Meet the Author:
When Suzannah isn’t travelling the world to help out friends in need, she lives in a big house in rural Australia with her awesome parents and siblings, trying to beat her previous number-of-books-read-in-a-year record. She blogs the results at www.vintagenovels.com and is the author of both fiction and non-fiction. Pendragon’s Heir, her debut novel, released March 26.
Thank you so much, Suzannah, for giving us a peek into why your wrote your latest book, Pendragon’s Heir!
I am a home-ed graduate in my later 20's from a beautiful nook of rural Australia, where I live with my wonderful parents and siblings. In addition to writing, I also travel a fair bit to help out friends all over the world in times of illness or other hardship. Right now, I'm writing from New Zealand, and a large part of Pendragon's Heir was written in Tennessee.
My parents, who began home educating us in the early 1990's when it was still quite rare in Australia, are the ones who have instilled in me a passion to advance Christ's kingship in every area of life. They are the ones who introduced me to theology, art, culture, and storytelling from my earliest youth, and today they're still going strong encouraging other home educators. So the themes you'll pick up in Pendragon's Heir are things that have been part of my life since I first cut my teeth on the Chalcedon Report!
What spurred you to write Pendragon’s Heir? How did you come up with the story line?
Initially it was a dissatisfaction with the original legends. Why did the French romancers have to ruin the story by including a love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot? This annoyance spilled out into book form when I read Josephine Tey's book The Daughter of Time, which is a splendid detective novel vindicating Richard III of England. I was inspired to write something vindicating Guinevere. That was where the story originally started, but over the next ten years my vision deepened and grew into something far, far bigger and grander.
What character did you feel the most connected with?
I feel connected will all my characters to some degree or another. Of the main characters in particular, I connect with Blanche's struggle against selfishness and fearfulness. The extroverted and spontaneous side of me has a lot in common with Perceval. But of all the characters, the one who I feel most deeply for is Nerys the Fay. She is such a fascinating mixture of strength and vulnerability. In fact now that I think about it she is very like the Syro-Phoenician woman who had the humility and boldness to compare herself with a dog eating the crumbs from under the children's table. I don't know that I could presume to say that I feel much in common with Nerys, but it's her story that moved me the most.
I loved how you tied in Augustine’s City of God. Why did you chose that particular theme?
The City of God is a life-changing book whether you particularly want it to be or not, I think! I read it in 2012, the year before I sat down and rewrote Pendragon's Heir from scratch for the very last time, and by that time I had already figured out what Logres was to symbolise. After that, it was only logical to weave Augustine's book into the story, both thematically and explicitly. For one thing, I was writing a story set, however anachronistically, during a time period in which The City of God would have been the most influential theological work bar none. For another, once you've read The City of God, you cannot talk about the kingdom of heaven for very long without beginning to quote Augustine!
The book was absolutely fantastic. What was your favorite thing about the finished manuscript? What are you most pleased with, and what are you most looking to improve in future works?
I'm so glad you think so! My favourite thing about the book is what so many readers have told me--that they have come away from the book feeling excited to get out and work for the Kingdom of God. Many people will tell you that fiction and fantasy are bad because they tempt you towards escapism, and I know this is a real risk especially when the book is absorbing, so I knew that above anything else I wanted my readers to come away from my book feeling strengthened and encouraged for life in the real world. Many readers have said that Pendragon's Heir had just this effect on them, and this is what I am most pleased with.
On the improvements side of things, I have a laundry list. Because I started writing Pendragon's Heir as a teenager and spent ten years on it, there are some vestigial immaturities. A couple of readers have pointed out that the Christian answer to the villain's challenges is not made as explicit within the book as the villain's worldview is. There are also aspects of the medieval worldview that I didn't explore or challenge as thoroughly as they deserved. In the end, I've had to step back and resolve to do better next time.
Which authors have most influenced your writing? (Style, character and plot development, vision, etc?)
The six great (fiction) authors I revere and seek to emulate above all others are JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, John Buchan, PG Wodehouse, GK Chesterton, and Edmund Spenser. They have all influenced me greatly, as have others to varying degrees. As far as vision for fiction goes, Tolkien's essay On Fairy Stories, and his poem Mythopoeia, have brought me to see my fiction as a way of re-embodying the Gospel. Theologically, I have been inspired by authors like St Augustine, Douglas Wilson, RJ Rushdoony, and David Chilton. For research into the medieval worldview and the Arthur legends themselves, I read books like Roger Lancelyn Green's King Arthur and HIs Knights of the Round Table, Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur, Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, anonymous medieval works like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and The Mabinogion, and Christine de Pisan's terrific manual for medieval princesses, The Treasury of the City of Ladies.
