Interview with Patricia Kennealy

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Interview with Patricia Kennealy

from: The Camelot Project  1999

LONG ISLAND, NEW YORK
26 AUGUST 1988, UPDATED (BY MAIL) 9 AUGUST 1991

   I had no difficulty finding Patricia Kennealy at her parents' home on Long Island, where she was recuperating after an operation. It was, however, the first interview I conducted specifically for this project, and as a result I was less clear about what I was looking for than I became later. Since it was also the first interview that I edited for publication, I was also less clear about my editorial criteria as well. Fortunately, Kennealy was very helpful, even going so far as to do some substantial editing herself in places. I ended up by re-editing the entire interview after I had finished the others.
   Kennealy's Keltiad series blends science fiction and fantasy as it transposes the ancient Celtic world and its customs into a space-faring future. When I visited her, only The Copper Crown (New York: Bluejay, 1984) and The Throne of Scone (New York: Bluejay, 1986) had been published, although The Silver Branch (New York: New American Library, 1988) came out later that year. Arthurian references, though important, were not extensive. She was, however, in the midst of writing the next book, which was about Arthur himself, and she had plenty to tell me about her plans. The extent to which these were fulfilled reveals the inevitable gap between an author's outline (be it vague or clearcut) and the finished book, though some of that information may have been lost in the process of re-editing after The Hawk's Gray Feather was finally published (New York: New American Library, 1991).


RT: Why did you choose to write, not just about Arthurian legend, but also Celtic tradition, using the science fiction genre rather than fantasy which is more popular for dealing with the legend?

PK: Basically it was pure self-indulgence. I like spaceships and I like Druids; I wanted to write a book in which I could deal with both of them together. It appealed enormously to me to be able to take the fabric of the past, enriched over the ages by so many talents and gifts, and to fashion from it a story set in the future.

RT: How do you conceive of the links between future and past in your treatment of Arthurian legend?

PK: I think they overlap. I see time as a continuum, as a circle you can get on or off any time or place you please, then turn it around, twist it upon itself, and tie it all together. The stories never change. The subjects that mattered in earlier times, that made for the most interesting stories, that kept people awake around the campfires or in the mead halls, they're the same topics that hold our interest today, and will tomorrow. People will always want to hear good stories well told, stories about love, death, war, and betrayal. These themes have been going strong for a couple of thousand years, long before Arthur, and they will be going strong long after us.

RT: What advantages do you perceive in using science fiction to deal with traditional material?

PK: I'm not really a science fiction fan; I much prefer fantasy-- Lewis, Tolkien, Williams, Cabell, Dunsany perhaps most of all--to science fiction. Even in science fiction I prefer authors like Bradbury and Vonnegut to those like Heinlein.
   Every generation tells the Matter of Britain in its own fashion, however. Since we live in a scientific age, a science fiction framework gives the story more immediacy for people today. It certainly seemed to have more immediacy for me even though I love the past. I didn't want to write a purely historical novel, because it's limiting and because it requires colossal quantities of research. I love doing research, but not that much! I don't really have the patience for a purely scholarly work, and, besides, I like storytelling too much. A Dark Age Arthur didn't appeal to me as a writer. Moreover, he's been done too often by authors who did far better by him than I ever could.
   The concept of Celtic legends in outer space may sound strange and weird at first, and it wasn't ever really a conscious decision on my part; but it fell into place so perfectly that it just seemed impossible not to do it. The more I read in the sourcebooks I used, the more it seemed to me that it could even possibly have happened. Celts in Space may sound like something out of The Muppet Show, and that's still how I refer to the books myself (tongue-in-cheek, naturally!), but the elements were all there to adapt. Flaming swords that could cut through any substance, no matter how thick--Lugh's sword or a lightsaber from Star Wars? A ship that knew its owner's mind and could sail over any surface--a faery vessel or a computerized brain running the helm? At times it seemed to require hardly any work on my part to come up with some of the most outrageous elements. They were all there in the sources. Even though my stories of The Keltiad are set far in the future, I don't think the basic themes change all that much. It's just the trappings and hardware that alter.

RT: You mix magic and science together in your books. On the one hand, scientific developments affect mankind's life. On the other, some of what goes on might more readily be described as magic. Do you view such features as magic, or do you imagine that the Kelts have developed special powers?

PK: It is more like the latter. Any advanced technology may be regarded as magic by those less advanced. At the same time, though, these Kelts left earth in the year 453, when who knows what powers people might have had. We were more primitive, but perhaps we had powers that we since have lost--instinctive powers, like those that enable birds to migrate and eels to swim home to rivers they've never seen. Think of the memory feats of the bards which we couldn't possibly manage today. Perhaps once we really did have abilities we now consider magical, like telepathy, telekinesis, and precognition. Second Sight still occurs among Celtic peoples, and it may be a remnant of those forgotten abilities which I like to think we might recover some time in the future.
   What I wanted to do with Keltia was show that such feats are really not magic at all but a function of our higher human capabilities. Just because we don't understand them or can't do them ourselves, we sneer and call them magic. They are magic only in that they are feats we don't know how to perform yet. What I am trying to show in my books is that if we work at some task, we may be able to achieve it. It may be wishful thinking, but reach doesn't always have to exceed grasp.
   Whether what I have written is called science fiction or fantasy is not important. I think, perhaps, it might be science fantasy which blends the two genres. I don't like labels, and I don't like limits. So the ships go faster than light--big deal. I couldn't care less how they do it because that's not what I'm interested in. If readers want that kind of information they can consult a physics text book. I want to have fun when I write, and I want readers to enjoy my books. I set events in The Keltiad far in the future so that I can say with impunity, hey, this is my cosmos, and I can do as I please in it within the rules I myself have set up. If I want to have magic, then I'll have magic; if I want to have faster-than-light starships, then I can have them-- and I don't have to explain them either! You have to be consistent within your created universe, but you don't ever have to explain.

RT: How complete was your vision of the universe of The Keltiad when you started the Aeron trilogy?

PK: I began with an "historical" outline of what happened: how the Kelts set forth into space and why, and what they did once they arrived. The characters just came. Sometimes it seemed that I was merely typing out a history of Keltia that had already been collected in some extra-terrestrial library, almost automatic writing, in a sense. It all worked perfectly within the science fantasy framework, however, and it all seemed to fit. I was beginning to think, in my wonder and delirium, well, hey, maybe this is the truth! This isn't fiction at all: it's history, and nobody knows it but me.
   For me the best part of the creative process is the moment when the story just picks itself up and begins to walk. You can see it happen in every kind of art--music, painting, dance--that instant when the control shifts from you as creator to the thing as creation. It's a gift.

RT: Do you worry about the complexity of the legends? One of the hardest things for a writer to do is to be selective with so much to choose from.

PK: Basically I've been working on The Keltiad all my life. All I've ever read of Celtic myth has gone into it. I don't choose, however; the work chooses. It chooses itself and organizes itself, so that when I reach for it it's always there. This writing process sounds mystical, and maybe it is, but so much of it comes out of instinct, a kind of writing-by-the-seat-of-one's- pants. If I encounter a problem with plot, for example, I put the book aside and let the unconscious go to work on it for a day or two, or a week even. When I need it, the solution will come--not always at the exact moment I'd like it to, but sooner or later. The only major difficulties I've had have been with sequence. The first book to be published, The Copper Crown, is actually the middle book of the last trilogy. In effect, that particular group was written from the inside out, and I won't be doing that again if I can help it! The Keltiad will consist of five trilogies probably, but only the last three will be set in the future. The Tales of Aeron trilogy, the first one to appear (The Copper Crown, The Throne of Scone, The Silver Branch), begins in the year 3512; the Arthur trilogy, which I'm now in the midst of writing, is happening even as we speak--last half of the twentieth century and first half of the twenty-first; the others range from 450 A. D. to the early 3600s.

RT: Did you have the earlier parts of the trilogy in mind when you wrote the first book?

