Kernaghan, Eileen 1939-

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KERNAGHAN, Eileen 1939-

PERSONAL: Born January 6, 1939, in Enderby, British Columbia, Canada; daughter of William Alfred (a dairy farmer) and Belinda Maude (Pritchard) Monk; married Patrick Walter Kernaghan, 1959; children: Michael, Susan, Gavin. Ethnicity: "British." Education: Attended University of British Columbia, 1956-59. Politics: "Left of Centre." Religion: "Lapsed Anglican." Hobbies and other interests: Walking, reading, armchair travel, armchair archaeology.

ADDRESSES: Home and offıce—225 Townsend Place, New Westminster, British Columbia V3L 1L4, Canada. E-mail—[email protected].

CAREER: Elementary school teacher in British Columbia, Canada, 1959-62; Burnaby Arts Council, Burnaby, British Columbia, secretary, office worker, and coordinator, 1979-84; freelance writer, 1984—. Neville Books (secondhand bookstore), Burnaby, former owner with husband for twelve years. Conducts writing groups in Burnaby and Port Moody, British Columbia.

MEMBER: SF Canada, Science Fiction Writers of America, Federation of British Columbia Writers, Burnaby Writers Society, The Lonely Cry.

AWARDS, HONORS: Silver Medal (Porgy) Award for original fantasy, West Coast Review of Books, 1980, for Journey to Aprilioth; Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy (Aurora) Awards, 1984, for Songs from the Drowned Lands: A Novel of High Fantasy, 1990, for short story "Carpe Diem," and 2001, for The Snow Queen; Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy (Aurora) Awards shortlist, for The Sarsen Witch; Canada 125 Medal for arts activism, 1992.


(Coauthor) The Upper Left-Hand Corner: A Writer'sGuide for the Northwest, J. D. Douglas, 1975, 3rd edition, International Self-Counsel Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1986.

(Coauthor) Light Like a Summons (poetry), edited by J. Michael Yates, Cacanadadada Press (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1989.

(With Jonathon Kay) Walking after Midnight (nonfiction), Berkley Books (New York, NY), 1990.

Dance of the Snow Dragon (young adult fantasy novel), Thistledown Press (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada), 1995.

The Snow Queen (young adult fantasy novel), Thistle-down Press (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada), 2000.

The Alchemist's Daughter (young adult fantasy novel), Thistledown Press (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada), 2004.

Winter on the Plain of Ghosts: A Novel of Mohenjodaro (historical fantasy novel), Flying Monkey Press (New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada), 2004.


Journey to Aprilioth, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1980.

Songs from the Drowned Lands: A Novel of HighFantasy, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1983.

The Sarsen Witch, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1989.

Contributor to poetry collection Quintet: Themes and Variations, and to numerous anthologies, including Tesseracts, edited by Judith Merril, Porcepic Books, 1985; The Blue Jean Collection, edited by Pete Carver, Thistledown Press, 1992; and The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror, ninth annual collection, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, St. Martin's Press, 1996. Also contributor of poems, short stories, and articles to various periodicals, including Canadian Review, Dreams & Nightmares, Galaxy, Magazine of Speculative Poetry, Northern Journey, On Spec: The Canadian Magazine of Speculative Writing, PRISM International, Room of One's Own, Space and Time, TransVersions, and Womanspace. Editor of newsletter for the Burnaby Writer's Society.

SIDELIGHTS: Canadian novelist Eileen Kernaghan is an award-winning author who mixes mythology, archaeology, and history into her stories of science fiction and fantasy for adults and teens. Best known for her "Grey Isles" trilogy set in ancient Celtic times, more recently Kernaghan has completed two young adult novels, Dance of the Snow Dragon and The Snow Queen that are fantasies set in Bhutan and Victorian Scandinavia respectively. In an interview with Frank Garcia for Cross-Canada Writers, Kernaghan related that she began writing for publication when she was approximately twelve years old. She started in science fiction but switched to fantasy when she realized her background in "the rules of the real world"—like biology, chemistry, and physics—was lacking. When asked why the fantasy genre appeals to her, she told Garcia: "I suppose, because in mainstream fiction, you know that the bad guys are probably going to win; whereas in Fantasy good is still able to conquer evil. When your life, the country, and the whole world are in a mess, it's nice to read a book in which Order wins over Chaos. From a writer's point of view, what other genre allows you to create, populate and make up all the rules for an entire universe? It's the ultimate act of self-indulgence."

Journey to Aprilioth, the first novel in Kernaghan's "Grey Isles" fantasy trilogy, is set in 1970 B.C. It is the story of Nhiall, a religious novice forced to flee his land after accidentally killing a man. While traveling across the terrain of ancient Europe, Nhiall attempts to discover the last survivors of an even older civilization. This journey, however, is disrupted by numerous encounters with bandits and barbarians. According to Vancouver Sun contributor Leslie Peterson, the novel is "plausible" and "well balanced."

The second novel in the trilogy, Songs from the Drowned Lands: A Novel of High Fantasy won the 1984 Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Award, also known as the Aurora. Events in this novel are set before the action in Journey to Aprilioth. As Melanie Conn explained in Kinesis, "Songs from the Drowned Lands is a pre-historic disaster novel which explores the mystery of Stonehenge and the disappearance of the Grey Isles beneath the sea. Each of the four 'Songs'—or novelettes—focuses on one character's response to foreknowledge of the coming disaster: What do people do when they know that the world is about to end?" When Conn heard Kernaghan read parts of Songs from the Drowned Lands aloud, she was "struck by the imagery and emotion of [Kernaghan's] writing."

Kernaghan once told CA: "My major theme in the 'Grey Isles' trilogy is a traditional one in fantasy: the eternal struggle between order and chaos; the message, one of guarded, and long-term, optimism: civilizations rise as well as fall. Essentially, I just enjoy telling a good story. But people whose opinions I respect tell me that my books are about making choices, accepting responsibility, seeking values in something larger than oneself. Perhaps that's because I'm looking at the world of 2000 B.C. through twentieth-century A.D. eyes: a time when we must continue to make choices, with fewer and fewer real choices remaining to us."

After completing the third novel in the trilogy, The Sarsen Witch, Kernaghan told a Rose & Thorn interviewer, "It was about this time the whole science fiction publishing field changed. Instead of buying a book because they liked it, the publishers were more interested in what books the stores could sell. Many science fiction careers came to a halt." So the author decided to switch to young adult fantasy, and found a receptive small publisher in Saskatchewan called Thistledown Press. Thistledown eagerly accepted her first young adult fantasy novel, Dance of the Snow Dragon; this was soon followed by a second story, The Snow Queen, which won the 2001 Aurora. A third young adult fantasy, The Alchemist's Daughter, was published by Thistledown in late 2004.

Kernaghan described Dance of the Snow Dragon as "a young adult fantasy with a Tibetan Buddhist background, set in eighteenth-century Bhutan. Fantasy author Sean Stewart reviewed the novel thus: 'Battles and visions and sorcerer's magic dance like driven snow through this beautifully written tale about a yakherder's son who sets out on a magical journey through the eternal Himalayas. This book delivers in spades that sense of wonder fantasy was always supposed to be about.'"

