Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Interview with Pandora, author of the Neath a Pilgrim Chronicles


Today it gives the Speculative Fiction Showcase great pleasure to interview Pandora, the author of the Neath a Pilgrim Chronicles.

Thank you very much for your interest in the Speculative Fiction Showcase. To begin with, please can you tell us about the first two books in the Neath a Pilgrim Chronicles, Pilgrim The Balance and its sequel Pilgrim and the Geometry of Fear. What led you to write these books?

Pilgrim The Balance introduces Neath A Pilgrim, a woman with supernatural abilities, and Henry Baxter, a former valet to the rich and eccentric. In this book we hear from Baxter, who details how he met Pilgrim, becomes her business partner and the challenges they’re forced to overcome to accommodate each other. They’re two of the most unlikely characters to form a relationship; with Pilgrim, whose supernatural nature has left her socially stunted and a big risk taker and Baxter, who is methodical, prudent and has never taken a risk in his life – up until now. The story follows Baxter as he adapts to the new life he's chosen, which takes him far beyond his comfort zone, and Pilgrim, who is forced to confront what she's capable of and how her choices impact herself and others. 

The books are centred around Pilgrim and Baxter’s business, which is to store and keep hidden the secret possessions of their clients. The commissions they accept for storage are highly lucrative, but also on occasion morally ambiguous. 

When they’re asked to store six black pearls, they learn the pearls herald an extinction level event. They discover the creator of the pearls is a leading member of the Titans: a group of twelve men and women set to bring about the most discriminative evolutionary leap in humankind's history. 

Baxter learns what lies beneath the surface of everyday life and Pilgrim learns why she's the only one of her kind.  

Pilgrim and the Geometry of Fear sees Pilgrim and Baxter assume a commission from a dead man. The item for storage proves elusive as they follow its trail across Europe only to discover they’re the ones being hunted, and Baxter is deemed expendable. Pilgrim inadvertently exposes Baxter to her preternatural self, resulting in his inception of awareness. Discovering Pilgrim is actually vulnerable sets Baxter on a path to mitigate the danger to her, knowing he won’t survive. Pilgrim learns of Baxter’s sacrifice too late and in her grief falls victim to her true nature, quashing the Titan’s plans to harvest her DNA. In the aftermath, we experience hope, as Pilgrim and Baxter’s unlikely friends instigate a plan to salvage and rekindle what remains.

I wrote the Neath A Pilgrim Chronicles because of my great love for ‘balance’. I have been an integral part in the lives of the have and have-nots. I’ve witnessed unspeakable selfishness and humbling generosity. Pilgrim levels the playing field between the privileged few and the many, in a way that cannot be adulterated. Pilgrim is just trying to live in a world that’s constantly kicking her arse – the difference is she can kick back! 

Who or what is Pilgrim herself, with her “crystalline blue eyes”? How much can you reveal?

Pilgrim describes herself simply as ‘a fast-tracked version of everyone else.’ Baxter refers to her as a ‘supreme-being’. Pilgrim is human in every way that counts, she's on the side of diversity in all its forms, arguing it’s only through diversity we learn and understand tolerance and with that knowledge and experience we are ultimately more enriched. That said, despite her obvious abilities, she could do with some work, less drinking, smoking, carnal indiscretions and more patience, trust and self-confidence.   

Pilgrim clearly has some formidable adversaries or antagonists. Who are they and what do they want?

Pilgrim is forced to live a solitary life due to her unique supernatural abilities, knowing the revelation of her existence at this time will ultimately result in her death. The single overt threat to her well-being are the twelve Titans, who have the highest IQ on the planet and ostensibly manage the world's natural resources. The Titans' doctrine stems from a prophecy which tells of a DNA strand, the Absu, that came from the heavens during Byzantine times and will be made manifest and hold the key to their future. The Titans believe the Absu is within Pilgrim and are determined to harvest it. 

Your own life reads a bit like an adventure story. You have travelled the world and worked as a Shakespearean actor in Brussels, trained as a chef, and lived in France and the US. What brought you back to Britain?

I spent some years living and working on the East Coast in Manhattan and Long Island and on the West Coast in Southern California, and in Jura on the east side of France– it was an invaluable education and one that gave me a perspective I was lacking before. My two girls and my husband decided it was time for some continuity both mentally and physically and so we moved back to the UK. Living outside the UK meant I was compelled to test my metal. In the UK I was entitled to national health and financial support, if I stumbled and fell in life – which I had a perfect talent for. Being outside of the UK with no safety net meant the buck stopped with me. I discovered what I was capable of, and I will always be grateful to those countries for giving me the opportunity to discover what I am made of (50% terror + 50% determination).    

As a child, you say imagination played an important part of your life, through reading, television and the cinema. How important were those early experiences to your development as a writer?

They were imperative – We’ve all had our share of crazy in our childhoods which is relative to us individually, and I was no stranger to that; let's escape the present! Books became my go-to place for everything, from escape to trying to make sense of the world around me. Then television entered the stage and opened my mind to the fact other people out there were dreaming up wonderful shows such as Bewitched, everyday people that experienced extraordinary things. When I accompanied my brother, who is a year older than me (I was six at the time), to the Saturday morning pictures, at the local movie theatre, I watched Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy and every sci-fi B movie re-run that was playing. I was in awe. 

You are working on the third book in the series, Pilgrim and the Fall of Kings. How is that progressing and when do you hope to bring it out?

