1. Why did you
write this book?
This was the
book of my heart. I'd written three other books before this one and garnered
over one hundred rejections from publishers and agents. This was supposed to be
my final attempt at getting published, so I wrote what I wanted to write. I
wrote this book for me. I love history. I love France. I love wine and food.
This book is about everything I love.
2. Did you
have a degree in English? An MFA in writing?
No. I've done
everything wrong in my career. The way I learned how to write was by writing
books. The first book I wrote was a disaster; it will never see the light of
day. The second was better, and with revisions, it turned into Something
Beyond the Sky, which will be published in January. The third is a
non-fiction manuscript that no one wants to publish. The fourth turned into
Chateau of Echoes. There has to be an easier way to learn how to write.
3. Do you have
any advice for other writers?
fiction and non-fiction. Read good books on writing. Practice your craft. Attend
writers' conferences. Write the book of your heart. Anything else is not worth
the time or the effort.
1. Your version
of the Arthurian legends differs from those most often told. Why is that?
My version of
the legends are based on the Breton and Welsh versions which are older than the
Chrétien de Troyes', the Vulgate Cycle's, and Sir Thomas Malory's versions. Most
of the Celtic peoples had variations of these stories, although aspects of the
key characters differed between the version, as with the meeting of Guinevere
2. Didn’t the
King Arthur legends take place in Britain?
Maybe they did.
Or maybe they didn’t. Virtually all Celtic peoples have claimed King Arthur as
one of their own. And the interesting thing about legends is that the versions
vary so widely. Much of the study of Arthurian legends has been done in England
by English-speakers. The Breton people have their own versions of these same
legends. And since the Breton language has, until recently, been suppressed, it
is not difficult to imagine that some of these legends have lost ground relative
to their English counterparts. Which culture influenced the other? It’s very
difficult to say.
3. Isn’t King
Arthur a fairy tale?
I don’t think
so. The body of research has given me the impression that someone, some real
person, inspired the tales. “King Arthur” is a movie which also portrays this
4. If there
really was a King Arthur, when did he exist?
Some time in the
late fifth or early sixth centuries, during the Dark Ages, the period of time
between the collapse of the Roman Empire and the dawn of the Middle Ages.
5. And the
legend of the Grail?
have some root in reality. Many people emigrated from the Roman Empire in the
first century. If they had the means, it was highly recommended. Again, there is
vast space in history to imagine almost anything.
6. Did you
make up the stories Awen told Alix?
No. They are
traditional tales. And, not surprisingly, some of these tales pre-date the
establishment of the Gallic influence in France. The Bretons are great
storytellers and used to pass the long winter nights telling each other stories.
Most of the tales, I translated from French language versions.
readers have named Alix as their favorite character in this book. Why do you
think she's so appealing?
the person we would be if we transported ourselves back five centuries. She is a
modern person ill-adjusted to a medieval world. She's also appealing because
she's so innocent.
2. In some
respects, it seems as if Alix reverts to traditional stereotypes at the end of
the book. Why does her story end this way?
I don't think
she reverts to stereotypes, I think she finally decides to take responsibility
for the tasks that have always been hers. Part of the complexity of her story is
that her 'modern' ideals have made her unfit for the tasks she must perform in
life. All of us have tasks for which we are responsible, talents and abilities
for which we will be held accountable. I think Alix was right when she said, "I
had given up my duties for my pleasures, and all had turned upon itself."
assumes, at the end of the novel, that she has several legal remedies to her
situation with Awen. Weren’t medieval women oppressed?
Yes, they were.
However, they were also very valued as property. Among nobility, marriage
contracts were one way, sometimes the only way, to increase a family’s
reputation, social standing, and wealth. Because of this, a woman’s position in
betrothals and marriages was legally protected. If a man promised to marry a
girl, and if he gave her say, a flower or a loaf of bread as a token of his
intent, then for all intents and purposes, he had proposed and a contract had
been made. As part of my research, I read a French language work which
interpreted court records in Troyes, France, from the 16th century.
The ability of women to prosecute a man in the realm of marriage was
extraordinary, but sadly, it was based on the preservation of a woman’s value as
a marriageable asset. Not on her worth as a human being. As in any century, it
was all in knowing how to play the game. Please remember also, that cultural
practices in medieval France were different than those in medieval England.
4. Was it
common for women to marry as young as Alix did?
