer’s creative processes and Geoff’s books sound intriguing. Very much my sort of thing. I’ve got your website open, Geoff, to look at properly later. And after some dithering I’ve downloaded Corn Goddess ahead of both novels – simply because I’m in a short story mood at the moment.

    Geoff, I was interested in a reply you gave here about your next book. Congratulations firstly, on already having another book finished and a sequel in the making. But it’s frustrating that authors are encourgaed to write to the requirements of the giants. To me “a little history, a little myth or legend, a little romance, and a lot of drama” sounds exactly the mix I would like! I’d like Amazon to create a new tick box instead of limiting the choices of both authors and readers! That said, good luck with the historical fantasy 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  5. That’s a really good interview, Andrea. Very interesting. I have my copy of Draca and am just about to launch myself into it with great enthusiasm. Geoffrey is a wonderful writer. I agree with what he said about some objects being evil, as I’ve also experienced that same shiver he describes. Sometimes whole buildings have given me the goosepimples. Everything about the Vikings fascinates me, and always has done so. I remember drawing a very bloody picture at school in my exercise book when I was about eight — it was of Vikings sacking a Saxon village!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think I need to read this book. Even though I was born, raised, and lived in the US, I always have felt attracted to British folklore and magic. Truly. And fascinating how a setting caused the writing of this novel. Also, fascinating answer ending with thoughts of “pagan” over Christianity. I have the same thoughts. It’s Nature with Humans, definitely not “Man over Nature.” Much to think about it, so that means its an excellent interview, and a vibrant and exciting author.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sounds a really interesting read Andrea, and loved the interview… And who knows the power held within the vibration of an object.. This is how Psychometry works 🙂
    Many thanks for sharing Geoffrey’s Book Andrea, Best wishes to you both …
    Have a beautiful rest of the week 🙂 🙏

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Thank you so much for this interesting interview, Andrea. I love to read about the genesis of a book; the whys and hows and wheres. You and Geoffrey have given me a fabulous post to read and a book to add to my list!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. We need more complicated and nuanced stories that delve into how life really works without ticking prescribed publisher boxes. Thankful that authors like Gudgion are willing to do that work to give us better beautiful tales.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hello again, Andrea. I’ve read a few of your recommendations in the past, and they have not disappointed me. Thanks for bringing Geoff’s new book to my attention; I’ll download a copy onto my kindle as my next read. Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

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