02 March 2014

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Rob Godfrey

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Rob Godfrey with his latest novel, YEAR OF THE CELT: IMBOLC, book one of a four-part series. The author will offer a free paperback copy of the novel to a lucky blog visitor in the UK OR a digital copy for non-UK residents.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

Year of the Celt is a four-part series; each part covers a quarter of the Celtic year. Betrayals, violence, hope and love will touch the life of everyone before this year is through. Imbolc is the first book, beginning just after at the Celtic New Year (Samhain) and leading up to the night of the Imbolc festival. New love will offer hope to some, while the hidebound perish.

Step back in time to the winter of 499BC. The location is a tiny settlement nestling under the dark Scefin ridge in a remote valley in Brigantia, Northern Britain. The Scefinge have lived on their crannog* by the river Warf for so long, only half-remembered tales recount when their forebears first hacked living space out of the surrounding densely wooded valley.

The previous winter was the harshest that anyone can remember; unknown to the Scefinge, the climate is about to enter a rapid cooling that will last for at least a hundred years. The traditions and practices that have guided the Scefinge through the cycles of sowing and harvesting for generations no longer work; already their stores of food and fuel are much reduced and the worst of the winter is still ahead.

The far north of Britain is already blanketed under ever-thickening layers of snow and ice, driving many displaced tribes south in increasing numbers. Young Rab is on his first solo hunt; stalking deer to provide for his mother whilst his father is away in the north. He is about to meet a group of near-starving, exhausted refugees whom he will invite onto the crannog; unwittingly precipitating a crisis that will have unseen and far-reaching consequences for himself and the whole Scefinge.

As the Elders begin to lose control of their world, it falls on Rab to take on their role and point the way in an uncertain future.  Some people can change and adapt but inevitably there are those who cannot; those clinging onto the past and fearful of the future will sometimes resort to violence and even murder in their desperation.

**Author Interview: Rob Godfrey**

Is this your first book?

It's my first work of fiction but I have also written Yorkshire Dales: A Dog Walkers Guide. The opportunity came about when I was sat in the local vets waiting for some results of tests on my dog. On the wall was a poster asking if anyone would take on a project to write a dog-walking book. I telephoned the contact and he put me in touch with the publishers (they had asked him to write the book but he didn't have a dog). I did a walk and sent them a sample write-up and I got the job! It's already on its second edition. I had in fact always wanted to write a novel and after this first book it now seemed like a possibility.

What prompted you to base your story in 499BC in such an obscure part of Britain?

On the nearby moors that cover much of the higher ground where I live are many ancient rock-carvings. Their age and purpose is as yet unknown but I pass them almost daily (whilst walking with my dog) and it occurred to me that I was in fact treading on the very same paths and tracks as people have done for thousands of years. I wondered what life might have been like back then.

After many hours of research it became clear that there is little direct evidence of the lives of ordinary people living here at the time. I thought a dramatic reconstruction might make an interesting work of fiction.

It's a four-part series?

Four major festivals punctuated the Celtic year: Imbolc, Beltane, Lugnasa and Samhain. Each book covers the lives and events during a quarter of the year. The first book ends on the day of the Imbolc festival marking the beginning of spring (actually the end of January). Like all things Celt, there are several different explanations for the purpose of the festival. There are also alternative names: Imbolg, Candlemas, St Bride's Day, Brighid's Day or Saint Brighid's Day, Festival of Light, etc. Some say it is to celebrate the coming of longer days and specifically when ewes come into milk just prior to lambing.  The second book, Year of the Celt: Beltane, covers the period after Imbolc up to and including the Beltane festival (end of April).

It's a book about 'ordinary' people?

A lot of books written about the Celts confine themselves to the rather cliché'd lives of wizards, steely-blue-eyed warriors, kings and queens, etc. I am much more interested in imagining what life might have been like for the 'average' person. The Romans wrote about the Celts in a very negative way (as an indirect way of boosting themselves) but I'm sure they were very much like us, in their need for love, physical and emotional security, etc.

Are any of the characters based on people you know?

I think it's very difficult to have believable characters in a story without giving them some of the emotions and motives that you have experienced yourself. There are some traits of some of the characters that people who know me might recognise, but then others are definitely not me (I hope!).

What decided you to write the book in modern-day English?

The language used at the time is thought to be a form of the Celtic tongue, but as no written records have yet been discovered it is virtually impossible to imagine what it might have sounded like. I felt it would be foolish to use some pseudo 'old English' dialect that would definitely not have been spoken then.

You have mentioned a lack of information about this time and place, how much research did you undertake?

The background information came from a wide range of sources. The period has always been of interest and I have read quite widely on the subject. A number of books by Barry Cunliffe on Iron Age Britain were especially useful.

I looked into what people might have been eating then, the clothes they wore, their buildings, etc. A well-used source was a NASA website showing all the moon phases in the last 6,000 years. Many maps were referenced in order to find the location of various ancient settlements, hillforts, etc as well as plot credible routes to and from places. I would estimate that for every page I wrote I did at least 1 hour of research on top of the background knowledge.

Other than writing, how else do you fill your day?

Reading is a favourite pastime; I'd much rather read than watch the TV. I'm a bit of an obsessive fruit and vegetable grower so I spend as much time as I can in the garden. Luckily we also live in a place surrounded by great walking country, so a lot of free time is spent out on the hills. I build websites too (I was a university lecturer in Computer Science) and I am also qualified as an electrician; it's good to a have a mix of jobs with different challenges and rewards.