After completing Dance of the Snow Dragon, Kernaghan wrote a novelette titled "Dragon-Rain," which, as she told Casey Wolf in an email interview published on the author's Web site, "led me to books on Finnish and Saami shamanism—and then to the Finnish myth cycle, the Kalevala. I began to hear echoes, in [Hans Christian] Andersen's Christian fantasy, of the older, darker mythology of the Kalevala." Kernaghan decided to combine Andersen's 1845 story The Snow Queen: In Seven Stories with Nordic mythology; the result was her 2000 young adult fantasy, The Snow Queen. The story is set in Victorian times. Gerda, a very proper young girl from a Danish village, sets out north to rescue her friend Kai from imprisonment in the Snow Queen's palace. On her way, she teams up with the uncivilized Ritva, who is based on Andersen's Little Robber Maiden character. Although Ritva seems like the tougher character on the surface, it is Gerda's ability to stick to her goal that eventually wins the day. "I wanted to play with the idea—explicit in the fairy tale—that Gerda's tenacity, her stubborn refusal to swerve from her purpose, in many ways makes her the stronger of the two," Kernaghan explained to Wolf.

About her books, Kernaghan once concluded for CA: "I suppose [you] could say that all of my books arise out of my own quest for answers—my search for a set of beliefs that I find meaningful. The Shambhala legend is an archetypal spiritual quest—a physical journey which is also a metaphor for the inward psychological, emotional and spiritual journey towards enlightenment." More recently, she told Wolf, "I seem to be working my way through a variety of belief systems—Tibetan Buddhism, northern shamanism, and now, in The Alchemist's Daughter, western Renaissance magic—all of which I find fascinating."

Eileen Kernaghan contributed the following autobiographical essay to CA:


When my first Bronze Age fantasy novel was published, I was asked in an interview, "To what extent are your books autobiographical?" I confessed that my experience as a barbarian axe-warrior was minimal.

Grindrod, where I grew up, is a farming village on the banks of the Shuswap River, at the north end of British Columbia's Okanagan Valley. My father's dairy farm was a mile out of town on Monk Road—a winding gravel lane named after my grandfather. Until I started school I seldom had a chance to play with other children, but I learned to read when I was four or five, and my fantasy life from then on was rich and satisfying.

My mother said she had taught me to read out of sheer desperation, because she had so little time to tell me stories. There were huge midday meals to cook for the harvesting crews, milking machine parts to be sterilized, butter to be churned, bread to be baked, chickens to be fed. The laundry, fed through a hand-operated wringer washer and hung outdoors in all weathers, occupied one full day every week.

My mother hated our tall 1910 farmhouse, with its dark wainscotting and its unused rooms full of inherited clutter. It was almost impossible to keep clean. In winter, pig swill was cooked in the kitchen, and sometimes in the coldest weather a new litter of pigs, kept warm behind the woodstove, would escape into the living room.

Downstairs, only the kitchen and living room were heated. In winter we froze ice cream in the best parlour, and put on our coats to go upstairs to bed. We had been in the house for some years before indoor plumbing was installed. In the late forties we still lived like Edwardians.

My mother's family, the Pritchards, farmed for many generations in the English West Midlands. The surname "Pritchard" derives from the Welsh "ap Richard" (son of Richard). However, at some point in history the Pritchard ancestors migrated across the border. Their farm, Hanley Mill, in Eastham Parish, lay in the same Worcestershire countryside immortalized by Tolkien as the Shire.

My grandfather Charles married Maude Victoria Cole, the daughter of a publican who owned the Angel Inn in nearby Dudley. The Pritchards grew hops on seventy acres of land which, although rented, not owned, had been in the family for over a hundred years. Though we think of nineteenth-century tenant farmers as sturdy peasantry living in thatched cottages and subsisting on turnip soup, the Pritchards had a substantial family home, called Blake House, and were able to afford a nanny and servants. However, when the hop market collapsed in the early years of the twentieth century, the family faced financial ruin. Rather than hire out as a common labourer, my grandfather Charles decided in 1912 to emigrate with his young family to Canada. As the family story goes, they intended to sail on the Titanic, but were too late by one day to buy tickets, so followed instead on the next ship, the Grampion.

Some years before that my paternal grandfather, William Monk, a carpenter, and his brother John had decided to leave their homes in Chislehurst, Kent, and emigrate to Australia. Somehow, also apparently at the eleventh hour, their plans changed, and they came to Canada instead. I owed my very existence, it seemed, to the vagaries of fate.

The Pritchards first settled in Oak Lake, Manitoba. The climate was harsh, my grandfather could not find work, another baby was on the way, and there was no money for food. The older sons earned fifty cents a week as delivery boys; beyond that, the family had to depend on charity from neighbours and the church. Even in such desperate circumstances, my grandmother Maude Victoria kept up the genteel traditions of Blake House, finishing her housework by noon and changing into her one good dress to receive visitors for tea. Homesick for England, she was seduced by brochures describing the easy life in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, where "it was possible to make a good living from five acres of peaches." The Pritchards packed up their few belongings and moved west.

Unsuccessful as orchardists, they eventually managed to buy a small stump ranch in Grindrod, at the top end of Monk Road, where they cultivated strawberries.

My mother, Belinda, youngest of six, was pretty and vivacious. Her four brothers doted on her. In photos from the period, my mother, in bobbed hair, short skirts and middy blouses, is a typical twenties flapper. Much of the housework, according to my Monk aunts, fell to the older, plainer daughter, Madeline.

The four Pritchard brothers, accustomed to long hours and hard outdoor work, all prospered in adult life. Three became successful businessmen, one a high school principal. My bachelor uncle Colin, who owned a John Deere tractor dealership, was as much a part of
my immediate family as my parents. He was born with only one functioning arm, which, bizarrely, was further damaged when someone accidentally put a bullet through it. Though he was a frail baby, not expected to survive, he lived well into his seventies, and in spite of his handicap worked for a time as a cowboy in Alberta. After he retired he travelled the world on merchant freighters, finally succumbing to a heart attack while on holiday in Arizona with a female friend.

My paternal grandmother, Emma Monk, nee Blackburn, was descended from United Empire Loyalists. Her family, I'm told—though I have no documentation—were charcoal-burners in Ontario, and her brother fought for the North in the American Civil War. Though her heritage was English, Scottish and Irish, when my grandfather told his English relatives he was marrying a native Canadian they assumed she must be Iroquois.

Grandmother Monk was a pioneer woman, courageous and tough-minded. When forest fires threatened the farm she fought them beside her menfolk, and she gave birth at home to the first white child born on Monk Road. She died when I was still very young, and I remember her only as a rather frightening old lady, who stood for no nonsense. I know that she considered my mother irredeemably frivolous.

In the Grindrod pub, among other pioneer photos there's a picture of the two Monk brothers, my grandfather and great-uncle, circa 1912. Similar enough to be twins, they are sitting together on a stoop outside the family home. My father, aged two, wearing stockings and a dress, stands between them. The two brothers, hawk-nosed and heavily moustached, look for all the world like a pair of Mexican bandits. Apparently there was some Spanish blood in the family, a couple of generations back. It seems that my great-great grandfather went off to the continent and brought back a Spanish bride.

