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

Withdrawing

Autumn rushes past and I’ve found myself retreating, the fallen leaves suggestive of a warm duvet to bury myself under.  I’ve retreated away from the computer and into times past.  I’ve been solving murders with Miss Marple in St. Mary Mead and visiting the Old Curiosity Shop.  I’ve been writing a short story about lost time.  Neil Gaiman said that books are the way we communicate with the dead.  They are that, but they are also a way to experience a time I was born too late for.  Although I know intellectually that I would have found the conventions and prejudices of earlier times restrictive, I often think I was meant for an earlier age, a time when there was less of everything and awe was more possible.

In the wake of storm Callum, I walk the old waggonway.  I walk under tarnished clouds scudding quickly across the sky.  The air is hollowed by wind, the hedgerows rustle like old paper.  Rain falls, augmenting the vibrant colours.  Not all of the trees have begun to turn.  On the edge of a dark copse, hooded by the canopy and overgrown with bracken, in a place where pink campion blooms in spring, there is a beech that is always spectacular in autumn.  It is a bright quilt of vivid colour in the gloom.  The horse chestnuts are already half-naked, clinging to crisped bronze leaves like curling fingers.  Here and there, the hedgerows are lit by a fiery maple or a golden hawthorn.

The hawthorns are strung with garnet beads.  Rosehips are like tiny crimson lanterns.  The track groans with seed: hogweed starbursts, knapweed pokers, spiky clocks of ragwort.  Rosebay Willowherb is also known as fireweed, because of its penchant for growing in the wake of destruction, but it might just as well be because of its autumn finery: columns of burning red, orange and brown with whiskers where its seeds have flown.  A few flowers remain – solitary thistles and clover, purple vetch and clusters of viper’s bugloss.  Monstrous butterbur leaves, some green, some rotted and black, cloak the banks.  The hawthorns sing with goldfinches – it must be a time of plenty for them.

To walk in nature is both to engage and to retreat.  I engage with the earth and its turning, but I retreat from the clamour of the world.  These waggonways are layered in time.  Haunted by the ghosts of horse drawn carts and the shades of steam locomotives carrying coal from the great northern coalfield to the river.  Listen closely and you might still hear the clatter of hooves or the wheeze of an engine.  Look closely and perhaps you’ll see a mirage of rails.  The past speaks, if we know how to hear it.  It speaks in the words of dead writers and in the song of the landscape.

A flock of long-tailed tits loops suddenly across the path ahead, to take refuge in a tall tree at the side of the track.  I listen to the commotion of their twitterings, watch the graceful dip of their tails.  In winter they group together for warmth and safety, and perhaps also for company, to share stories of their own ancestors.  My own journey for the moment is away from company; there is always an element of withdrawal at this time of year, preparation for the journey inwards.  But the time for company will come soon enough.  A time to set another space at the table or to pull another chair up to the fire.  To remember those who have come before and to know them through their stories.  The past speaks, if we only listen.

Finding My Balance – a guest post by K.C. Tansley

This week I’m very pleased to welcome author K.C. Tansley whose book, The Girl Who Saved Ghosts has just been released.  The book is the second in ‘the unbelievables’ series and I was very excited to read it after greatly enjoying the first book.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Kat is a very unusual and likeable heroine who has a special gift that means she is surrounded by ghosts begging for her help.  The book is a break-neck adventure about ghosts and time travel, but it is also a warm story of love, family and a girl growing up into the young woman she was meant to be.  A perfect adventure for the dark, cosy nights of autumn. 

And while Kat’s journey is fraught with challenge, author K.C. has also faced a challenging journey leading up to the launch of the book.  Here, she talks about a year spent finding her balance:

The past year of my life has been all about finding my balance, between teaching and writing, between writing and promoting, between working and having fun, between exercising and eating right. But it hasn’t just been about finding these figurative balances in my life.

I’ve spent most of the year relearning how to balance in the physical world. In the fall of 2016, I had severe vertigo that left me unable to stand and made it ten times harder to perform daily tasks. Doing my laundry took more focus than a calculus problem. When the world is moving beneath you (imagine being on a rocky boat at sea with your stomach somersaulting from the motion sickness), it becomes much harder to button a shirt.  Forget about bending over to tie my shoes, I’d be flat on the floor.

The doctors told me I had a virus that attacked the nerve in my inner ear, inflaming the oh so important nerve that controlled my physical balance. My inner ear kept sending my brain false information: “We’re on a boat and it’s rocking!” I, however, would be standing in the middle of my kitchen, holding onto the counter for dear life.

People told me to just ignore it. Because you know when you perceive something is happening if you can just say, “This isn’t real,” then bibbitty babbitty boo, it all goes back to normal. Nope.

