Check This Out: In Brigantia

It’s raining authors around the blog! Today, the amazing Andrew Murray (or Andy as many of you who know him and follow his blogs, City Jackdaw and Coronets For Ghosts, call him) is here to talk about his latest poetry collection, In Brigantia. (His first was Heading North, which we talked about here.)

  

Stick around after the interview to learn about a giveaway of this collection. Now, let’s talk to Andy.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Andy: Thank you! (1) I’m (at least) the fifth generation of Murray born in Manchester.
(2) My favourite place is Orkney.

 

Photos by Andy Murray © 2019

(3) A big Whovian, I once stumbled across a scene being filmed for the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary episode, and was totally unaware of it until it aired on TV.
(4) My dreams begin while I’m still awake.

El Space: Please tell us how you came to choose the theme you chose for In Brigantia.

12294646_10153732827966740_3177437019818522964_nAndy: The title of the collection takes its name from the opening long poem, ‘Brigantia’ being the territorial name of northern Celtic tribe the Brigantes. Being northern myself, the poems are either set in, or were written in, that same area, though set in the modern day. My writing is often rooted in place.


Romano-British Brigantes map

El Space: How long did it take to complete this collection?
Andy: I never started writing with a collection in mind. I continued to write individual poems following the publication of Heading North in late 2015 and eventually, when I had a considerable number, I began to go through them with an eye on bringing some together in a new book.

Along with the post-2015 poems, there are three older poems also included, one dating back to the September 11th attack, when I received a postcard from a close friend of mine, on that very day, telling me that she was in New York and going to go up one of those towers. It shook my complacency about our friendship. That friend is now my wife.

El Space: Wow! What a great story! What’s your process for writing a poem? How do you know when a poem is “done”?
Andy: I never sit to write a poem; words and lines tend to come to me when I’m out and about doing other things. I take a note of them and they grow from there; it’s quite organic really. Knowing when they are ‘done’ is an instinctive thing, just a feeling I get. As with all writing, I guess, it’s a subjective process. I was sat in a coffee shop watching a guy working the room, trying, unsuccessfully, to chat up the girls who were in there, and straight away I got every single line for ‘Romeo of Lever Street,’ written on the handy notes section of my phone. That also comes in useful for phrases that come to me when on the edge of sleep.

El Space: Amazon’s description of this collection mentions historical royalty like Queen Cartimandua and Hollywood “royalty” like Marilyn Monroe and Tom Cruise. How did these individuals come to be in this collection?

  

Andy: There’s a story to the Monroe one. I was on a train journey, listening to an audio drama over headphones as we approached the next station. As the train pulled in, the guard announced, “The next station, ladies and gentlemen, is Mytholmroyd.” I really thought, above the story that I was tuned into, that what had been said was “Ladies and gentlemen: Marilyn Monroe!” I pulled my headphones off, “What?!” Looking wildly through the window to see exactly where we were. In my defence, I was also due to have my ears syringed soon at the local surgery, but still-—Monroe! I thought to myself ‘Wouldn’t that have been a sight for a Thursday morning?’ And that’s how ‘Mytholmroyd’ came into being.

Photo by Andy Murray © 2019

As for Cartimandua, she was the queen of the Brigantes tribe. Her name translates as ‘sleek pony,’ and that’s how I came up with the cover image for the book.

El Space: Which poem(s) in the collection had the most difficult birth?
Andy: ‘Hanging On ‘Til Morning.’ With this one I went against my usual writing process, mentioned above, looking to write lyrics instead of waiting for the lyrics to come to me. I say lyrics, because this originally was for a friend who is in a band and had asked for help in coming up with words for a song. I got carried away, imagining all sorts of melodies and chord changes before I came to my senses and reigned myself in. Music is his talent, not mine, so I gave him what I’d written and told him to adapt it however he wanted to fit what he was doing.

