Why do I write?

Why do I write? What made you want to be a writer? Well, I suppose that I have always written for a living, publishing what people would call non-fiction as part of my work. It began to be something of a trade, turning out page after page to order over time, week by week, and year by year. Not always drudgery, by any means, but undoubtedly something you did whether you felt like it or not, whether today is just the right day, or merely the next day in a long schedule.

But in my kind of writing, there were no characters, and for the most part it was factual. You were, in that respect, alone with yourself, without the company of people who might disagree, or do something you had not anticipated, speak or keep silent when they felt like it. There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s just different.

So you don’t know what you are missing in many respects when you write non-fiction. I would make an exception for biographies, I suppose, although I’m not sure what it would be like living with Horatio Nelson or Florence Nightingale, whether you would get up in the morning with them, see through their eyes. With imaginative biography, or the kind of dramatized history that Hilary Mantel has created, it must be exhilarating and perhaps at times haunting to be that close to the creak of floorboards under real feet.

In my case, I was nagged into fiction by a strange calling, increasingly distracted from what I was doing by the lure of telling a story, as if that call came through to me at long last. So – and this was one thing that I brought from my non-fiction writing – I thought of a readership. The first question was, even before the story had come into being, if I was to write who would be the readers?

Strange as it may be to say it, it was Tolkien’s The Hobbit that came to the rescue. I made the mistake of going to the cinema to watch the first of the series of films, hoping for the magic and entrancement of the book, and came out reeling. True, I do get deafened, and slightly sick and dizzy, from the Dolby stereo sound-system rumbling through my head and even my body. But that was not the problem. I was horrified by how a children’s story with little violence in it and plenty of mystery could be turned into something so furious.

That was the prompt. I made up my mind that I would write an adventure story that did not dip its cup into the deep beaker of aggression, and that I would open it up to children from a relatively early age to rather later, from a child listening to an adult voice to a young reader forming her own voice in her head. It was a story primarily for a girl, because I had my own daughter in mind, and it involved a dragon, or what she hoped and thought would be a dragon. And then there were other stories… one about some mice that didn’t spill the water in a cat’s bowl, and another about a sheepdog that got it all wrong.

You may well ask ‘How does that lead into Kergohan?’ That is a very good question, but to answer it properly will require a separate posting all to itself.


I first came across Kergohan without knowing it. We were on our way down to the coast, coming south through the Landes de Lanvaux, the long strip of forest that stands on a low range of hills in central Brittany. The descent takes you through beautiful woodland, deep shade in the dappled sunlight, with massive stones standing alongside the road as it twists down into the open fields. It was high summer, and the sunlight weighed on the flat fields that opened out away from the Landes. It was somehow the right place, empty and yet full of all the means for life, with that sense which pervades Morbihan that the warmth belongs here, that the colder lands of the Channel lie at your back, beyond the Landes and over the Black Mountains to the north, where the heather catches the mist like dew on the craggy Monts d’Arrée.

Continue reading “Kergohan”