PK: Not nearly as much as I should have. It seemed logical, when I first started to write, that I introduce the Kelts to the readers at the same time as I was reintroducing them to the people of Earth through the crew of the Terran scout ship that makes first contact. There was so much exposition and backstory to provide there that I didn't want to have to go through it more than once. How did the Kelts jorney into space? What have they been up to for three thousand years? Why haven't they bothered communicating with Earth? It takes a lot of time and energy to set all that out, and I wanted to make it as easy on the readers, and myself, as possible.
   Still, no matter at what point you begin a trilogy, you always paint yourself into the most terrible corners. There are always people and situations popping in out of hyperspace that you simply never saw coming, and you have to fit them in as best you can. Since they are important, you can't leave them out, but you do wish that you'd thought of them sooner. Sometimes you even wish you had given better names to characters when they had a minor role, because when they grow in importance you may find you hate their names!

RT: Is it possible that you might revise the series in the future?

PK: I very much doubt it. You don't really have that luxury in this sort of series. Some authors decide to write spin-offs, interstitial books, usually about characters who were peripheral in the main story. It's possible to resolve contradictions and other minor problems that way, but you are forced to live with any major mistakes you have made. Of course you want the books to be as perfect as possible, and as consistent as possible from book to book. Yet the more you write, the harder it is to keep all the details in your head. You forget things, especially the tiny details you'd like to tie together from one book to the next. Usually by the time you remember them, or reread the book they appear in, it's too late.

RT: You said that you didn't write an historical novel partly because you didn't want to do too much background research. Yet when you write the historical trilogy, won't you need to do more background work?

PK: I will have to do some research for the story of how Brendan the Astrogator leads the Kelts into space. The past is always the past. While you can be creative about interpretation, you cannot alter facts if you want to retain the respect of your readers. Because the series for which I plan to write five trilogies is science fantasy, however, it does free you from some of the restraints of a purely historical context.

RT: What particular works do you feel influenced you most strongly in writing The Keltiad?

PK: My biggest influences, overall, are Rudyard Kipling, Lord Dunsany, and the King James Bible: Kipling for pace and tone and narrative flow; the other two for beauty of language and sheer grace of style.
   From the purely narrative point of view, The Mabinogion was most important, not only because it has so many terrific stories, but also because there are so many nice things you can steal. You can read it with almost a scavenger's eyes, thinking, I can use that and this, and that other piece from fifty pages back. Often, however, the borrowing is not deliberate. Only after I had written a scene would I realize that most of it had come, directly or indirectly, from The Mabinogion.
   For example, in The Copper Crown Gwydion, one of the protagonists, is imprisoned on an island, and in order to make his escape he creates the illusion of a fleet to serve as a diversion. Since this is science fantasy, however, he creates a space fleet. The scene just wrote itself, and it didn't occur to me until later where it had come from: the scene in the Fourth Branch of The Mabinogion where Gwydion creates the illusion of a fleet coming to his sister's castle as a ruse to win arms for Lleu Llaw Gyffes. Steal from the best, I always say.
   In The Silver Branch there is a whole passage which I unashamedly stole from The Voyage of Maelduin, though I do give credit to the original author in the Acknowledgements. It was a sequence where the protagonist, the young princess Aeron, is being initiated as a sorceress. She sinks into a trance, setting off on a spiritual journey that takes the form of Maelduin's voyage from island to island. The part I most wanted to use was where the voyagers come across a silver pillar in the middle of the sea. I remember reading that passage for the first time when I was about fourteen or fifteen, and being struck by the incredible power of the image: a huge silver pillar rising up out of the sea, nothing around it but water, and a net trailing down from the pillar's top, which is so high that the men in the boat can't see it. A voice speaks from the top of the pillar, but they do not know the language it uses. Wonderful!

RT: What about Arthurian borrowings?

PK: Those are much more deliberate and direct, yet even they change to meet the needs of the story, again proving their power and durability. In the first trilogy, the Arthurian element provides Aeron's motivation. Since she needs the Treasures, she goes in search of Arthur, the Keltic king who disappeared fifteen hundred years before her time in battle with the Coranians (another Mabinogion theft!), telling the Kelts that he will come again when he is needed. The Spoils of Annwfn helps her to find him. What a wonderful poem that is, so wild, so strange, so utterly unlike anything else. That was one of those absolutely instinctive reactions. I didn't decide; the poem decided for me.

