Karen Gray is, without a doubt, my favourite author of 2015. Her books For King and Country and Chains of Blood and Steel have a very unique plot and are told with such skill and imagination you can’t help but become hooked. It is with great pleasure I present an interview with her.
About the author
Tell us a little bit about yourself. (Author Bio)
Karen Gray grew up in a town called Livingston, in central Scotland.
She was horse mad from an early age and moved to Aberdeen at 17 to do a degree in Equine Science. After moving back home to Livingston 4 years later she worked as a care assistant for the elderly and infirm until she got a job in the equestrian industry. Since then she followed her line of work across Scotland to Greenock where she met her husband.
After leaving her job as a riding instructor to have her eldest child, Karen was never able to return to work. Her husband’s health deteriorated to the point he needed her available at any time of the day. She now cares for him and their 2 children full time. She began writing again shortly after the birth of her second child and has not stopped since. Writing is her first passion before all others and though she is working on other artistic projects, her writing comes first.
She is now about to embark on the fourth novel in the Warrior Queen Series, the first series from The Saga of Thistles and Roses.
What are your hobbies?
Writing (obviously) photography and graphic design. Crochet and anything to do with horses.
What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment, and why?
I want to say my kids because what mother wouldn’t? But I know that’s probably not what you mean. I could say writing my books, but I’m not finished yet so they in theory cannot be an achievement until the Saga is complete.
So I will say that my greatest achievement is no single thing but a series of much smaller gestures and achievements mostly to do with my career in the horse world. I Took on a 3 year old Clydesdale on deaths door who’d had cancer and was now lighter than a welsh pony and missing an eye. I turned him into a bombproof horse for a disabled rider. I knew taking him on that he could just drop dead (the cancer was on his retinal nerve and very close to his brain) We gave him 7 fantastic years before the cancer came back, and we lost him 4 weeks before he turned 10.
I’ve connected to severely disabled children and adults by taking a unique approach to teaching them, in some cases actually gaining the only spoken words ever uttered to someone other than family. I’m really proud of that.
I’ve helped countless people confront, combat and overcome their fears with regard to horses specifically. I kind of put it down to knowing exactly how badly fear can cripple you and understanding it at a fundamental and basic level and because I know that it helps me to teach people how to deal with it.
There are a thousand more little things like this that all combine to make me proud of being the best instructor I could be while I was still teaching and training.
Which writers inspire you?
Not many. I know most writers are fond of telling other writers that in order to be able to write effectively, they need to read more than they write, but if I followed that advice I would never write anything. I find reading a struggle at times – a poor attention span, being a tad dyspraxic plus having little time free each day makes it particularly difficult to get absorbed in a good book. I find that I lose interest very quickly and that is both disappointing and upsetting. There have been a few I have enjoyed, Trudi Canavan, Garth Nix and Maria Snyder are three of those, however I did crave a slightly more adult theme rather than YA. This is what spurred me on to write my own series which I feel is in a YA style, but absolutely aimed at adults specifically. Something easy to read and enthralling while being deep, deep, deep with the subplot details and adult arcs.
For your own reading, do you prefer e-books or paper/hard back books?
Paperbacks. ALWAYS paperbacks, but e-books are useful while I have limited space and time.
What are you reading at present?
I am reading Darrienia of course! And also doing some Beta reading, but generally I don’t read much at all, particularly not when I’m writing (and I’m always writing)
What is your favourite book and why?
That’s tough because I don’t really have many to choose from. Out of the selection I have read, Sabriel by Garth Nix is my hands down favourite. It helped me through a really tough time in my life when I didn’t know who I could trust and was isolated away from everyone and everything. I don’t even remember how I got the book. I don’t remember buying it or being given it, I only remember having it and of course reading it. This book helped me go somewhere else for a period of time each day and I will never forget just how much that simple little bit of time-out helped me cope.
What is your favourite film/ series and why?
Oh, that’s a tough one, I don’t really watch TV. Probably “The Tudors.” I used to like the Avengers films and Game of Thrones, and The Hunger Games and such like but since I started writing it’s all I want to do and if I am watching TV or a film, I feel guilty that I’m not writing, and end up regretting the “wasted” time.
