I grew up with my nose in a book, often one featuring knights in armour. Later I went looking for stories where women didn’t have to be either beautiful damsels or witches, and found the fantasy genre and the works of J.R.R Tolkein, Guy Gavriel Kay, Mark Lawrence, and Robin Hobb.
When I started writing novels, I had no understanding of genre; I simply wrote the book that was fighting to land on the page. My debut novel, Saxon’s Bane, was a time-slip with a supernatural twist and its roots in the Dark Ages. My second novel, Draca, also crossed the boundaries between literary fiction, historical fiction, and ghost story. Readers loved it. Take a look at the reviews on Amazon.
Since Draca I’ve gravitated to ‘historical fantasy’, the domain of authors such as George R R Martin (Game of Thrones), Andrzej Sapkowski (The Witcher), and Mark Lawrence (The Book of the Ancestor). A character had come into my mind as if she had always been there, waiting for her story to be told; a courageous young woman, raised as a pagan but incarcerated in a nunnery and forced to kneel to a foreign god. The words flowed. One book became two, then three. The trilogy acquired a name: Rune Song. Publishers Second Sky, an imprint of Bookouture/Hachette, released the first in the series, Hammer of Fate, in June 2023.
I live in a leafy corner of England, where I’m a keen amateur equestrian and a very bad pianist. I spend much of my time crafting words in a shed, fifty yards and five hundred years from the house.
1.- How did you start writing?
I started writing during long deployments in a warship, when I had time on my hands. Writing became an itch I had to scratch, but a career got in the way. It was years before I had the courage to step away from a salary and go freelance to release time to write.
2.- What inspired you to start creating the Rune Song series?
Rune Song began life as pure historical fiction, set around the demise of the Knights Templar. My agent loved the plot and the characters, but encouraged me to rewrite it into the fantasy genre. It was a brilliant suggestion; freed from the constraints of documented history, my imagination could run rip. I could up the stakes. Most importantly I could give my heroine a character arc that would have put her in the history books; the weaver’s daughter Adelais who, like Joan of Arc, ultimately becomes the figurehead around whom armies will gather.
3.- Would you say this book changed much from the first draft to the published version?
The transformation from historical fiction to historical fantasy required huge changes, but the underlying themes remained; religion corrupted by power; greed; bigotry; chivalric courage. The characters stayed the same; the young heroine discovering the strength within her; the ageing, honourable knight in a venal world; the junior Inquisitor who is being taught to see torture as an act of love.
4.- Is Ghislain Barthram inspired by any historical character?
Ghislain Barthram was modelled on a Dominican called Guillaume Ymbert, who was both the Pope’s Inquisitor for France and Confessor to King Philip IV. He disappears from recorded history after 1314 but one source said he had died violently. I changed the name but saw no reason to change the character! Or, indeed, his motivations.
5.- Do you consider writing historical fantasy requires much research? Why?
Fantasy asks a reader to suspend their disbelief. That’s a much easier ask if the fantasy world is grounded in fact. For young Adelais to beat a trained men-at-arms in combat I had to give her one or two well-researched tricks of swordcraft along the way. Her healing skills are believable because they are based on medieval cures that actually worked. (There were lots that didn’t!) And every foul torture inflicted in the series was actually perpetrated by the Dominicans of the Inquisition in the name of God. I hope I’m not sick enough to imagine those.
6.- Norse Runes play an important role in this series. What makes them so fascinating?
Pre-Christian Norse peoples were an oral culture, where the few written symbols, runes, had huge significance. They were conceptual, rather like Egyptian hieroglyphs; the rune bjarkan, for example, - ᛒ - meant birch tree, and had a phonetic sound, “buh”, but was also the rune of the earth mother, with connotations of rebirth or renewal. Runes were thought to interact; bjarkan needed the warmth of the sun rune sowilo - ᛊ - and the blessing of the water rune lœgr - ᛚ - before it could be the rune of becoming.
Norse peoples believed that the god Odhinn hung on the world tree Yggdrasil for nine days in voluntary self-sacrifice, his side pierced by a spear, to learn the wisdom of the runes. One of the earliest texts describes Odhinn as saying that runes had the power to raise the dead.
Many believed (some still do!) that runes have the ability to foretell the future, and even to change it. The Norse practice of rune magic, seidhr, was so alien to prescriptive religion that it was a natural belief system to give to Adelais’s people. Something else to up the stakes!
If anyone wants to know more, there’s a short introduction to runes on my website at https://geoffreygudgion.com/norse-runes-alphabet-or-magical-inscriptions/
7.- Could you tell us a little bit about your other books, Saxon’s Bane and Draca?
Both books crossed genre boundaries; they are present-day dramas with historical flashbacks and subtle, supernatural twists. Draca, the more literary of the two, is the story of a war-damaged veteran of Afghanistan who is haunted by his past, or may be just haunted. Half the royalties go to the veterans charity Combat Stress. Readers loved it.
8.- What can we expect from G.N. Gudgion in the future?
I’m still editing the third book of the Rune Song series, which will be released in October. There is also a novella prequel already written, and which may come out later this year or early next.
After that, I’m going to stay with historical/epic fantasy, with a medieval setting, but it’s too early to share my ideas. I have one hint, though; my next protagonist may be foretold on the final page of the last book of Rune Song…