How Old Did You Say?

One of the sparks of inspiration behind my writing my epic fantasy Sentinal series occurred while I was strolling through an ancient woodland near where I live. I wondered how old are these trees? Some of them are centuries old. What history they must have seen, and what tales they could tell if they were to wake up and speak.

That led me to thinking what if a man slept in the tree, and what if he woke thousands of years into his future? And so was born the Sentinals series.

The Druid’s Oak , 2013 in Burnham Beeches, UK. Picture by Wim Brinkerwink

One of the oldest trees in Burnham Beeches in England, is the ‘The Druid’s Oak’ which is approx. 800 years old, about 9m tall and nearly 9m wide (girth). The Druid’s Oak is a Pollard. The crown used to be cut just above headheight for firewood, and then allowed to regrow and was recut many times. The practice of pollarding died out in the early twentieth century, as coal replaced firewood.

The oldest trees in the world are thought to be the Bristlecone pines which thrive in really cold conditions in places like Atlanta in the USA. The cold conditions mean that the trees grow really slowly. It can take two years for a pine cone to mature. The slow growth and adverse conditions mean the wood is really dense which helps them resist insect and fungi attacks.

Prometheus, Image credit: Mother Nature Network

The Bristlecone pines are known to have lived for over five thousand years, (five thousand years!!!) and grow to heights of fifty feet. An amazing feat for a tree. Some are older than the neighbouring glaciers!

I love how some of these trees are even named. These monumental trees grow to have fame all of their own and are mourned when they die.

My Sentinal trees are not so far-fetched after all. Reality is stranger than fiction most of the time. The Sentinal trees are tall silver-trunked trees, with a crown of emerald-green, pointy leaves. Each one houses a Lady’s Guard, one of Lady Leyandrii’s Sentinals, who she encased in the tree when she sundered the bloodstone and banished all magic, including herself from the land of Remargaren. Unable to follow the Lady, her guards have slept for three thousand years, or so the legends say.

Find out more in Book One of the Sentinals series, Sentinals Awaken. Now also available as an audiobook via Audible, Apple iBooks and Amazon.


How climate can impact the way your story evolves.

Climate is a hot topic on everyone lips at the moment, from the horrendous floods in Germany to the raging fires in Canada, the climate is not behaving as we expect. Even here in the UK the weather is more changeable than usual, (and you know how much we love talking about the weather!) veering from a scorching hot mini heatwaves to torrential rain from one day to the next. It feels like we have our own monsoon!

We all react differently to the weather and the changing seasons. We even had favourite seasons – when they used to be distinct and reliable.

When world building, the expectation is that the world will behave predictably dependent on how you set it up, how many suns or moons do you have? How does the planet rotate? How much water covers the surface? The pull and push on your world should follow scientific expectations, and if not then you need to have a good reason for it that you can explain to the reader.

My world evolved as I travelled through the story. Trees were my starting point. Trees are very important in my story and my world. They stand for hundreds of years, persistent guardians of history and lore, seeing everything around them and holding it close. I wanted that longevity and sense of continuation to reflect in the Sentinals as Guardians of Remargaren.

Because I had these long lived coniferous trees, I needed a cool temperate environment with plentiful water and rich soil. The forests and timber plantations of the Watches evolved, plentiful in the west of Vespiri and petering out as they reached the hotter borders of Terolia in the east, and the parched and arid deserts.

The deserts, and the lack of resources, especially water, drove the evolution of the Familes, and the need to travel where the resources could be found. Although as knowledge of how to find and hoard water grew over time and towns and cities took root, the inherent need to move around remains, and the nomadic Families of Terolia were born.

In Sentinals Justice, we travel north, to the icy wastes of Elothia. A harsh and cold environment where it never rains, it snows. Most of the time! Here people hunker down and hibernate for the winter, only poking their noses out in the spring. Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but they have to live in the cold, and tend to group together in the cities, the land is too harsh to live off of.

As you can see below, even my covers are influenced by the environment the book is set in. Book Two – Sentinals Rising is currently in the AllAuthor cover competion, you can vote for it here. (Note if you can’t log in using facebook, it is quite easy to create a reader account, and then you can vote.)

The Sentinal Series

I’m hoping to finish book four in the Spring of 2022, where will be introduced to the mysterious Island Empire of Birtoli. The Sentinals don’t remember Birtoli being islands, it used to be joined to the mainland so what happened? Expect turquoise seas and white sands and plenty of adventure.

Just for a bit of fun I created a quiz to see where you would live in Remargaren. Complete the quiz and see which country you hail from. Let me know on twitter or Instagram, or on my facebook page using the hashtag #Sentinals.

Novella o.5: Sentinals Stirring (Free if you sign up to my newsletter.)

Book One: Sentinals Awaken

Book Two: Sentinals Rising

Book Three: Sentinals Justice (Preorder-Available September 7th)

Book Four: Name to be announced. (Spring 2022)

What are books made of?

Trees, wood pulp, and lots of imagination...

… creativity, dedication and perseverance.

But what if there was no wood, or wood pulp, or grasses and other natural vegetation? Our lives would be very different without paper; and by extension, without the creation of books, we would lose that wonderful feeling of holding knowledge or experiencing escapism into every subject under the sun.

I recently responded to a Defra Tree consultation on the English Tree Strategy, and I was shocked to realise that fewer than 10% of our English native woodland is considered to be in good condition for nature. That means it can’t support the creatures that live in it. Not only are we not investing in planting more trees, but we’re also not even looking after what is left.

How sad is that?

Isn’t it funny how we all take everything for granted? Even though we know trees are vital to sustaining our environment, to help clean the air we breathe, to synthesise the colour into our world, we still don’t protect them. We don’t plant enough new trees. No one takes responsibility.

When I was a child, our garden had a rowan tree, lilac tree, oak and beech and a massive horse chestnut. I would stand beneath and look up into the branches, much as I imagine a Sentinal tree would hover protectively over us.  I wonder how many of those survive today? Not many, I’m sure. And how many children today would know the difference between all of them? It is our responsibility to ensure these trees are accessible for all, in natural spaces, of which many could easily sustain trees.

DEFRA Tree Strategy consultation for England

Have your say and respond to the Defra Tree Strategy Consultation for England.

Protect our woods, invest in regeneration and plant more trees. Help sustain the tree nurseries. Ensure we can continue to hold a book in our hands in the future, in a world full of magical creatures breathing clean air.

You can respond here, make sure you do by September 11th 2020:

Image credits: Top – Annie Pratt, Unsplash. Bottom – Dave Hoefler, Unsplash