Interview with...Elen Sentier
Originally published August 2016
What authors/ books influenced you in your early days of being a Pagan/following your spiritual path?
Not too many really. Robert Graves was in the family library along with WB Yeats and Coleridge and, of course, Shakespeare so I grew up with them. Lots of novels including things like Le Grande Meaulne – Dad was a Francophile, had lived there a lot and taught me French. Later, as a teenager, I was captivated by the excellent sci-fi and fantasy that was around in the 1960s and 70s and this has continued all my life. As I studied art at uni I also got into the Victorian fairy painters and the associated literature. Much later I got to know folk like Caitlin and John Matthews, work with them and enjoy their books. And around the same time, mid-80s, I got in with the Lucis Trust and read all the Alice Bailey work. When Dad died in 1991 I revisited the Theosophical Society (family had many connections there) and read Helena Blavatsky and Helena Ruric. In the latter part of my life I’ve read all sorts of more modern people.
What drew you to your path?
I was born into it. My family, going way back, had always followed the old ways of Britain and the Devon villages I grew up in all had old ones who followed too. It’s part of the native heritage of Britain which has been very well hidden in plain sight for the past 2000 years, since the Romans, Christianity and then the Normans began the persecution of the old ones. But we didn’t die out … we just learned to hide very successfully. Now it’s time to come out of the closet as folk seem to actually want to know our own heritage again.
Where do you find inspiration for your books?
Upstairs … as the family call it. I write for otherworld, what they need to be said. There’s no lack of inspiration and ideas … it’s just that I’ve not yet fixed the patent on my 72 hour day yet so time’s a real issue and housework goes by the board until I can’t stand wading around in dust any longer! Our old stories and songs and customs are full of information for the books, including the novels, and it’s delightful to delve into them each time, for each book, as I always find new things and/or new ways of looking at them.
How did you become an author? Was it something you intended to do or was it by accident?
I always wanted to write, used to write stories as a child and Dad was a brilliant storyteller and taleweaver. I thought I ought to conform and earn money so I did for 25 years until it damn near killed me and then I escaped, ran away here to Herefordshire and landed on the outskirts of a village where one of our Merlin-figures – Dyfrig – was born and lived. I didn’t realise this when we took the house but within a month of moving in books on him were falling on my head – I got the message, and soon after I began to get published.
What do you feel makes a book worth reading?
Characters I can like – even if I also hate them! Relationships, evocative scenes and scenery, beautiful language and writing, dark and twisted plots with lots of ambiguity and intelligence in them. And all that works for non-fiction too. I have to like the conversation-style of the author and where they’re coming from. And the subject has to interest me too … never give me a book on economics!
Are you working on a new book right now and if so what is it?
I’m just finishing a book on Merlin – Merlin: Once and Future Wizard – from my personal perspective of working with him all my life. Its theme is the liminal Merlin, Merlin as threshold and portal, and the one who helps us got through them. Writing it has been quite a journey for me, both of remembering and of new ways of looking, seeing and saying things.
I’m also in the midst of the third novel which is quite dystopian as well as magical and full of romance, about an ex-SAS man who runs away to the Highlands of Scotland to find himself and finds the faer folk. And a relationship too.
Do you write part or full time?
Full time. Well almost, as I also teach British Native Shamanism to students and they need my time too.
What's the hardest thing about writing?
Editing! It’s the boring grind that just absolutely has to be done. My mind wants to drift off not carefully check that everything I said is what I meant to be said. Then there’s working with the editor! They’re absolutely great people and I love them but they always want me to kill one of my darlings in the manuscript – and they’re always right, but I always resist. And I never look forward to the process because I absolutely know it’s going to happen.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Write! Write! Write! Do it, every single day. If you’re stuck with a blank page just write freeform, get some words down … then you’ll want to correct them and the whole process will start to happen. One of the worst things is getting over the inertia!
There are tons of pagan books on the market, what do you think makes you stand out from the crowd?
Arrrgghh! Difficult and makes me want to blush and run away! I think it’s because British Native Shamanism – and the fiction that stems from it – has been hidden so long people are now very thirsty for it. I’m doing it so they want it.
Which one of your books are you most proud of?
Another difficult question! I suppose Elen of the Ways but it’s really hard as Celtic Chakras is so important too. And I hope Merlin will be. And I just loved writing the novel Moon Song (and Owl Woman too). Oh dear …