Guest Post, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month: ‘Dragon Riding – Science or Fantasy?’ – a guest post by Katherine Roberts

Today, as part of Sci-Fi Month, I have a guest post written by the wonderful Katherine Roberts, author of The Echorium Sequence, The Seven Fabulous Wonders series, and most recently The Pendragon LegacyDon’t forget to check out the schedule for the rest of today’s posts. You can also Tweet about the event using the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

Dragon Riding – Science or Fantasy?

by Katherine Roberts

It was Anne McCaffrey who first introduced me to dragon riding. As a teenager, I devoured her Pern books, set on an alien planet colonised by humans who have bred dragons to help them fight off an alien spore called Thread, which falls from the Red Star. Although strictly science fiction, these books have a fantasy feel because the colonists have forgotten most of their early history, and no longer have space flight.

Anne McCaffrey’s dragons are amazing, beautiful creatures of different colours, from aristocratic golds, through bronzes and blues, to the lowly greens. They can fly ‘between’ space and time, and form an emotional bond with their riders upon hatching known as ‘impression’ – a bond so strong that the death of one partner often means the suicide of the other. My favourite books from the Pern series are “Dragonsinger” about a girl from a sea-hold who becomes a friend of dragons and a Harper, and “The White Dragon” about the son of a Lord Holder, who accidentally impresses the white runt of the hatching ground.

Many other authors have written about dragons and dragon riders, of course. J.R.R. Tolkien had his terrifying Black Riders, or Nazgul, who start off on horseback and progress to flying on what is surely dragonback during their hunt for Frodo and his friends in The Lord of the Rings:

“It was a winged creature: if bird, then greater than all other birds, and it was naked, and neither quill nor feather did it bear, and its vast pinions were as webs of hide between horned fingers; and it stank. A creature of an older world maybe it was…” (from The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien)

In this case, the dragons are villains rather than heroes, at one with their dark riders in their pursuit of the prey.

Tolkien’s Nazgul (fair use, copyright John Howe – image source)
Tolkien’s Nazgul (fair use, copyright John Howe – image source)

Friendly dragons are popular in books and films for children, including Cornelia Funke’s Dragon Rider and the TV series Merlin, where a dragon advises the young wizard. More recently, I came across dragons in Julia Golding’s Young Knights series, where they are the unwilling slaves of the Fey, kept chained in the dark until they have lost their bright colours.

On the non-fiction side, my publisher Templar produced Dragonology with its beautiful jewelled covers for students of dragon lore. And Peter Dickinson wrote a wonderful book Flight of Dragons, which takes a scientific approach to dragons, examining how it’s possible for them to breathe fire and fly.

Dragons were always going to feature in my Pendragon Legacy series, since Pendragon means ‘head dragon’. But I take a different approach to dragon riding, as my books are set in the Dark Ages after the Romans left Britain when dragons are thought to be extinct – killed off by heroic knights from the old stories rescuing damsels in distress.

Shadrake - artwork by Scott Altmann
Shadrake – artwork by Scott Altmann

King Arthur’s shield bears a red dragon design, scarred by battle. In the first book Sword of Light Merlin takes this shield from the dying king’s body and gives it to Arthur’s daughter, Rhianna, because he thinks she’s going to need it to defend herself against her evil cousin Mordred. The shield comes in useful when the first live dragon appears in the shape of an ice-breathing shadrake from the dark land of Annwn, which chases Rhianna and her friends when they leave the safety of Avalon.

The third book of my series takes Rhianna and her friends to Dragonland in search of Arthur’s crown, which was stolen by a dragon from the battlefield when the king fell and carried off to its lair. The Pendragon crown turns out to contain the ancient secret of dragon riding, hidden in one of the jewels as you might store data on a computer disk. When Rhianna wears the crown she can access its secrets, and her spirit escapes her body to fly with the nearest dragon. This is a useful skill, since it means she can see through the dragon’s eyes – but it also leaves her body chained in the dark at Mordred’s mercy.

My own theory of dragons is that they were dinosaurs, which somehow survived whatever disaster wiped out their species on Earth, and (being long-lived reptiles) lingered on into the middle ages to terrorise people. I can easily imagine hot-blooded young knights, in search of adventure or reward, riding out on dragon hunts to kill them. The poor creatures would probably have holed up in the high wild places, maybe breeding occasionally, but struggling to survive in Earth’s new climate and eventually dying out as humans took over. Did anybody actually ride them? I can’t say for sure, but there are just too many stories and legends to dismiss dragons as pure fantasy!

About the author

Katherine Roberts won the Branford Boase Award in 2000 and writes fantasy and historical fantasy for young readers. The final book in her Pendragon Legacy series Grail of Stars is published this month by Templar in hardcover, and the first three titles are now available in hardcover, paperback or ebook.

