Scribble City Central's thirty-eighth Fantabulous Friday comes from Katherine Roberts, winner of the Bransford Boase Award, and author of many wonderful books, including Sword of Light, which has just been long-listed for the Carnegie Medal. The Pendragon Legacy is a quartet of books about Rhianna Pendragon, daughter of the legendary King Arthur, who has been brought up on the fairy Isle of Avalon, ignorant of her own heritage until the moment of her father's death. I'll tell you this - Katherine tells a damn fine tale of derring-do, weaving together a young girl's fight against the prejudice of the knights and squires who are unwilling to let her lead them, with the story of the villainous Mordred and his bloodbeard minions, determined to thwart her quest at every turn. There are also talking fairy horses - and utterly enchanting they are too.
I'm reminded, very pleasantly, of Tamora Pierce's Alanna books - also featuring a young girl knight - and I think Katherine's British Rhianna will appeal to the same audience. There can never be too may new takes on Arthurian myth as far as I'm concerned, and this is an excellent addition to the canon. The writing is smart, funny, and zips along at a tremendous pace, and the main characters are well-rounded and endearing. I especially like Cai, the chubby squire who gallops (rather uncomfortably) at his princess's heels, and was pleased to see that he is developing nicely in the just-published (and equally gripping) second episode of the series - Lance of Truth. Although (so far) unicorns are only mentioned peripherally in these books, Katherine is something of an expert on them - having one as her muse - so I hand you over to her to talk about how they have had a strong effect on her writing life.
U for Unicorn
Answer to a Maiden's Prayer
KR: I don’t remember exactly when my muse first appeared out of the enchanted mists – but he’s always been there, lurking at the edges of my imagination. It just took me a little while to see him, as is often the way with magical creatures.
He appeared in my first ever published story “The Last Maiden” (published in the British Fantasy Society magazine “Dark Horizons”1994), where he is a misunderstood creature hunted by the villagers for goring a baby to death… something he may or may not have done, as I leave it up to the reader to decide. Perhaps that’s how I felt about my writing at the time, since the fantasy genre appeared to be shunned by the literary establishment and generally misunderstood as being only about swords and dragons. This was before Harry Potter made fantasy trendy, at least for younger readers… though being trendy seems to have had the opposite effect, since post Harry Potter everyone thinks it’s all about boy wizards and millionaire authors. My unicorn shakes his mane in despair.
Shortly after this, I won a competition for a short story. The prize was £50 (riches!) and my first real earnings from writing. Strangely, I don’t remember the winning story or where it appeared, but I took my winnings into town determined to buy something to remind me of the achievement, and spotted these unicorn bookends in the window of a gift shop. They cost £35, which made them a luxury purchase for me at the time. But even though they seemed a bit whimsical with their pink horns and gold stars, I took them home to prop up my favourite books. I think of them as unicorn foals, and they represent the childlike side of my muse… interestingly, this was before I even considered writing for children, so maybe they were responsible?
Unicorns certainly seem to have been adopted by children as magical pets. Here’s a fluffy pink one I rescued from the bargain shelf of my local supermarket (someone had spilt yellow liquid over him – he only needed a wash!)
But unicorns are not always so sweet. My muse apears in my second novel “Spellfall” (first published by Chicken House, 2000). There he leads a herd of unicorns from the enchanted land of Earthaven, where magical creatures have fled to hide from the dangers of our technological world. When Earthaven is attacked by evil spell casters, the unicorns use their horns to defend their home and their foals, but they also let the heroine Natalie and her friends ride them. So they are both magical and fierce in this story for teenage readers.
This contradictory nature of the unicorn makes him an interesting muse. He can be mysterious and beautiful when it suits him, and obviously as a mythical creature he is very useful to a fantasy author because he knows a lot about magic and enchanted worlds. But it's a mistake to underestimate him, because in his adult form he is a powerful creature with a razor-sharp horn who will fight fiercely to defend his territory.
A few years later, browsing in Hay-on-Wye during the annual book festival, I came across this lovely unicorn poster. I wasn’t actually looking for unicorns at the time (I was after dinosaurs) but I couldn’t resist him. He stayed rolled up in a corner through several house moves, before finding his way on to the wall of my current office. Here he is handsome and noble, wearing a charm around his neck. He’s watching me write this with a glint in his dark eye.
Finally, of course, a unicorn can be tamed only by a maiden. He lays down his horn in her lap and becomes gentle and kind under her hand. In this guise, he is sometimes associated with the Virgin Mary, showing his spiritual side, which is another important thread in my writing.
Some people like to say the unicorn does not exist, and that he is actually a rhinoceros. I can hear my muse laughing right now! Sometimes people try to cut off his sharp horn and turn him into a common horse. Others would like him to stay a soft-horned foal forever. Too much of that, and he’s likely to disappear back into the enchanted forest. But treat him right, and he will continue to bring magical stories out of the mists.
In this brave new e-world, my muse has embraced technology with a blog of his very own , and recently ran a competition to find his true name Raziele Razorhorn Roberts (Razz for short). Now all he has to do is live up to it!
Thank you, Razz, for being my muse!
SCC: Thank YOU, Katherine for introducing us to Razz. I think he's the first Muse who's appeared on these pages.
You can buy Katherine's books HERE
Next week: Anne Rooney, writer in many genres and expert on the undead talks V for Vampire. Bring garlic and a stake.