My father, black-haired and olive-skinned, clearly inherited those genes. All the Monks of his generation—my Uncle Jack, my aunts Susan, Blanche and Helen—were tall, handsome people.

My aunt Helen was widowed early, remarried later in life, was widowed again, and lived to ninety-seven. She was slim and upright into her eighties, never appearing in public without a fashionable hat. Even on the last Christmas of her life, when she was bedridden, her four grandsons collected her from her nursing home, installed her on a mattress in the back of a pick-up truck, and drove her out to the family farm in Grindrod to enjoy Christmas with her large brood of descendants.

Her sister Blanche was born at home, two months prematurely. My grandmother wrapped this frail scrap of life in cotton batting and put her into a shoebox. Blanche survived, and grew up tall, strong and as healthy as her siblings, succumbing to old age at eighty-eight. I remember her, though, as always having an air of otherworldliness—as though, having entered this world too soon, she had never quite made up her mind that she belonged here.

My uncle Jack, the younger son, finished high school and trained as a teacher, later becoming principal of the Vancouver Vocational Institute.

My father dropped out of school after the eighth grade to work on the farm that he was one day to inherit. He and my mother, who had known each other from childhood, married in 1934, in the middle of the Depression. They moved first into a small cottage on the Monk farm, and later into the Pritchard homestead.

I was born at the beginning of World War II. I was old enough, by the later years of the war, to grasp that cataclysmic events were taking place—events that
threatened the existence of our English relatives, and might one day threaten us as well. A few vivid memories—slightly surreal, like all early childhood memories—remain from those first six years of my life.

I remember my mother saying, "England will perish." Somehow I associated this with perished rubber—and so, with what could have been chilling prescience, I imagined the very soil of England cracking and disintegrating. I knew that the children of London had been sent away from their homes to escape the bombing. Because I suffered horribly from homesickness, I worried about those children, parted from their parents and sent to live with strangers, or shipped across the ocean to Canada. To this day, I cannot hear Vera Lynn singing "The White Cliffs of Dover" without a tightening in my throat. I remember, too, asking my mother towards the end of the war whether there would still be news broadcasts on the radio when the fighting was over.

As a farmer, my father was exempted from military service, and instead served in the Pacific Coast Mountain Rangers, our home guard. He greatly enjoyed this experience of camaraderie. However, my mother told me that our farm was once searched by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Because my father was secretary of the Grindrod Farmers' Institute, he was in charge of storing a supply of dynamite and blasting caps for use in land-clearing. That in itself might not have drawn the attention of the police, had he not also been a charter member of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, founded by the prairie socialist J. S. Woodsworth. Apparently nothing came of the search, for the dynamite remained in our shed, and the police never came back.

Otherwise, for me, the war was a far-off event, creating a shortage of cakes and cookies, but of real concern only to adults and to children unlucky enough to live in other countries. That changed after 1945, with the coming of the atom bomb and then the Cold War. Suddenly, there was no safe place. For my generation, the bomb was the monster in the closet, the dragon that could drop out of the sky and devour us all. I remember dreaming, once, that I opened a kitchen cupboard and found the Bomb hidden on the bottom shelf, ticking ominously. Although I could read the newspaper before I was six, when I started school I was unable to read what was on the blackboard. As well, I had a tendency to walk into things, or fall over them. At first I was thought to be suffering some kind of mental impairment. Then, when my eyes were tested, my parents discovered that I had been shortsighted from birth, and I was fitted with glasses. Until then, I had seen the world as a kind of impressionist painting. I still remember my amazement when I realized that trees were not just amorphous green blobs, but had branches and individual leaves.

My earliest playmates, while we were still living at the Pritchard homestead, were Swedish twins, called Lars and Nils. Many decades later when I was writing The Snow Queen, I recalled the hard slabs of rye flat-bread I shared with the twins, and the scent of unfamiliar spices in their warm Scandinavian kitchen. Some other memories from that time: in winter, riding to Grindrod through the snow in a horse-drawn cutter; and walking down that same road in summer with my mother, followed by our dog, one of the cats, and my mother's pet pig.

When I was eight my grandfather Monk died, my father took over the family farm, and we moved into the Monk house. My father accepted his new responsibilities with resignation and good grace. He was a capable, intelligent man, but tied to the land, he had little chance to achieve his full potential. His escape was into the historical novels he read in the early hours of the morning, before it was time to milk the cows. Often in winter I would wake to see that the stovepipes that heated my bedroom were glowing cherry red, and the wallpaper was in danger of igniting. My father, lost in some epic of the Civil War or Marco Polo's journeys, had forgotten to close the damper. It amused him to name his dairy cows for the bosomy heroines of antebellum novels: Morna, Aven, Scarlett.

His other escape was into politics. Passionately committed to the cause of democratic socialism, articulate and naturally gregarious, he was a born politician. He stood as the CCF candidate in our riding, in a provincial election of the early fifties. It was a huge commitment of time and energy, when he still had a farm to run, and he lost the election; but I imagine he enjoyed every minute of the campaign. Over the years most of the major CCF politicians of the time visited our farmhouse, and many hours of my childhood were spent at political rallies and in campaign headquarters. When my father finally sold the farm in the late fifties, he went on to a second career in banking, where he was able to make far better use of his skills.

My mother was not meant to be a farmer's wife. She had never been physically strong, and every year she suffered from an allergy to June grass so severe it nearly incapacitated her. I was not much help. I hated housework, and took full advantage of the fact that in winter I had homework, and in summer was needed for outdoor chores. I was happy enough to feed the cows, carry milk buckets, and at harvest time haul hay into the loft with our team of workhorses. Most of all I liked to drive the tractor; by the time I was twelve I could be trusted to harrow a field on my own. Indoors, to my mother's frustration, I immediately disappeared with a book.

In our house, reading in the daytime, except on weekends, was discouraged. This must have been the way my mother was brought up. At the same time, she was tremendously proud of my writing ability. Somehow, she failed to make the connection between a compulsion to read and a facility with words.

When I grew out of Winnie the Pooh and Alice in Wonderland, I turned to adult titles. Every Saturday I rode my bike into the village to borrow books from the small library that opened once a week above the post office. Its permanent collection was sadly limited, but then I discovered that the volunteer librarian could order almost any book I wanted, on temporary loan from the regional library. The excitement I felt at twelve was the same exhilaration I felt in middle age, stumbling across the online used-book sites. A whole unexplored world of literature had opened up to me. My first book order, at twelve, was eclectic: The Pickwick Papers, Pride and Prejudice, L. Sprague de Camp's Lost Continents, a book on codes and cryptographs, and (for reasons now unclear to me) a biography of the American frontiersman Kit Carson.

And, of course, there were comic books. This was the golden age of the superhero comic—Superman, Batman,
the Marvel Family, Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. In elementary school I spent my winter weekends beside the wood heater in the front room with a stack of comic books purchased used, in bulk, from the Enderby secondhand store—everything from Classics Illustrated (which gave me a passing familiarity with great works of literature I would probably never read) to Tales from the Crypt, with its gruesomely decaying corpses. When I read Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye, I realized that she too had hidden her copies of Tales from the Crypt under her mattress so the monsters couldn't escape.

