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Author Interview with Fil Reid

The Dragon Ring came out this week! It’s book one in Fil Reid’s Guinevere series. Fil was kind enough to answer some questions for us.

You can get your copy of this legendary romance HERE!

Give us a little bit about your background and when you first started publishing. 

I started writing stories as soon as I could read and write. My parents, an architect and a teacher, bought me a Petite Children’s Typewriter and I was off. My mother used to have my first ever story, written as a five year old so only about three lines long. Somewhere in a box I’ve still got my first school books which have some of my earliest efforts in them. From about the age of eight, I started to write chapter books in and I still have one or two of them.

As an adult I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and apparently it’s very common for girls who have it to be obsessed by horses – as I was. Consequently all my first books were pony stories – hand written and self-illustrated. Clearly I no longer had the typewriter.

In my late teens my mother’s school gave her an electric typewriter, so I found a second hand book on touch-typing and sat down and taught myself. One of the best things I’ve ever done – all schoolchildren should learn to touch-type. I can type as fast as I can think, so my stories get free rein and just come flowing out. I hate the slowness of writing by hand.

Before I married for the first time, I had a short pony-story published – in the English magazine Pony, a publication every pony-mad girl I knew used to read. I was bowled over to find that my story was included in the summer special pull-out, alongside three others by writers I’d read myself as a child. I felt as though I were in exalted company.

Marriage, children and work got in my way after that. I married a farmer and ran my own riding school from the farm, with little time for anything so frivolous as writing. But after my first husband died of leukaemia and I remarried, we went to live in France, where I had more time to devote to writing. I had an article on living in the French countryside published in Smallholding magazine. And I began writing fiction for my youngest son.

I tried self-publishing these children’s books, but with no idea what I was doing, combined with living in France, I couldn’t make a success of it, although I did sell a few and had some good reviews.

Have you visited the places you’ve written about or just read about them?

I like to make a point of visiting as many of the places I write about as possible. Luckily for me I live in the UK and this isn’t too difficult. I like to be able to see what my characters would have seen and soak up the atmosphere of historic sites.

South Cadbury Castle, which features heavily in my books as Din Cadan, the original Camelot, has long been one of my favourite spots. My parents first took me there when it was being excavated in the 1960s and I’ve been going back ever since. I don’t think I’ve ever been up there when it’s been busy, and usually I’m the only one up there.

The one thing I draw the line at, though, is heights – I have accrophobia and am absolutely terrified of being up anywhere high. So I’ve never fully explored Tintagel’s promontory, and won’t go up Dumbarton Rock (Dun Breattan – the Fort of the British). I’d love to, but I’d be terrified and probably freeze and get stuck. And suffering from vertigo (which is different to accrophobia) doesn’t instill me with courage.

In book one, The Dragon Ring, I’ve been to all the places Gwen goes to – South Cadbury Castle, Glastonbury Tor and Abbey, Caer Baddan (the city of Bath), Viroconium (Wroxeter), and even to the villa Gwen stays at on her way back to Din Cadan – Chedworth. Google Earth is a godsend, but nothing beats having stood where you want your character to stand. I’m just writing book five at the moment that contains the Battle of Badon, and I’ve been back and forth a few times to look at that location as it’s not too far from where I live.

What interesting settings have you used?

The fun thing about writing an Arthurian story is that so little is actually known about him. Well, nothing definite at all. So he’s a gift to the romance writer. I love to do as much research as I can, and delight in finding small new stories about him that I can use.

There’s no contemporary account of his reign, the nearest thing being the work of a monk called Gildas, who was writing in about the middle of the 6th century, some time after Arthur’s probable reign, and he doesn’t mention Arthur at all. In fact, his work is one long moan. I had great fun introducing him into one of my later books as a lesser character, and furnishing a reason for why he doesn’t mention Arthur.

The writer I’ve drawn a lot on is a Welsh monk called Nennius who wrote the Historia Brittonum in the early ninth century. He’s responsible for the much disputed and discussed list of Arthur’s twelve battles – which rather suspiciously rhyme. But those reading an Arthurian story deserve to find some of the legends in there, so I’ve used that list of battles, culminating in the twelfth – the famous Battle of Badon.

None of the battle sites are known, and all are the subject of much conjecture, but almost all battles in the long medieval period were fought close to Roman roads, as these were still in use for hundreds of years after the Romans left. Indeed, a fair number of British roads still follow them almost exactly. I have a wonderful online map that superimposes the Roman roads and town layouts over a modern day map. Very useful.