How do you relax?
I write. It helps me work out the daily stress and anxiety that accumulates from being a full-time carer. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change anything (other than his health) but it is stressful for the majority of the time. Always is when you can’t do anything to help except be there.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Most people would recommend that aspiring writers should read at least double what they write. I on the other hand will not. If you want to write, then do so. Write and write and write some more. The only way to find yourself as a writer is to let go and allow your heart and your hand to show you what kind of a writer you really are. Often they will surprise you.
What made you realise your calling as an author?
I started writing and couldn’t stop — that was my first clue. Then I shared what I had written with family who raved about it. And I shared it with friends who raved about it and shared it with their friends who raved about it. At that point, when everyone was hounding me for more and more material, I knew that writing was what I was meant to do. When you can make people laugh out loud, feel physically sick, worry for your characters and feel truly angry when they are mistreated, and cry when they are hurt or lost, that’s when you know you’ve made it as a writer.
Where do your ideas come from, what inspires you?
Life, love, loss, loathing, longing. I take inspiration from my own life even — at times — without realising it. A lot of what is going on in the news is relevant in my work, though when I wrote the 2nd book (Chains of Blood and Steel) the news stories were still to break for those subjects. Topics that people want to ignore and pretend don’t or aren’t happening. There are things in this life that just shouldn’t be ignored because they are uncomfortable subjects. Obscure myths and legends that capture the imagination, like the waterhorses in my books. I always loved the stories of how when they lay with lassies, they wouldn’t realise their mate was a waterhorse until they combed their fingers through their lover’s hair while they slept and would come away with sand beneath their nails and that these were the women that would make a lucky escape. History is a huge influence on me also, though I do like to twist it somewhat to fit my purposes.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Depends on the book and what’s going on in the background. I wrote For King and Country in around 4 or 5 months. Chains of Blood and Steel took me 3 months to write (that one just fell out of me) and Battle of the Bannockburn was another 4 to 5 months as I was editing For King and Country at the time. A lot has been going on in the background recently so in the last 3 months I have only done 30,000 words of The Highland Queen, but now that Chains of Blood and Steel is published, I will have much more writing time. I plan to have it finished and have started the fifth book Beat the Drums of war by March, which I would like to have complete by August.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
That’s a hard one to answer because I am very much a freewriter. I just go with the flow and write what I write. On the other hand, I have all 15 books in the saga planned out in my head and a few stand alones besides, so while I write freely and with no set plan, I am on a semi predetermined route.
What is the hardest thing about writing?
Doing anything else when I’d rather be writing.
What is the easiest thing about writing?
The writing itself.
Do you ever get writer’s Block and if so, how do you deal with it?
Not at all. I have never had it and I hope never to get it. Perhaps it is because of the method I use. The large cast list and many scene/pov changes which keep me engaged and also show me so many more angles of the story than just one person’s perspective. I get bored easily, I have to write in such a way that my attention is always on the job at hand and I suppose that because the story is so varied and vibrant that this is why I have never suffered from writer’s block.
How many books have you written, which is your favourite?
To date I have written 3 and a quarter. Book 3 – Battle of the Bannockburn is by far my favourite out of the books I have written. It (in my mind) is also one of the most important books in the entire saga and glues together not only the Warrior Queen series, but all three series in the saga as well. However, though book 3 is my favourite, book 2 – Chains of Blood and Steel, is the one I’m proudest of.
What are you working on at the moment?
Right now I am working on the 4th book in the series – The Highland Queen. I am enjoying every minute of writing this book. I feel that I really hit my literary stride in the latter half of the third book and I now feel that there is a superior quality to my work that I didn’t know existed until I found it. I’m excited about getting further into this engaging storyline (or more accurately, mass of storylines)
About the books
What genre are your books?
I have always struggled to pin down a specific genre for my books. SO I tend to call them Scottish Mythical Fantasy. Although I guess they would fit in the Epic Fantasy category, I like promoting their Scottishness as that seems to be one of the things that most people have specifically enjoyed about them, no matter where in the world they are.