El Space: Which poets or other artists inspire you?
Andy: There are many. Different poets speak to different people. I like Kenneth White—he writes about the things that inspire me. Now in his eighties, I mentioned him in the foreword to Heading North and received a letter from him wishing me well upon my own journey, which was wonderful. I also like Werner Aspenström, but need to brush up on my Swedish as there is only a limited amount of his work translated into English.

  

  

El Space: What will you work on next?
Andy: I will be turning to fiction next. A new publisher has expressed interest in a short story collection, tentatively called The Night Spills In. It’s the kind of stuff I read when growing up—folklore and the supernatural. I was that kind of kid! Beyond that I have the first draft of a contemporary novel, Seasons on the Hill, that I’ve left to breathe for a while, to pick up again. And I will still be writing poetry along the way.

Thank you, Andy, for being my guest!

Looking for Andy? You can find him at his blogs (City Jackdaw and Coronets For Ghosts).

Looking for In Brigantia? You can find it at Amazon. But one of you will get a copy of In Brigantia simply because you commented. Winner to be announced next week sometime!

Author photo and other photos courtesy of Andy Murray. In Brigantia cover came from Andy’s City Jackdaw blog. Kenneth White and Werner Aspenström poetry collection covers came from Goodreads and Amazon. Romano-British Brigantes map from Wikipedia. Marilyn Monroe photo from thefashiontag blog. Tom Cruise photo from vulture.com. Doctor Who image from fandomania.

Check This Out: The Lost Celt

Happy Memorial Day! I’m back on the blog finally! And I’m not alone—I’m with the awesome A. E. (Amanda) Conran, author of the middle grade novel, The Lost Celt, which was published by Gosling Press/Goosebottom Books this past March. This book is very appropriate for a holiday like this. I’ll tell you about the giveaway for it at the end of the interview.

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El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Amanda: I’m originally from Leicestershire, England. It’s a county suddenly in the news, as you’ll know if you’re a historian or a soccer fan. (Richard III and Leicester City!)

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I moved to the Bay Area when my first child was six-weeks old. My husband had been offered a job at Industrial Light and Magic working on the new Star Wars films. It was his childhood ambition to work for Lucas. We only came for two years, but that’s what everyone says when they move here.

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I have a scar on my nose from being hit by a field hockey ball. I needed 12 stitches.

I’ve done a catch on the flying trapeze.

El Space: Wow! How did you come to write a middle grade novel about two boys—Mikey and Kyler—who think they have found a Celtic warrior in the twenty-first century?
Amanda: The Lost Celt is about how people return from war, how their return affects their families, and how we deal with this in society as a whole. It was inspired by a conversation with two emergency room doctors at a local VA Medical Center. They told me there were always more admissions in the ER on “certain nights,” when war stories or natural disasters were in the news. One friend remembered a man with red hair and beard, acting very much as I describe my Celt. My friend, who was truly worried for his patient, could not help but think he was witnessing a warrior, a Viking, in the ER. That idea, of the continuity of the potential effects of war through history, stayed with me.

There are many other factors at play in the inspiration for this story. I was fascinated by ancient history as a child. I painted tiny Roman and Celtic soldiers and visited historic sites across the UK, including walking Hadrian’s Wall. I read a lot of historical fiction, especially the works of Rosemary Sutcliff and Henry Treece, as well as Greek classics like Homer. Most of these were stories about living through, and returning from, war.

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Add to this the fact that I grew up in a small English village where there were still veterans of the First World War and the Second World War. We even had a German ex-POW still living in our village working on the farms just as he’d done when he was a prisoner. Their stories surrounded us. One great uncle survived the trenches in the First World War only to die as he returned home. He was so eager to see his family that he jumped out of the train before it stopped at the station. He was trapped between the train and the platform and died two weeks later of his injuries. My Grandma’s favorite uncle joined up for the First World War at age sixteen. He was recommended for a medal for commandeering a tank, but refused to accept it. He said he acted only out of anger, not bravery, because his friends had been killed around him.

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It’s strange, but the fact that my generation was brought up by people intimate with the effects of war did not fully strike me, however, until I came to live in America. One particular incident really hit home. My mum was visiting and we went for a meal with a group of friends my age. When we left the restaurant, my mother burst into tears. “They ordered so much food,” she said, “and they didn’t even eat it. There was more food on that table than we had for our entire family for a week during the war . . . and they didn’t even eat it.”