RT: In The Throne of Scone, Aeron finds Arthur in his spaceship, in circumstances that recall the Cave Legend.

PK: Yes. He's in a cave with his sword in his hand and his knights about him. That was another unconscious borrowing, because the links didn't occur to me till after I'd written the scene. I liked the idea of Arthur and his followers landing on a volcano planet because I love volcanoes. I also wanted them to die there in the ship, far from home. It didn't occur to me until after that scene was written that they were sleeping in a cave under the hill. It's just another indication of how ingrained, how incredibly powerful the motifs are. They emerge when it's time for them.
   Of course that means I shall have to figure out the circumstances that led Arthur to the cave. One story says that Merlynn sent them all to the Summer Stars in a house of glass. So perhaps that was the spaceship, who knows? I'm sure it will come to me when it has to.

RT: Given the richness of the tradition, there's bound to be something that you can adapt.

PK: That's the great thing about it. You go back and look through something like the Welsh Triads, or The Mabinogion, or the Iolo Morganwg material, and you will always find something to get yourself out of the hole you're in. There's always something in there for you to use.

RT: So much of Arthurian legend is written in the High Middle Ages and portrays a world of feudalism and chivalry. Did that side of the legend interest you at all?

PK: Not as a writer, though I loved to read it. I'm a great medievalist at heart. As a little girl I read stories of Arthur and Guinevere and Lancelot and everybody else. I thought, as I'm sure most people lucky enough to be given such books at a young age will think, that it was wonderful. When I was a bit older, I discovered that there was an earlier Arthur, the Celtic Arthur, and this was the real stuff.

RT: The Keltiad integrates Irish, Scots, and Welsh material. Did you envision from the very beginning that Arthurian legend would be part of it?

PK: There was never any doubt in my mind that Arthur would be a very big part of it indeed. In fact when I first started thinking seriously about The Keltiad, back in 1969 or 1970, I thought that perhaps I would start with the Arthurian section. Aeron was there, but Arthur seemed more accessible just then. Actually, it was on the advice of Jim Morrison, lead singer of the rock group The Doors, to whom I was married in 1970 in a Celtic pagan ceremony, that I started with the Aeron trilogy.
   Because of the historical resonance of the names Arthur and Guinevere, my literary agent suggested my protagonists be called something else, such as Henry and Louise. In the end, however, that very resonance was what decided me to call them Arthur and Gweniver (as I spell it, an old Cornish use). I couldn't fight it. I've now written two of books of the Arthurian trilogy, The Hawk's Gray Feather (1990) and The Oak Above the Kings (scheduled for release in 1992). I would have completed the second one sooner, but in between I wrote an autobiographical memoir of my time with Jim, entitled Strange Days (New York: Dutton, 1992), and so the Kelts had to wait. I was also involved with director Oliver Stone's film The Doors, as a consultant, as a character portrayed by actress Kathleen Quinlan, and as an actress in a cameo part as the priestess who performs the wedding ceremony between myself and Jim.
   In this trilogy the Arthurian element is, of course, central. Arthur is the hidden heir who does not know his heritage until he comes of age. He is not heir to the throne, however, at least not directly. Gweniver is, and since they are cousins it is decided that they should marry and rule like William and Mary. He has the superior warrior muscle, she the better legal claim. This is not traditional, and I really wasn't enthusiastic about it at first. This is the way the story wanted to go, however, and I had to follow it. I'm only the writer.
   The story is narrated by Taliesin, Arthur's foster brother and later brother-in-law (he marries Arthur's sister Morgan). Taliesin tells the story in his old age, realizing that, in essence, Arthur and his companions have become legend already. As an historian and a friend, he wants to set the record straight.

RT: Why did you decide to make Arthur and Gweniver cousins?