I decided for myself which theories about the battle sites I liked, and formulated one or two of my own. I also had fun picturing what the old Roman towns and cities might look like eighty or so years after the departure of their builders. It was great fun describing their decadent decay.

Why did you choose the particular period you write in? What is it about that era that speaks to you?

Like I said, I have Asperger’s, and a characteristic of that is to be obsessive about your interests. I’ve been in love with all things Arthurian since my parents took me to see The Sword in the Stone. I didn’t know why I was obsessed back then, but my diagnosis lit a light bulb of realisation for me.

I guess I’ve been researching Arthur and his historical period all my life, and feel as though I know his world as well as I know my own. If I could travel back in time (strictly as an invisible observer!) then I’d love to be able to see the world I try to paint with my words – for real. One of my favourite things to do on a journey is to look at the landscape and picture it as it was in the time of my books. Arthur is such a superhero, even before superheroes were thought of.

I think what I like about that time period is the primitiveness of it, the suggestion that the culture of the Romans is just a veneer and that the population had reverted back almost to pre-Roman times as soon as their invaders left. I like to picture a landscape that’s far more natural than the one we have now, and a lot less crowded. Wide open spaces with room to just live. Although to be honest I might not actually like to live there! Peeing in a bucket? Hmmm. Maybe if I were young, like Gwen…

What inspires you to create a certain character? Have you ever changed the character arc because it didn’t work with the storyline?

I find my characters spring off the page ready formed and very clear in my head as soon as I introduce them. I don’t think I’ve ever had to change one of them in any way, nor their character arc.

My lifelong love of all things Arthurian inspired my creation of Arthur – I knew before I started the books what he would be like, how realistic I wanted to make him, what imperfections he’d have, and how my heroine was going to struggle with him and his attitude to women.

I very rarely plan my books – although I think I might have to for book six as there are so many character storylines to draw together and give closure to. So far, touch wood, I’ve never changed anything major in my books and they’ve stayed much the same as their first drafts, just more polished and possibly a bit expanded in places.

Do you have a certain quirk in your writing process? Do the stars have to be aligned or do you have to have your favorite tea? Where do you do your best writing?

I live on a canal boat, which although it’s what’s called a widebeam (11 feet wide and 70 feet long) means space is at a premium. My computer desk is tucked in a corner of the saloon (sitting room) and I wear noise cancelling headphones so I get peace and quiet. I’m very good at ignoring everything else that’s going on though.

I can only type. I can’t be creative when writing by hand because it’s too slow. I like to just sit down after breakfast and work all day if I can. Patrick and I eat lunch together while watching an hour of TV on Netflix or Britbox, which is a nicely relaxing thing to do after a morning writing. Generally my best writing is done in the mornings, or early afternoon, but sometimes I might go on until late evening if I’ve reached a particularly absorbing section.

My lovely husband supplies me with cups of tea – decaffeinated, makes the lunch and dinner, and works quietly at whatever he’s doing. I do hate being disturbed, though, and having the narrative flow interrupted by phone calls or visitors. Not that we let any in now, with covid.

From all your books, who is your favorite hero and why?

Of course I love Arthur – he’s the quintessential hero on which all other heroes have been modelled and he’s definitely the hero (with faults) in my books. I have a very clear picture of him in my head and love writing the bits he’s in. Gwen is the narrator, so Arthur’s not in every chapter, but I cherish the bits he is in and the way he interacts with Gwen. With a sister who possesses some kind of magic, Arthur, too, has a hint of power about him that manifests itself in his charm.

But I do love Merlin as well, who’s a bit more cerebral and sensitive than Arthur, although as the series progresses you’ll see a more sensitive side to Arthur. I find Merlin a more vulnerable character than Arthur, which I like – a man with secrets. My Merlin’s not the old greybeard most people see him as. He’s young, a warrior, a man who possesses the Sight, but also someone who’s not that confident with women. Maybe he’s a bit Aspergic, like me?

Outside of your own genre, what’s your favorite genre?

I like thrillers, mysteries, detective stories, a bit of paranormal, well written ghost stories, and of course I still like pony stories! I’d happily reread the pony stories I read as a child. In fact, I have a big soft spot for all children’s stories. I used to love reading them aloud to my children and am quite sad they’re all far too old for that now. Really, if a book is well-written, I’ll probably enjoy reading it. Nothing pretentious or too arty though. One of my favourite authors is long dead – Nevil Shute, who’s probably most famous for A Town Like Alice. A master storyteller – I could read his books again and again and never tire of them. I belong to the Nevil Shute Norway Society.