Alys kindly asked me to talk about challenges I faced writing in the genre in which “The Learn” is set.
Perhaps the hard thing is to define that genre. I hope I am writing literary fiction, but the story is set in the bronze age, which some would say is “pre-history.”
To me, the novel is literary historical fiction, it is about real places using folklore to enrich a story. It draws on real artifacts of beauty and complexity that we can see today that were made thousands of years ago before the iron age. They are remnants of a complex, intelligent society and peoples who organised themselves and had enough time and vision to look beyond a daily struggle for food and warmth.
We accept something is a historical novel if it involves people whose names we have been told, people who were kings, queens or courtiers; we may know nothing about the reality of those people’s lives or actions, but a name somehow lives with us and makes the story acceptable. I have invented the people and the lives they led, as well as the kind of society and the values I believe they will have needed to prosper, living in and off a landscape, dependent upon what the environment gave them.
They had complex stone structures built by their forebears that followed the alignment of stars and planets and probably forecast the seasons and movements of spots of light above them.
We can trace their family, tribal, clan and language links throughout the western UK and Europe today, they are remnants of a pre-Roman culture that took in most of the British isles and much of Europe.
My first challenge was to persuade the reader that what I write about was real and was passed down to us in our genes, culture, and way of life. Using existing places as a reference and as a part of the story helped that.
There was a great problem/challenge in the feel of words, their rhythm, and tone, the noise they make, the song they sing. My characters are Druid Priests who use Chant to pass on their technology and beliefs in an oral society that developed, maintained, and passed knowledge from tribe to tribe and down generations. I wanted to find words and a rhythm that would give a sense of an oral society developing in a landscape that was a powerful influence every day on happiness and prosperity.
Seascape and landscape are important to the story. I wanted characters to observe these places because they were dependent upon their generosity and threatened by their anger. They observed it in more detail than the busiest folk in our developed societies do. My characters had to see and observe the winds and beasts as day dawned; I had to find ways of describing that at a gentle pace that is credible and interesting.
I often knew when a word was wrong, but not always when it was appropriate for the time and landscape. Words like “technology” were not appropriate. Words with an obvious Latin root sounded wrong in a time long before the Romans came and grated against my mind’s ear. I “invented” some word combinations and concepts that felt right in the ancient landscape; for example, “place moment” was there to represent a time and place, editors wanted to put commas between place and moment. I invented a concept of “still time” that time when the sea stops pushing up against the river in an estuary hesitates, considers its efforts and decides to rest for the day allowing the river to push back down. I like the idea that my characters scavenging in estuaries and on beaches for food and debris would use the concept of “still time” to manage their day and efforts, to cross rivers and streams, to follow the sea out or back in as needs dictated.
Names of people were chosen with care, they had to feel right in the Welsh, Celtic bronze age. I am sure you would agree that “John Pemberton Smyth” did not live in bronze age Britain, any more than Shirley Temple. My main characters are Owayne, Nial, Gwen, Merle, Hugh, Haron, and Harod. Some names we know, others felt right. I could imagine people with these names living in that landscape with Rob, Aenid, and Eleni. I hope the readers could too.
– Tony Halker
Blending reality, history and legend, about a time when women were considered as important as men, taking power in an oral society that worships the Goddess. A whole Celtic Druid world is laid out before us, incorporating beliefs, technology and the natural environment.
A Celtic boy, a beach scavenger, is pledged to the Learn, a life of endurance, a path to become sworn Druid: scholar and warrior. Young women and men progress, becoming Priests and Druidii. Friendship, affection, passion and care develop as novices’ mature, confidence emerging.
Seasonal battles of winter and summer bring rich festivals when seeds of men are taken by women in pleasure to prove fertility. Small damaged, hurt peoples on the margins of Celtic society blend in and out of vision.
At frontiers with Nature, dependent for everything on what the earth gives or takes, an emotional response to the natural environment defines who people are and the values they live by.
A lyrical novel resonating with modern readers through portrayal of character, language and history; arising from a landscape of today, yet centred in the Celtic Bronze Age of North Wales.
Born in London, Tony Halker studied geology at Leeds University after which he worked as a geologist, travelling extensively overseas. Following an MBA at Cranfield School of Management, he became a manager in hi-tec business and later a businessman and entrepreneur. His writing is inspired by powerful natural landscapes and his interest in the people and technologies emerging from those hard places. His two daughters were born in North Wales. He lives with his wife there and in Hertfordshire.