Freda Warrington is the author of numerous books, most recently the AETHERIAL TALES series: Elfland, Midsummer Night, and the newly released Grail of the Summer Stars (see my review here). These three books have been among my favorites of the last few years. Ms. Warrington has kindly taken some time to answer a few questions, and I’m thrilled to welcome her to FanLit. We’re also giving away a copy of Grail of the Summer Stars to a reader in the US or Canada.
Kelly Lasiter: In an earlier novel, The Court of the Midnight King (which I’ve been meaning to read for a few years now), you deal with the history of Richard III, a plot that gets a little cameo in Grail. I was just thinking recently that the discovery of Richard’s burial site had sort of made my geeky year! Do you have any thoughts on this find?
Freda Warrington: It’s been incredibly exciting. I was born in Leicester and consider it my home town. I’ve been fascinated by Richard III for years, and we have so much related history around us – the Battle of Bosworth site, the Grey family home in Bradgate Park (from which came Richard’s brother Edward IV’s wife, and the tragic “9 days queen” Lady Jane Grey), and the ruins of Ashby Castle owned by the Hastings family who had close connections with Richard. A countess, who lived in a modest house next to the castle until her quite recent death, was descended from another of Richard’s brothers, the Duke of Clarence. (A friend of mine was her neighbour and good friends with her). So you feel as if the history’s still alive all around you. The discovery of his remains was like a miracle. If it wasn’t for the persistence of a member of the Richard III Society, and the sheer good fortune that there was a car park and not a building over his grave, he might never have been found. The fact that his remains were nearly intact, and hadn’t been thrown in the River Soar as was rumoured, and that we have the technology to make a positive identification, and that he turned out be physically SO very like contemporary accounts of him – it’s almost beyond belief! Everything came together at the right time. This sort of thing just does not happen, and yet it has! We’ve been to see the exhibition in the Leicester Guildhall, an extraordinary medieval building in itself. I’m really upset that a dispute has arisen over whether his remains should be buried in Leicester or York. I know he was loved in the North of England, but my heart wants him to stay in Leicester, where all the archeological work was done, and where, after all, he lost his final battle.
One of the recurring themes in the AETHERIAL TALES novels is art as a form of magic, or a manifestation of magic. Are there any specific artists–visual, musical, etc.–who helped inspire you while writing this series?
Art has inspired me in all kinds of ways over the years. When I was writing the character of Dame Juliana Flagg in Midsummer Night, I had in mind sculptors such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. I absolutely love the Pre-Raphaelites and related artists, especially John William Waterhouse. His famous painting that shows “The Lady of Shalott” looking tragic in a boat with her hair flowing around her, as she drifts to her doom, directly inspired the character of Stevie in Grail of the Summer Stars. In fact Rosie, in a certain scene in the novel, actually tells Stevie that that’s who she looks like! (Stevie responds, “More like the Bag Lady of Shalott.” – she certainly doesn’t take herself too seriously!). Although I’m not religious, I love Byzantine icons with their stylized figures and gold leaf, so I thought it would be fun and different if Stevie’s artist friend Daniel – who has gone missing – created artwork in this style, rather than conventional painting.
Recently I was a Guest of Honour at Eastercon (UK) alongside the wonderful artist Anne Sudworth, and I was struck by how similar some of our ideas must be. She constantly paints mysterious paths dwindling towards an unseen, just-over-the-horizon Otherworld. I constantly write about them! The idea of pathways into other realms has always intrigued me, and crops up in virtually everything I write. So Anne’s work is very compelling too. And I love illustrators such as Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac.
Grail of the Summer Stars ties together a number of plot threads from the previous two books and weaves them into an overarching plot — an overarching plot I didn’t even expect! In your Afterword, you mention that you didn’t quite expect it either! How and when did you begin to realize that all of these elements could go together to create this larger story?
I’m not sure! I had all these different situations, like jigsaw pieces, and it takes a while to see how they will fit together. Lord Albin appeared in the first two books as a sinister background figure, secretly manipulating people, even his own family. He’s a cold, controlling Aetherial in an ice-white tower, a puritanical extremist who believes that the Otherworld, aka the Spiral, must be permanently severed from Earth in order to prevent worldly pollution creeping into the Aetherial Realms. He doesn’t set out to be villainous; like any fanatic, he’s doing what he believes to be right – but at the same time he has a vengeful, heartless streak and doesn’t care who he hurts in the process. Although he’s quite enigmatic and remote from the action, I always knew that he was dangerous and had not finished his games with my main characters – in this case Stevie and Mist, Sam and Rosie and Lucas.
In Aetherial politics, you’ve got three main factions: the majority, who believe in discreet, peaceful interaction with the human world, a minority group who believe in total separation from Earth, and an anarchic faction who believe in destroying all the barriers and using the Earth as their playground, if not actually trashing the place and taking over. The two extremist factions were bound to have a big showdown sooner or later, with the potential for “mutually assured destruction”! Without wishing to give away the plot, the more I thought about Albin and his opponents, the more clear it became how the entire story could play out. I think that’s the best kind of resolution to a novel – one you didn’t see coming but which, when you think about it, couldn’t have ended any other way.
There’s still plenty of room in this universe for more stories. Do you plan to write further AETHERIAL TALES?
Oh, I’d love to! I’ve already got one pretty well mapped out. Returning to my Elfland characters, the story revolves around Lucas and his struggle to grow into his new responsibilities as guardian of the Great Gates between the Earth and the Otherworld. Sam and Rosie are heavily involved too, but it’s mainly Lucas’s story. He’s such a sweet character, sexy yet naïve! And I’ve other, vaguer ideas for tales set in historical periods, or within the Spiral itself. A lot depends on Tor, as I’m between contracts at the moment, but whatever happens, I’d definitely love to continue with my Aetherial world.
Finally, if you could live in one of the five elemental realms, which would you choose?
Now that’s an interesting question… I think I’m going to make a very obvious choice. The deepest realm, Asru, representing Ether or spirit, is rather dark and sinister. Sibeyla – Air – is all floaty mountains, very bleak and chilly unless you like that sort of thing (as Albin does!). Naamon, the realm of Fire, is deserts, volcanoes, jewel-mines, smouldering foundries – even after three books, all the realms are shrouded in mystery as to what actually goes on there, but I like that, and it’s why I’d love to explore them in further stories. Melusiel is a violet and grey place of cloud, rain, lakes and wetlands, full of elusive beings that live under water or beside it. So I’d have to choose Elysion, the earthy realm. A place of forests and standing stones, meadows and lush orchards, it’s definitely the most human-friendly realm to settle in! That is, if you can avoid being hunted or captured by some of the less friendly Aetherial inhabitants…
Thank you so much for your time!
Readers, comment below for a chance to win a hardback copy of Grail of the Summer Stars. The winner will be announced in the comments, so either check back in about 10 days, or check the little box. US or Canada only, please.