Book Featured Today: Heat of the Hunt
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Top Writing Tip: If I were to pick just one top tip, it would have to be stick with it. Writing is an important and magical process which will sometimes not suffer to be rushed. Before I began writing 'Heat of the Hunt' I had been researching folklore and mythology for many years, and the process of writing the book itself took ten years from idea to print. Don't be afraid to leave a manuscript and then return to it with fresh ideas. Change everything if you need to. Delete huge sections (after having saved a backup elsewhere) and rewrite them. Rewrite them again. Read what you have written out loud and feel the rhythm of the words in your mouth. If the words don't flow, then keep sculpting the text until they do.
Hi Helen, thank you for taking the time to talk to us!
When and why did you begin writing?
I have been writing ever since I can remember. When I was a child I would write and illustrate paper books that contained creepy stories and far too much blood. Later, I completed a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Westminster, and after that I felt equipped with the tools to take my writing more seriously. As for the why, I might as well try to explain why I breathe. I think that if I didn't get the creativity out somehow, whether through literature or art, then I think my mind might explode with the sheer pressure of inspiration. I'm grateful for it, but it can be a real pain when you're trying to get to sleep at night!
When did you realise that you were pagan?
The realisation that I was ready to commit to a pagan path was a slow one in coming. If I look back to my childhood, I might conclude that it was inevitable, but nonetheless it has only been in the last few years that I have felt confident labeling myself as such publicly. Through my teenage years I dabbled in Wicca, but never quite felt fully at home with it. It was only in later years, as I studied Shamanism and Druidry, and linked these practices to the folklore that I had always been so fascinated by, that I truly felt I had found my place.
How did the topic of your book come to you?
My first experience of the Wild Hunt was in the Visitor Centre in Princetown, Dartmoor. They had a display which included local myths and legends, and the description of the Wild Hunt was accompanied by a rather old picture of a man in traditional hunting attire surrounded by people dressed as hounds. It was from a local amateur theatre production, and it was strangely fascinating. From that day I embarked on what became a ten year quest to research and understand the phenomenon that is the Wild Hunt. I sifted through stories which had been tainted by Christianity and depicted the master of the Wild Hunt as the Devil. Slowly, a more ancient and important archetype began to emerge, and I encountered the master of the Wild Hunt as Odin, Arawn and Gwyn ap Nudd. In these original tales he is a psychopomp who guides souls to the Otherworld, heralding the 'dead' time of winter that allows life to be renewed.
What are the life experiences that have led to this book?
I recall once referring to myself as a 'mythic adventurer', which does sound rather mad. But the more I think about it, the more I feel it is the best way to sum up my attitude to life and the world around me. I am blessed to see beyond the mundane, and can be stopped in my tracks by the sight of mist through the branches or sunlight on the water. The land, and the stories attached to it, present themselves to me as one entity, and to know either of them requires the knowledge of both. Similarly, my perception of the spiritual is balanced with an understanding of the practical. I have worked as a Park Ranger, a farmer and a teacher. Each of these employments have been a great privilege, and they have taught me both the sacred life cycle of animals and the deep importance of human empathy and interaction.
Tell us a bit about your story, key characters and plot.
Heat of the Hunt is about friendship, loyalty and questioning how you see the world. Sceptical Gemma follows Adrian, her best friend, to Dartmoor after he has a dream in which the spirit of a child asks for help. But as the stories of the wild land around them unfold, Gemma quickly discovers that Adrian's obsession with the supernatural is the least of her concerns. When he mysteriously disappears she must overcome her doubt and fear and trust the only being who can help; the mysterious master of the Wild Hunt. Of course, Gabriel the Huntmaster has his own agenda, as he has been guarding Gemma's family line for generations and believes Gemma to be his lost love finally reborn. Inspired by British folklore, 'Heat of the Hunt' weaves ancient stories with new meanings while retaining the deep and vital connection of our myths with the land.
Have you ever met one of your characters in real life?
This is a very strange tale to tell, but I will tell it to you nonetheless. I was walking on Dartmoor with my friend and my dog. It was a grey day, which suits Dartmoor perfectly. The clouds scudded ragged and low across the tors, and in the branches of hawthorn and stunted oak crows called to each other. We decided to explore Wistmans Wood, which in folklore is the dwelling place of the Wild Hunt. I was in a sombre and thoughtful mood, so I decided to venture deeper into the woods on my own. In the heart of the forest, I sat on a moss covered boulder and admitted to my despair. Many things were going wrong in my life at the time. I offered to make a deal with the Huntsman. I was half joking. But just as soon as I had said the words, there was the sound of a hunting horn echoing through the trees and my friend and the dog were frantically searching for me. It felt like a meeting, and I've been keeping my bargain ever since.
