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Lucy Holland: Song of the Huntress

By Lucy Powell, Jess Scaffidi Saggio, Katie Farr, Iona Fleming and Ayman Sabir

Lucy Holland is the bestselling author of Sistersong and co-host of the award-winning podcast Breaking the Glass Slipper. In her second historical fantasy novel, Song of the Huntress, Holland continues her exploration of British mythology, inspired by the legends of the West Country surrounding her home in Devon. With a commitment to elevating marginalised voices in fantasy and reinterpreting the myths of ancient Britain, Holland brings a fresh perspective to historical fantasy.

The landscape and history surrounding the West Country, where Holland lives, provide a rich source of inspiration for her work. She describes the West Country as “drenched in legend”, being the home of King Arthur’s court, “a gate to the Otherworld beneath Glastonbury Tor” and the frightening myth of the Wild Hunt “riding across Dartmoor” (which serves as the inspiration for Song of the Huntress). Cornwall, in particular, is fascinating for having retained “its language and folklore,” making it “distinct from the rest of England.” The concept of psychogeography, “where the very shape and structure of the land feeds into the stories humans have told for millennia”, is especially notable to Holland in the West Country, where geographical features such as hills and rivers are linked to “characters of the folkloric imagination.” Holland is “always searching” for such places, steeped in legend and storytelling, as inspiration.

“It’s the details”, says Holland, “that lend authenticity to a world.” This is especially important in genres such as historical fiction, where readers are confronted with a world they have never experienced. When recreating the setting of ancient Britain, Holland made sure to “include a few old words” or “turns of phrase”, being careful with the language used so as not to make references to other periods. During the writing process, Holland found details relating to her chosen period through the blogs of historical re-enactment groups, who “go to great lengths to recreate a period in the most authentic way possible” and “discuss practical things that are often too small to make it into the history books.” These details, such as the materials used to forge weapons and the ingredients of dyes, contribute to a more vivid sense of setting.

This novel is based on the folklore of the Wild Hunt; Holland’s other novel Sistersong is similarly founded on folklore. While many stories exist around mythology, Holland states that it is “full of diverse identity, just as history is.” When writing fiction, it is important to recognise that “there are voices we still do not hear, especially in historical fiction”. Her objective in telling this and other stories “is to restore and elevate those experiences, both to champion queer identity today and to highlight that it always existed.” Making this folklore relevant to a modern audience is simply about telling stories of universal human experiences: for instance, “the struggle for understanding and acceptance, or social belonging, or fighting prejudice and facing insurmountable odds.” Given that myths tell these universal stories, “It’s about finding the right voice to express them.”

Making this folklore relevant to a modern audience is simply about telling stories of universal human experiences:

Holland co-hosts the podcast Breaking the Glass Slipper, which looks at the contributions of female authors and LGBTQIA+ voices in the sci-fi, fantasy and horror genres. Fittingly, Song of the Huntress has been described as a feminist historical fantasy novel; Holland explains that she has always been interested in “championing female, trans and non-binary voices” in these literary spaces. Growing up, Holland read fantasy novels “written chiefly by men” and has always been conscious of the ongoing struggle that women have faced to be taken seriously in the literary field. Holland’s work is often mislabelled as “young adult”, despite always having been “aimed at – and marketed for – adults,” a testament to the struggles that female authors still face. Consequently, she explained how this has driven a desire to “balance the scales” by “revisiting female-authored classics” within the fantasy genre.

Song of the Huntress is written in third-person narrative, unlike the first-person approach in Holland’s first novel, Sistersong. Holland explained that this decision came from the fact that the protagonists in Sistersong were younger and more intertwined, whereas the characters in this novel are “quite disparate people with established roles in the wider world”. Song of the Huntress therefore called for a “less personal approach to narration.” When asked how she found the process of writing in the third person, Holland explained that the “complex plot” and the “epic stakes” of the novel were a “challenge enough!”

Though Holland usually avoids giving out writing advice due to the subjective nature of writing, one piece of advice she would give is to “finish something.” The challenging part of writing is not coming up with ideas in the first place, but “marshalling those ideas into a viable narrative and then seeing it through to the end.” It is “a huge achievement” to finish a book, and in doing so writers can build the “self-discipline and dedication” that is essential to “make a career out of writing.”

Looking ahead to future releases, Holland confirms that she is currently working on a new novel. Set in late sixth-century Britain, this work will tell the story of Yr Hen Ogledd – the Old North – and the Britons’ struggle against the rise of Northumbria. Holland describes the new work as a “loose re-imagining” of the borderland’s ballad Tam Lin, centring on the “legendary Welsh bards, Aneirin and Taliesin.” Holland expresses her love for writing about the Celtic heroic age, a period and landscape where “myth and history truly mingle” and “peopled with figures who have at least one foot in the Otherworld.”



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