Meet LeAnne Hardy, author of Glastonbury Tor. I feel like I've met a sister after learning some of her history and a fellow Mary Stewart fan. I first met LeAnne when she was on my group site, theBarnDoor.net on July 6. Read her touching story behind the picture, left. She'll also be on ReflectionsInHindsight on August 23, talking about her great wealth of stories.
I fell in love with King Arthur my freshman year in high school by way of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s romantic poetry (Idylls of the King) and Lerner and Loewe’s delightful Broadway score (Camelot—give me Julie Andrews over Vanessa Redgrave any day!) Someone loaned me a copy of Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave, and I was hooked for life on the Matter of Britain, that cycle of stories passed down from the Middle Ages about ancient British Kings, fighting to save civilization after they had been abandoned by Rome.
I am a librarian by training. My husband and I have served for many years in several countries as missionaries in theological education. Once when we needed to be in Oxford, England, for a week of meetings, he suggested we take a few days of vacation and explore some of the Arthurian sites.
We drove out to the coast of Cornwall where the winds sweep over the cliffs at Tintagel and the waves crash on the rocks below. It is Arthur’s birthplace if you believe Tennyson. Of course, if you believe the archeologists, there was no castle in that location until long after Arthur’s time. I prefer Tennyson.
We drove back toward England and Somerset—the “Summer Country,” so low it was under water during winter rains until monks at Glastonbury Abbey began the work of digging drainage ditches. Today’s towns were all once islands that rose just a few feet above the surrounding bogs in the Vale of Avalon, where the Lady of the Lake took King Arthur in a barge to be healed of his wounds. From there he will return in England’s time of greatest need (if you believe the stories.)
Glastonbury sits on three hills rising above the Somerset Levels—Wyrral Hill, where Joseph of Arimathea and his party are said to have rested, “weary all”, after fleeing the first century persecution of Christians in Jerusalem; Chalice Hill, above the spring that runs red with iron where folk say Joseph dipped the Holy Grail he had brought; and the Tor, whose conical shape seen from the Mendip Hills that rim the vale was once believed to cover the entrance to the ancient Celtic underworld.
But amidst the tangle of ancient tales that undergirds every inch of this town, it was the violent dissolution of the abbey under King Henry VIII that most caught my imagination. I was beginning to think like a writer (although I would never have publically claimed that title) when I stood in the museum, reading the placards about how the abbot defied the king and suffered for it. I thought, Now THAT would make a good story.
I had started writing in my spare time when Ben Bradley, a hockey player who wanted to learn to jump and spin, popped into my mind. His story later became Crossovers, but that day when I stood in the abbey museum Ben’s story was locked in a computer file lest someone discover that I had the audacity to try to write a novel for young people. I was reading a book about writing and publishing fiction, and trying to do the exercises on my own. I had even started a second manuscript, but I knew I couldn’t begin yet another project. So I typed the opening paragraphs to capture my idea, filed them under “future projects”, and went back to plugging away at learning my craft.
I finally broke into publishing when we moved back to the US for a few years for my husband to work as a consultant for theological schools in various parts of the world. The Wooden Ox was published first (about an American family kidnapped by rebels during the Mozambican Civil War.) It was followed by Between Two Worlds (about a girl raised in Brazil and stuck in the States the year of her important fifteenth birthday) and a picture book set in Africa, So That’s What God is Like. Contracts signed, I began looking at my “future projects” file. Those opening paragraphs leapt out at me. I wanted to read that book! The trouble was, I had to write it first.
I’m not a fast writer. Glastonbury Tor was several years in the making. Meanwhile Donna Fletcher Crowe came out with her book Glastonbury, and I nearly cried thinking my story had already been told. But a place that rich in legend has many stories to tell even about the Dissolution and early Reformation. I traveled back to Somerset to spend a couple weeks with new friends who loaned me a bike, a map and a pair of Wellington boots and sent me out to explore my setting.
I was back in Africa writing for children affected by HIV&AIDS when Glastonbury Tor was nominated as a Christy Award finalist. These last few years I have been busy with short stories and a novel about HIV in South Africa, but I think Glastonbury has more stories to tell. Someday I will hope to tell them.