Today I am interviewing Chrys Cymri, author of the fantasy novels The Temptation of Dragons and The Cult of Unicorns, the first two books of the Penny White series.
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DJ: Hey Chrys! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Chrys Cymri: I grew up in California but emigrated to England when I was twenty years old. I love to travel, and perhaps the most challenging trip I’ve made was spending two weeks in North Korea in August 2016. At home, I live with a small parrot, a green cheek conure called Tilly, who is nearly as destructive as a dragon when she gets going. When I was 35 years old, I gave up my job as a bank manager to go to theological college. So my full time job now is as a Christian minister.
DJ: What is the Penny White series about?
Chrys: Wish fulfillment! The main character is a slightly world weary female priest who stumbles onto a parallel fantasy world. She meets a police inspector who loves science fiction as much as she does, and she’s also being pursued romantically by a darkly beautiful dragon called Raven. A falcon sized gryphon called Morey comes to live with her. I’d love a gryphon. And I’ve long had a fascination with snails, so the other creature in Penny’s life is a snail shark called Clyde. For some reason, readers seem to love these characters as much as I do.
DJ: What were some of your influences for the Penny White series?
Chrys: Partially my own life, but I’d like to make it clear that I don’t drink as much as Penny does! Some of the situations she faces in her church are drawn on things that have happened to me or other ministers, although of course these are much altered so that no confidences have been betrayed.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Chrys: Penny is your normal geek, someone who sees the world through her love of science fiction and fantasy. Wouldn’t we all love to escape our day to day lives and have thrilling rides on a beautiful dragon? Morey is highly intelligent and sarcastic, and also fiercely loyal to his friends. As for Clyde, although he can hardly put two words together, he is both rather sweet yet rips garden birds to shreds (snail sharks are carnivores). James is Penny’s much younger brother, whom she raised after their parents died in a car accident.
DJ: What is the world or setting of the Penny White series like?
Chrys: As an urban fantasy, half of the world is our own, set in the Midlands in England. So Penny has an iPhone, drinks single malt whisky, and loves Doctor Who. The parallel world is Daear, and the equivalent to England and Wales is called Lloegyr. It’s populated by beings we would consider to be mythical, such as dragons, unicorns, and gryphons. ‘Thin places’ allow cross over between the two worlds, and Penny’s job is to help out those who end up in her area of England. An industrial revolution in Lloegyr is bringing the various species together for the first time, which is causing tensions. In particular, an organization called Cadw ar Wahân (in Lloegyr, the national language is Welsh) is against mixed species relationships, and they aren’t against killing those who have married outside their own kind.
DJ: There seems to be quite a number of fantastical creatures in this series, and even something called a “snail shark”?
Chrys: Dragons, unicorns, gryphons, and vampires will be familiar fantasy fare. As for snail shark, these are, when fully grown, about the size of a large dog. They are feared throughout Lloegyr for their ferocity. At first glance, they look like a large garden snail. But running along the length of their bodies are jaws which contain shark-like teeth. Penny ends up adopting a small one, Clyde, when she kills his mother. She discovers that there is much more to Clyde than others realise, and often has to defend her decision.
DJ: How have the reviews been from readers, bloggers, and reviewers for the first two books? Is there anything that your audience seems to be particularly enjoying or is eager to find out more about?
Chrys: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve been writing for some time now (my first two books were professionally published in the mid 1990’s) but I’ve never had this sort of response. What people love are not only the characters, but the sense of humour throughout. After all these years in the UK, I seem to have mastered the British sense of self-deprecating humour.
DJ: What has been your favorite part about in writing the Penny White series?
Chrys: Clyde. He was totally unexpected. Morey came into the story early on, as did Raven. I needed a chapter to fill in between two other parts of the plot, and I decided to have a rabble of snail sharks infest Earls Barton (a town which truly exists without a possessive apostrophe, which annoys Penny greatly). Next thing I knew, Penny found Clyde under a bush and took him home with her. The snail inserted himself into the novels from then on. I can’t wait until novel four when the truth about who he really is comes out.
DJ: As of now, two books have been released, and you are working on the third. How books total do you believe there will be when the Penny White series is completed?
Chrys: At the moment I’m nearly 50,000 into the third, and the fourth is waiting in my head to come out. Novels five and six are a bit more vague, but I need at least that many to tell the wider story of the tensions in Lloegyr, and the schemes of Cadw ar Wahân, as well as how Penny comes to decide between her two romantic interests. I’ll keep going until the entire story is told.