But the horrors were not all confined to the comic books. These were days before the Salk vaccine was developed. There was polio up and down the Okanagan Valley, and it was my age group that seemed most vulnerable. A cousin and one of my schoolmates had already contracted the disease. My mother took no chances: before I touched a comic book, it had to go into the oven to be baked until the edges turned brown and began to char.

As well, I read whatever I could find on my parents' shelves—Jack London, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Rider Haggard, Book of the Month Club historical novels. At some point, when I was eleven or so, I discovered in the empty cottage next to our farmhouse a huge cache of pulp magazines my uncle Jack had left behind. There, surrounded by cobwebs and peeling, mildewed wallpaper, I worked my way methodically through the piles of Weird Tales dating back to the thirties, with writers like Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith. From then on, my appetite for fantasy and science fiction was insatiable. Here was everything that Grindrod noticeably lacked. High adventure. Distant planets. Decadent, exotic landscapes. A Monk relative who ran the local grocery store fed my addiction with coverless copies of Thrilling Wonder Stories and Planet Stories. I discovered Theodore Sturgeon, A. E. Van Vogt, Jack Vance, Ray Bradbury.

Reading the letters in the back pages of Thrilling Wonder Stories was a revelation. Apparently, in farflung parts of the world, like Texas and California, other people read these magazines. I discovered, in that uptight era of the Cold War and McCarthy, a vast network of open-minded, endlessly curious people, ranging in age from about ten to eighty-five, who seemed perfectly at home in hyperspace and the fourth dimension. It was a world in which age, sex, nationality, religion and politics were totally irrelevant. The only standard of judgement was whether you read and enjoyed science fiction.

On Saturday nights in the forties, I stayed close to the radio, listening to Inner Sanctum; Richard Diamond, Detective; and The Green Hornet. Sometimes, though, if my father could finish the milking in time, we drove seven miles to the town of Enderby, which had a movie theatre. Those were the days of the big-budget historical epics: Quo Vadis, The Black Rose, Tony Curtis famously announcing, "Yonda is da castle of my faddah." I learned history through my obsessive habit of checking the Hollywood plot against the historical facts.

In my early teens I discovered the novels of Thomas Hardy and Mary Webb, set in the rural British landscape of my ancestors, and I became a fervent anglophile. I sat up all night weeping over Hardy's star-crossed lovers; and Webb's Precious Bane remains to this day my favourite novel. From Hardy I formed an image of my ideal man, the one I intended eventually to marry. Called Gabriel, or Gideon, he would be stalwart, loyal, dependable, unswerving in his devotion. (Many years later I wrote him into my fantasy novel The Sarsen Witch as the coppersmith Gwi.)

Still, marriage didn't immediately figure in my plans. First I intended to have a career.

In the early 1950s there were really only three occupations open to women: teacher, nurse, or secretary. I, on the other hand, planned to become a journalist—possibly an investigative reporter. My teachers advised against it, warning me that the only newspaper jobs for women were on the society and cooking pages. They didn't bother to point out another stumbling block: I was so shy that I had trouble talking to adults, let alone pursuing an interview subject. But I was determined to overcome all odds; and when I was about twelve the editor of the local weekly, the Enderby Commoner ("covers the valley like the dew") gave me a job as her Grindrod stringer. I was to report on the social life of our farming village. I couldn't bring myself to do what the job actually required—phoning people to see who had house guests, who had a new baby, who was engaged. But I had a typewriter, a gift for my twelfth birthday; and my mother was prepared to make the calls. It helped, as well, that we were on a party line, and had no qualms about listening in. My journalistic career lasted for several years, until I started high school. Meanwhile, I was also experimenting with fiction.

Not surprisingly, my first attempts were heavily influenced by whatever I was reading at the time. My earliest surviving short story, written when I was about eight, shamelessly borrowed its plot from Alice in Wonderland. I remember nothing but the title: Molly in Mouseland. However, thirty years later when I ran into my Grade Four teacher, he told me he still had the original copy in his files.

At eleven or so I had developed a passion for the works of Jack London and James Oliver Curwood. My first published short story "The Wolverine," a ripping yarn about a boy trapper in the north woods, was written about that time, not so much in imitation as in homage. My knowledge of trapping, and of the north woods, was as limited as my knowledge of barbarian warfare; but I've never obeyed the rule that says you should write about what you know.

I sent "The Wolverine" off to the province's largest daily, the Vancouver Sun, addressing it to the editor of the children's pages. The Sun published a weekly story for children, but I knew these were written by adults, so I neglected to mention my age. Back came a letter of acceptance, and a little later a tear-sheet of my story, with a cheque for $12.65. For a twelve-year-old, in the early fifties, that was a modest fortune; but far more important than the money was the realization that I could be paid to write something more ambitious than the Grindrod gossip column. Moreover, a writer of fiction was not required to interview people on the phone. I had chosen my future career.

I immediately dashed off a second story, about a red fox cub. The editor at the Sun was unimpressed. She commented, in her rejection letter, that the story "would require some correction, and all in all seemed a little amateurish."

I had not yet learned to handle rejection. It was almost twenty years before I submitted another story to an editor.

After the sixth grade I went to the high school in Enderby, catching the school bus every morning at the bottom of Monk Road.

As in most high schools, then and now, athletics were important. I found many ingenious ways to avoid them. Although I had stopped bumping into the furniture, I've never been well-coordinated. I was always the last one chosen when teams were picked, and my gym teacher once told me, in exasperation, that I danced like a sack of potatoes. (For a writer, no humiliation is ever wasted. Many years later, that experience found its way into my young adult novel Dance of the Snow Dragon.)

Still, I enjoyed high school, on my own terms. My mother was ambitious for me, and she encouraged me to be ambitious for myself. At her urging, in elementary
school, I had recited monologues at the Grindrod Christmas concert. Now, in high school, I entered public speaking competitions—a huge challenge for a shy fourteen-year-old. I wrote and declaimed a speech on Abraham Lincoln (the contest had a U.S. sponsor) and though I didn't win, the experience gave me confidence. I joined the drama club, and the debating team—writing the arguments for both sides. I entered essay contests ("How Pulp and Paper has Contributed to Civilization") and won; submitted a romantic nature sonnet to an anthology of high school writing, and was accepted. I worked on the school annual; wrote fiction for the school newspaper; wrote campaign speeches for friends who stood for the student council. I was not cut out to be a cheerleader, but I wrote all the cheers. As well, I entertained my classmates with an interminable science fiction adventure, delivered in weekly instalments. By then I had mastered one of the basic techniques of writing pulp fiction: I made sure to end every chapter on a cliff-hanger.

Though hopeless at sports, I was intensely competitive when it came to academics. In the last year of high school, in a moment of hubris, I decided to major in everything, including my weakest subject, math. My mother cheered me on from the sidelines. When I brought home a report card with A's in everything but French, she said, "That's nice, dear. Now if you could just bring up your French mark. . . ."

I had no social life. Boys fought to sit behind me in class, but only so that they could copy exam answers over my shoulder. My two close girlfriends were as romantically challenged as myself. In actual fact, we had little interest in high school boys. Our idols were English actors of an older generation—James Mason, John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier.

I was determined to go to university, and somehow, with a small amount of scholarship money and considerable scrimping by my parents, I managed it. That first year at the University of British Columbia, in the mid-fifties, was a heady experience. For many of my classmates the unaccustomed freedom, and the responsibility for their own success or failure, was more than they could handle. At seventeen, fresh off the farm, I was more innocent than most. I had knowledge of neither world affairs, nor art and music, nor how to conduct myself on a date. And I still hadn't learned to dance. Nonetheless, the study habits I'd acquired when I was slogging for scholarship money served me well, and I leaped enthusiastically into undergraduate life. I joined the Early Music Society and the campus CCF club (a great disappointment after exposure to the real thing), went to dorm mixers, had long conversations over coffee with the kind of people I had never known in Grindrod.

In that same year I met my future husband. I lived in one of the women's dormitories, he lived in the men's residence across the way. The residences shared a dining hall, and so we ate our meals together for the whole of that academic year. Pat was seven years older than I, an ex-marine. He came from the other end of the Okanagan valley, and one of the first things I learned about him was that my uncle Dick Pritchard had been his much-hated high school principal. Somehow, in spite of that unpromising start, the relationship has survived for forty-five years.

I had no money for the second year. In those days of teacher shortages you could apply for a loan/grant to train as a teacher, and so I dropped out of liberal arts to register in the education faculty. The curriculum was undemanding, consisting mainly, as I recall, of learning how to do scratchboard art, and memorizing lists. I loathed every minute of it. Nonetheless, I survived the practicums, and acquired an elementary school teacher's certificate.

Pat went off to Europe for what turned out to be nineteen months of work and travel; and I took up my first full-time job, teaching fourth and fifth grade in the little lakeside town of Sicamous, not far from Grindrod.

I was still only nineteen, the one member of the staff not old enough to drink. Lunch hour duty terrified me—I was in charge not only of the younger children, but of gigantic eighteen-year-old Grade Twelve boys, who looked down at me with amused contempt. However, the bright nine-and ten-year-olds of my own class were pleasant and obliging, and that first year went smoothly enough.

Towards the end of that teaching year Pat returned from Europe and started a retail job in Revelstoke, an hour or so farther east. I'd saved up my teacher's salary, and so was able to return to university for summer courses in English and history.

We were to be married at the end of August, and I had already accepted another teaching position in a one-room school twelve miles out of Revelstoke. The wedding was a modest one, in the little Anglican church where I had been christened and confirmed. I spent my last twenty-five dollars on a wedding dress, bought wholesale through a cousin, then borrowed gas money from a friend so I could drive home for the ceremony.

Our first home was the tiny teacherage attached to my new school—a kitchen, a tiny bathroom, and a bedroom just about large enough to accommodate a bed. Electricity was provided by a generator, which tended to break down in cold weather, leaving us with neither heat nor light. I had fourteen pupils, in six different grades; the majority had either learning or behavioural problems. I routinely worked till midnight preparing lessons, to guide my handful of pupils through their six different curricula.

It was a difficult year. That fall my mother went into clinical depression. Three weeks after we were married, Pat was laid off from his job. Then in the spring my brother Brian, who was fifteen, was diagnosed with cancer. My parents never really recovered from his death.

That same spring, we discovered that I was pregnant; and we realized as well that Canada was in a serious recession. We moved back to Vancouver, and with little chance of finding employment, Pat returned to school.

Our first son, Michael, was born in January 1961. It was mid-1962 before Pat found permanent work, in the corrections service.

Our daughter Susan was born in August of 1962. Two months later almost to the day, Vancouver was hit by Typhoon Frieda. The wind ripped roofs off houses, toppled trees and left us without heat or light for three weeks. Hard on the heels of Frieda came the Cuban missile crisis. With two babies to care for, no TV or radio, I wasn't paying a lot of attention to world politics. But when my husband started packing a survival kit, it occurred to me that my childhood nightmare of nuclear war might be coming true.

Vancouver survived Frieda, and the world survived the Cuban crisis. We moved with our small family from a top-floor suite in the Kitsilano district to a rented house in the suburbs. Small and shabby, it stood next to a railway line and a lumberyard, but it had a fenced yard where the children could play. Two years later, our third child, Gavin, arrived.

Pat worked mostly nights for the next few years, and during the day commuted an hour and a half by bus to the university to complete his degree. With three babies in four years, writing was the furthest thing from my mind, though I did complete an upper-level literature course by correspondence after the children were asleep. It took me two and a half years to finish that one course, but it saved my mind from turning to pablum. There was no money to spare—I still remember standing in the grocery store, wondering how to make the three dollars in my purse feed us for three days. But we could buy clothes at the thrift store, dayold bread at the bakery. We managed.

Three years later Pat had graduated. With the help of my parents, we were able to buy a larger house on a better street. (For twelve thousand dollars, at eighty dollars a month. Property was cheap in those days.) Overnight, it seemed, the two older children were in school, the youngest in kindergarten; and I had my mornings to myself. I created a makeshift office in our basement. (It's interesting to see how much chilliness and dampness there is in my early books). And I began to write.

My first three attempts were a dark fantasy story, modelled on the Weird Tales of my childhood; a short tongue-in-cheek mystery; and then a novelette-length science fiction story, entirely lacking in science. All three were, in their way, as amateurish as that long-ago children's story rejected by the Sun. I sent each of them in turn to magazines, but it was clear that no editor was going to buy them. Still, in the course of writing and rewriting them, I was learning my craft. In 1971 the fourth story, another futuristic novelette about an interplanetary religious cult, sold to Galaxy magazine and was used as their cover story.

At the time I was working part-time as a substitute teacher. The day that Galaxy's cheque arrived, I resigned from my job. When my daughter's new dentist asked for my occupation, I took a deep breath, and said, "Writer."

My next story, and the one after that, failed to find a home in any of the mass-circulation science fiction magazines—though eventually they were published in the small press. Discouraged but not defeated, I decided to give up on short stories and write a novel.

I had never lost my fascination with antiquity. This book, I decided, would be fantasy, not science fiction. It would take place, not in any invented fantasy world, but in the real world of the distant past—a past before science, before recorded history, when magic actually worked.

The first step, for me, has always been to establish time and place. After the setting come the characters. As they begin to interact with one another, and with their surroundings, a plot evolves.

"There haven't been many novels about Stonehenge," my husband pointed out. (It was true at the time, though many novels have been written since.) And that casual comment launched me into a three-book series set in early bronze age Britain. The megalithic monuments are an enduring mystery. Why were they built, and how? Where did a preliterate people acquire the mathematical and engineering skills to build those immense stone circles? I had a hypothesis of my own, and I wanted to explore it.

The first of the "Grey Isles" sequence, Journey to Aprilioth, was a straightforward quest story. I sent my hero on a picaresque adventure that began in western England and took him across prehistoric Europe into the Middle East. There was some magic in the book, some mention of Old Gods and sorcery, but more importantly, in my reconstruction of the world circa 2000 B.C. I had done my research, and had been as faithful as possible to archaeological fact and theory.