Can you tell us a bit about your other writing ventures?
Right now my writing is my major focus, as I try to make the most of my single years. I am in the research stage for my next major novel, which may end up dwarfing Pendragon's Heir, of which I'll say nothing except that I have been reading a lot of histories about the Crusader States.
Meanwhile, to keep myself busy, I've been working on a whole series of novellas based on fairy tales, with exotic settings. The first one, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, set in Bollywood-style India, titled The Rakshasa's Bride, was published at the end of last year and you can find it here. The next two are waiting for final edits before publication: The Prince of Fishes, set in 700s Byzantium at the height of the Iconoclast controversy, and The Bells of Paradise, which draws inspiration from sources like Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queeneand Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market, as well as Grimm's Fairy Tales.
Just as with Pendragon's Heir, I have been using this opportunity to chew over the deeper themes behind these old stories, and use them to encourage my sisters in Christ.
Do you think fiction is a legitimate avenue for dominion? Why is that?
Yes, absolutely. I was raised to look for ways to take dominion of art and culture for the glory of God, and I see fiction, legend, and fairy tales as legitimate aspects of culture which can be taken dominion of. This is a little ironic, I know, because so many of us get our vocabulary of dominion and reconstruction from R.J. Rushdoony, and he was always quite suspicious of imagination and escapism.
However, I understand Rushdoony's point as being a caution against using fiction to break God's rules, as an opportunity for exercising blasphemous autonomy. Christian authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and Jane Austen, on the other hand, have excelled at subcreation, using fiction as an opportunity for exploring and celebrating God's world and His law-order all the more fully. If you read Christian authors of fiction from across history, you realise that many of them understood the temptation to rebel through fiction, and had spent much time thinking over how their art could be used to give glory to God, rather than themselves. So, if your read John Bunyan's Apology For His Book at the front of The Pilgrim's Progress, Edmund Spenser's Letter To Sir Walter Raleigh which introduces The Faerie Queene, or the relevant passages from the opening of Torquato Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered, in which he invokes the Holy Spirit as his source of inspiration, you see that all these Reformation-era authors saw the point of their work as being to teach right doctrine in a way that would be pleasant, engaging, and memorable, as well as edifying and encouraging. Anthony Trollope makes a similar point in his Autobiography later on in the 1800's. Elizabethan chevalier Sir Philip Sidney also pointed out in his Defense of Poesy, (or fiction), that in Scripture God even has his prophets use fiction. As I like to say, when David sinned with Bathsheba, the Lord did not send Nathan the prophet to ask him, "What part of Do Not Commit Adultery do you not understand?" No--he sent Nathan to tell him a story, and that story was like a rear-attack against a part of David's conscience that was still tender.
That's what I try to do in my fiction. Stories by their nature embody doctrine, as Tolkien pointed out in On Fairy Stories. My job is to realise that there is no neutrality in my stories, and so I do a lot of work--including getting the counsel and advice of men and women I trust--to make sure that the doctrine my stories embody is true and helpful. At the same time, because I believe that God cannot be honoured through poor craftsmanship, I also work hard to make sure that the doctrine is properly couched in storytelling, not sermonising. I loved your comment in your review of Pendragon's Heir that it wasn't till about a week after you read the book that you realised how deeply it had affected you. That's what stories do--they hit you where you don't expect it. Too many stories have deep and unseen bad effects, so I am incredibly encouraged to hear that my story is impacting people for the better.
Excellent. Sounds like a book we can't afford to miss out on! Where can people buy a copy of the book?
Pendragon's Heir is available in ebook and paperback form. The paperback can be found on Createspace and Amazon. The ebook is currently available on Smashwords in a variety of formats suited to most devices and on Amazon.com. Enjoy!
Joe and Rachel Tenney
Joe and Rachel live in Hampton, VA where they enjoy life together. They enjoy traveling together, as well as reading and writing as a couple. Most of all, they enjoy learning what it means to live the gospel in everyday life, especially in the context of their sweet church family at Hampton Roads Fellowship.