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  • Writer's pictureJo-Anne Blanco

Excerpts From My Interviews 1: Q & A with Heather Barksdale

HB: What inspired you to write the “Morgan le Fay” series?

JAB: I am very much inspired by folk tales, legends, and mythology from all over the world – be they Greek, Roman, Celtic, Norse, Persian, Indonesian etc. However, many of my ideas also come from my imagination and my own experiences, as a child, teenager, adult and so on. With these first novels in my Young Adult book series, Fata Morgana, in which Morgan is a young child, I draw a lot on my own experiences as a child and my research into childhood throughout history. Historical research is another essential well of inspiration. Although my novels contain many magical and fantasy elements, I do try, as far as possible, to maintain a sense of historical accuracy as well. Mythology, legend, folklore, history, psychology, religion, philosophy, personal experience – all of these fire my imagination, and provide me with never-ending sources of inspiration and ideas. Writing for me is as much an educational experience it is a creative one.

HB: How did you come up with the names of your main characters?

JAB: Many or most of my main characters already exist in history, folklore and legend, although in the Fata Morgana Series they will turn out to be very different from the ones people have heard of or thought they knew. These are entirely new twists on these characters – nothing will be what it seems or what you expect, which is a great way to keep readers guessing! There are of course some entirely invented characters and it’s fun to create names for them that say something about their personalities. For example, Twadell, the Piskie King (from “twaddle” which basically means nonsense or gibberish), or Halwynna, the lady’s maid (deriving from the juxtaposition of “Hal”, the Old English for war chief or army warrior, and “Wynn”, of Welsh origin, meaning fair, pure, blessed).

HB: Is there anything that you want readers to know about you, your writing process or your book?

JAB: I've mentioned a little here about delving into ancient mythology, legend and folklore, and how I relish revitalising and reinventing powerful tales and characters for a modern readership, all while creating my own original stories around them. I love the fact that there is a seemingly endless wealth of material to draw upon and adapt, much of it ignored, forgotten or belittled by today's mainstream culture. With my Young Adult book series, Fata Morgana, one of my goals is to ignite an interest and fascination in these stories and characters among readers; to inspire them to seek out more obscure yet resonant legends and learn about them for themselves.

I’ve also talked a bit about history and how important it is to my creative process. One of the things I found fascinating while doing research for my books is how our idea of childhood today is largely a Victorian/Edwardian concept. Prior to this, particularly from what we know of the medieval period, children were sent out to work early and had to grow up fast. Children did have toys and games they would play, but the children of nobility were taught Latin and statecraft from the age of around four or five, while the children of peasants were apprenticed to a trade or sent out to work in the fields at an equally young age. I wrestled with whether or not to go for historical authenticity in my books, or to portray children and their childhoods in a more modern, recognisable way. Eventually, I chose the former. I know it can be jarring for contemporary readers, but I felt I had to go with historical realism as a way of grounding the more fantastical aspects, and with the knowledge that originally inspired me.

People have asked me why I chose Morgan le Fay as my protagonist rather than inventing a new character who could have embarked upon a similar journey. It’s an interesting question. I’ve always loved Morgan and feel very defensive of her. I think, ultimately, the reasoning behind Morgan as the central figure of the series is her place in literary history as a much maligned character, the target of an excessive amount of fear, vitriol and venom. She’s basically a template for how women who step outside of social norms have been depicted from the early Middle Ages onwards. You can almost literally trace the history of misogyny and how women were perceived at different times during the centuries through the portrayals of Morgan le Fay in literature. I want to set the record straight, reinvent her, give her her own inner life, and approach her from an enlightened, 21st century perspective.

While there are a number of books about Morgan, she is almost always seen through the eyes of others, and is pretty much always either an appendage to Arthur and/or Merlin’s stories, or is inextricably linked to them in some way, even when she’s ostensibly the novel’s protagonist. There are novels which occasionally focus on her outside of an Arthurian context but they seem to be few and far between. Morgan is portrayed sympathetically in some of these books, but in the last decade or so, I’ve noticed the portrayal of Morgan in literature and popular culture reverting back to the one-dimensional villain and an age-old, medieval-like misogyny once more – again, I feel, a sad reflection of our time.

To counter this, I am giving Morgan her own epic tale, as the multi-dimensional heroine of her own life and adventures. It is a story which will be the equivalent of any Arthurian or Norse saga, but centered and focused entirely upon her, and more often than not veering completely away from genre expectations and literary tradition. In this modern era, a very bleak dark age for women and girls in many parts of the world, I aim to do for Morgan what T. H. White did for Arthur in The Once and Future King, and Mary Stewart did for Merlin in her wonderful Merlin trilogy. While centering a known, mythic character, I plan to tell a unique, exciting, inspiring, and thought-provoking ongoing story that has never been told before, and to reinvent my heroine for a new generation and a new age.

Sorry, I appear to have given a rather long answer to this question!

HB: When you encounter writer’s block, what do you do to break yourself out of it?

JAB: Thankfully, that hasn’t happened yet. I seem to suffer from the opposite: an overwhelming surfeit of ideas, stories, and plans for Morgan and her adventures which I have to curtail within the limits of the novel structure. I love both reading and writing long books. Book III, the longest so far, is actually only part of the story I intended to tell in it, but, in the end, I had to divide it into two so that the story continues in Book IV.

If I ever do encounter writer’s block, I’ll probably fall back on what inspired me in the first place and keeps me going: reading and researching legends, fairy stories and folk tales.

HB: Are there any tips that you would like to share with other aspiring authors?

JAB: I don’t feel that I’m really qualified to give other writers advice just yet. I’ve been publishing for four years and still feel that I’m learning on the job! What I will say, though, is what works for me: write what you love. And if love isn’t necessarily the feeling you have about your subject, write what you feel strongly about. Writing should be a joy and/or a solace; something uplifting and heartening that you look forward to and can’t wait to get back to when you have to be away from it. It should never be a chore or something that you dread.

HB: What are you working on next?

JAB: Book IV! Its title is Morgan Le Fay: Hireth and the Missing Moon and publication is scheduled for 2022*.

*Publication of Book IV will now be in 2023.

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