Star Dancer

Helen Harvey interviews Beth Webb

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 these rich, 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?

The story of Star Dancer took about 30 years to evolve. At first it 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 am a regular visitor to the Peat Moors Visitor Centre in Somerset, 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 10- 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.

How long did it take you to write?
I started writing in about 2001, but the real work came in periodic 'splurges' over the last couple of years.

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.' Go to the About Writing page and click on ‘Mind Map®.

Is anything in the books based on something in real life?
Quite a bit. Tegen's green silk scarf is actually royal blue silk and came from Oxfam. The round houses and landscapes are all real. There is a map at the beginning of Star Dancer, and if you look on an Ordinance Survey map of the Glastonbury / Wookey Hole area, you might see some 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!

Who is your favourite character in Star Dancer and why?
I love Tegen, but dear old Griff stole my heart. Everyone needs a Gilda in their life. oh dear, I think I loved them all, except Derowen and Gorgans of course. But even they might not have been so angry and bitter if life had been kinder to them - who knows? Perhaps they were born that way.

How did you think up the characters?
I didn't really, I just started telling the story and the characters started to appear and take form in a way that made the story happen. It's a bit like Mark Twain's 'Topsy' - they 'just grewed.'

Once they had started to live and breathe I did Mind Map® them to make sure they had a solid past and believable motivations.

None of them are people I know in real life, but they all have aspects of reality. The viciousness of Derowen is something I have seen in the world, as is Gilda's kindness. Griff is very loosely based on a Down's Syndrome young man I had the honour to work with once.
They are all very alive to me.

Star Dancer is partly about equal rights for women. Do you feel women in the present don't have equal rights, and is that why you wrote Star Dancer? 
Star Dancer is about human rather than women's rights - I tried to explore equal rights for everyone. Tegen and Griff are judged on their outer shell, not for their inner abilities.
Some women do have a raw deal, as do many men, and a wide variety of people who are in any shape or form 'different.'

I feel passionately about the fact that so many people in our society aren't acknowledged and given the dignity of being themselves. People need to feel valued and respected for what they can contribute. I am very cross when people are not given a chance to shine. Without that dignity, people begin to hate themselves and then they begin to destroy people and things around them. It happens everywhere.

What do you think makes Star Dancer such a good book?
I certainly hope it's good. I think a good book allows the reader to become immersed in that world, whether it's 'real' or 'fantasy.' One becomes a part of it, and identifies totally with what is happening and doesn't want to leave. If that works with 'Star Dancer' then maybe it's because I love Tegen's world and enjoyed inviting you in!

What do you think?
If you have any more questions why not e-mail Beth on the 'Contact Beth' page?