DJ: What was your goal when you began writing the Penny White series? You still have some ways before it all written, but is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Chrys: The theme probably is about love. Love comes in many forms, romantic, friendship, family. Our definitions can be too strict. I also have a theme in mind for each book. The first book was about family. Penny starts the novel alone, and ends up with a family. The second book was about deception. The third is about how we don’t really talk to each other. The fourth will draw upon my experiences in North Korea and the temptations of power.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from the Penny White series that you can share with us?
Chrys: My stomach growled. ‘House tour later. Lunch time. Let’s eat, gryphon.’
‘Careful where you put that comma,’ Morey replied. ‘Correct punctuation saves lives.’
Oh for a sonic screwdriver, I thought. Then I remembered that the sonic screwdriver didn’t work on wood. Once again I wondered whether this were actually reasonable, or simply a convenient plot device by the writers.
‘Someone who can negotiate with dragons does not belong in a meeting about cutlery.’
‘We’ve become more tolerant of humans who find themselves in Lloegyr. Even the dragons don’t automatically eat them anymore.’
I was riding a dragon. Tears of joy were welling up in my eyes. Okay, the dragon belched, was weaving a bit, and his hide smelled of stale beer, but I was flying through the skies on the back of a dragon.
I tried to think of a human equivalent of searching for a grief-stricken gryphon in a bar of harpies.
There were all sorts of things I wished I knew about unicorns. For example, at what age did they learn to speak, how did it feel to have a horn growing from your forehead, and whether they would use their hooves against a friendly vicar approaching them across a field.
‘Spit it out, Clyde,’ I ordered. He obeyed. ‘James, cut up the snail’s meat for him.’
Mornings always come too early, and particularly on Mondays.
‘Whisky?’ the snail asked weakly.
‘Morey?’ I demanded as I cradled Clyde against my chest.
‘It was only the once,’ the gryphon said quickly. ‘And I cleaned him up afterwards.’
DJ: What is next for you?
Chrys: Finishing the third Penny White novel. I’m in the middle, which is never a comfortable place to be. I know where I need to get to, but not exactly how I’m going to get there.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about the Penny White series that we haven’t talked about yet?
Chrys: That they’re just meant to be a lot of fun!
DJ: Is there anything else you would like add? (Or add your own question).
Chrys: I also write about my travel adventures at http://www.travellinghopefully.co.uk
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
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Bishop Nigel smiled at me. ‘Holy water doesn’t harm vampires. Which is just as well, as it would make it impossible to baptise them.’
When I was asked by a dragon to give him the last rites, I never dreamed it would lead to negotiating with his cannibalistic family or running from snail sharks. Life as the priest of a small English village is quite tame in comparision. At least I have Morey, a gryphon with sarcasm management issues, to help me. And if all else fails, there’s always red wine and single malt whisky.
As if my life weren’t complicated enough, a darkly beautiful dragon named Raven keeps appearing where I least expect him, I’ve met a handsome police inspector who loves science fiction as much as I do, and my younger brother is getting into trouble for trying to pick up vampires.
That’s what happens when you’re dealing with an incredible and dangerous parallel world full of mythical creatures. And I have to learn to navigate it all without losing myself, or my brother…
Raven’s ears flicked. ‘Dragons aren’t known for their patience.’
‘More is the pity, ‘ said the unicorn. ‘Father Penny and I were about to amicably settle our differences. A dragon invading our home vastly complicates matters.’
Five months ago my life was changed forever when I learned about Lloegyr, the sister nation to England on the magical parallel world of Daear. Thrilling rides on Raven, a darkly beautiful search dragon, break up the monotony of my life as the priest of a small village church. Nor are things dull at home, not with a sarcastic gryphon, a snail shark, and my younger brother all sharing my living space. And then there’s Peter, the almost too perfect police inspector who enjoys Doctor Who and single malt whisky as much as I do.
But Lloegyr is facing its own struggles. As various races such as dragons, gryphons, elves, vampires, and harpies flood to the rapidly growing cities, they all trust the unicorns to act as peace makers. But dead humans are turning up in the city of Northampton, with wounds which only a long spiral horn could have made…
Priest by day, writer at odd times of the day and night, I live with a small green parrot called Tilly because the upkeep for a dragon is beyond my current budget. Plus I’m responsible for making good any flame damage to church property. I love ‘Doctor Who’, landscape photography, single malt whisky, and my job, in no particular order. When I’m not looking after a small parish church in the Midlands (England) I like to go on far flung adventures to places like Peru, New Zealand, and the Arctic.
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