Instead, I spent six months in vestibular rehabilitation, relearning how to move with my ears malfunctioning. I had to rely on my leg muscles and my eyes to give my brain the right information on what was and wasn’t in motion.

I had to learn when to push myself and when to rest. I couldn’t avoid what made me sick. Because if I did, I’d never regain my abilities to work on a computer, walk a straight line, or think clearly. I had to keep exposing myself to what made me sick until my brain learned to compensate.

I’ve regained my ability to work on the computer. To stand and teach my classes. To drive short distances. Lots of noise and movement, however, cause my vertigo to return. My ears ache, feel full, ring, and click. They don’t work right anymore. My mind gets fatigued more easily that it used to. And I lose my balance a few times a day.

But I do my physical therapy exercises and I dance and I walk and I use my computer. I challenge myself to stay vertical. I’ve learned to accept my limits. I’ve learned that there will be good days and bad days and all I can do is appreciate the balance I have. Savor the moments when I can walk without feeling like I’m on the moon. Enjoy when my stomach is settled and the ground is staying still below me.

Balance is a tricky thing and I’m constantly re-finding mine.

Book Summary

She tried to ignore them. Now she might risk everything to save them.

After a summer spent in a haunted castle—a summer in which she traveled through time to solve a murder mystery—Kat is looking forward to a totally normal senior year at McTernan Academy. Then the ghost of a little girl appears and begs Kat for help, and more unquiet apparitions follow. All of them are terrified by the Dark One, and it soon becomes clear that that this evil force wants Kat dead.

Searching for help, Kat leaves school for the ancestral home she’s only just discovered. Her friend Evan, whose family is joined to her own by an arcane history, accompanies her. With the assistance of her eccentric great aunts and a loyal family ghost, Kat soon learns that she and Evan can only fix the present by traveling into the past.

As Kat and Evan make their way through nineteenth-century Vienna, the Dark One stalks them, and Kat must decide what she’s willing to sacrifice to save a ghost.

***

1 sentence summary:

When an ancestor’s ghost begs her for help, Kat risks herself—and the friend who’s sworn to protect her—by traveling in time to nineteenth-century Vienna.

Bio

K.C Tansley lives with her warrior lapdog, Emerson, and two quirky golden retrievers on a hill somewhere in Connecticut. She tends to believe in the unbelievables—spells, ghosts, time travel—and writes about them.

Never one to say no to a road trip, she’s climbed the Great Wall twice, hopped on the Sound of Music tour in Salzburg, and danced the night away in the dunes of Cape Hatteras. She loves the ocean and hates the sun, which makes for interesting beach days. The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts is her award-winning and bestselling first novel in The Unbelievables series.

As Kourtney Heintz, she also writes award winning cross-genre fiction for adults.

You can find out more about her at: http://kctansley.com

Links

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2iPDlcf

Ibooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-girl-who-saved-ghosts/id9781943024056

Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-girl-who-saved-ghosts-kc-tansley/1126604900?ean=2940154417829

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-girl-who-saved-ghosts

Author Website: http://kctansley.com

Thanks to K.C. for visiting.  Please visit the links above to find out more and get your copy of The Girl Who Saved Ghosts!

The Return of the Courtesan: a guest post by Victoria Blake

The Venice of my imagination is a mysterious place.  A place of watery reflections, swirling fog and twisting canal-ways.  I have visited twice, both times in summer, and I didn’t find this Venice.  But fortunately, there are other versions of the city, more like those of my dreams.  One of these is the Venice of Victoria Blake.  Victoria’s novel: The Return of the Courtesan (published previously in hardback as Titian’s Boatman) has just been published in paperback.  The story weaves together the lives of an intriguing array of characters in 16th Century Venice, modern day New York and London.  The Venice depicted here drips with atmosphere: plague-ridden but opulent, beautiful but corrupt. Its characters are as well-drawn and evocative as the city.   I can’t recommend this book highly enough and encourage you to read it.  If you like history, art, Venice or just a good story well told, this book offers it.  So I’m very pleased to welcome Victoria Blake with a taster to whet your appetite. 

Now over to Victoria to introduce the courtesan of the title…


In the sixteenth century, Venice was notorious for its courtesans. So notorious that when Shakespeare had Othello say to Desdemona, “ I took you for that cunning whore of Venice,” everyone, from the groundlings up, would have understood the allusion. In the early part of the century there were said to be roughly 11,000 prostitutes in a city of 100,000 people and the writers of the time were obsessed with them. Here is Tomaso Garzoni in 1585: ‘More menacing than a lightning bolt, more horrifying than an earthquake, more venomous than a snake …’ That’s an immense amount of power to hand over to a working woman! But it also clearly shows male fear of women’s ‘unbridled’ sexuality.