There was definitely a disconnect between my mother’s experience, my own upbringing, and that of my friends. I think it was this that led me to make one of my main characters a veteran of a recent war. I hadn’t planned to, but as I listened to the news, I became aware how deeply the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were affecting a relatively small portion of our society. Unlike the experience of previous world wars in Europe, it struck me how large a gap there was between those who were serving and their families and those of us who were not. That did not feel right. I wanted to write a book that addressed that gap a little. Stories were not being shared, as the stories of earlier wars were shared when I was a child, or even the stories that the ancients told. I sometimes wonder whether the ancients were more willing to tell it, and accept it, how it is. Their understanding of a hero was more complex and maybe more helpful than ours today. As Grandpa says, they were all closer to war than we are.

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El Space: Mikey and Kyler play the type of videogame that a lot of my friends love to play—military strategy. Are you and/or your kids gamers? Did you have the game in mind when you first developed the book? Why or why not?
Amanda: Yes, my son really enjoys playing military strategy games, particularly Rome Total War. It was a subject of some debate/ambivalence in our household, which I reflected in Mikey’s mom’s attitudes in The Lost Celt.

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In earlier drafts Mikey played with toy soldiers. The video game only came into the story when my editor asked me to make Mikey absolutely sure he was seeing a real live Celt from the word go. Immersing Mikey in a video game world that pitched Romans against Celts was the obvious choice. I could move his focus directly from the screen to the world in front of him in the VA and make the connection very easily.

El Space: You deal with a subject I haven’t seen much in middle grade books—PTSD. Without giving spoilers, why is that important to you and/or for young readers to learn about?
Amanda: I was brought up by children of war whose parents experienced and fought in both the Second and First World Wars. I think we are only just acknowledging their experiences, how they dealt with them and how some trauma/issues may have been passed on. At the time, everyone was in the same boat and they just got on with it.

According to the VA, 7–8% of the general population will experience PTSD at some point in their life. Depending on the conflict, 11–30% of service members will experience PTSD at some point. It’s really important to recognize that most service members don’t return from war with PTSD, but it’s also important to recognize that your mental health is important and there’s nothing wrong with seeking help. I don’t want to think of children or adults dealing with the after effects of trauma on their own. I think that is the key: being in a community, not alone.

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El Space: If you could go back in time to witness any event in history, which would you choose?
Amanda: I’d like to see my village before and after the Roman invasion. There’s a Roman villa on the hill above my village and, although it’s hidden underground, artifacts come up to the surface after every ploughing. I’d love to know who lived there.

El Space: What kinds of stories delight you?
Amanda: The Owl Service by Alan Garner, Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, or The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo epitomize the sort of story I adore: books that resonate with a sense of place and the strength of our connection with the past, both real and mythical/magical. All the books I read as a child were like that: When Marnie was There by Joan G. Robinson, Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer, Elidor and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner and the historical fiction of Rosemary Sutcliffe, Henry Treece, and Roger Lancelyn Green.

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El Space: What are you working on next?
Amanda: I’m working on two projects. The first is a middle grade based in France in World War One. The second is a historical middle grade based in a town much like San Rafael in the 1870s.

Thanks, Amanda, for being my guest!

You can find Amanda at her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

The Lost Celt is available at these fine establishments:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Goosebottom Books
Indiebound

But two of you will get a copy of your very own. Just comment below to be entered in the drawing! Winners to be announced on June 6.

Book covers from Goodreads. Star Wars logo from hr.wikipedia.org. Rome Total War image from gamehackstudios.com. PTSD image from talesfromthelou.wordpress.com. Iraq/Afghanistan Memorial from old.mcallen.net. First World War Memorial from oxfordhistory.org.uk. Hadrian’s wall from medievalhistories.com. Leicester City Football Club logo from ebay.co.uk. Richard III from abc.net.au.