Who was Arthur of the Britons? Was he a king, a war-leader, a saint? Did he fight at Badon, and did he die at Camlann? There is, of course, an old Yorkshire legend that King Arthur and his knights lie in enchanted sleep in a cave in the Dales, only to be awoken in time of great need. At which point, local farmers will tell them to bugger off because they’re annoying the sheep. The last meeting of the Round Table will be at Betty’s Tea Room in Harrogate. Galahad will argue that he only had a coffee and one scone, whereas Bedivere had a macaroon as well…
Hello, dear listener. Today we offer you an excellent interview with award-winning curator/editor Nicole Petit. Apart from other projects which we shall mention, this year Nicole took charge of a new anthology, After Avalon, for 18thWall Productions.
And it is to that volume we spring now, with some enthusiasm, for within its post-Roman walls lie post-Arthurian tales aplenty, as Merlin explains:
“In the days when Arthur’s dream was dimmed, as grey embers under storm, actors from our reverie still acted. A boy ventures into decaying Broceliande with the May Hawk’s daughter, both in search of fathers. Sir Gawain, bereft of his nation, rides in search of my tomb—but finds a friend turned enemy. In the Britain’s hour of need, the round table will be restored to defend Logres in the sky, in the London Blitz.
“My tutor, Bleys, will take a fool’s horse, and two adventurers will trace my dying steps across the world. Sir Lionel’s remains will visit the remains of the Arthurian world, and the Victorians will strive to make a gentleman of Mordred. The Questing Beast will never cease to haunt Pellinore’s line, no matter how far north they trend. The old witch, Morgan, will seek forgiveness. The holy lance will appear once more. And a queen who is no longer a queen will meet a knight who is no longer a knight, and both will marvel at the grave of the greatest king who served his country.”
We have resisted the temptation to explore the many hundreds of historical King Arthur trails, which is unlike us, because we really ought to hear from Nicole. Fantasy roots, curating versus editing, and Dr Who also rear their heads, so let’s get down to it…
An Interview with Nicole Petit
greydog: Welcome to greydogtales, Nicole. Today we’re planning to focus on your recent work curating the post-Arthurian anthology After Avalon – partly because we’ve just read it and if we don’t, we’ll forget what we’re doing. But we can use this opportunity to talk a bit about other stuff. Maybe you could ease us in by saying something about your fantasy roots, and how you got interested in the fantastical?
Nicole: Hey! Great to be here! I’ve been into fantasy for as long as I can remember, really. One of my earliest and fondest memories is of my mother reading Lord of the Rings to me. She did a mean Gollum impression.
I willingly chose to write an essay about Tolkien’s concept of the eucatasrophe in high school, so his writing has had a profound impact on me—not just as a writer, but as a person.
I also got into Brian Jacques’ Redwall series as a kid. I also developed a love of mythological creatures, like the White Stag and the Questing Beast and Reynard the Fox, which is something I brought with me into university when I wrote a story bible for a video game involving the three as playable characters. I got an award for that when I graduated, much to the confusion of my very Literary Fiction focused Creative Writing major.
greydog: Your current incarnation is as a curator/editor. You’re a staunch dragon enthusiast – you’ve curated two collections, From the Dragon Lord’s Library 1 and 2, and written The Dragon Lord’s Secretary. Tell us a little about the last one – was that your first major piece of fiction?
Nicole: I’m definitely a dragon fan, no hiding that!
Yes, The Dragon Lord’s Secretary is my first real finished story. It’s a smaller part of a larger series that I’ve been worldbuilding for years. James Bojaciuk approached me in our college writer’s group, having seen a portion of an entirely different story set in this same world, and asked for more of the setting.
To be honest, I decided to give him a story with dragons as a personal challenge. He’d told me that he hated dragons, never seen a good story with them in it. To cut a long story short, he loves them now.
greydog: You also put together the recent Just So Stories anthology, a tribute to and reflection on Rudyard Kipling’s original Just So tales. How time learned to be bedtime, why gravity holds us so tight, why ducks have such silly voices and more. In the anthology you included some genuine Kipling, is that right?
Nicole: That’s right! The Kipling stories we included are ones you don’t typically find in the prints of Just So, I’m not quite sure why they’re not included. It felt fitting to put them into the anthology that’s a tribute to his work.
King Arthur – Dux and Redux
greydog: Now, we must face up to the Big Man. King Arthur, Arthurus, Artor – he may not have existed. He may have been many people, bundled together to create a good story centuries later. He may have been a minor king, a leader of a small war-band or even just a particularly stubborn soldier. What would you personally like him to have been?
Nicole: I’ve always been a fan of Doctor Who’s interpretation of him in Battlefield, though I don’t know if I’d say I really want him to be an alien. From a purely factual/historical perspective I tend to side with the Riothamus theory.
But as far as what I’d personally like, I’m fond of the interpretation of him as a rebel warleader with a Viking wife just as much as I love the larger than life myth of the Once and Future King.
greydog: Riothamus is a good one, British and Breton. Given the subject matter, it’s fitting that After Avalon is as representative of the Arthurian legend as the historical tales, coming at the subject matter from all sides and offering multiple interpretations. The anthology is extremely varied (to its credit). Did you have to turn down many more ‘traditional’ approaches to the subject, the sort of straightforward sword and sorcery tales?
