Hi Linda, welcome to Teen Librarian for the Eight Questions With… interview! The first question I ask all authors is: can you please introduce yourself to the audience?
Hi Matt and hi to all you lovely readers out there, so, who am I? Good question. I’m lots of different people depending on what novel I am writing (I get so into the book I do feel as if I am the main character and am living their lives!), but I suppose there’s an external consistency to who I am: I’m an Oxford University economist by training but a novelist by nature. I spent seven years working as an investment banker in London, New York and Eastern Europe, being exposed to more potential plots than was decent. Then I escaped and wrote my first book, Nest of Vipers. Longbow Girl is my twelfth book.
I’ve lived in various parts of the world.
I spent three years living in Peru and more recently eight years living in the Middle East. In 2005 my husband and I were kidnapped at sea by Iranian government forces and held hostage in Iran for two weeks before being released after high-level intervention by the British government. I wrote about that in my first non-fiction book, Hostage.
I am married and have three great children are who occasionally drive me mad but then they’d no doubt say the same about me. My family play a big part in my books. My husband reads various drafts aloud to the children and me, then they all give me their brutally honest opinion. I then slink away to try and write a better draft!
I also have two dogs, Rhodesian Ridgebacks called Boudicca and Beowulf, and a desert cat called Cutie. We live near the sea in Suffolk, where I try to swim all year round.
Longbow Girl is a thoroughly gripping tale set in the Wales of the modern era as well as the late Tudor period, how much research went into writing it?
One way and another, I’ve done a lot of research, both years ago and recently. The roots of Longbow Girl are very personal and go back to my own childhood. When I was eight years old, my father gave me a longbow for Christmas. I would shoot it for hours, perfecting my aim, practising until my hands were covered in calluses. My older brother, Kenneth, also had one. We would shoot cans off walls and also, rather terrifyingly, we’d aim for the high wires on the electricity pylons. Happily, we missed!
As a girl, I just wielded my longbow for fun, but I always used to feel different whenever I picked it up. Longbows are lethal weapons. They changed the course of history. This October sees the six hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, an ‘unwinnable’ battle, won by the Longbow against all the odds. I did a lot of research into this and also the battle of Crécy in 1346, another ‘unwinnable’ battle won by the Anglo-Welsh longbowmen.
I didn’t really need to research the locations. The setting of Longbow Girl, in the Brecon Beacons and in the Black Mountains, was close to where I grew up. When I was a girl we would regularly go on forced family marches up Pen Y Fan in all weathers. I used to grit my teeth until we got to the top, and then run all the way down to the Storey Arms with my brothers. I never thought that I would write about it, but I love that journey back in my head to the mountains of my youth. It’s my very own form of time travel! I went back several times when I was writing Longbow Girl as well, just to see it all with fresh eyes. It’s such a beautiful and atmospheric part of the world. Revisiting was a joy and an inspiration.
The historical aspect of Longbow Girl took a lot of research. I read widely about the Tudor period, both in factual books but also via fiction. Sometimes it is fiction that gives you a much more vivid portrait of a time and place. Here is a photo of some of the books I’ve either read or repeatedly delved into for my research.
Are you a fan on the Mabinogion and are you able to recommend any particular translations of the text?
I am a huge fan of the Mabinogion. My father had a copy of the 1989 Everyman revised edition (translated by Gwyn Jones and Thomas Jones, one of whom signed it but with an illegible signature!) and he gave that copy to me over twenty years ago. I always had a sense even then that I would write something linked to it. Recently, my brother Roy gave me an Oxford University Press hardback Mabinogion published in 2007. It’s lovely but my late father’s copy will always be my favourite.
Much like Merry, you grew up using a longbow, have you kept up proficiency in its use?
Absolutely I still have Huntress. If you have a look at my website: www.Lindadavies.com, you will see a video clip of me shooting arrows with Huntress. I practice every few weeks. I wish I could say I can consistently hit an empty can on a wall 50m away… but I’d be lying! I can consistently hit my standard archery target from 30m away and if I sneak a bit closer I can periodically get a bull’s-eye or what archers insist on calling the ‘gold’ at the centre of the target.
Are any parts of Longbow Girl based on actual historical events or have you just woven historical characters into a fictional setting?
Yes, they are! A particular historical fact that I discovered about six years ago acted as a catalyst to writing Longbow Girl. I learned that Henry VIII issued an edict ordering the destruction of wild Welsh ponies under a certain height in order to improve his stock of destriers, or war horses. I was outraged on their behalf! The other childhood inspiration for Longbow Girl was my own black Welsh Mountain Section B pony, Jacintha. I was horrified by the idea of her ancestors being hunted down and destroyed, just because they were small! I dreamt of being able to go back in time to rescue some of those ponies, and then I thought, what if a young girl did just that…
So I came up with the brave, strong and wonderful Merry – the fifteen-year-old heroine of Longbow Girl. She is a supreme archer, the first longbow girl in a tradition of longbow men that stretches back seven hundred years to the Battle of Crécy. She’s also a great rider. One day, while out on her pony Jacintha, Merry discovers a treasure that offers her the chance to turn back time. She travels back to the brutal kingdom of Henry V111. Fighting against battle-seasoned men, she has to wield her longbow to save her family. To save herself… and a few ponies too!
In a strange co-incidence, mirroring one of the central plot lines from Longbow Girl which I dreamed up over five years ago, I recently discovered that in 1346 the Longbowmen of Llantrisant (the village right next to where I grew up!) fought for the Black Prince at the Battle of Crécy and saved his life.
The grateful Prince granted them a piece of land to be held in perpetuity. To this day, nearly seven hundred years later, the direct descendants of those longbowmen hold that parcel of land in Llantrisant.
Here’s another personal link that goes all the way back to the Battle of Crécy. During the battle, the Black Prince claimed the emblem of the defeated Bohemian King: three ostrich feathers. This emblem has been adopted by every Prince of Wales since. I was given a ‘Royal’ ring bearing the crest with the three ostrich feathers when I was a little girl when our current Prince Charles was invested as Prince of Wales. My father was involved in the Investiture and gave me the ring to mark the occasion. I still wear it now! I have never taken it off.
Have you ever read The Gauntlet by Ronald Welch? I read it about 25 years ago now, Longbow Girl reminded me a bit of it as they share a slightly similar time-slip plot and it is also set in Wales.
I’ve never come across it till now. It sounds intriguing! I’ve just ordered it.
Although the main storyline was tied up there were a couple of plot threads dangling at the end – do you have any sequels planned?
There are a few dangling threads aren’t there…? And yes I would dearly love to write a couple of sequels exploring what and where Merry goes next. I’ve just started plotting a different book, also Y/A/middle grade and will write that one first.
I am also a big fan of your Djinn books and reviewed the first two back in 2009 & 2010, moving away from Longbow Girl for just a moment can you let me know when Djinn War is due out?
Thank you so much! I am delighted to hear that. War of the Djinn is currently filed away, both in my brain and on my PC. I have done some work on it and hope to reprise it one day. At the moment, the wonderful Tanabi Films is deep in the process of putting together a deal to make an animated movie of Sea Djinn and then hopefully the rest of the Djinn books after that, so watch this space!
Thank you so much for giving up your time!
Is my absolute pleasure Matt. Thank you for your interest in my books and for your support and kind words.