PK: It just worked out that way. Arthur is the son of Ygrawn and Amris, the eldest Pendreic brother; Gweniver is the daughter of the middle brother, Leowyn; and Morgan and Marguessan (Morgause) are the twin daughters of the youngest brother, Uthyr, again by Ygrawn. In a sense this preserves the incest motif without my actually having to deal with it. I've never liked it and never understood the reason for it, but obviously it has resonance or it wouldn't have lasted all these hundreds of years. So my Arthur marries his cousin but doesn't sleep with his sister. That's as far as I'm prepared to take it.

RT: Why did you choose Taliesin as the narrator?

PK: We never get inside Arthur's head directly; he is always observed and commented upon. There was never any question of having Arthur as narrator, or even using the third-person omniscient point of view that I adopt in the Aeron books. Arthur must always be seen at a slight remove, through other people's eyes, because he is a larger-than-life character.

RT: Will your Arthur remain a larger-than-life character throughout the trilogy?

PK: He will end up, I hope, more a human character than a legendary one, if only because the friend who is telling the story will not let him get away with much. At the same time, however, Taliesin is a bard, and he cannot help but recognize his foster brother's legendary qualities: the magical Arthur, the warrior Arthur, the priest, the king, the father, the husband, the lover--that which is more Arthur than Arthur.

RT: Are you going to have Gweniver betray Arthur with his closest companion?

PK: Yes and no. In my trilogy she has an affair with Arthur's chief war-lord, but Arthur also has an affair with the queen of a race of women warriors--shades of Theseus and Hippolyta! They respect and really do love one another, nonetheless, and their marriage does work out in the end. The betrayal of Arthur by Lancelot and Guinevere is one of the central motifs of Arthurian tradition, but it has always annoyed me greatly. I think Guinevere has received a rather raw deal down through the centuries. Everybody tries to rationalize their behavior: it's just a political marriage, or he's very tolerant, or extremely smart, or extremely stupid, or whatever. No one has yet come up with what I consider to be a good reason, however, and so I say, to hell with it. I'll make it come out the way I want it to come out.

RT: Will you get rid of the betrayal motif completely?

PK: No. Betrayal is a powerful and recurring Celtic motif that I use extensively in the Aeron books. It is the one sin a Celt cannot forgive. It's powerful and dramatic, and very human: we can all relate to betrayal. We may not all have loved to the point of madness and obsession, or killed anybody, or slept with our brother or sister; but just about all of us have been betrayed at some time in our lives.

RT: Will this betrayal cause the downfall?

PK: There won't be a downfall. This will be one Round Table that doesn't crack.

RT: In Arthurian legend there is often a powerful sense that the Round Table falls because of the sin of its members, including Arthur. This does not seem to be an aspect of the legend that attracts you?

PK: No. I find it defeatist. Why shouldn't something like the Table work? In my books I make it work.

RT: The figure of Arthur that you have created is very much the legendary warrior hero, and indeed much of The Keltiad is preoccupied with warfare and fighting. Does this side of the legend interest you more than other aspects?

PK: No, it's the religious side that interests me most. Warfare, however, is such an integral and important element in Celtic tradition. Somebody is always going off to war against somebody else, over bulls, or land, or insults, or lovers, or anything else you can think of. The Celts are a belligerent race, they have always been a belligerent race, and I think we can safely say that in outer space they are still going to be a belligerent race.

RT: At least the people who paid the bards to sing the songs were belligerent.

PK: Exactly. Stay-at-homes always like to hear war stories. Never having been in a war myself--I protested against it all the time in my youth--I am removed from its reality and thus free to romanticize it. Not that war is at all romantic, but it does bring out romantic, heroic qualities, as well as less heroic ones, of course, and it does serve to push the story rather smartly along.

RT: Do you see war as an opportunity for the characters to demonstrate things about themselves?