My courtesan Tullia Buffo is modeled on the real life courtesan Veronica Franco. She was a woman who single-handedly supported three children, a large extended family and a household of servants. She was a respected poet and member of one of the leading literary salons of the day. She was a great supporter of other women and she tried to encourage the authorities to set up a refuge for women fallen on hard times. She was a cortigiana onesta an “honoured courtesan”. Thus the source of her income was arranging to have sex for a high fee with the elite of Venice and the many kinds of people who passed through the city which included a king, Henry III of France.

The fact that she could read or write at all was in itself remarkable. In Venice in the 1580s literacy amongst women was only 10-12 percent. Her intellectual life began by being privately tutored with her brothers and then continued when she was taken up by the patrician and celebrated patron of letters, Domenico Venier, who ran a literary salon at his palace, Ca’ Venier. He not only encouraged her he also published her and by her mid twenties she was well known as a poet.

Her prominence however generated great jealously from Venier’s nephew Maffio, who in 1575 wrote a series of misogynistic verses, mocking her: ‘Your mouth is as foul as rotten mud…your breasts hang low enough to row a boat on the canal…Your eyes bulge out of your head as if a priest were exorcising you of all your sins…’

Oh, Maffio, really!

But Franco refused to be shamed or silenced. These outrageous slurs spurred her on and she came out all guns blazing, challenging him to a poetic duel. “I now challenge you to single combat: gird yourself with weapons and valour. I’ll show you how far the female sex excels your own. Arm yourself however you please and take good heed for your survival …”

What a wonderful response! This is not a woman who would have been driven off twitter by trolls.

In the aftermath of the plague of 1575-1577 she was put on trial by the Inquisition. She survived – just, but her reputation was damaged. She died at the age of 44 in a poorer part of Venice. But through her poetry and her letters she comes down to us, dignified, combative, witty and flirtatious. In an era where women in the public eye are often vilified for how they look there is a lot we can learn from Franco’s verses.   I like to think she would have been out there taking part in the Women’s March earlier this year, proudly wearing a pink pussy hat.

Although I used Franco as the basis for Tullia Buffo, the courtesan in my book, I give Buffo a much happier ending. One of the rewards of fiction is having the ability to re-write history. I wasn’t going to have Tullia die in a poor part of the city. I hope Franco would approve. And I very much hope you enjoy reading my book.

https://victoriablakewriter.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/VM_Blake @VM_Blake

https://www.facebook.com/victoriablakeauthor/

 

Thank you for your visit Victoria.  The Return of the Courtesan is easily available to buy on Amazon, including Amazon UK here and Amazon USA here and you can visit Victoria at the links above.

 

Cold Iron

It’s almost midnight.  Sky and sea are faded to indigo, as though there is nothing beyond.  A moon just past full wallows in the sky.  The church is the highest point on the coast.  It’s spire is a beacon on the landscape, visible from sea or land from miles distant.  A violet blush illuminates its windows from within, hinting at something taking place inside.  At this time of night on a Saturday, the coast isn’t quiet.  Revellers weave along the sea front, making their way home from a night out.  Cars pull up in the car park, their owners greeting one another before pumping away along the coast road.  Soon they will all be gone, leaving this domain to the gulls and the crows once more, but first, I have an appointment with some ghosts.

Cold IronTonight is the launch of Cold Iron, an anthology of 21st Century ghost stories, in which my story The Last Bus Home appears. The launch is part of the Iron in the Soul festival, a series of literary events taking place across the town of Cullercoats.  Cullercoats has a history as a cultural centre.  Founded in 1539 to support fishing, coal and salt mining, it is little more than a small village, perched above a crescent shaped beach surrounded by caves.   But from 1870 to 1920, it was an artists’ colony and Winslow Homer lived here for two years, painting the fishwives as they worked on the beach.

The launch takes place at St George’s Church, a large, French Gothic church built in1884 by the Duke of Northumberland in memory of his father.  Inside, the church soars on sandstone arches, with high windows.  There is a sense of height and narrowness, the curves drawing your eye up to the ceiling.  Most of the church is in darkness, but there is a purple cast to the apse and three sanctuary lamps burn red before the altar.  As we enter, the organ soars.  It is considered one of the best church organs in the country and fills the space with deep, rich notes.

I’ve always been interested in ghosts.  I like their magic and their mystery, though I don’t know whether I believe they are the spirits of departed souls.  My story is set on a bus, the last bus home of the title.  There is something lonely and eerie about an empty bus, travelling through the darkness, particularly on a rainy night.  The drone of the engine, the gentle movement, transporting you to another place.  There is something about a bus that encourages reverie.  A bus is full of anonymous people thrown together by their need to get somewhere.  You don’t know what their story is or who – or what – they are.

