Meet Jacky Gray, British author of YA adventure novels in the Hengist: People of The Horse chronicles. Jacky has extensive experience in software writing and teaching maths in high school. Her first career was engineering and after 23 years writing software for telephone exchanges, she spent 13 years teaching children, occasionally introducing them to the delights of mathematics. She lives in the Midlands with her husband and three children, where she watches a lot of movies and some great TV shows like Merlin, Robin Hood, Dr Who, Ashes to Ashes and Being Human. She also listens to a lot of Journey and Queen and reads (apologies to the adverb police) voraciously, in addition to the names above: Preston/Child, Wilbur Smith and recently George RR Martin.
Hello Jacky, thank you for stopping by! Would you be so kind to give readers a one-sentence synopsis of Archer?
Archer – One boy’s fight against adversity to find friendship, romance and the generosity to love his enemy.
How real are your characters?
Archer is like another son—as are Reagan, Slater and Geraint. Being a high-school teacher has given me plenty of role models to help all the characters seem like modern-day teens.
Who or what inspired you to write this book? When did you first know you just had to write?
Kevin Hicks was the bowman at Warwick Castle for over a decade. When I watched him firing 100 arrows in rapid succession through a loop of rope, approximately the size of a human head, it woke up the warrior buried deep within me. By the time I reached home that night, Archer was born, initially in a military thriller as the thirty-year-old bodyguard to a girl who could read people’s auras.
I have been writing since I was about twelve—my first full length novel was based on a dream I had when I was 18—it took over 30 years until I published it.
But your perseverance has brought novels that will delight teens who are your target audience. How long did it take you to write the first book?
Archer took 18 days from start to finish—the words just tumbled out every night starting about 10pm and going on until 3 or 4 the next morning. The weird thing was that when I got up the next day and started researching what I had written about, it was all backed up by websites and experts in the various fields.
And hence the believable fantasy, as if they are real people and real events! How did you come up with the title?
Each book in the series is named after the protagonist—each boy has very different personality and skills. The sub-title “Hengist: The People of the Horse” refers to the fictitious people who live in a parallel universe where there is no electricity, computers or cars.
What is your favorite part in the book?
Catching hold of Patricia’s arm, Archer tried to think of something smart to say. In an instant that seemed to last an eternity, she glanced down at her arm; then up into his face. Her expression reflected extreme distaste; although he couldn’t for the life of him think of anything he had done to deserve it.
The right words would not surface and those that did tumbled out involuntarily. ‘Don’t you want to kiss the May King for luck?’
Her look seared his fingers on her arm with a frostbite so intense he had no choice except to release her. ‘I think the May King’s lips are still wet with the kisses of his adoring subjects.’
Who would you say have been the most influential authors in your life? What is it that really strikes you about their work?
Bernard Cornwell—he will always be the Master for me – his ability to transport readers back to bygone times is inspirational. I have also learnt a lot about creating realistic, engaging characters from Stephen King, Jodi Picoult and Stephenie Meyer and about credible, fascinating settings from JK Rowling and Suzanne Collins. For the leanest, meanest writing style and an enduring, character-driven action series, I am smitten with Lee Child.
What story would you like to share about the joy, challenge, or hardship of writing?
Archer is like another son—as are Reagan, Slater and Geraint and Rory is another daughter. Every minute I spend in the company of my extended family is absolute joy—I love to watch their lives unfold and share in their adventures. The challenge is to tell their stories in a way that other people can enjoy them as much as I do and the hardship is in coming back to spend time in the real world. If I could, I would spend every minute of every day writing, but unfortunately I have to earn a crust and my family do appreciate the odd minute or two of my attention, especially around Christmas and Easter.
I can relate to that. I hope one day soon you can write full time. Who gives you the most encouragement? Why is that important to you?
My very first supporter was my daughter Jo—she gave me so much confidence at the beginning. Several dozen people since then have given me plenty of support and encouragement, but the biggest compliment are the amazing comments from other writers – particularly the kind words from the ABNA competitors.
What are you working on right now? Tell us your latest news.
The sixth book kinda finished itself on a serious cliff-hanger. I now have to wait for some free time so Aurora and Archer can tell me how this adventure concludes. It may be book number seven, or it could be that book six goes super-size.
Have fun writing all that! And how do you see writing, Jacky? Why?
Writing is a way of life. It gives me more joy than anything else I could do (even dancing). I would love to spend every day of my life writing or promoting my books.
May you wish come true soon!
How much do you have in common with your protag?
Everything. Archer has the same bad time at school that I did, digging deep inside to find the courage to survive the torment. Like me, he never fitted in and relies on himself to fight the demons that plague him, but it doesn’t stop him from helping people or trying to be honourable and do the right thing.
That’s beautiful, Jacky.
What are your hobbies?
Reading, walking in nature and any kind of live entertainment (especially theatre and rock bands). Watching movies and well-written TV shows, exploring the country, particularly historical/spiritual sites. And if I don’t have music playing, I’m quite sure my life will end.
What is your other profession? When do you find the time to write?
I teach high school mathematics, but for the past few years this has only been part-time, allowing me to focus on writing the rest of the time. It has been bliss, but I started a new full-time job in March so there is way less time to write. L The good thing is, this job is encouraging reluctant readers to read—awesome! 🙂
Tell us a bit about who or/and what matters to you.
Showing respect and taking responsibility. Whether it is respect for yourself, another person or animal or the world around you is immaterial—I grieve for how little respect is shown in today’s self-centred, throwaway society. If everyone would take responsibility for their own actions instead of trying to blame someone else when things go wrong, it would be much easier to live in a state of joyful harmony.
A caring soul. Good on you, Jacky! Now, any tips for us on reading and/or writing?
Read everything you can get your hands on in your genre so you know what’s out there, and can find out what works for you and what doesn’t. More importantly, read outside your genre—there are always lessons to be learnt about how to write good/bad characters, scenes and dialogue.
Listen to the way people speak and read your whole manuscript out loud (not just the dialogue). If you feel uncomfortable saying it, your readers will feel uncomfortable reading it.
Write a little bit every day—even if it’s just a few lines, it’s good to do something that is creative and brings you joy.
And yours is one that is sure to bring joy to your target audience! Well done Jacky, and thank you so much for the chat.
And now my mini review of the first book in the Hengist series:
Archer, reviewed by Ia Uaro of www.sydneyssong.net
Subtitle: Hengist: People of The Book
Author: Jacky Gray, ISBN: 978-1446150191
Archer is an orphan teen with special gifts. He is stronger and faster than other boys his age, and a champ at sword fights and shooting arrows. His personality and abilities win him female interest, but also jealousy from an ardent competitor who, for years, tries his best to give Archer a hard time.
Archer is the first book of the refreshing YA adventure novels Hengist: People of The Horse. Set in a new parallel world which is a mixture of the Middle Ages and modern England, these chronicles follow the lives of Archer and his friends as they go to compete in jousting and shooting arrows like medieval knights at Beltane, the Festival of the May, in well-executed exhilarating action-packed and fun-packed scenes.
This series comes from an author who has spent three decades writing software and teaching maths at high school, and it looks like these experiences have greatly shaped her habits, including in writing. Her flow of thoughts is systematic, the settings and the characters are well detailed, and her presentation of the story is very clear. You get immersed in the engaging storyline instead of trying to figure out what she’s trying to say. There isn’t a single confusing moment, even as she teaches us new vocabulary, fascinating historical details, and the intricate arts and fun of jousting and archery that make you see these characters and events.
ARCHER is a well-researched book that will entertain its teen target while showing them an example of honorable attitude.