What have you written?
Books 1 to 3 (For King and Country, Chains of Blood and Steel and Battle of the Bannockburn) of The Warrior Queen series are already written and I am writing the 4th in the series – The Highland Queen — at present.
Tell us a little bit about the series.
The Saga of Thistles and Roses, is a post-apocalyptic, Scottish, mythical fantasy set in the 27th century.
We enter a world where everyone has developed some level of mental ability – where mythical beasts no longer trust people to live unsupervised, and magic is no longer magic – but something far more normal. The abilities and gifts of the general population, lying dormant below the surface; became heightened in the aftermath of the nuclear apocalypse 600 years before – The world’s last-ditch attempt to end the tyrannical rule of Reginald I.
Vast swaths of humanity were wiped out, leaving only those who could afford their way into hidden nuclear shelters, and those with enough latent power to survive the blast and radiation sickness that followed.
These surface dwellers struggled – for a time; until each little group found its own specific niche – and the population thrived. Now numbering in their thousands, people live side by side with the beasts of the world – who will never forget the destruction that unsupervised humanity unleashed; and intend never to allow it to happen again.
For King and Country and Chains of Blood and Steel are part of the first series of this saga called The Warrior Queen Series.
Many queens – or Bhanrighs as they are known in Alba – have come and gone; but none so feared as Mòrag Stewart.
The first of her name; Mòrag struck fear into the hearts of those who sought to oppose her; so much so, that the Sasannach royals captured and held Mòrag’s daughter Catrìona in order to control the warrior queen. Their plan backfired, and the Albannach Bhanrigh unleashed her rage upon Lunnainn; burning the Sasannach capital to the ground in retaliation for the incarceration of her daughter. Little is known about events thereafter. Odd for so recent a history as this. What is known, is that the Albannach Bhanrigh met her end suddenly, mere weeks before the death of her only heir – Catrìona.
Unbeknown to all but a chosen few; an heir remained. Not just an heir to the Albannach throne, but a hybrid monarch to rival the darkness of the previous hybrid – Reginald I.
The child is delivered into the hands of Jock MacDonald when she is only hours old and he and his wife raise her in secret until she is ready to take the throne.
The child – also named Mòrag, is brought up on a farm in glen Rannoch; on the edge of Mòinteach Raineach – the Rannoch moor; where wild horses and Kelpies run together; and she can remain out of sight of those who would seek to eliminate her. The Warrior Queen Series follows Mòrag and her companions on her journey to become not only the Albannach Bhanrigh, but the second Bhanrigh to be considered as the warrior queen.
Where can we buy them?
Amazon and CreateSpace are the main places you can by the books, however they are available to any shops that use Ingram/Ingram Spark
Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?
Another difficult question, because Mòrag is not the only main character, though she is the primary main character. I think she is quite unique in that she is the only one who came from a nice, comfortable, family background. Sure she is an orphan but that doesn’t mean her home life was dire. She loved her home and her surrogate family. She possesses abnormally strong powers and when she learns of her lineage she just accepts what is. I love that she saves the men far more often than she herself needs saving, if ever. She is headstrong, and opinionated but kind and caring. She is fallible and at times during her personal growth, toes something similar to the path of a villain rather than a hero, but everything she does is to protect her people and her country. I wrote her like this because I am sick to the back teeth of being presented with supposedly “strong female leads” who are still always, always, ALWAYS saved and protected by the men. Mòrag breaks the mold so’n she does.
Who is your favourite character and why? (an unfair question I know)
Raymond. To find out why you’ll have to read book 3 😉
In what formats is your book available?
My books are available in paperback and e-book format and the wonderful Kat Harrison is recording them in audio for me so the Audiobooks will be coming soon.
Find Kat Harrison here:
When is your next book due for release?
Battle of the Bannockburn I plan to release on the 1st June 2016 followed by Beat the Drums of War on the 1st December 2016.
Your first book, For King and Country, reached number one in the UK Amazon best seller ranks in the category of Myths & Legends > Celtic, English & Welsh , How did this make you feel?
