Today I would like to welcome Sarah Woodbury, indie author of historical and fantasy fiction.
1. Tell me more about how you got started as a writer and why you decided to write historical and fantasy fiction?
I have written all my life. Until I was twelve, my parents thought I was going to be a hippy because my head was in the clouds. I wandered the woods around my house, singing and making up poetry. School got in the way of that creative side of me, however, and I wrote only non-fiction (up to and including a Ph.D. dissertation in anthropology) for the next twenty years. I began writing fiction again 6 ½ years ago, mostly on a whim, just to see if I could. My first book was straightforward fantasy (with elves, no less), and will never see the light of day.
I write historical and fantasy fiction because I love history, but if I was interested in writing about the ‘real’ history, I would be writing non-fiction! Thus, time travel, mythology, and King Arthur all play a role in my books.
2. What do you fear? Tell me about your own phobias.
When I was a little girl, I had an army of stuffed animals to protect me at night. Cuddly the bear, because he was the biggest, would nestle next to my right shoulder. Yellow-hopper (the yellow bunny) would buttress my left shoulder, and Mr. Octopus and Raggedy Andy would sit sentry on the pillow. I stationed all the rest—bears, bunnies, horses—facing the window.
I had a big bed too—a double—with a wooden headboard and a gaping foot-high empty space underneath the bed.
That’s where the monsters hung out.
Every night, I would lie flat on my back, perfectly still, so that I wouldn’t make any noise and my movements wouldn’t bring them out. I also had a big closet that loomed along the inner wall. I always kept the doors closed, lest the monsters in there sneak out through the cracks.
My Mary-had-a-little-lamb night light did its best to cut through the darkness and I would stare at it, narrowing my eyes against the light, praying its little light bulb would last another night.
I don’t remember when I grew out of those fears (though I slept with Cuddly through college). But I think part of the reason stories with monsters and demons, vampires, zombies, and undead of every stripe and hue have stuck with us through the millennia is that they call upon these deeper fears—of the unknown, of powers that are beyond us—that manifest in children as fear of monsters.
As adults, our fears are far more specific: unemployment, thieves, death and taxes. Loss in all the ways we fear to lose. I’m a mom, so my biggest fear is something happening to my children. That’s not a phobia, as much as a full-blown terror.
3. The focus of your novels is medieval Wales – what is about this particular place and period that keeps drawing you back to it?
I just spent the last two weeks in Wales, and fell in love with the country all over again. It’s a beautiful place, but what draws me back to it is the history of it—the idea that for thousands of years people have loved and fought and died over this small spot on the planet. I have ancestors from Wales, and I think that is part of it too, piecing together my history as much as theirs.
4. Time travel features in your novels, often with a contemporary character being thrust back into the past – is the present a place you would like to escape from into, what might be considered, a simpler and earlier time?
Well … no. I mean, as a woman, living in any other time but ours would (quite frankly) suck. And not just because so many women died in childbirth (I have 4 kids). It’s more that I’m curious about people and always have been. As an anthropologist, I’m professionally nosy anyway, and the idea of going back in time and really understanding how other people lived is fascinating to me. Trekking all over Wales, you realize the distance between them and us. Yes, they loved and laughed and lived, much as we did, but also very differently from the way we do, and it’s hard—if not ultimately impossible—to get a handle on what they were really like sitting 800 years in the future. So that’s how the time travel books came about: by asking the question … what would it be like for a modern woman to live in medieval Wales?
5. What do you find to be the benefits and drawbacks of writing with and without speculative elements in a novel?
I love history and reading about history, but real history often ends badly for the heroes. Consequently, when a story involves a main character who dies an unpleasant and premature death, it can be difficult to craft a tale that is an enjoyable read. This is particularly true of books set in medieval Wales.
One of the most compelling stories ever told is the tale of King Arthur, in all of its permutations and manifestations. Arthur, whether a real person or not, was conceived in Wales, and played a key role in holding back the Saxon conquest of Britain.
My novel of King Arthur, Cold My Heart, begins with a vision of Arthur’s death at the hands of Modred and asks—what if? What if King Arthur survived to rule and pass his kingdom onto a worthy successor? That sounds like a more fun story to me than the typical French version where everyone dies in the end. It also is more in keeping with the genuinely Welsh tales in which Arthur survives Camlann. And who should know that better than the Welsh?
6. I also noticed that changing the past for the better is something that turns up in the After Climeri series – is there a particular incident in the history of Wales that you would change if you could?
As with the death of Arthur, few endings have had a greater impact on the progress—or lack thereof—of a country than the death in 1282 of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last Prince of Wales.
With his death, King Edward I of England set about eliminating Welsh language, culture, and history to the best of his ability, even to the point of expunging any mention of the Welsh royal court from public documents. He took the crown, the piece of the true cross, the sceptre, and even the title, Prince of Wales, which from then on would be bestowed on the eldest son of the King of England.
My After Cilmeri series takes the ambush and murder of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, throws in some time travel, and also asks what if? What if he survived? And what might happen to the two teenagers who save him?
Orson Welles once said, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”
My problem is that I don’t want the story to stop where it does—with the death of the hero. The history and death of these great Welsh heroes are tales that desperately needed someone to rewrite them.
And so I did.
7. Cold My Heart features King Arthur – what do you think is the continuing attraction of his myth and legend to writers? And did he truly exist?
That’s an entire post in and of itself – see my blog here! The short answer is that I don’t know, but that I choose to believe he was real. The Welsh believe he was real, and their stories of him date back to the 6th century or before. My feeling is that King Arthur continues to appeal after all these years because he is both mythic hero and flawed human, and the tension between the two provides endless fodder for story telling.
8. Can you tell me some more about what you are working on at the moment?
I am simultaneously finishing a novella which is a prequel to The Good Knight, the first of my medieval mysteries, working on the third book in that series, and making notes for the fourth book in my After Cilmeri series. I like having a lot of irons in the fire
9. What is a typical writing day for Sarah Woodbury?
That’s really hard to say, since I am also a full time mom and every day is different. When I’m actively working on a book, I aim to write 1000 words a day, and that can take as little as an hour, or as long as four, depending on the distractions. I can get it done before ten in the morning, some days, or I could be working on it after my kids go to bed. My youngest child is eight years old now, and when he’s immersed in a book, I can spend all day working. Other days, not so much.
10. So what does 2012 hold for Sarah Woodbury? Any last words?
For me, 2012 has already been fabulous, between releasing two novels and a novella, plus a two week trip to Wales … and there’s more to come. As I said, I have a novella that’s part of the Gareth and Gwen Medieval Mysteries to be released before the end of June, and at least one other novel this fall.
I’ve been an indie author for almost exactly eighteen months now. I think about all those years I spend writing essentially in a vacuum, and can’t express enough how grateful I am every day for my ability to connect with readers.
Thank you, Sarah!
Daughter of Time is available from the following links:
Cold My Heart is available from the following links:
If you would like to find out more about Sarah, please visit the following links: