Interview with Raymond Buckland: The Father of American Witchcraft Debuts his First Fantasy Novel

December 1st, 2008

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Raymond Buckland is a familiar name in our magical circles. Known as The Father of American Witchcraft for the instrumental role he played in introducing Wicca to the U.S., he is a respected occultist and the author of around 60 books, including the pagan classic Buckland’s Complete book of Witchcraft. He’s now turned his pen toward the fantasy genre, with the recent release of his first fantasy novel, The Torque of Kernow (Galde Press, Buckland , 2008). Buckland’s decades of magical practice add a strong dose of realism to his fantasy fiction; the Torque of Kernow is a fantastic tale, but the magical acts the characters perform throughout the story are quite authentic. When I heard about this book, I was very intrigued, so I caught up with Mr. Buckland to find out more about his debut on the fantasy literature scene.

Melanie Harris: Did you draw on your knowledge of real magic when creating the
elements of fantasy magic in the Torque of Kernow?

Raymond Buckland: Yes I did. I try to bring in as much authenticity as possible, to make it “feel” right.

MH: How long did it take you to write this book?

RB: I actually started it fifteen years ago!  I did about a quarter of it but then it got pushed onto the back burner since I was writing non-fiction for several different publishers. I wasn’t able to get back to it until about two years ago, and then could only work on it sporadically.

MH: Tell me about the setting for this story.

RB: As a fantasy it is set in a make-believe world, but that world is very loosely based on the southwest of England. The name Kernow is the old name for Cornwall, in England.  I also incorporate slightly changed forms of the old names for Devon, Wales and Scotland.

MH: Who is the most evil character in the book?

RB: “Evil” is a harsh term. The apparent antagonist is Zobort who – we learn as the book progresses – is one of the last giants from Elbra. It was his race that originally had brought peace to Kernow and established a rulership, presenting a gold torque as the symbol of that rulership. When the torque was lost by an early ruler, Zobort was sent to try to find it. The story deals with the race between Zobort and the others to find that lost torque.

MH: Tell me about the heroes of the story.

RB: The main protagonist is Shyre, a young farmer who is more or less pushed into the position of organizing the fight against Zobort’s forces and of leading the search for the long lost torque. Joining him are Sannungor, an ancient warrior who has a heart of gold but lacks many of the qualities of leadership. He relishes the thought of possibly becoming the next ruler of Kernow. Keyran is a beautiful black woman who is fearless and an excellent fighter. There is mutual admiration between her and Shyre, leading to a romantic involvement. Along with the group there is a dwarf named Yost and a trelf (tree elf) named Ozal.

MH: Is anything in the story based on a real-life personal experience?

RB: I think most authors bring in personal experience to an extent. I have certainly drawn on my years of magical practice and nearly sixty years of research.

MH: Now, although this is your first fantasy, this isn’t your first fiction novel, is it?

RB: No, it isn’t the first. Two of my earlier (non-fantasy) fiction novels that a lot of people seem to enjoy are The Committee and Cardinal’s Sin. I also have three others – all centered around World War Two – that will eventually see the light of day through Galde Press. I’m looking forward to their publication.

MH: I’ve heard you say you much prefer writing fiction to writing non-fiction. What do you love about writing fiction, and writing fantasy fiction in particular?

RB: I love the opportunity to just let my imagination run riot! Non-fiction can be very restrictive. I enjoy research as much as writing so I try to make my stories as fact-based as possible, which I think helps them seem more authentic. I enjoy creating and developing characters, as well as situations. But I have always had more ideas than I can ever put down on paper and fantasy allows me to include a lot of what I feel.

MH: Tell me something about your writing process for this story. For instance, did you plan it out first, or just start writing? Do you listen to music, or drink coffee while you write?

RB: I always plan the whole story in some detail, long before I start writing the actual thing. But even doing that, I find that there is plenty of room for spontaneity. Often the characters will lead the story off in a direction I hadn’t originally intended! I also work out the details of all my main characters, so that there is consistency with them, with their thoughts and actions. I detail their physical appearance, family, background and upbringing, weaponry, abilities, idiosyncrasies (do they lisp, stutter, part their hair down the center, that sort of thing), etc. Much of the early work I do in my head to get it sorted out. I’ll then make notes, then rough out an outline. All the writing I do, these days, is on the computer. I used to do everything longhand, many years ago. I don’t have music playing while I write (too distracting), nor do I drink coffee. I do occasionally indulge my love of chocolate, however! I can sometimes gaze out of the window, at our sheep, ponies, grazing deer, and numerous woodland folk. It’s a wonderful setting in which to write. I live on a dirt road, miles from anywhere, with no neighbors.

MH: What is your favorite book in the fantasy genre and what do you love about it?

RB: It has to be Lord of the Rings. Tolkien was such a brilliant writer in so many ways. He was truly an inspiration. Many people don’t realize just how much he researched and how much he based his stories and characters on mythology of various types. He was very deep and in many ways a genius, to my mind.

MH: Out of all the books that you’ve ever written, which are you most proud of?

RB: That’s a difficult question! I’ve written about sixty books and love them all! I think “Kernow” (and the books that will follow it in the series) is right up there. The three encyclopedias (The Witch Book, The Fortunetelling Book, and The Spirit Book) are favorites as are “Big Blue” and “Big Red” (Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft and Buckland’s Book of Spirit Communication).

MH: What sets the Torque of Kernow apart from other fantasy novels?

RB: The authenticity of its magical practices…and the excellence of its writing! Sorry! (chuckles)

MH: Well, there’s no sense in hiding the truth! Have you already written the other books in this series, or are you writing them now?

RB: I’m writing them now and have plotted some of them. At my web site http://www.chroniclesofkernow.com you can read an extract from the second book in the series. I am, however, also writing another (non-fantasy) novel set in Victorian England, loosely based on the Order of the Golden Dawn, so I’m having to juggle my time between books. But then I’ve always been working on two or three books at the same time, so that’s not new!

Find out more about Raymond Buckland and the Torque of Kernow at www.chroniclesofkernow.com and http://www.raybuckland.com


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