The readings introduce us to a variety of ghosts, all in modern settings.  In between, we drink hot chocolate and listen to the moan of the organ music.  When we emerge into the night, the revellers have gone and the coast is quiet.  The sound of the organ still vibrates, along with the gentle roar of the sea.  We have listened to their stories and now we leave the night to its ghosts.

Cold Iron is available to buy now from Amazon here or through the publisher here.

Guest post: Sarah Potter – Desiccation

This week I’d like to introduce Sarah Potter, who is stopping by on a blog tour for her recently-released novel Desiccation.  When I was growing up, reading girl’s boarding school stories, such as Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers and St. Clare’s was very popular, though they were far beyond the experience of those of us who read them.  So I was immediately absorbed by the world Sarah has created, but also surprised, entertained and maybe a little scared…for this is like no boarding school story I’ve ever read before.    Now over to Sarah…

Proof Copy of Desiccation

Many thanks, Andrea, for inviting me to guest on your wonderful blog, my second stop on my virtual Book Tour.

I always think of Harvesting Hecate as a treasure trove filled with seasonal delights and the magic of Mother Nature. In my novel, Desiccation, a violent breach in the planet’s equilibrium occurs as a result of a small group of young people messing with magic.

Desiccation ebook_image

Here’s a precis of the book blurb…

Autumn Term 1967, mayhem breaks out at an elite British boarding school on the south coast of England. Samantha, the new head girl, intends to reign supreme and exploit every loophole in the system to her advantage. This includes running an illicit nocturnal business in the gymnasium and conducting midnight séances in the library, although she hasn’t bargained on London mod, Joe, entering the equation.

Scholarship girl Janet senses a disruption to the natural order, impossible to explain away with science. When teachers and students start to exhibit multiple personality changes and develop a hive mentality, Janet becomes the despised outsider. But can she trust, as her protector, a hippie pixie who claims he’s an expert in repairing dimensions? And will she muster the courage to help him reverse a catastrophe that could destroy humankind?

To put the novel into its historical context, 1967 was the year…

  • The US, UK, and the Soviet Union signed the Outer Space Treaty to ban nuclear weapons from outer space.
  • At the Academy Awards “A Man for All Seasons” won the Oscar for best picture.
  • Huge demonstrations against the Vietnam War took place in New York City, San Francisco, and Washington DC.
  • The hippie counterculture entered public awareness and we had the Summer of Love.
  • The Beatles released the album “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”.
  • The Six Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbours ends with Israeli victory and the annexation of East Jerusalem.
  • Guerrilla leader Che Guevara was executed for attempting to start a revolution in Bolivia.

So why did I choose that year? And why set the story in a boarding school, when so much of significance was going on in the outside world?

St Trinians Girl

They say, write what you know. As a teenager in the latter part of the 60s, I attended an elite British Boarding School on the south coast of England. It was an institution that existed in splendid isolation from the nearby town: a world within a world that attempted to distance itself from social change. Perhaps a quote from Desiccation best demonstrates this, from the viewpoint of the nightmare nouveau riche head girl, Samantha.

“Joe, her latest project, was a common upstart, worth putting in his place before others like him got ideas above their station and started a revolution. Only last month, her father had grumbled to her about the working classes having suddenly found a voice of their own due to the Labour Government, the Beatles, and a gamekeeper banging Lady Chatterley. To illustrate this destabilisation of society, he had bemoaned the fact that it was no longer possible to spend a weekend in a five-star hotel and be certain the clientele would speak any better than the porters did.”

Sarah Author Pic (300px)I expect you’re wondering if I was a naughty girl like Samantha or well behaved and studious like my central protagonist, Janet. Well, the answer to that lies somewhere in the middle, minus the snobbery. My first boyfriend was working class and a drummer in a pop group, although nothing like Joe, who would have half terrified me to death. But I did meet some bad boys in the early 70s: ex-Borstal lads, skinheads who wore braces and big boots, and, like Joe and his mates, only knew one adjective beginning with eff.

Desiccation is a quirky novel that slides between genres: science fiction, urban fantasy, teenage relationship drama, and thriller, plus containing small touches of eroticism and humour (not occurring simultaneously, might I add). I didn’t write it specifically for young adult readers, but suspect that it’s a crossover novel suited to anyone aged fourteen to one-hundred.

In these days of strict book categorisation, such a genre and readership age mix is a nightmare to market but, hey, I love challenges.

<><><>

Desiccation ebook_image

If you’re interested in purchasing a copy of Desiccation, you might like to visit my blog page http://sarahpotterwrites.com/publication-updates/ to find out more.