While deciding which book to read, the cover of SAXON’S BANE by Geoffrey Gudgion beckoned me to peruse its pages. The medieval jousting helm bearing a stag promised a tale of ancient past while the paved road below hinted of present times. It had a dark and eerie vibe. I didn’t hesitate to open the intriguing book and was hooked with the first few sentences.
Fergus Sheppard’s world changes forever the day his car crashes near the remote village of Allingley. Traumatized by his near-death experience, he returns to thank the villagers who rescued him, and stays to work at the local stables as he recovers from his injuries. He will discover a gentler pace of life, fall in love – and be targeted for human sacrifice.
Clare Harvey’s life will never be the same either. The young archaeologist’s dream find – the peat-preserved body of a Saxon warrior – is giving her nightmares. She can tell that the warrior had been ritually murdered, and that the partial skeleton lying nearby is that of a young woman. And their tragic story is unfolding in her head every time she goes to sleep.
Fergus discovers that his crash is uncannily linked to the excavation, and that the smiling and beautiful countryside harbors some very dark secrets. As the pagan festival of Beltane approaches, and Clare’s investigation reveals the full horror of a Dark Age war crime, Fergus and Clare seem destined to share the Saxon couple’s bloody fate.
After absorbing the entire sinister tale, I contacted the author for an interview. He was sweet enough to agree and even supplied me with his BIO from Amazon.
‘Geoffrey Gudgion was the scholarship boy who was never bright enough to realize he’d have been happier as a writer than a businessman. Until, that is, he had a spectacular row with his boss and stepped off the corporate ladder.
Gudgion lives in the Chiltern Hills between London and Oxford, and his love for the rural English landscape gives his stories a powerful sense of place. When not writing he is an enthusiastic, amateur equestrian and a very bad pianist. Both passions have been known to creep into his writing.’
Without further delay, I present the interview:
Q1: What particular moment do you remember deciding to be a writer?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write; I was the kind of irritating school kid that actually enjoyed English homework. However there was certainly a moment when I ‘became a writer’. I had a ‘parting of the ways’ row with my boss, the CEO of a technology company, the kind of row that leaves the mental bile festering for months afterwards. I decided that (a) I was never going to be anyone’s employee again, and (b) I was going to do what I’d always wanted to do, which is write. That was over six years ago. Initially, I paid the bills with freelance work and wrote in the gaps. After a while, I stopped looking for freelance work and the gaps grew longer but the writing grew better. The bank manager ain’t happy, but I’m pretty chilled.
Q2: What preparations do you require to get you into mindset before writing?
Coffee. Strong, black, and intravenous. Or maybe just strong & black. Then half an hour’s immersion in the previous day’s work, re-reading, correcting, polishing, so that the new work flows from that baseline.
Q3: What inspired you to write about SAXON’S BANE?
I think my writing is rather like my wife’s cooking; she experiments with ingredients, sometimes quite successfully, but could never write a recipe. Saxon’s Bane’s starting ingredients were three characters and a place; all the rest followed. First came a hard-driving businessman who rethinks his values after a near-death experience. (Autobiographical? Nah.) His journey towards healing is helped by a fey, earthy, pagan woman. Next I added a young archaeologist who develops a preternatural insight after she becomes obsessed with her excavation. I blended these players within the lovely bowl of an English valley, seasoned the story with local characters and folklore, and baked it for 2 years and 100,000 words. I think it tastes good, but then I would, wouldn’t I?
Q4: Allingley sounds quaint. For those of us across the ocean, does it exist? If not, did another village inspire its existence?
Allingley is a composite. There are many such villages dotted around the South of England, often with place names that tell of their Saxon origins. Allingley would have been Aegl-ingas-leah in Anglo-Saxon, the clearing of Aegl’s folk. The lanes linking such villages were largely set by ox cart long before the Norman conquest. And of course the English public houses are legendary; my own ‘local’ claims to have been an inn since the 11th century (the farm next door was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086), so giving Allingley’s White Hart Inn a 16th century pedigree is actually very modest. The countryside around it is equally familiar; in my main character Fergus’s eyes ‘the landscape swelled as if some vast subterranean body had inhaled, tightening the earth over its curves. The land was female, fecund, as English as nut-brown ale, and rich with birdsong. No hum of equipment, no engine noise, just the dawn chorus and, at the edge of hearing, a sound that might have been singing.’
Q5: I notice you and Fergus enjoy riding horses and also both left the corporate world. Were the similarities intentional or subconscious writing?
I mentioned my corporate background, and yes, Fergus’s rejection of ‘big business’ values is autobiographical. I also ride, but Fergus isn’t me. I simply gave his character some experiences I’ve observed, like the profound healing effect that horses can have on damaged people. When the convalescent Fergus touches a horse for the first time, he finds the encounter ‘unexpectedly comforting, like a distant echo of childhood, as if he was once again a hurt infant who had found a soothing presence that was large and gentle and warm.’
Q6: Can we expect a sequel, or is something new on the burner?
I’m about 80% through another time-slip historical novel with a supernatural twist, set on a crumbling country estate that has been in the same family for over 600 years. In the 14th century, the founder of the dynasty swore a terrible oath to a dying holy woman. In the present day his descendants have forgotten the oath, but it seems the oath has not forgotten them…
Fergus and the archaeologist Claire don’t feature in the next book, but I’m planning to bring them back for the book after that. I’m looking forward to working with them again, because I feel I know them as well as I know old friends, and I’ve neglected them for a while.
Q7: Any words of advice for the aspiring writer?
Every writer is aspiring. To be published. To be well reviewed. To write a best-seller. You overcome one insecurity to replace it with another. For those aspiring to be published, I’d say grab all the constructive feedback you can, online and face-to-face, knowing that the feedback that hurts is the criticism you most need to hear. Remember that to grab an agent, you have to make him or her forget that they are professional readers because with your submission, the slush pile has finally given them something they can read for pleasure.
I would like to personally thank Geoffrey for taking the time to answer my questions. As always, it is a pleasure reading anything you write.
Blogger and writer of MG/YA Fiction