Historical novel set in Austria
Talking Location with Stephanie Burgis, author of THE RAVEN HEIR
7th August 2021
#TalkingLocationWith… Stephanie Burgis, author of The Raven Heir
To celebrate the publication of the magic middle grade novel, The Raven Heir, author Stephanie Burgis dropped by to tell us all about her Welsh roots and how the landscape and history inspired her writing.
There are so many things I love about living in Wales, but when it comes down to it, my three favourite parts are the castles, the mountains, and the beautiful woods and forests. All three of those big loves came together for me as I was writing The Raven Heir, a children’s fantasy adventure set in a magical version of the UK during the medieval Wars of the Roses.
I’m lucky enough to live in a town with multiple castles in easy visiting distance, but my favourite of all is Raglan Castle. I can’t count how many times I’ve walked around its grounds, climbed up its stone steps to stand on its ramparts, or simply picnicked there with my family. There’s a running family joke that it counts as the first castle for both of my sons, too, since I visited it obsessively during both of those pregnancies. Raglan one of the most gorgeous and interesting castles I know, and because of its location, it’s also been the site of multiple local children’s parties and family get-togethers over the twelve years that I’ve lived nearby – so when I found out that it had also been a key structure in the Wars of the Roses, that distant and theoretical history slammed into very personal reality for me, sparking the first inspiration for The Raven Heir.
I’d known, of course, that Henry VII became the first Tudor king at the end of those brutal wars. But I hadn’t known, until then, that he’d actually been kept at Raglan Castle for part of his childhood, under the watchful eye of a guardian (slash gaoler) who held him there, away from his family, as a dangerous potential rival to the throne. When I read about how he had stood, as a teenager, looking out from the castle at a battle raging outside (between his guardian’s soldiers and those of his own family fighting unsuccessfully to get him back), that image struck me with a force that was all the more intense because so many of my own personal family memories centre on that castle.
I could only imagine the fear and rage of Henry’s mother, who fought for decades to be reunited with her deeply-loved son…and that directly inspired the mother of my heroine in The Raven Heir, a parent so determined to protect her own children from the ongoing wars over the throne that she ran away while pregnant to an enchanted forest and locked the whole world out.
And oh, Wales is the most wonderful place to live if you love woods and forests! Our own closest wood, Coed Cefn, is only 15 minutes away from our house, and it’s magical, inspiring, and beautiful all year round – but maybe most of all in spring, when it becomes a bluebell wood. Our family visits it at every chance we get, and when our kids were younger they pretended to chase goblins and dragons among the trees. As I was writing The Raven Heir, I always let my husband join in those games without me, my own mind busy soaking in the atmosphere and spinning out the setting of a different enchanted forest where my heroine was growing up with her siblings, unaware of the bloody battles that were tearing apart the kingdom outside the trees.
But of course she can’t be sheltered from them forever—and when her mother is imprisoned by invading forces, my heroine and her triplets have to quest across the perilous broken kingdom to the centre of all of the land’s magic, Mount Corve. It’s an imaginary mountain, of course – but since mountains are inescapable wherever I look nowadays, it was only too easy to imagine this one!
I’m surrounded by a ring of beautiful low mountains every day in the Welsh valley where I live, but when I was writing about the eerily powerful landscape that surrounds Mount Corve in The Raven Heir, I was most inspired by the mountains near Rhayader in mid-Wales, which I dearly love to visit. There, the land rolls and shoulders its way across the horizon like a series of bad-tempered, crouching giants – and every time I visit, the sight takes my breath away.
The Raven Heir is set in a fantasy world full of magic – but I could never have written it without having absorbed the real-world magic of the landscape that I live in now.
Stephanie Burgis grew up in America but now lives in Wales with her husband (fellow writer Patrick Samphire), their two young sons, and their extremely vocal tabby cat. In between those two points, she spent time playing in orchestras, studying music history in Vienna, and editing the website of an opera company in Leeds.
She writes fun, funny MG fantasy adventures for kids and wildly romantic historical fantasy novels for adults. You can keep up with her new releases, read exclusive short stories and get sneak peeks at upcoming works by signing up to her website stephanieburgis.com.
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