The Lay of Angor

About

Bonnie Scotland - the landscape inspiration for Gondarlan:

As a non-fiction history writer and lecturer, I know that there's no greater story than the truth. So although Lay of Angor is pure fantasy, it's grounded in a 'real' world with its own history, culture and politics; swords without sorcery, dungeons without dragons; a parallel Urth where I could cherry-pick and parody all my favourite periods and events from this Earth's history (and throw in a bit of torrid sex!). So Gondarlan is based on a typical male-dominated European medieval monarchy, with a repressive new religion and an uptight moral code, while Angor is a Classical land based loosely on Plato's Republic: an equal-rights Utopia of tattooed, pipe-weed-smoking, earth-mother-worshipping bisexual hippies... and the running joke is what happens when the two races meet!

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Q: Where does the story come from?
A: A tip given to all aspiring authors is, 'Write what you know'. Well, the main thing I know is 'old stuff' - I've had a passion for history ever since I was an owlish, studious little kid who liked nothing better than goggling at castles, cathedrals, stately homes and museums... and (surprise, surprise!) grew up to be an archaeologist and objects conservator. It was a career that took me to some breathtaking places, let me wander behind the scenes in extraordinary buildings and handle stunning, priceless artefacts - giving me literally a whole world of material culture to draw on and create my own Urth.

So the Lay started with a sense of place... sitting in my blue study in Doncaster in the winter of 2001, gazing through the bare branches of the tree outside my window, imagining a land that was cold in every respect; an impregnable black fortress on a headland jutting out into the sea; a smelly, bustling city-port akin to a medieval version of my native Grimsby... and gradually, as if by magic, it filled up with people and plot. So I began writing, and haven't stopped since!

The core of the story is also drawn and extrapolated from a real situation faced by countless royal and aristocratic women throughout history: being obliged to marry and breed sons to carry on the family name and inherit the family power - and in many cases, to marry a stranger, travel to a foreign country and struggle to cope with its language and customs. My heroine, Elinor, is glumly resigned to this fate, but hopes she will at least be married to the reputedly glamorous prince of Gondarlan's nearest neighbour, Faal (a sophisticated, bijou little Empire inspired by the Sun-King's France) - so she's highly displeased when a new suitor turns up and threatens to scupper her plans!

Q: Where do the country names come from?
A: I'm a great fan of the Bronte sisters, and love the names they invented for the lands they wrote about as children, Gondaal and Angria... so I tried to keep the sounds, but modified into Gondarlan/Angor!

Q: Do you know what will happen in the end?
A: More or less! The broad outline of the saga came to me quite early on, and it's moving in the direction I envisaged - but it's taken some surprising twists and turns along the way. Writing the Lay is a strange, schizophrenic experience: the characters are so real inside my head that I see and hear them loud and clear - and they've taken hold of the story, often doing things of their own accord that I hadn't planned (for instance, the whole 'Mermaid' episode in Gondarlan - one of my favourite bits of the book and entirely driven by the character of Nikos). It makes me feel like a conduit rather than an inventor - having sown the seeds, these people now exist quite independently of me - I just chronicle their exploits! So although I think I know where the story's going, they may yet surprise me again...

Q: Do you have a favourite character?
A: Not really - I love them all, except Archbishop Sigismund and his nasty Brethren! But I have a particularly soft spot for Hel, the Head Torturer... and a serious crush on King Thorund.

Q: How do you 'see' the characters?
A: I've always imagined Princess Elinor as a medieval Scarlett O'Hara - and she looks like Vivian Leigh in Gone With The Wind, only with grey eyes instead of violet. Jehan resembles Daniel Day-Lewis's Hawkeye in Last of the Mohicans; King Thorund a younger, green-eyed version of Ian McKellen's Gandalf; Hel a powerful, fleshy-faced man like Harvey Keitel or Ray Winstone; and Warlord Hakon is a dead ringer for Alan Rickman's wonderful Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves! The others don't have living human models, but Iris and Iactus are loosely based on how my parents looked as young people, and have some of their characteristics - Dad's gentle joviality and Mum's strength and intuition. And Nerya's my avatar - the blonde Amazonian athlete I might have been, if I hadn't been born a stocky brunette!

Q: Why don't your characters do magic?
A: Some do, in a way - not sorcery but spiritual magic, the kind of feats that great prophets, visionaries and shamen can achieve - miracles and faith-healing. The Lay has real gods; some characters (like Seer Iris) can tap into divine powers, and the Angorian Kali't'aia are inspired by the Buddhist fighting monks (the guys who can do their laundry in icy Himalayan mountain streams at midnight then sit and dry it with their body heat - a triumph of mind-over-matter that would kill lesser mortals) - intensely spiritual but hard as nails. And the communication with animals is something that all pet owners are capable of - so I've just taken aspects of our real world and experience and extrapolated them for dramatic effect.

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