Beginning a first novel requires a great leap of faith, and it helps to have the support of a writers' workshop. I had joined the Burnaby Writers' Society when it was first formed in 1967. My determination to bring a new chapter to each meeting motivated me to finish the book, which at over four hundred pages turned out to be much longer than I had intended. I'm still an active member of the group, and still edit our market newsletter, which goes out to subscribers across British Columbia. For more than a decade, as well, I've led two weekly workshops through local recreation departments. Writing can be a lonely profession, and I look forward to that regular contact with other writers. I learn as much from my students, as they learn from me.

In the late seventies and early eighties, there were far fewer fantasy novels published, but there were also far fewer novelists. In those days a publishable book stood an excellent chance of being accepted. Journey to Aprilioth sold to Ace Books and was released as a mass market paperback in 1981. It won my first fiction award: a "Porgy" from West Coast Review of Books, for original paperback fantasy.

At the time there were only a handful of Canadian fantasy writers, and fewer still in British Columbia. I enjoyed a brief period of local celebrity when that first novel was published. There were radio interviews and articles in the Vancouver papers. I'm looking now at some of the headlines, carefully preserved by my mother. "Pride of Grindrod"; "Burnaby's Sci-Fi Celebrity"; "From Fantasyland to Mass Market"; and (an article on three local paperback writers) "The Unsung and Unpretentious Foot-Soldiers of Fiction." There was novelty value, then, in a suburban housewife who wrote, not romance novels, but tales of prehistoric adventure.

In the meantime, I had begun a prequel. Songs from the Drowned Lands, which came out two years later, was a different kind of book, in style and in tone. Marketed as a "novel of high fantasy," its five interwoven stories, describing how five people, in contrasting ways, face the coming destruction of their world, has the feel of Celtic myth and fairytale. The mystical, evocative cover is by fantasy artist Barclay Shaw. Songs from the Drowned Lands won a Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Award, and has a special place in my affections.

In 1979, while Journey to Aprilioth was still at the publisher and Songs from the Drowned Lands not yet completed, I had accepted a full-time position as the administrator for the Burnaby Arts Council. I had already worked there for several years as part-time volunteer and office assistant. Like most arts jobs, it quickly ate up my weekends and evenings as well as my weekdays, as I became responsible for a burgeoning number of projects—workshops, summer theatre, craft markets and festivals, a monthly tabloid newspaper—as well as bookkeeping and the usual office routines. My three children, now teenagers in high school and university, were conscripted into everything from envelope stuffing to security duty. There was never a moment for my own writing. When Susan Allison, my editor at Ace, phoned me at the office to say that they were accepting my second novel, I was so distracted by paperwork that at first I didn't realize who was calling.

In 1984 I resigned from the Arts Council, and for a while I became a full-time writer. I was determined to write the third "Grey Isles" book to complete the building of Stonehenge.

I've sometimes described The Sarsen Witch as my "bronze age proto-Arthurian new age gothic romance."
Its romantic triangle consciously echoes the stories of Tristan and Iseulte, Arthur and Guinevere. The magic in The Sarsen Witch is the occult science of geomancy—earth magic. The power that my heroine Naeri uses to save herself, and her lover Gwi, is the mysterious power stored within the stones.

In this age of the computer, we forget the time and labour required to draft and revise a novel on the typewriter. The Sarsen Witch did not appear until 1986—at a time when publishers had flooded a finite market with a seemingly infinite number of fantasy novels. Sales figures, for many authors, plummeted. The Sarsen Witch was one of the titles caught in that crunch. By then I had acquired an agent, who had handled the sale of the third book; but she was unable to sell my next novel, Winter on the Plain of Ghosts, set in much the same time-frame as the "Grey Isles" books, but this time in the Indus Valley. That manuscript was to languish for the next twelve years.

But to backtrack for a moment. In the mid-eighties my husband decided to take early retirement. For a long time we had talked about opening a used-book store. We had no experience as booksellers and very little capital, but after twenty-five years of browsing in other peoples' bookstores, we had stock in our basement and a rudimentary idea of how to go about selling it. For some time we had had our eyes on a vacant furnace-repair shop, two blocks from our house on Neville Street. We made the decision while using the laundromat next door, the day after seeing the movie version of 84 Charing Cross Road. The landlord, happening to come by, mentioned that he had just fixed the leaky roof. Between the wash and rinse cycles we signed a one-year lease. Neville Books opened its doors on Bloomsday, June 12, 1987. More than a decade later, to everyone's astonishment, including our own, we were still in business.

We got off to a rocky start. The shop, tucked around a corner, was invisible from the main street. People did find their way to our door, but it seemed that all of them wanted to sell their books, not buy ours. For two months in that first year we operated without heat or light, when the upstairs tenants, who were responsible for paying the electrical bill, spent the money on beer. Customers who wished to browse in our windowless back room were supplied with flashlights.

Eventually we moved to a larger store across the street. We were now visible, and had heat, but the street itself was off the beaten track. The two businesses that drew customers to the area, the Safeway and the liquor store, closed their doors for over a year and left us sitting in an economic black hole. We hosted book launches, poetry readings, writing workshops, anything that could draw attention to the lower mainland's most obscure bookshop. Somehow, with the help of our dedicated customers, we survived for twelve years. But the neighbourhood was changing. The young mothers and the elderly ladies who had been the mainstay of our business moved to the exurbs, or into nursing homes. It was time for us to move on as well.

In the meantime, I was still writing. Along the way I've been involved in two nonfiction ventures. The first was a writers' handbook for the Pacific Northwest and western Canada. The Upper Left-Hand Corner was written with my husband, Pat, and a friend, Edith Surridge. It was first published in 1975 and went through two later editions. It's now long out of print, but was a modest bestseller in its time.

My other nonfiction project was less successful. Walking after Midnight, based on a documentary film of the same name by Vancouver filmmaker Jonathon Kay, was published by Berkley in 1990. Dealing with reincarnation and near-death experience, it included interviews with a variety of entertainment figures, from Ringo Starr to Martin Sheen, as well as one with
the Dalai Lama. I had three months in which to research some much-needed background material, edit and make sense of a disorganized collection of badly transcribed interviews, and give the whole thing some kind of cohesive structure. I met my deadline. I always do. Unfortunately, the book's success depended on a film that—after a major distribution deal fell through—never made it past the film festival circuit.

Through the eighties I did innumerable talks and readings in British Columbia schools. Performing for a classroom of junior high school students—or sometimes the entire school population crowded into an echoing gymnasium—was both exhilarating and exhausting. The questions, especially from the younger children, were wonderfully uninhibited. "How much money do you make?" "Who do you know who's famous?" At one Friday afternoon session with a notoriously rowdy Grade 10 class, someone asked "Have you ever been on the cover of Rolling Stone?"

In September 1991, on a long-planned three week holiday trip to Britain, I decided it was time to explore some of the prehistoric sites I'd used as background for my books.

A visit to Stonehenge, which figures prominently in all three of the "Grey Isles" novels, was a priority. "You'll be disappointed," my friends warned me. "There's a rope around Stonehenge and you have to get to it through a carpark and a gift shop. There's graffiti on the stones, and you'll be wading knee-deep in ice-cream wrappers."