Nicole: There were a handful of those. I do remember one went and made Arthur an Orc. I expected a lot more sword and sorcery than I got, actually. I was very surprised, and very pleased, with the wide variety of stories that were submitted.
greydog: We’re not really a review site, but we will pick out a couple of stories that were particularly interesting. The Knight of the Ice Moon by Patricia S Bowne is effectively a medieval legend/tale in its own right, whose equivalent might be found in period material. What attracted you to this?
Nicole: Patricia wrote one of my absolute favourite stories in Just So Stories, “The Nidibalan,” so she’d already proven herself a capable author. And when I saw her submission, “The Knight of the Ice Moon,” I knew I was in for something great.
She has a talent for capturing the spirit of whatever I’ve asked for in the guidelines, whether it be a Just So folk tale or a work of Arthurian Lit. And that’s what I look for most in submissions, does this capture the spirit of the author/genre/time period/general theme the anthology is paying tribute to?
greydog: And the other was Claudia Quint’s Mordred, Beguiled, enjoyable in quite a different way for its take on Mordred/Medraut and his fate, set in Victorian times. It’s an affecting story, which reminded us that one of the key characters least covered in After Avalon is King Arthur himself. Was his presence in the shadows only a deliberate choice?
Nicole: My initial pitch of the concept of After Avalon was telling the stories of the aftermath of Camlann, and how Arthur’s absence affected those who served or fought him. So yes, although I didn’t explicitly ask for stories to keep him out (I don’t want to limit an author’s ability to surprise me with something I didn’t know I wanted), I did want to keep his presence more to the background.
greydog: What’s your own favourite piece of Arthurian literature, classic or contemporary?
Nicole: Well I already mentioned Battlefield, which has my favorite companion Ace referring to the legendary Excalibur as a paper knife, and a really great Morgaine played by Jean Marsh.
It’s probably terribly cliché but my favorite classic is Gawain and the Green Knight. It was the first Arthurian tale I ever read and Bertilak became one of my favorite characters.
How to Editorate
greydog: You’re described as curating the anthologies with which you’ve been involved, rather than as editing them. The term curate has become far more common in the last ten years. It does have connotations of selecting and presenting fine pieces – even people like Neil Gaiman have curated. Is it editing but with a nicer hat? Or do you see a distinct difference?
Nicole: It’s definitely a different hat for me, I edit a few of the series that 18thWall has going on, Dead West being the main one at the moment, and the process is quite different. With Dead West I spend a lot more time doing the proper editing work—fact checking historical references, ensuring that the characters and world stay consistent, while also providing the author with assistance whenever they hit a creative road block.
Meanwhile when curating, I do things a bit differently; while I do some of the editing work still I am a bit less directly hands on with the pieces and spend a lot more time seeing each submission as a piece of a larger whole. My focus is considering each submission in relation to the overarching premise of the anthology.
greydog: Good breakdown. Speaking of your curator role, we can’t let you go without mentioning your work on Spiritualists and Speakeasies, the anthology due out next year, mostly because the old greydog, John Linwood Grant, is in it – and he needs every bone he can get. Care to give us a hint about that one?
Nicole: I can say that your story is one of my personal favourites in the collection! It’s a delight seeing you toss Henry Dodgson into America’s roaring twenties, with all those spiritualists and speakeasies the title implies. And more than a bit of hoodoo magic, handled in a way I don’t think I’ve ever seen hoodoo handled before.
I’m more than happy to shamelessly plug for both of us and ask your readers to check it out when it hits the virtual shelves.
greydog: We have no shame – we have lurchers to feed. We were tempted to use the word Ace somewhere in the interview – and we gave in. Perhaps you could briefly share your recent Dr Who adventure with us?
Nicole: Lucky for you I even mentioned Battlefield, so it sounds like this might’ve been planned or something! I recently was blessed with the opportunity to go to the Long Island Doctor Who convention where I, among other things, got meet Ace herself, the amazing Sophie Aldred. It was an honour to meet her each of those three days I was there.
She was incredibly sweet, since I was cosplaying Ace most of that time we compared patches and pins and she even let me wear the famous bomber jacket. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t starstruck. I also got to meet the series editor of the Seventh Doctor’s run, Andrew Cartmel, and we were able to talk writing for a while and I learned a lot from him! There are plenty of stories I could tell, but that would take up a whole other interview I think.
greydog: We must cover Dr Who in more detail some other time. Finally, what’s next on your own to-do list, apart from Spiritualists and Speakeasies? Curating, writing or something entirely different?
Nicole: Currently I’m collaborating with James Bojaciuk on a Sherlock Holmes story involving the Dragon Lord’s Secretary herself, back in her younger wilder, western days caught up in a crime the master detective is trying to solve. It plays off events brought up in The Valley of Fear.
I’m also in the middle of editing a series that’s from the author of one of the stories in After Avalon, Bel Nemeton, expanding upon the world and characters of that short. There are some other series coming up on my plate, but it’s too early to say much.
greydog: Many thanks for joining us in the kennels.
Nicole: Thanks for having me, it’s been a great time!
You can find out more about King Arthur’s legacy by picking up a copy of After Avalon now, from 18thWall themselves:
Or from Amazon UK or US:
Later in the week, lurcher news, supernatural book news and another very enjoyable interview, this time with the editor/publisher of the magazine Turn to Ash….