Yes and no. It
was quite common among nobility. Remember, they weren’t marriages as much as
alliances of power. If you had a daughter, you needed to take advantage of the
asset and form an alliance as quickly as possible, while your daughter was still
living and while you could still profit from the arrangement. Alix’s marriage
was a special case of a prior family arrangement, but it still would not have
been that unusual. What was unusual in her case was Awen’s refusal to consummate
the marriage. An unconsummated marriage would have been grounds for divorce,
according to Plantagenet practices. Remember that among the nobility, marriages
were relationships of power, not relationships between people. Among the lower
classes, it was not uncommon to marry for love and to marry later in
adolescence. The average age for a woman to marry was 15 or 16, and the vast
majority of women were married by the age of 20.
1. This novel
has such a sense of time and place. How did you do your research?
I lived in
France from 1996 - 2000 and visited Brittany on several occasions. The French
are very tied to their terroir, or land. The Bretons more so than most. I
used a handful of French language texts, visited many of the region's provincial
websites. I also used many internet resources. Any interested reader should
consult the bibliography at the back of the book.
1. Are you a
chef like Freddie?
I wish I were,
but I'm a much less conscientious cook than she is and I prefer recipes that are
quick and that need only a handful of ingredients. I have, however, either made
or eaten most of the meals mentioned in the book. I have a friend who earned her
diploma at Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute. She deserves the credit for the
recipes in the back of the book.
2. So do you
really like France? The French?
Yes, I really
do. France is our oldest ally. Over time, our countries have been the best of
friends and the worst of enemies. The French rescued us during the Revolutionary
War, we returned the favor during the last century. If you think about it, the
reason for our most of our conflicts has been that we're too much alike. Brash,
opinionated, and arrogant. And most of the time, the way we view France is
exactly the way they view us.
3. Do you
collect antiques like Freddie?
I do. My husband
and I have a collection of 18th century furniture. The armoire in Freddie's room
is one which we own. The Persian rug in her bedroom is currently located in my
Chateau Kertanuan really exist?
Only in my
imagination. ‘Ker’ is a common prefix for many Breton place and family names.
The Forest of Paimpont, where I placed the chateau, is the only thing left to
remind us of the places where Arthur and his knights may have wandered. The
'Centre de l'Imaginaire Arthurien' interpretative center at the Chateau de
Comper does in fact exist.
5. You seemed
to imply that in the 15th century, France wasn’t really a nation. Is
In the 15th
century, France was a loose collection of coalitions and loyalties. The marriage
between Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII in 1137 left the ownership of vast
stretches of France up to interpretation. Territories as far from the coast as
Burgundy allied more closely with the King of England than the King of France.
6. Is Brittany
really that different from the rest of France?
It is older.
Wilder. More savage. In my experience, the Bretons have bound themselves more
closely to the landscape than the French have. Brittany had a period of
brilliance during the history of Europe in the 14th century. During this time
period, before the Hundred Years War, the Bretons took advantage of their
coastal geography and became wealthy through trade. The terrain of Brittany is
very rocky, the soil poor, so when the War snuffed out trade, and when it failed
to revive a century later, the Bretons could not compete in the agrarian
marketplace which drove the creation of wealth elsewhere on the continent.
7. Is the
Breton language very different from the French language?
languages are quite different and do not share the same roots. Breton is a
language from the Celtic branch of the Indo-European language family, and French
is a Romance language with its roots in Latin. It would not have been common for
a French speaker of the time period to also speak Breton.
character is most like you?
would probably tell you that I'm 'drumpy' sometimes, just like Freddie. My
husband would probably tell you that, like Alix, I would happily read, at the
expense of everything else. Like Cranwell, I find writing an exhilarating,
character was the most difficult to portray?
In my opinion,
Awen was the most difficult character to make credible. From my research, very
few men in the Middle Ages would have waited any length of time before
consummating a marriage. Sévérine was the most difficult character to find
sympathy for. My editor at NavPress was instrumental in challenging me to make
Sévérine a multi-faceted character.
3. Do you
write like Cranwell?
In some ways. I
write character-driven fiction, so almost always, the first inkling I get of a
new story is when a character appears in my mind. My characters seem to start
talking to me earlier in the process than Cranwell's characters began talking to
him. I do my research throughout the writing process, while Cranwell
concentrated his research at the beginning of his process. Like Cranwell, I
sometimes leave gaps in the manuscript, when I need to look up facts or dates,
and then fill them in later. If I have four hours, then I can usually write
about 3,000 good words.
had a Boxer named Lucy. Are you a dog person?
committed to trying to feature a Boxer in every book I write (my first novel
first marriage was to an atheist. Is this based at all on your own experience?
No. I've been
very blessed to be married to a man who is my partner in every way. My friend,
Marion Stroud, has had a ministry for many years to women who are married to
unbelievers. Her website:
http://www.marionstroud.com/, is an excellent resource, as is her book,
Loving God But Still Loving You.