PK: I hope so. They grow, they change, they realize that war is not, perhaps, the ideal way to settle differences. They're always fighting, but they don't like war at all. They see it as a form of psychic possession, and they would prefer to be home creating things: harping, or making tales, or throwing pots, or doing almost anything rather than being out on the war trail.
   The Kelts don't start any of the wars in my books. It's always pushed on them, though they strike back if provoked. Thus they never have to make hard decisions about issues like imperialism or cultural genocide, and so forth. This has no basis in history, I might add. The Celts were just as mean and nasty and conquest- minded as everyone else, and probably more than most. What is so appealing, really, is their other side: the artistic, poetic, creative, honorable, romantic, imaginative aspect. They weren't your usual sort of vandal.

RT: Among the characters who learn about themselves and grow is Aeron, who becomes friends with her enemy, Elathan. In fact I thought you might bring the two of them together.

PK: I thought I might too, until my editor advised me against it. He really didn't think it was such a good idea since both of them had already established a loving relationship with sympathetic characters. I don't think that readers would have liked them running off together, and so they're just good friends.
   I prefer as much as possible to keep sex out of the books, at least the specific details. I never saw the point, really: everybody knows what happens, so who cares? It's complicated, stressful, and embarrassing in literature, as so often it can be in life. I don't like to read that sort of thing in other books, and I certainly don't want to write about it in my own. Besides, my parents read them.

RT: Do they like them?

PK: Well, they say so. I think they see them as book reports, as homework. You're always a fourth-grader to your folks.

RT: Have you read many of the modern versions of the Arthurian legend?

PK: I read Mary Stewart, Parke Godwin, Alan Garner, and Susan Cooper. When I was about sixteen I read Rosemary Sutcliff's Sword at Sunset, which was one of the first Dark Age Arthurian books I ever read. It is a wonderful book. She's a lovely writer. You do, however, have to be careful. You don't want to read other people's interpretations because they might interfere with your own. You might find things that you would have liked to do or had planned to do, but since they have already done them, and done them better, you want to throw yourself in the river.

RT: Did you read Tennyson?

PK: Oh yes. Beautiful poetry, but I don't know how Arthurian it is. King Arthur is more like a male Queen Victoria. At the State University of New York at Binghampton, which was Hartford College when I went there, I took a course in Victorian poetry and another in the Celtic Twilight, which really stimulated my interest. I read everything I could get my hands on: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Marie de France, Chretien de Troyes, anything to do with the Grail--anything Celtic, really.

RT: Of course you would have read Malory?

PK: Of course. I first encountered him an an anonymous version for children, but I do remember the illustrations vividly. That got me started collecting, many years later, editions illustrated by Rackham, Pyle, and Dulac.

RT: Do you remember if it had the incest motif in it or not?

PK: I'm sure it didn't. It's not for kiddies. Actually, I read T. H. White before I read the original Malory, which was an interesting way of coming to it, and I thought both of them were wonderful. At fourteen, you know, it was fabulous: the language, the richness of it. We even had a class trip to Broadway to see Richard Burton on stage as Arthur in Camelot.

RT: Were you at all interested in the Tristan legend?

PK: No, I always thought he was even more tiresome than Lancelot, quite honestly, and I consistently found Arthur to be the most interesting character of all. A lot of Arthurian legend is really not about Arthur. It's about Lancelot and Guinevere, or it's about Tristan and Iseult. In my story, I'm not going to pay much attention to all these satellite tales; I want to concentrate on Arthur himself, and maybe three others: Gweniver, Morgan, and Taliesin.

RT: How about the Grail?

PK: Besides the Excalibur variants, this is the single Arthurian motif that interests me most. I've read as much on it as I can find: The Grail Legend by Emma Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz, From Ritual to Romance by Jessie Weston, studies by Richard Cavendish, John Matthews, and others. You find something helpful and useful everywhere. I shall include a Grail quest of some sort in my trilogy--a search for the Grail analogue. The Fisher King motif has already been established with the wounding of King Uthyr. It'll be a pagan Grail, of course, but the symbolism holds. In any case the Grail was pagan in origin.

RT: I suppose you will need some complications in Arthur's life, won't you?