I was ecstatic. I danced around the livingroom. Know that way when you’re so excited that you have to tense every muscle in your body just to hold it in and then you just can’t? It was one of those. And then when it stayed there for the entire week. I was gobsmacked. Truly gobsmacked. And humbled and grateful that people gave it the chance and overjoyed that they were reading my book.
The feeling you get when someone is reading your work is incredible, the feeling you get when so many people are reading it that it pushes the book to #1 for a week is beyond words. One of the best moments I’ve every experienced right there.
Book titles and synopsis:
Book 1 – For King and Country:
Mòrag’s world is one of proud magical creatures and fierce armies bristling with steel and sorcery.
Welcome to twenty-seventh century post-apocalyptic Scotland; where immortal beasts roam wild in the countryside, mighty princes battle for power and the common folk do their best to avoid being trampled in their wake.
Born of a forbidden coupling between the Albannach and Sasannach royal houses; Mòrag is destined to rule. But her birth right has been kept secret – even from her, and discovery of her royal blood could cost her life.
Mòrag is no ordinary girl. Her royal blood’s hidden talents begin to reveal themselves during her military training at Sruighlea Castle, and she is suddenly in a lot more trouble than she ever dreamed of.
Mòrag is about to enter a brutal world of conflict and turmoil which will challenge everything she knows and believes in.
Book 2 – Chains of Blood and Steel:
Six months after the communication by Edward, Mòrag is still trying to piece things together. She trains daily with Colonel Tesso, in an attempt to bring her physical skills up to match her mental ones.
Brax battles with visions of his master and fears his presence will put Mòrag in danger as his mental chains are pulled tighter.
The spy-master’s daughter struggles to deal with her abusive father, hiding a secret she is prepared to take to the grave.
John whose life has been a lie, discovers the truth about himself through Ava. Brought together after he catches her failed attempted suicide, they overcome the chains of blood and steel that imprison them.
Book 3 – Battle of the Bannockburn: Release date: 1st June 2016
In the smoky aftermath of the still smouldering remains of several buildings in Sruighlea Castle, chaos reigns supreme.
Edward has assumed control of Sasann and proclaimed himself king, and with the Devil’s Dog is back under the controlling hand of his master, no one dares challenge him.
Mòrag struggles with the darkness growing inside her, and without Brax’s calming companionship, her fragile control is slipping.
When Edward sends his pet to sack one of Alba’s border towns, Mòrag retaliates by striking out at Edward’s own home in Lunnainn, triggering a freefall of events that culminate in a full-scale battle on the Bannockburn.
Book 4 – The Highland Queen: Release date: 1st December 2016
The Mackenzie’s pledge their loyalty and vow to stand with their Bhanrigh against Edward, but there is another danger to Mòrag and her companions. The highland clans are at war with one another in a savage and bloody battle to chose who should lead the people of Alba.
In order to gather her forces to take on her father, Mòrag must bring the clans together under one banner, her banner.
But some of the clans are loyal to Edward. And she soon discovers the truth behind her grandmother’s demise.
Book 5 – Beat the Drums of War: Release date: 1st June 2017
Mòrag must face her father in a last ditch effort to defeat him. But what good are swords and arrows when even a nuclear apocalypse could do him no harm?
With the help of Rhona and the remaining members of the MacDonald family, Mòrag comes face to face with the soul of her grandmother. It soon becomes clear that the Mòrag I — the Great Warrior Queen, is far more than she seems. Mòrag must decide if she is willing to relinquish control of her own body for the greater good.
Harry must come to terms with who he is and accept that he is destined to rule. Only the will of the Highland Queen and the Lowland King combined, will be enough to match the ancient evil that seeks to corrupt all.
Mòrag will need her friends and allies more than ever in this final installment of her story.
But can she defeat her father?
Connect with the author:
Amazon Author Page: Karen Gray on Amazon
Blog: Thistles and Roses
My Writer’s Forum: Karen’s Writer’s Forum
Goodreads: Karen Gray on Goodreads
Linkedin: Karen Gray on LinkedIn
Pinterest: Karen on Pinterest