I asked my daughter in London to contact English Heritage, in case there was a way of getting inside the rope, preferably after the tourists had gone home. As it turned out, all English Heritage required was a brief explanation as to who I was, and why I needed a first-hand look at the stones. For a modest fee they would provide a letter granting us special access after hours.

We arrived in London the first week in September. Armed with a Wiltshire guidebook, we (my husband and I, our daughter and an English friend) mapped out a course that retraced the steps of my characters across the Wessex landscape of four thousand years ago.

We began with the Valley of the Grey Wethers on the Marlborough Downs, source of the Stonehenge sarsens; then went on to West Kennett Long Barrow and Silbury Hill. We wandered in evening sunlight along the stone avenue at Avebury—a monument older than Stonehenge, and grander in scale. Everything, to my delight, was as I had imagined it. Finally, on Sunday evening after closing time, we arrived at our final Wiltshire destination.

Stonehenge looms. It broods. It overwhelms. In no way does it disappoint. Only a thin encircling rope reminded us that this was 1990 A.D. and not B.C.

I stood on the entrance causeway with my back to the road, watching the sun set between the megaliths in lavish technicolour. I was lost in contemplation of the past. This was Stonehenge as my heroine Naeri must have seen it, on that evening four thousand years ago when the final trilithon was raised. . . .

An indignant voice shouted from behind the roadside fence:

"Hey, lady. There's a thousand people out here, all trying to take pictures, and you're standing smack in the way!"

By nine o'clock it was full dark. We had decided to wait for moonrise, but there was no sign of the moon. Black and featureless against the night sky, the stones took on a menacing look. My husband, standing by the Slaughter Stone, theorized on how it got its name. "Stop that, Dad," said my daughter, shivering. I felt my own hair stir on the back of my neck.

When we left there were still people gathered outside the fence. "How is it you got to go inside?" asked one woman. She sounded a little aggrieved.

"Special Access," said my daughter, enigmatically.

With my latest adult fantasy languishing unpublished, I decided it was time for a change of direction. The New York market for fantasy was crowded and competitive. While there is virtually no market in Canada for adult science fiction and fantasy, many of our small literary presses are open to genre books—including historical fantasy—for young adult readers. I decided that my next book would be directed to younger readers; that I would look for a Canadian publisher; and that after so many years of researching prehistory, I would move forward into historic time.

But when, and where? Like all my novels, this new one began first with a setting, and then with a protagonist.

Dance of the Snow Dragon began with some work-related research into Tibetan Buddhism. In the interview I edited for Walking after Midnight, the Dalai Lama described the ancient Kalachakra Initiation, said to have originated in Shambhala, the secret kingdom hidden somewhere behind the Himalayan snow peaks.

I knew that I wanted to set my story somewhere in those mysterious mountain ranges. Then my friend Mary Choo brought me photos of the Royal Bhutanese Dance Troupe, performing at an Asia-Pacific Festival in Vancouver. In their jewel-coloured costumes, masked as gods and demons of Buddhist myth, they were creatures of pure fantasy. "You should write about Bhutan," Mary said.

The kingdom of Bhutan has, at least till recently, been a well-kept secret. By restricting tourism, it has managed to preserve its ancient Tibetan Buddhist culture in an almost pure form. Life in Bhutan in the 1990s was not all that different from life in Bhutan in the 1790s. It was—and is—an intensely rich, intensely visual culture, a world of enduring magic. The Shambhala legend is an archetypal spiritual quest: a physical journey which is also a metaphor for the inward journey towards enlightenment. And because Bhutanese Buddhism is rooted in Bon shamanism, the original animist religion of Tibet, it gave me a chance to explore a particular interest in shamanist religious experience.

I began to read everything I could find on Bhutan—history, geography, folklore, travel books by the handful of independent travellers who had been allowed into the country. My daughter Sue, who was travelling in India at the time, volunteered to do first-hand research. However, when she presented herself at the Bhutanese embassy, she was told what I already knew: she could enter the country only as part of an organized—and expensive—tour, or at the personal invitation of the royal family.

The first half of Dance of the Snow Dragon takes place in the real world of eighteenth-century Bhutan, and the second half is based on Tibetan legends of the journey to the mystical kingdom of Shambhala. The Bhutanese religious dances are the starting point of the novel, and the more I read about them, the more they became central to the book.

I immersed myself in research, drawing from the accounts of nineteenth-century Himalayan traveller Madame Alexandra David-Neel and many other books on Bhutan and its religious beliefs. I read guidebooks, watched videos, and attended lectures on Bhutan; heard performances of sacred chants by Tibetan Buddhist monks. My daughter, returning from her own Himalayan travels, vetted my descriptions of the landscape. As well, she provided an eyewitness account of the Kalachakra ceremony, when it was held in northern India.

My hero, Sangay, is a young priest who wants desperately to take part in the ritual dances of the monastery. However (and this much, as I mentioned earlier, is autobiographical) his dancing is hopelessly inept. In despair, he decides to abandon his studies, until a vision of Shambhala leads him on a long, dangerous journey over the Himalayas in search of the magical kingdom.

There were many challenges in writing Dance of the Snow Dragon, not least the need to understand the basic tenets of a dauntingly complex system of belief. Moreover, in terms of plot, I had to create suspense when my protagonist understood that all things were illusory—that every monster and demon he faced was the product of his own mind. Somehow I had to show that the struggle to overcome demons is no less terrifying when the demons live inside us. Then too, the hero of a fantasy novel must be heroic; whereas the training of a Buddhist monk encourages obedience and acceptance, rather than individual action. I gave my young hero Sangay as role-models the warrior-monks of earlier times who bore arms in defence of their country; and as mentor, the assertive, uninhibited and supremely self-confident Bon sorceress Jatsang.

I particularly enjoyed creating Jatsang—modelling her in part after the intrepid Madame David-Neel, and in part after the Bon sorcerers that Madame David-Neel met on her remarkable travels. I went on to write another story about Jatsang: "Dragon Rain" was published in the ninth annual Year's Best Fantasy and Horror.

In the legend of Shambhala, besieged by barbarian armies, there are Arthurian echoes of the wasteland and its dying king; it resonates as well with a dark episode in twentieth-century history. What I added—or made more explicit—in my novel was the desperate hope of Shambhala's king for help from the outside world.

Dance of the Snow Dragon was published in 1995 by a Canadian publisher, Thistledown Press—not as genre fantasy, but as young adult literature. Thistledown is a small company and its publicity budget is limited, but it maintains its backlist indefinitely. After almost a decade, Dance of the Snow Dragon is still in print.

Thistledown is known as well for the excellence of its editing. Seán Virgo, who edited Dance of the Snow Dragon, and Susan Musgrave, who was my editor for The Snow Queen, are themselves accomplished writers with international reputations. I'm immensely grateful for the sensitivity—and the rigour—with which they edited my work.