Do we see some of you in your book?
Having read my answer to the previous question, it is probably clear that the answer is yes; although perhaps in a less direct way. There is no one character which is 'me', but every character does share at least one trait or motivation with me. This goes back to the idea of writing what you know, and to portray actions effectively you do need to understand the depth, drive and emotions behind them. Characters come across as feeling real and relatable when you invest them with real fragments of yourself that readers can respond to. This applies to both the heroes and villains, and even the rather wicked necromancer in Heat of the Hunt has a back story that allows you to understand why he behaves as he does.
Do you plan your stories before you begin?
My writing usually deals with the collision of the mythic realm with the real world, which means that I need to do a lot of research into real places and the folklore attached to them. Every location in Heat of the Hunt, with the exception of the Hound Grave, is a real place which a reader can visit. What's more, if they were to ask a local about the folklore which I weave into my writing, then I am sure they would get a first hand account! I gather all of my research into a notebook and then I plot out a skeleton story arc. This means that, at any point in my writing, I always know where I need to get to next. This doesn't mean that unplanned things don't happen though! The fascinating thing about really well fleshed out characters is that you can put them in a situation and see what they do, and what they do isn't always what you want them to! In this case, I rework the story around them and let it follow the natural path of their choices, as forcing the actions of a character to further your plot plans can come across as jarring and unbelievable.
Who encourages/inspires you?
There are a number of authors who inspire me; most notable is Terry Pratchett, who blazed an important track in mixing fantasy, folklore and satire. His ability to retain some humour, even when dealing with dark topics, is a talent which I aspire to. Raymond E. Feist also did excellent work in presenting the collision of reality and non-ordinary reality in his book Faerie Tale. This liminal space, within which the mundane and mythical collide, is the territory which fascinates me and I explore this landscape in my writing.
Is this your first published piece, or have you had work published before?
I have had articles and poems published here and there before, but this is my first full length book to be in print. It felt particularly satisfying to also paint the cover art myself, as this gave me a sense of having truly completed the full journey with the story.
Are you published or self published, and what has been your experience of the process?
Are you published or self published, and what has been your experience of the process?
In my usual style, I am a slight enigma in this respect. I have a great relationship with my publisher and printer, who provide standard printing for self publication, but are also a registered publisher in their own right. This means that my book bears their logo, they do some promotion for me and they also deal with any other publisher or agent inquiries. I'm lucky to get this support, as it means that even though I am responsible for the financial outlay involved with the printing, I am not then completely on my own afterwards. Even with this good fortune, the process is certainly not for the faint-hearted and requires great determination in the face of all manner of unexpected obstacles. But seeing your work in physical form is certainly worth it; hopefully giving you some energy for the next great trial of promotion.
Do you ever suffer from writers block and if so, how do you overcome it?
This is something that I don't often suffer from. In fact I usually get the opposite, which is so many stories clamouring to get out of my head and be written down that I can't hope to keep up with them. I do, however, have times when I feel that my writing isn't flowing well or isn't up to my usual standard. In this situation, I would do the same as what I would recommend for writers block, and it's simply to keep writing. If you're serious about forcing you way through the block then keep putting words down, for hours if needed. Write anything. Write a different story or a poem or a conversation that you might have with someone about your frustrations. Eventually, this will begin to flow, and you will be able to go back to your original project with much greater ease. As an aside, this advice is given under the assumption that you have fully researched/imagined your world, characters and events, and that you have at least a skeleton plot arc to follow. If you simply don't know where you're going, return to planning until you do know.
If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you most like a writing retreat?
I'm tempted to say Dartmoor, as of course my book is set there and I find the wild, desolate landscape to be full of folklore and inspiration. But, here in Britain, we are very lucky to be brimming with sacred sites and ancient landscapes which are steeped in stories. The thick, golden light of Cornwall and the deep, restless sea are also a wonder to me. Wales has a wealth of mythology, as well as a lush green landscape that the mind can get lost in. Plus my current home, of Somerset, has splendid folktales focused around Glastonbury Tor and many other sacred sites. We also have our very own black dog apparition; the Gurt Dog, which, in contrast to many other spectral black dogs, is seen as benevolent.
What are your future plans for writing?
This year I am focusing on the follow on from Heat of the Hunt which is called Lie of the Land. There will certainly also be a third book, tentatively titled Truth of the Tale and potentially others, depending on what the characters demand. Alongside this, I will be writing for a number of magazines and working on a set of steampunk short stories and modern retellings of myths as side projects.
Thank you again for giving us a glimpse into your passion and your process! We wish you the best of luck with the rest of this trilogy, as well as your articles and short stories!