PK: That's the real difficulty when you focus upon Arthur. Everything seems to happen to him before he becomes king. After that, the adventures happen to other people: Lancelot and Guinevere, Gawain and Galahad, to-ing and fro-ing, having quests left, right, and center. You can see this even in The Mabinogion. Arthur does go hunting the boar, but most of the time he just sits there at court, being reactive rather than active. He becomes the center, and everything spins around him, like planets round the sun.
   Another difficulty I encountered when I started to write my Arthur books was that in the Aeron trilogy, set almost two thousand years after Arthur's time, he is looked upon almost as a minor god: he is the great king who rose from humble origins and freed Keltia from the evil Archdruid; who disappeared in battle with his mortal foes; who promised to return again one day when he is needed. In the Arthur books, however, he is seen as a real person, and it's strange having to downscale him. Perhaps other authors have had this problem. Here is this immense figure, from hundreds and hundreds of years ago, who has been growing bigger and more heroic every time somebody makes a new song about him, and you have to make him a cranky, fallible, vulnerable, and above all sympathetic, human being. It's an odd task.

RT: The women in your first trilogy play the major role. Will this continue in the Arthur trilogy?

PK: Very definitely, and in all the rest of the series as well. Not only because I myself am a woman, but because, historically, women enjoyed a much more important place in Celtic society than they do now. They could own property, they could outrank their husbands, and, at least until the seventh century when the Church decreed otherwise, they were liable for military service. Women are the force behind most of the ancient Celtic epics: Medbh and Emir are amazing women.
   I see myself as continuing that tradition. All Arthur's major influences are women. His chief weapons instructor is a woman, based on Cuchulainn's teacher Scathach; his mother, Ygrawn, is a formative influence and a close friend to her son; as is Gweniver once she and Arthur straighten out their jealousies; Morgan will be the greatest and most powerful magician in all of Keltic history. There will be negative influences too: Marguessan, the Morgause character, is up to her old tricks here as elsewhere. None of them, however, is a cipher or a damsel in distress. I'd never put up with that. I don't like to see it in other people's books either, especially books written by women, and most especially books written by women of my own generation.

RT: Have you it found more difficult to write for a male narrator?

PK: Not really. He is, of course, a bard and that may make the difference. It's almost as if Taliesin is the one who's really writing the books and I'm just typing them out for him. Everyone in Keltia is gender equal, however. Men don't feel unmanly if they weep, nor women unwomanly if they swing a sword. We all have masculine and feminine elements in our nature, and the Kelts are more closely in touch with them. As for difficulty with the male narrator, well, he's really me. All the characters are me: male or female, royalty or commoner, hero or traitor. That's what writing is all about. Men and women certainly do see things differently, but I don't think they would, or should, tell stories differently. At least they don't in Keltia.

RT: You mentioned Excalibur before. How are you handling that motif?

PK: I shall have two swords. I was always confused by the fact that Arthur draws the Sword from the Stone, then is given Excalibur by the Lady of the Lake, to whom it is returned at the end. Both motifs are neat; but you need a reason for having two swords, or else you have to pick one and stick with it. Throughout Arthurian legend you have to make choices like that, which means that you can't use everything you would like.

RT: Do you plan to develop the Arthurian story in new directions?

PK: It's already happened. Everyone who writes on Arthurian legend does it for his or her own specific reasons, and adapts, develops, and changes it to suit. The incredible power and strength of the legend allows you to do this. For myself, I prefer to emphasize the higher, more spiritual aspects, rather than who was running around with whom. I don't want to be preachy about it though. Religion is really a subtext in all my books, nothing more. I want readers to experience it as fully and wonderfully as the Kelts do, to make it an integral part of their lives. And of course to be entertained by the story at the same time.

RT: What kind of religion are you talking about here?

PK: For the Kelts, it's their own; for me it's self-discovered. It draws upon Druidism, Gnostic paganism, polytheistic Catharism, and other traditions. I practice it myself actually. In Keltia, it's not a state religion in the formal sense, though it is tied up with the land, with the way the Kelts perceive their environment and themselves: all one and interdependent. Perhaps it's what the historical Celtic religions might have evolved into had not Christianity intervened. It's non-hierarchical, for the most part. Everyone is to some extent a priest or a priestess, capable of interceding directly with the gods, or with the One Supreme Being. Annointed Druids and annointed Ban-draoi (female Druids or sorceresses) are important as preservers of the faith, but in the end it's the Kelts themselves who make the religion live. They relate to the gods as only the next step up in spiritual evolution; the gods are required to have faith in humanity, not just humanity have faith in the gods. The search for the divine in the human is what the quest is all about.

