The Star Dancer Quartet is Beth Webb’s breath-taking historical fantasy series about Iron Age Britain under the heel of the Roman invaders.
What inspired Star Dancer?
It was a conversation at a picnic, where the lady I was talking to said it was most unfair that the people who have the real gifts in life are usually in the worst position to use them. I have done quite a bit of work with adults with learning disabilities, and have seen how so many warm and talented people are overlooked because they are seen for what they can’t do, not for what they can. I have also seen good people passed over because they are female (or male!), the wrong colour, the wrong height, weight or religion. All these things make me seethe.
I have a strange habit. Whenever I see pictures of kids on the telly who are dying because of drought, famine, war, etc, I wonder how many Shakespeares, Madam Curies and Einsteins the world has just lost.
Did you have the whole story in your head when you started?
What about the sequels?
Between the picnic and starting to write was about 30 years …
At first Tegen’s home was just a fantasy world, but when I realised there could be sequels, I decided I had to ‘pin it’ onto real time. As I was a regular visitor to the Peat Moors Visitor Centre in Somerset (now sadly closed), I found the late Iron Age became the logical focus for the tale.
Once the time became ‘set’, the sequels fell into place. So much happened around AD 43 – AD 61. I confess I ‘tweaked time’ just a little otherwise Tegen couldn’t have done all she has (she’d have been too old) but I wove the sequels around actual historical events such as the mass murder of the druids on Anglesey, the human sacrifice in Lindow Moss, and Boudicca’s revolt.
How did the story change as you wrote it?
This could take forever to answer. I did one version where Griff is actually the Star Dancer, but he needed Tegen to help him fulfil his role, but that didn’t really ‘work,’ so I scrapped that.
I also researched the early Roman period to make the story reasonably historically accurate, and when I met a real druid, he loaned me his books and we talked for hours about how to make the druidry more true to life as well.
Why did you write Star Dancer?
Because I had to. It was like being pregnant; the story just grew inside of me and insisted on coming out. It took about 2 years to write.
Did you enjoy writing it?
Oh yes, I love writing. When writing is working well it is like reading a really great book you can’t put down, only you have to write it first. I hate all the corrections and re-writes though. That’s too much like being at school!
I also love Tegen’s world, it fascinates me. But I do become ‘lost’ in other worlds. I sometimes surprise myself when I am visiting a site I am researching and I see a car or someone in jeans and tee shirt where a warrior in his chariot should be!
How much do you know about your characters and setting that will never be in any of the books, and would you share any details with us?
I know quite a bit about them, I take loads of photos of sites and draw portraits of the characters, I also Mind Map their lives and motivations to make sure that they are completely ‘rounded.’
Is anything in the books based on something in real life?
Quite a bit. Tegen’s green silk scarf is actually blue and came from Oxfam. The round houses and historical landscapes are all real. There is a map for each book on this site, and if you look on an Ordinance Survey map of the Glastonbury / Wookey Hole area, you’ll see close similarities. Bear in mind of course, that the Somerset Levels were underwater during the winter months in those days! (That’s why the area is called ‘the Winter Seas’ in the book.)
Do you have any first-hand experience of druids?
I did actually take part in a druid ceremony once when I was a radio broadcaster. I was trying to record the ritual, but I couldn’t get the microphone near enough to record. In the end they gave me a blue bard’s robe and I became a druid for an hour! Since then, I’ve joined in a few events – modern druids are lovely people – and definitely no human sacrifices!