Today’s guest is novelist Kathleen Cunningham Guler. She is the author of the multi-award winning Macsen’s Treasure Series. Drawing on a long background in literature and history as well as her Welsh and Scottish heritage, she has published numerous articles, essays, reviews, short stories and poetry. Kathleen is a member of the Historical Novel Society, the International Arthurian Society and participates in various writing organizations.
She’s written a four-part series of spy thrillers set in fifth century Britain. She’s also just completed a blog tour that coincided with the release of the fourth and final book, A Land Beyond Ravens.
I have to imagine that you must have some research or academic credentials in history to be able to write about such subjects, even if fiction.
KCG: My background is rooted in history, literature and art, plus a little drama and music. One of my degrees is actually in Art (the other being Business Admin). I’ve always loved the interconnectedness of these various disciplines in the humanities. When I started with one facet, I found branches that carried me into the others. I probably have enough study under my belt to have earned a couple more degrees.
In the midst of all this, I wrote—journals, short stories, poetry—casual stuff, just for fun. It was something that always came naturally and helped me keep my sanity. A long period passed before this became serious—had to earn a living in the meantime—but when I started my first attempt at a novel, I discovered I finally had a place for all that study of history, literature, art and so on.
MA: That’s a nice eclectic blend of experiences and academics. So why novels? Why not write an historical book?
KCG: I love the novel-length story. It seems to be how my mind works—I need the space to get inside the characters’ heads and work through their story. While poetry has a great appeal as well—the brevity and immediacy bring a strong impact to a specific point— my preference is for the longer work.
MA: When you were not writing, what did you do to earn a living as you noted previously? Did any of your professional experiences influence your writing?
KCG: In the past my professional career mostly encompassed corporate/governmental accounting. Currently my husband and I have four small businesses that keep us busy, plus my writing. My books are historical spy thrillers set in fifth century Britain, so that’s a wild difference in setting and occupation (!). Indirectly, some of the inspiration comes from observing human nature in both the office politics of ‘Corporate America’ and the government as well as dealing with the public. Of course the mindset of fifth century folks was different than twentieth or twenty-first century people, but they are all looking for gain, to achieve their goals by whatever means gets them there, and to seek that thing that makes them feel good.
MA: Tell us about your novels.
KCG: The most recent book, released September 30, is A Land Beyond Ravens, the fourth book in the Macsen’s Treasure Series. Like all the other books in the series, it’s a historical spy thriller set in fifth century Britain. It continues the story of master spy Marcus ap Iorwerth’s efforts to keep the country free from oppressive Saxon dominance and to aid in the fulfillment of Myrddin Emrys’ (Merlin) prophecy that a great king called Arthur will one day take the crown. In this, the final installment, Marcus discovers the emerging Christian church is gaining enough power as an independent faction to dangerously shift control of Britain. At the same time, his beloved wife Claerwen, gifted with second sight, is plagued with strange dreams that connect inexplicable doom to both Arthur and a long lost grail sacred to Britain’s high kings. But as Marcus struggles to distract the church, he and Myrddin also set up the very doom Claerwen sees. It seems they accidentally set things in motion that will send a lot of folks off chasing something called a grail…
MA: That’s an interesting twist …having a spy protagonist in a medieval setting like this. Of course, spies have been around since forever (world’s second oldest profession?), but you don’t ordinarily read novels about them in this period. How did you develop his character?
KCG: Originally I saw Marcus ap Iorwerth as sort of a Dark Age warrior, maybe in the employ of some high ranking nobleman and having a bunch of adventures related to Arthurian legend. Then I went, “yeesh, that’s awfully hokey.” Then I hit on the idea that he should be a spy, somebody like James Bond. Ok, keep going…but he couldn’t be just another Bond character running around in a tunic and carrying a sword. This was where my background in history began to kick in. I discovered that Britain was likely composed of around fifty small, petty kingdoms in those days. I also discovered the bickering, jealous, cliquish and tribal mindset of the rulers (and the people) of those kingdoms prevented them from uniting against the encroachment of dangerous outsiders like the Saxons. Here was the opportunity to portray a character who desired above all else to set things right to keep Britain free. Sure I could have given all of Marcus’s traits to a King Arthur figure, but I wanted to write of the period preceding Arthur’s taking of power and have Marcus, as a spy, be instrumental in that rise to power.
MA: Amazing! Tell us more about his character.
KCG: Marcus is an iron-willed, blunt-talking man, tough, courageous and loyal to his ideals and principles. He has the capability to love very deeply and does care for his wife so much that he tends to be over-protective, which actually sometimes puts her in danger by not telling her everything. He has a hard time to trust that she can better help herself—and him—if she knows what’s going on. He also drinks too much, usually out of a deeply buried guilt he won’t even let himself think about.
MA: Is there a particular nemesis, someone who is a constant thorn – er, sword, in Marcus’ side?
KCG: The ‘bad guy’ is defined by the ‘situation’ in fifth century Britain rather than any single antagonist. It’s the fluid, unpredictable dynamics of the many stubborn, irascible minor-ranking kings, clan-lords and even the high king who can’t come to terms with each other and who can’t understand if they don’t unite against the oppressive Saxons, those Saxons will eventually conquer them. This attitude drives Marcus nuts and is what he works to resolve for nearly three decades.
MA: You sure have been prolific with your writing…can I assume you have some more projects in mind for the future?
KCG: Right now I’m re-editing my first novel, Into the Path of Gods. Now that the fourth book is out, my editor wants to re-release the whole four-book series in electronic format next year. She feels, and so do I, that my writing style has matured since the first book came out back in 1998. (Different editor then as well.) It also needs some corrections in the historical end of it—my research skills have improved, too. And if sales go well with the new book, they may give me a contract to reissue the whole series in trade paperback!
After this re-edit is done, I have another project I’ll be ready to start: a multi-period historical told through several interconnected stories. I’ve also wanted to write a novel about Owain Glyndwr, the national hero of Wales, for a long time. Beyond that, I have a whole drawer full of ideas to explore.
MA: Will we see Marcus or any of his cohorts in your future writings?
KCG: The Macsen’s Treasure Series will stay at four books. I’ve been asked numerous times if I will do a fifth installment, but in my mind the story is done. Conceivably, it’s possible that a descendant of the characters in this series could figure in another book or series set in a later period. At this time I have no plans for such a series, but…never say never!
MA: Never indeed! What do you want readers of your books to walk away with? I like to inspire with my writing, what about you?
KCG: The one thing I’d like readers to take away from my work is that human nature really doesn’t change over the centuries. No matter what the time, place, culture or technology, human nature will always strive to find happiness, comfort, hope and what feels like normal. Culture may dictate what constitutes how that happiness is perceived, but like water seeking its own level, human nature seeks what feels good. I’m always amazed how, in the middle of devastation, be it war or a natural disaster, people will still look for hope and try to make things as normal as possible. Just shows how resilient we can be.
MA: Well, that is inspiring in and of itself! Thanks Kathleen for dropping by the Child Finder Trilogy and spending time with me and my readers. I encourage everyone to visit Kathleen’s websites to learn more about her and her books: