At World Fantasy Con in Brighton last year, I was fortunate enough to spend some time chatting to Geoffrey Gudgion. He was quite charming and it made me want to read his debut Saxon’s Bane even more. I read it over Christmas and it immediately made my Favourite Debuts of 2013 list. But after I finished the book I had some questions and Geoff was gracious enough to answer them. There aren’t any spoilers for the book in there so even if you haven’t read the book yet, you can read the interview without getting spoiled. Let’s get to the interview!
Let’s start with the basics. Who is Geoffrey Gudgion?
I’ve been a serviceman, then a businessman, and now a writer. I also play the piano (badly), ride horses (madly) and spend so much time staring into space that my wife initiates conversations with the words “Earth to Geoffrey!” She knows I’m lost in a world of my own creation.
Could you tell us more about your debut novel, Saxon’s Bane?
It’s a thriller with a supernatural twist. I interweave past and present during the excavation of a Saxon grave.
What triggered your interest in Anglo-Saxon history? What sort of research did you do for the Anglo-Saxon part of the story?
I had a wonderful tutor at University, the kind of elderly academic who seemed to move in a light fog of chalk dust and college port, and who inspired my love of the history hidden in the English landscape. Many of the villages in Southern England have Saxon origins, and when I came across the legend of the warrior Aegl and his wife Olrun, a Swan Maiden, I decided to set the book in a village called Allingley, on the banks of the Swanbourne river. Allingley would have been Aegl-ingas-leah in Anglo Saxon, meaning ‘the clearing of Aegl’s people’. I tend to research massively and only use fragments, but those fragments can spark some exciting ideas.
Looking at your bio on the Solaris site there seems to be a bit of overlap between you and Fergus. How much would you say Fergus resembles Geoff?
In Fergus I crafted a character emerging from life-changing trauma. He’s flawed, vulnerable, and emotionally incontinent. The streak of stubbornness that makes him refuse to accept the limitations of his own injuries also makes him stay to fight when all logic says ‘run’. He fights not because he’s particularly courageous but because he’s too bloody-minded to run the other way.
I’m told that every first novel is autobiographical to some extent, because the old dictum to ‘write about what you know’ is sound, but if the reader can’t see the join between remembered reality and imagination, then I’ve done my job as a writer.
Did I just duck the question? Sorry.
I loved Fergus’ instinctive bond with Trooper. It made my inner, fourteen-year-old horse girl squee. Do you have a Trooper in your life?
Yes! There’s a big Irish hunter that I bought in 2005. He now belongs to a friend but I still ride him a couple of times a week, and we trust each other. Once in a while we find a cross-country course and go gloriously mad together over the jumps. I tried to capture some of that bond with Fergus and Trooper.
You only have to see a Riding for the Disabled or a Horse-Assisted Learning session to know the healing power that horses can have with damaged people, so it seemed natural to give that experience to a character like Fergus. When Fergus first encounters a horse, he finds the touch ‘unexpectedly comforting, like a distant echo of childhood, as if he was once again a hurt infant who had found a soothing presence that was large and gentle and warm.’
The love of music equally pervades the narrative, both in the way Fergus looks at the world after the accident and in the strong presence of the choir. Was this a conscious choice or did it slip in by accident? Does music have a special place in your life?
Music is a part of my life but not the primary driver. However I do like to capture the effect that music can have on people’s emotions. In your very kind review you mention the chapter that includes an Easter performance in a church. If I’d tried to describe the music itself I’d have lost the reader, but I could describe the music’s impact:
…tracing simple chords whose melancholy commanded attention. Then Mary’s voice opened, her deep contralto interweaving with Cynthia’s higher soprano in a chord that reached for the listener’s heart, squeezed, then pulled until the tears flowed. It was a performance of such aching beauty that all movement was stilled, and their music rang within a pure silence…
I wrote that section while I was listening to Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. I can recommend the YouTube version at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNt13Vw-K6Q
When we met at WFC in Brighton, you had a beautiful helmet with you, which I think is a replica of the helmet on the cover of the book. Could you tell us more about that?
After Solaris released the cover for Saxon’s Bane, a friend bought me the helmet as a publication present. I gather there are companies that make arms and armour for re-enactment societies. I added the antlers with fibreglass to match the book’s cover. I take it to every reading and signing, and it’s a great icebreaker. It sits in my study at home, sometimes with a horse-riding rosette tucked in the chain mail, and I love it.
As a book reviewer, I’m all about the book enabling; I can’t help but want to make people read all the good books out there. But I can always use help. What are your top recommendations of books we should look out for in the coming months?
I’m fascinated by the way everyday lives can still carry traces of our pagan past, so I’m really looking forward to reading a debut YA book called Bone Jack by Sara Crowe. It will be published in April by Andersen.
Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?
Reference books all sit on one shelf, so that’s easy. Fiction that I’d like to read again is stored alphabetically on several more shelves, and stuff I’m unlikely to read again can turn up anywhere because I’m horribly untidy.
Mieneke, it’s been a great pleasure to be part of your blog. Thank you so much for inviting me.
And thank you Geoff, for the wonderful answers and pictures!
Bio: Geoffrey Gudgion was the scholarship boy who never realised he’d have been happier as a writer than a businessman. until, that is, he had a spectacular row with his boss and stepped off the corporate ladder. Prior to that epiphany, he made his first attempts at writing fiction during long deployments in the Royal Navy, and consistently failed to reconcile writing with being CEO of a technology company.