Let’s start with an introduction: Geoff Gudgion?
In one paragraph; I was a scholarship boy who was never bright enough to realise I’d have been happier as a writer than a businessman. Until, that is, I had a spectacular row with my boss and stepped off the corporate ladder. Long before that epiphany, I left school at 17 to join the Royal Navy, who later sponsored me to read Geography at Cambridge University. Both experiences were formative in teaching me to string words together.
Your debut novel, Saxon’s Bane, is published by Solaris. How would you introduce the novel to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?
Saxon’s Bane is a thriller with a supernatural twist; past and present collide during the excavation of a Saxon warrior’s grave. The writing challenge, and the fun, was to interweave the present day with a Dark Ages legend, and to bring the two stories together in a plausible climax. Although it’s not part of a series, the main characters will probably reappear in a future book. There’s a fey, fit archaeologist who develops a preternatural understanding of her project. Her character has, ahem, legs.
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
I’ve always been fascinated by the history hidden in the landscape, ever since a crusty old professor at university showed me how to analyse English place names. “Allingley,” he might have said, waving a chalk-dusted arm and breathing a whiff of college port, “Saxon name. Aegl-ingas-leah, the clearing of Aegl’s people.” So I took the Saxon legend of Aegl, the warrior, and his love Olrun, the Swan Maiden, and set the Saxon’s Bane in the village of Allingley, on the banks of the Swanbourne.
Inspiration? It can come from anywhere. That sense of otherness you find in ancient woodland. A mossy ring of standing stones. A church. And just the odd glass of red wine.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
Tolkien! As a child, I devoured Lord of the Rings. I didn’t end up writing epic fantasy, but Middle Earth was the first believable fantasy world I encountered. I was enchanted!
How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I love being a writer. I’m living the dream, but I’d say I’m still learning about the publishing industry, and about how to stand out from the crowd. It’s a bit like opening a door, thinking you’re joining a party in a room, only to find yourself in the middle of a football stadium where everyone is shouting.
I tend to write early, and research late in the day. I built an arbour in my garden, which is a wonderfully peaceful and productive place to write, when the weather’s good. It’s also out of reach of the Wi-Fi, so there are fewer distractions! If I have to work indoors, I play a recording of birdsong in my study. I find that helps to tune the brain into a creative space.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
When I found I actually enjoyed English homework at school! I made my first attempts at writing a book during long deployments in warships. Those attempts were dire, and I cringe at their memory. The first piece of writing that made me proud was a short story, “Muse”, which won the Get Writing Conference prize in 2011. It’s on my web site.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I think I’m too new to have an opinion about the genre, particularly when I think genre labels are too confining in any case. They seem to be designed for the publishing machine’s convenience rather than the readers’ benefit.
In terms of where I fit, I’m incredibly honoured when reviewers compare me to Robert Holdstock or Alan Garner. Last week Saxon’s Bane was described as “Good old fashioned mythic stuff; Wicker Man by way of John Fowles,” and I can live with that!
What other projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?
I’m about 80,000 words into a time-slip historical novel, also with a supernatural twist, which is 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 swears a terrible oath; in the present day his descendants have forgotten the oath, but perhaps the oath has not forgotten them…
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
My last book was Chocolat by Joanne Harris. I love her gentle way of weaving mystery and a little magic into the real world. I’m currently reading Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel. After that, I’m going to immerse myself into the 14th Century with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Ian Mortimer’s brilliant Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I’m a bit of a lunatic on horseback. A good friend lets me ride a horse that I’ve known and loved for years. I can get stale staring at a screen, and the adrenalin-fuelled madness of a gallop, or the surge and soar over a jump, is the perfect antidote.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Seeing Saxon’s Bane take off, I hope. Then finishing the next book to a standard where it’s accepted by my agent (Ian Drury at Sheil Land). And within twelve months? Who knows, it’s not impossible for that book to be acquired by a publisher. My head is starting to buzz with ideas for the book that will follow, and I’d like those to be thoroughly fleshed out by this time next year, and taking shape on paper. No pressure, then.