I began writing poetry in high school, and, often inspired by the research for my novels, I returned to it at about the same time that I returned to fiction. Over
the years I've published poetry in a variety of Canadian magazines and anthologies, both mainstream and speculative; and occasionally in the U.S. as well. The poems came infrequently until, in the mid-nineties, four friends—Pam Galloway, Jean Mallinson, Sue Nevill and Clélie Rich—involved me in a literary experiment involving shared themes: one phrase, five interpretations. Before long, individually and collectively, we had produced a fairly large body of work and we began to do readings at various venues around town. Our audiences seemed to enjoy the idea of a "reading in concert" with five very different voices ringing the changes on the same themes. The response was so encouraging that we decided to put together a manuscript and submit it to a publisher. Our collection, Quintet: themes & variations, described as "a structure for the improvisations of each poet, like a jazz quintet," with five masked, mysterious female figures dancing on the bright red cover, was published by Ekstasis Editions in 1998. Though poetry has never been the main focus of my writing, I think it has had some influence on my prose style: improving my ear for the rhythm of a sentence, teaching me care in choosing the precise word. Prose, I believe, should not merely be functional, but, like poetry, should have (in the words of the author and critic Charles Foran) "thrust and sheen and organizing music."

In fact, my second young adult novel began life as a poem, based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Snow Queen." Later I expanded the poem into a short fiction piece, "The Robber-Maiden's Story," which appeared in a Canadian speculative magazine, Trans Versions. "The Snow Queen" has always been my favourite fairy tale, and its characters continued to haunt me. Eventually I decided to write a novel based on Andersen's original.

Andersen wrote "The Snow Queen" in 1845. Its setting moves from a Danish village to the northern forests, then on to Lapland and "the terrible cold Finmark," and finally to the arctic ice. A friend who teaches literature commented to me that in "The Snow Queen," Andersen finally came to terms with the idea of the north. It's a unique and fascinating work of the imagination, with vividly described settings, realistic dialogue, well-developed characters and complex layers of symbolism and metaphor.

Andersen has two heroines. There's Gerda, sweet, vulnerable, innocent and endlessly determined, and there's the tough-talking robber chieftain's daughter, with her pragmatic nature and her horribly dysfunctional family. These two are in no need of rescuing. In fact, Andersen turns the traditional fairy tale upside down by having Gerda set out on an epic quest to rescue the boy, Kai, from the clutches of the enchantress.

When I was a girl reading fantasy, heroic women were practically unknown, and that may be one reason that Andersen's Snow Queen had so much appeal for me. In this post-feminist age we still need adventure stories for girls—books that explore the endless possibilities open to women. We often forget that the Victorian period was the heyday of the woman traveller—those intrepid ladies with the courage and stamina, and the financial means, to set off on journeys of exploration to the most dangerous corners of the world.

Still, Andersen was a man of his time, writing for a mid-Victorian audience with expectations of a conventional, morally uplifting resolution. In the original story, the robber-maiden puts her pistols into her holsters and rides out into the world in search of adventure; but Gerda returns with Kai to a life of contented domesticity. I took the liberty of changing the one part of the Andersen fairy tale that I found unsatisfying. I decided that what the future should hold for Gerda was not marriage to Kai, but a life of travel and adventure.

The mid-nineteenth century was a turning point in western culture, when traditional religious belief ran headlong into modern science; and this is a central theme of Andersen's story. Gerda represents simple, unquestioning faith, Kai (and the Snow Queen's ice-puzzle) the new spirit of scientific inquiry which threatened that faith. But as I started to write my version of the story, I felt there was an even deeper layer of meaning. The research I did on Tibetan shamanism for Dance of the Snow Dragon had led me to books on Finnish and Saami shamanism—and then to the Finnish myth cycle, the Kalevala. In one of those wonderful connective leaps that research sometimes takes, I thought I could hear echoes, in Andersen's Christian fantasy, of that older, darker world of the Kalevala, inhabited by Saami sorceresses and by the Terrible Enchantress, the Woman of Pohjola. When I finally began to write the story as a novel, Andersen's story became interwoven with the Kalevala mythology. Ritva, the Robber-Maiden, becomes the daughter of a shaman, the reluctant inheritor of shamanist powers. In the end she becomes the hero who does battle with the Dark Enchantress.

My third young adult fantasy, The Alchemist's Daughter, is set in Elizabethan England, a year before the Armada. From Tibetan Buddhist magic and northern shamanism, I've turned to the hermetic magic of the Renaissance; and once again it has plunged me into an unfamiliar and exotic world, as exciting to research as to write about. My characters may wander across boundaries into magical dimensions, but my stories are always grounded in real history, real geography. I try never to violate what is known to be true.

The Snow Queen won a Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Award (now called the Aurora) for best speculative novel of the year. As well, it was short-listed for the Canadian Library Association's Children's Book of the Year award. The resulting publicity has helped to draw attention to a book that might otherwise have escaped notice. With the down-sizing of book sections in Canadian newspapers, a small-press title usually depends for its success on word of mouth. Now, with the Internet, word of mouth is no longer local, or regional, or even national, but worldwide. Over the past few years The Snow Queen has made its way onto a variety of Web sites, personal as well as literary and academic—all of which means a slowly expanding readership. It seems clear that the Internet will play a larger part in writers' lives as access to print publication becomes more difficult. More and more, writers are turning to electronic media not only to make their out-of-print books available to new
readers, but to find outlets for new work. The long neglected Winter on the Plain of Ghosts, released in 2004, is my leap of faith into the world of alternative publishing.

Critics have noted that all my fantasy novels are about journeys. Looking back, I can see that they are also about change. The world I grew up in seems as remote from 2004 as 1954 was from the Victorian age, and today the pace of change is exponential. My sons, science-trained, live in a world of quantum theory, nanotechnology, transgenics. I can't begin to envision the world my grandsons will experience. The fact that I'm alive in this strange new millennium fills me with amazement, and curiosity, and anticipation. Yet in the books I've written, I can see that my characters share an underlying anxiety. As stone gives way to metal, magic gives way to mathematics, religion is replaced by science, they must survive in a world that is changing beyond recognition.



Books in Canada, October, 1995, Heather Kirk, review of Dance of the Snow Dragon.

Canadian Children's Literature, winter, 2002, Mary-Ann Stouck, review of The Snow Queen.

Cross-Canada Writers, number 2, 1988.

Edmonton Journal, November 26, 1995, p. F7.

Kinesis, July-August, 1988, Melanie Conn, review of Songs from the Drowned Lands: A Novel of High Fantasy.

Locus, July, 2000, Carolyn Cushman, review of TheSnow Queen.

Newsletter for the Council for the Literature of theFantastic, Volume 1, 1998, Evelyn Perry, "Writing a Third Path."

New York Review of Science Fiction, March, 2001, Russell Blackford, review of The Snow Queen.

Quill & Quire, June, 1995, Mary Beaty, review of Dance of the Snow Dragon.

Resource Links, Volume 7, K. V. Johansen, "A Sudden Flourishing: Recent Children's Fantasy by Canadian Authors."

Vancouver Sun, June 26, 1981, Leslie Peterson, review of Journey to Aprilioth.


Cinescape, (August 18, 2000), Denise Dumars, "Magic & Myth in the Young Adult Novels of Eileen Kernaghan."

Online Lonely Cry, (February 2, 2004).

Rose & Thorn, (February 2, 2004), Sandra Merz, "Eileen Kernaghan: An Interview."

Thistledown Press, (February 2, 2004).