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The Mystery of St. Arondight’s tells the story of six teenagers on a mysterious supernatural quest across Europe. What was the inspiration for the setup to this thrilling novel?
Like my characters I was a teenager when I had my first taste of field archaeology. It was exciting, that feeling that you never quite knew what was waiting under the ground for you. It didn’t seem to matter how many of the experienced archaeologists on the site told me that treasure is unlikely, I firmly believed that every shovel full of dirt could hold some priceless artefact of great importance. Now, having been a professional archaeologist for ten years I have learned that not every excavated site uncovers great historical mysteries. In fact the closest I have ever come to treasure is five scattered Roman Denarii, probably from a lost purse. But I still have that belief that something important could be hiding just under my feet.
History itself consists of so many unanswered questions, so many what ifs, so many intangible stories. Folk law suggests the presence of ghosts at sites of violence, or in places they knew when alive. Legends tell of strange women living in trees, lakes or isolated ruins, of heroes who transcend time. There are so many mysteries out there to solve, who is to say that the conclusions must always be rational. Some stories tell of tangible artefacts, a philosopher’s stone, a sacred cup or a powerful sword. Legends give us all the chance to daydream … What might happen if one day I excavate a sword of Arthurian date from a waterlogged deposit. Could the legends be true?
The story has a host of young characters all with their own unique personalities. What themes did you want to capture while creating your characters?
With my characters I aimed to create firstly a group with a shared interest, archaeology, but to give them their own skills, knowledge and personality. The intention was to balance them so that no one character held all the aces and there was essentially no go-to hero of the piece.
I wanted to make sure that the girls were just as capable as the boys. When I was growing up I spent most of my time wanting to be one of the lads. So called ‘girly’ activities did not interest me and I felt that as a teenager there were no characters in my world, with perhaps the exception of ‘George’ from Enid Blyton’s ‘Famous Five’, that represented me as a perpetually bruised, knee skinned tomboy, hanging out with the boys, fencing with sticks and pretending that my bicycle was a motorbike. What I wanted to do here was to create characters that represented my sixteen year old self. The girly side, the tomboy side and the downright laddish part of me. Alongside my own traits I have borrowed elements of personality from the many wild, passionate, and possibly crazy archaeologists of all ages and genders, that I have met whilst digging holes all over the country. I had to try and capture some of that combination of crude humour, intelligence and boundless enthusiasm, encountered on all archaeological sites.
The action scenes and references to historical sites was well developed. Was there anything you pulled from you own life and used in this novel?
I first started fencing at university and was lucky enough to fence for my university, even becoming captain of the team and later the club. Fencing is a lot like chess, but played at the speed of light and with significantly bigger bruises, but you get a real appreciation that timing and intelligence are every bit as important as strength and skill. In writing the sword fights in St. Arondight’s, I wanted to put across some of my own experience as a fencer – the noises, the exertion required and the clear presence of mind required to make a successful attack.
Having lived in the UK all my life, I have visited many of the locations from the book, although I do admit that for a few of them I may have used a little creative licence – getting to the “beach” below the White Cliffs of Dover is much more difficult than Sarah and Jerry found it and I certainly wouldn’t advise trying it!
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I am currently working on the sequel to The Mystery of St. Arondight’s, following the same characters on their next archaeological adventure. I’m hoping it will be available March/ April 2018 although the first draft is playing hardball right now, and it’s fair to say that working full time as an archaeologist, active fencer and motorcycle enthusiast does take up some writing time. So I’m afraid the date is tentative and it may be a little later.
Camping at ruined abbey at the end of the summer holidays, six teenage archaeologists find themselves witness to a violent haunting and discover a secret crypt below the abbey.
The discoveries they make set them on an epic quest across the country. In a race against an unhinged academic and armed with only their honour, knowledge and swordsmanship the group will have to trust one another and work together, as reality and mythology merge and the quest for an artefact of legend becomes a fight for survival.
Told in a unique blend of first and third person narration, The Mystery of St. Arondight’s follows Suzannah Jones, Melody Knight, Sarah Heddon, Claire Scott, Jerry Llewellen and Símon James Matherson in their first archaeological adventure.
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The University of Corporeal and Ethereal Studies is a genre-crossing novel with elements of a science fiction, paranormal, and fantasy as well. Did you start writing with this in mind, or did this happen organically as you were writing?
My idea for The University of Corporeal and Ethereal Studies began when I was falling in love with the Steampunk sub-genre and I knew I wanted to write a series of short stories set in a fantastic, fictional university with the themes of sci-fi and fantasy that are often seen in Steampunk. As I was developing the stories I quickly realized that I wanted to incorporate paranormal and horror elements in order to give the book a darker edge. I was also in the midst of reading a lot of H.P. Lovecraft, which has certainly had an influence on my writing.
The story is divided into a number of different perspectives from each character. What was the inspiration for your characters and what themes did you try to use?
It all started with my friends from college. I have been very to lucky to meet a lot of interesting and diverse people with a wide variety of backgrounds and studies, which inspired me to write about a cast of characters who are all very different, but still wind up becoming the best of friends. The deeper themes of these characters wrestling with inner demons and overcoming fears and flaws actually stemmed from my own darker thoughts and fears, and over the years of writing and editing, the characters also took on lives of their own, evolving into the people you see in the final draft.
The University is an intriguing place that rivals Hogwarts and begs to be explored. How did you set about creating this imaginative world?
As a child I was definitely inspired by J.K. Rowling, so there is an element of Hogwarts about the University, but primarily this world began when I was actually in college and shortly afterward. I was – and continue to be – amazed by the latest breakthroughs in science and the fantastic expressions of artists of all mediums. As I began brainstorming ideas for a Steampunk University I could not help but imagine impossible, dark twists on real studies of arts and sciences. The world that the University is situated in is even more exotic, as it is inspired by the rich diversity of our own real world, as well as history and of course, sci-fi and fantasy elements from a life as a bookworm.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
The sequel to The University of Corporeal and Ethereal Studies is still in the first draft stage. I have it all outlined and I am plugging away at writing it, one day at a time. The characters from The University will be traveling abroad – but I am not done with the University itself. I have an anthology book in mind with another variety of short stories set at the University, exploring more of the dark and creative studies there. The first sequel is undoubtedly at least a year or two away, but I am working on it as fast as I can. I am very excited to share my writing with my friends, family and anyone who enjoys sci-fi, fantasy and paranormal fiction.
At the University of Corporeal & Ethereal Studies meddling with unknown powers can be dangerous work. Courses in arts and sciences experiment with supernatural forces to solve the mysteries of the universe, but when school projects go awry, the students may discover more than they would like to about the madness of the cosmic ‘Beyond’.
Eight interwoven stories follow students whose school work, social lives and inner demons crash together, leading to fantastic and horrible experiences, supernatural powers, and a fuller understanding of the dark depths of their world.
Classes include subjects such as time travel, alchemy, oneironautics, psychedelic transformation, rogue automatons, cosmic ghosts, reality-warping crystals, and more.
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