Blogger’s note: I am going to try and not fan-girl too much, but it’s not every day you get to interview one of your favourite authors for your blog!
I discovered the works of Lucy Hounsom – as she was writing then – quite a few years ago and her first fantasy trilogy has always held a special place in my heart (I’ve been meaning to reread it for a while now!), so when I saw she would be releasing a new book in 2021 I was very excited. It certainly didn’t disappoint!
Sistersong is a lyrical, mythical story based on the folk ballad, The Two Sisters, and set in and around the hold of a great chief in the Dark Ages of Britain. I did review this book last year, and will provide a blurb at the end of this article, but today I wanted to talk to Lucy about her inspirations and writing process, especially since a follow-up book is in the works! So welcome, Lucy Holland, to the Book Nook.
Hi Lucy, thank you so much for taking time to chat on the blog! Would you like to introduce yourself?
Thanks for having me! I’m Lucy Holland, the author of Sistersong and three other fantasy books under my real name, Lucy Hounsom. I co-host an award-winning intersectional feminist podcast called Breaking the Glass Slipper and I’ve been bookselling at Waterstones for 12 years. I love DnD, yoga, cats and Skyrim, and I live in beautiful Devon.
Your latest book, Sistersong has just come out in paperback, perfect timing for people to pick it up for the first time! Where did the idea for the story first come from? Was it when you first heard of the ballad it’s based on or did it simmer unnoticed first?
I think I wanted to write a novel about it as soon as I heard the Bonny Swans ballad sung by Loreena McKennitt. I was writing my trilogy at the time so couldn’t immediately start on the book that became Sistersong. Its working title, if you’re curious, was “My Harp Sings” and it simmered away as a page of notes in a drawer for a good few years. Even though the ballad is about two sisters, I always knew my version would be told three ways, as Keyne/Constantine’s voice was the first that came to me, before either of his sisters.
Keyne/Constantine is my favourite character, and I can definitely feel the love you have for him as he develops on the page! It certainly would have been a different story without him…
We’re in the month of May, and in the blog-sphere that means that some of us are participating in Wyrd & Wonder, a celebration of all things fantasy. This year we’re also putting a particular focus on forest fantasy and all the folklore that comes with that! Why do you think there’s such an attraction, even today, to the dark woods in storytelling? You use the setting very successfully in Sistersong as an almost liminal space!
Yes, Sistersong is very liminal – in terms of its historical setting, as well as its themes of transition and change. The natural world is also hugely important and was central to the tribal traditions of ancient Britain. Druids would gather in nemetons to perform rituals, secret groves deep in the forest, where one could commune with gods. I suspect that’s where a lot of our attraction comes from: this age-old association of magic and spiritual purpose with woodland. It’s in our bones. Perhaps too there’s the sense of a forest’s impenetrableness. It’s in direct contrast to farmland, tamed to serve the needs of humans. Clearing it now, sadly, is much easier for us. But that image of tangled, wild and untameable nature endures.
You’ve shared a few quotes and hints of your next book on twitter over the last year, and I for one am very excited to read it when it comes out! Could you say a little bit more about it and your writing process?
Certainly! It’s another historical fantasy set in the same world as Sistersong, around 170 years further on in time, so early 8th century Britain, which reimagines the myth of Herla and the Wild Hunt. The action unfolds in Wessex and also follows the fortunes of the West Saxon king and queen, who become caught up in a story much larger and stranger than they are. I’ve drawn quite a bit on Welsh mythology for this one, and melding it with my historical research has been both exciting and challenging!
I’ve had less time to conceive and write this book, and that has resulted in having to substantially redraft, as a lot of ideas were kicking round in my head and I needed to choose one and develop it. It’s hard putting those other ideas aside – I always want a lot of stuff going on in my books – but it’s necessary, and I feel like this second draft is much closer to the original vision I had. I hope you’ll enjoy it when it’s finally out!
I am sure I will enjoy it, and I hope the last of your rewriting and edits goes well! Thank you again so much for taking part!
About the Book
King Cador’s children inherit a land abandoned by the Romans, torn by warring tribes. Riva can cure others, but can’t heal her own scars. Keyne battles to be seen as the king’s son, although born a daughter. And Sinne dreams of love, longing for adventure.
All three fear a life of confinement within the walls of the hold, their people’s last bastion of strength against the invading Saxons. However, change comes on the day ash falls from the sky – bringing Myrdhin, meddler and magician. The siblings discover the power that lies within them and the land. But fate also brings Tristan, a warrior whose secrets will tear them apart.
Riva, Keyne and Sinne become entangled in a web of treachery and heartbreak, and must fight to forge their own paths. It’s a story that will shape the destiny of Britain.
You can find Lucy Holland on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram or check out her website lucyhounsom.co.uk for updates and more information. Sistersong is now out in paperback in the UK and newly published in the US, so you can get hold of it wherever you get your books, and I really recommend you do! In a world currently populated by retellings, Sistersong stands out among the crowd…