RT: You don't have very many villains, and even those you have often reform at the end. Most of your characters are noble figures, aren't they?

PK: I find the black versus white, villain versus hero orientation unimaginative. Characters who are just bad or just good are so boring. Moreover, people are not usually totally bad or good. They are just different, on the other side from you. In my books the enemy are merely un-Kelts. They've done some bad things and they're not quite so enlightened as the Kelts. They are probably noble within their own society, nevertheless. Indeed, they see the Kelts as the bad guys.
   Nor are there many "common" characters in the books, that's certainly true, but I am following the bardic model of the old Celtic tales, most of which were about kings and queens, princes and lords, not generally about common people at all. The patrons who paid for the bard's services naturally wanted to hear about themselves or their friends in song, and the common people enjoyed hearing about the antics of the mighty. It's not so very different from the modern interest in the gossip pages of newspapers and magazines.

RT: Nor does Keltia experience much political stress, does it?

PK: By the year 3513, they've gone beyond such conflict. Keltia is basically a feudal society where about ten per cent of the population owns ninety-eight per cent of the wealth, but the aristocracy have important obligations to their clients. They have to take care of them and provide for them. According to the codes of the ancient Celts, a lord must look after the people under his purview or face severe fines. If such a system could operate on a tiny scale in Ireland thousands of years ago, right up until Elizabethan times, there's no reason why it can't operate on an interplanetary scale in Keltia, two thousand years from now. It's an idealization, of course. In many ways it has to be, but I don't think I idealize my future Kelts any more than the ancient Celts idealized the people they were singing about.
   The quest motif is what appeals to me most strongly, and it appears in both the Aeron and Arthur books. I find the idea of the quest fascinating; I don't know quite why. Perhaps it is something I need to work out for myself, in my life and in my books both. Mind you, the quest is also useful as a plot device. The late novelist John Gardner said that there are really only two stories in literature: you go on a journey, or a stranger comes to town. Whether they are successful or not, quests always teach you and change you. The seeking changes you; the finding changes you; the using what you find changes you. So do other people's perceptions of you during the quest, how you act on them and they on you.

RT: The quest, of course, leads to self-discovery. What lessons do you think Arthur learns?

PK: In The Hawk's Gray Feather he prepares for kingship, taught by a whole variety of characters. In The Oak Above the King he rules as king. In The Hedge of Mist, as the third novel is tentatively titled, Arthur transcends his kingship. Throughout, Arthur is more acted upon than acting. Everyone seems to be working upon him, not he on them. Yet he is the one who brings change and renewal. He is the catalyst, but not the mover.

RT: It's interesting that you should think in these terms because Arthur is looked upon as a person who has shaped destiny.

PK: He was more shaped than shaping, I think. Outside events influenced him. He suffered because of the circumstances of his birth, which other people engineered for their own purposes, not his. The Saxons attacked him; he didn't invade Frisia. I envision him as a warlord, probably sitting at Cadbury Castle, defending his turf against invaders. He was probably rich and powerful, controlling trade routes. I don't think he had much time to brood about his spirituality. It must have been a fairly horrendous time to be alive. It's fun to look back on it in romantic retrospect, but I don't think I would have liked to have lived back then.

RT: So you're not sure that you really would have been content as an ancient Celt?

PK: In one of my former lives I probably was an ancient Celt, but I think I would vastly prefer being a future Kelt. One can have it both ways: battles with swords on the one hand, computers, air-conditioning, and all the comforts of home on the other.

RT: Do you have any final comments?

PK: Only that in the end Arthur interests us because he is us. We'll never stop being interested in him until we stop being interested in ourselves.

RT: Thank you.