To begin, as the King in Alice in Wonderland urges us to, at the Beginning:
The Circle of Ceridwen is told on a very simple level through the voice of a fifteen year old girl. The story deals with her emotional and sexual coming of age, the powerful attachments she forms to other characters, her attempts to reconcile her pagan upbringing with her later Christian training, and the conflicts of her divided personal and social loyalties.
But Ceridwen is the mouthpiece for the unfolding of a much larger, and true, drama: the story of the survival of the Anglo-Saxon people against almost incredible odds. Circle deals with the slowly-growing consciousness that the Anglo-Saxons of Britain faced certain subjugation and cultural extinction by the attacking Danes. From this extraordinary crisis emerged not only a leader, Ælfred the Great, who could unify the remaining free Anglo-Saxon peoples and repel the Danes, but the first inkling of a truly national – English – identity.
That is what I wrote 20 years ago, in 1994, about what became Book One of The Circle of Ceridwen Saga. The Saga has grown to four volumes, and over half a million words. (There will be more. I am not done with these characters, nor they with me.)
When asked why I was interested in the topic of 9th century England, I used to say that I had always been entranced by the artefacts of the Anglo-Saxons, the swords, jewellery, poetry, combs, tools and buckets – any precious bits left to us. And I called Circle a sort of ‘cultural autobiography’. These things are still true.
But they are not what has kept me writing, not over more than 20 years of rejection from publishers, and into final (blessed) success with readers. Yes, it is my readers who sustain the writing at this point, because there are few things as sweet as knowing your work has meaning to others.
Yet even without them I wrote on and on: Ceridwen of Kilton, The Claiming, only because I had to; with no hope for publication. It was only with Book Four, The Hall of Tyr, did I feel I was writing to any kind of true demand. I had finally brought Books One through Three out as Kindle copies and they had found an audience – an audience that asked for more. So I began Tyr, opening the novel just hours after The Claiming had ended, bringing us into Sidroc and Ceridwen’s first morning together. Nine years had elapsed in my own life since I completed The Claiming and began writing Tyr. Those nine years were washed away when I again took up the thread of the story.
Other works emerged. I spent five years researching and writing Light, Descending, my biographical novel about the great, tormented John Ruskin. Lady Godiva and I share a trait – very long hair – and I needed to imagine a truth about her Ride. A minor character in The Saga of the People of Laxardal caught my attention and became the novella The Tale of Melkorka.
I write to try to re-member, to make things whole; to provide plausible answers for age-old mysteries; to explain the world to myself and myself to the world. Are there messages, coded and explicit, in my books? Yes, and yes. When I write I can give characters the Fates I think they deserve, for good or ill. I can undo what was done.
be whole and hearty, in Old English