I am in the middle of Pilgrim and the Fall of Kings, and loving every minute of it! What could be more exciting than spending time with Pilgrim and Baxter? I’m never seated at my computer tapping away on the keyboard; instead, I’m travelling with them to Istanbul, discovering the body frozen underneath the lake, trying to figure out how to get three more minutes of air before Pilgrim drowns – it’s exhausting! 

Returning to the first book, can you tell us about the other main characters, Baxter and Hansford? Who are they and what is their role?

Baxter is a former valet to people of HNW (that’s high net worth to you and I) and acutely eccentric. He's a man who’s never had to run for a bus, train, or anything else for that matter. Although he has lived a sedate life of servitude, he's never had to want for anything. His meals, clothing, utility bills, travel expenses and everything in between have been paid for by his very rich employers. As a consequence, he longs to live life first-hand without the buffer of his employer’s money. He doesn’t know how or if he’ll survive, but he’s going to try and develop into a man he can be proud of.

Hansford is an operative within the UK’s MI6 Secret Intelligence Service. It’s been a rough ride from being discovered as a foundling, left outside a UK army base as a newly born infant and finally being adopted by a single man with communication issues. However, he’s found his niche in life and is one of the best live operatives. Hansford is the first to step forward for those missions with little chance of success and less to get out alive. His Achilles heel is Pilgrim. Hansford has a history with Pilgrim which is based on the physical, but which he’d like to move to the permanent and exclusive – Pilgrim doesn’t agree.  

Have you considered making an audiobook version of the novels and narrating them yourself?

I know audiobooks are a wonderful medium for sharing your stories and I can’t wait for them to be professionally recorded. I have recorded Pilgrim and the Geometry of Fear. However, I’m not a professional recording artist.

The cover art for the books is very striking. What can you tell us about the images?

The cover art for Pilgrim the Balance was from Deviantart. The eye on the cover is a representation of what physically epitomises Pilgrim. Pilgrim and the Geometry of Fear was created by Connor Gearty, my nephew, who has just received a first-class Honours Degree in Fine Art from Falmouth University. It depicts the eye as a metaphor of life, something fragile, scrubbed out by death. 

Pilgrim runs a business based around the Vault, “a covert facility, housing secret possessions” to quote the blurb to Book 2. How much can you tell us about the Vault and its part in Pilgrim’s story?

The Vault was left to Pilgrim by her grandfather, a tunnelling engineer at the turn of the century building London’s Underground. His reasoning from that era was that you can be smart, but you won’t be able to rise above the station you were born into. Therefore, warmth and shelter were the only things he could leave behind as a legacy, so he left Pilgrim the keys to a vast chamber, which she subsequently named the Vault. The Vault houses the most treasured possessions of her clients. Some items are worth millions, whereas others are stored at Pilgrim and Baxter’s discretion to prevent the item having a detrimental effect on humankind. There are two rules applicable to storing items within the Vault – nothing illegal and nothing alive – but that doesn’t stop some people from trying to flout the rules. 

As a writer, how do you find the marketing side of the business?

Personally, I completely understand the importance of marketing (spoken as the winner of the Presidents Club Award two years in a row with Yell USA). However, writing is all consuming and any passionate writer will concede that marketing falls second. Insufficient time to market one’s books is the crux of the problem for writers.  

What authors have influenced you from Science Fiction and Fantasy and beyond?

H.G.Wells' The Sleeper Awakes has stayed with me as a firm favourite. Frank Herbert's Dune, is a masterpiece. I have read so many books within this genre, but I lean toward books where the reader isn't left to despair without a ray of hope.

How important have films and TV, not to mention your acting experience been in shaping your writing?

We’re such ephemeral beings and draw up life through a straw. With almost every imaginable medium at our fingertips to indulge our senses and trigger our emotions, I’ve been heavily influenced by Film, TV and playing a role. I gravitate toward those films and TV productions that require one to think and extrapolate – if they have a sense of fun about them, all the better. 

How do you see the Neath a Pilgrim Chronicles progressing? Will there be more books?

The Neath A Pilgrim Chronicles are scheduled for up to twelve books. Each book will deal with one of the twelve Titans. Superimposed over the twelve books are the parts of a relic Pilgrim and Baxter unwittingly store in the Vault, which will culminate in an inevitable positive change to humankind. I have each book mapped out and am looking forward to the results.

What are you planning next?

I’m in the process of completing the third book in the series and all my attention is focused on that. I am grateful to have gained a strong readership and am excited to be accompanied by them, on discovering why Pilgrim is here in our time.


About Pandora:

Pandora was born Claire Pandora Gearty in North London.

Aged eighteen, she received her first award for writing and moved to Brussels, where she joined the Brussels Shakespeare Company and was involved with broadcasting. Upon her return to the UK, she gained an American BSc in Administrative Management.

Pandora lived outside of the UK for sixteen years, predominately in the USA, where she worked for people prominent in the media; this has given her writing an authentic and vital style.

In France, she finished her debut novel, Pilgrim The Balance, which received impressive reviews and has sold in over nine countries since it was published in 2015. She has completed the movie screenplay for Pilgrim The Balance, edited by L. Smith, former Literary Editor for Lucasfilm LA.

Pilgrim and the Geometry of Fear was released in 2016, to be followed by Pilgrim and the Fall of Kings, due 2020-21.

Pandora currently resides in Devon, England with her husband and two daughters.

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