More details at or Twitter @AuthorKatherine. I also interviewed Katherine back in August.

Author Interview

Author Interview: Katherine Roberts

I’m so happy to say that I have a very special treat for you today, my dear readers: an interview with Katherine Roberts!


When I was younger, I was absolutely in love with a series called The Echorium Sequence. I still have the books, and have lost count of how many times I re-read them over the years. So you can imagine how excited I was when I emailed Katherine for an interview, and she agreed.

The fourth book in her Pendragon Legacy, Grail of Stars, is due out in October 2013.


Rinn: Hello Katherine! Firstly, let me say thank you so much for letting me interview you. One of your earlier series, The Echorium Sequence, really fascinated me as a child; it’s really exciting to have this chance.

Katherine: Glad you enjoyed the Echorium Sequence! The first book Song Quest was my debut novel and also won the Branford Boase Award, so that trilogy will always be special to me.

Song Quest was also re-released in 2012, with a beautiful new cover.

Rinn: Can you tell us a little bit about your current series, the Pendragon Legacy?

Katherine: It’s a traditional four-book fantasy series for younger readers about King Arthur’s daughter, Rhianna Pendragon, who arrives on the scene after Mordred kills Arthur at the end of the legends.

Rhianna has grown up on the magical isle of Avalon, and has no idea she is heir to the throne of Camelot until Merlin brings Arthur’s body through the enchanted mists from the battlefield. Shocked to hear that her cousin Mordred killed her father and is plotting to seize the throne, she sets out at once to find the four magical Lights – the Sword of Light (Excalibur), the Lance of Truth, the Crown of Dreams, and the Grail of Stars – which have the power to restore Arthur’s soul to his body.

Soon after they leave Avalon, Merlin is ambushed by Morgan Le Fay, and his druid-spirit ends up trapped in the body of a falcon (a real merlin). Fortunately, Rhianna has the magical support of her Avalonian friend Prince Elphin, and when they reach Camelot they are joined by her maid Arianrhod and a brave young squire called Cai. Together, the four friends battle dragons and Mordred’s bloodbeards to save Camelot.

Rinn: Which of the characters in the series is your favourite, and why?

Katherine: They’re all so different, it’s hard to choose. Rhianna is a warrior princess, but she is not allowed to blood her Excalibur if she wants to take the Sword to Avalon. Elphin is gentle and kind, and works magic to help his friends even when it hurts him. Arianrhod has been mistreated by her old mistress Morgan Le Fay so is rather timid, but comes into her own on Rhianna’s final quest for the Grail. Cai is a bit hopeless at first – the sort of squire who is always spilling things and falling off his pony – but he learns fast, and ends up fighting dragons. So they’re all heroes (and heroines)!

If I have to pick just one, then I think Elphin has to be my favourite, because who can resist a violet-eyed fairy prince?

Rinn: The Pendragon Legacy, is based around Arthurian legend. Why did you decide to write a series using mythology, and why Arthurian legend in particular?

Katherine: I’ve always been fascinated by the Arthurian legends, especially the powerful women. I very much enjoyed Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, an adult fantasy novel that retells the Arthurian legend from the point of view of the women, and wanted to do something similar for young readers. That’s why I created a daughter for Arthur, rather than the more obvious son.

Rinn: Did you do a lot of research for the series, or was it something you already had a lot of previous knowledge about?

Katherine: I knew most of the popular Arthurian stories already, from my previous reading. I did do some historical research to get the background right, though not much of this found its way into the books. Since they’re for younger readers, I wanted to give them a fantasy feel and keep the story moving, without getting bogged down by too many historical details. Most of what we know about King Arthur is legend rather than history, anyway. If he did exist, he was probably a sixth century war-lord and not a king. He might have had a real daughter, but if so we don’t know anything about her. That’s what makes writing about Rhianna such fun, because I can make it all up!

Rinn: You say you grew up in the South-west (me too!), an area that has much to do with the myth of King Arthur. Did any local landscapes influence your writing?

Katherine: Yes, I used to play in the caves under Tintagel as a child, where Arthur was supposedly born. I’ve also climbed Glastonbury Tor (which some people think is the ancient Avalon), and visited most of the places where Camelot might have stood, trying to imagine a great castle there. I also lived on the Welsh border for a while – explaining Rhianna’s quest to “Dragonland” in the third book.

Some lovely artwork of characters from the Pendragon Legacy.

Rinn: Your Seven Fabulous Wonders series also incorporates ancient myths. Is this something that has always interested you?

Katherine: A lot of fantasy is based on myths and legends, so I suppose they must fascinate me. But I prefer to invent my own plots and create my own characters using the myths and legends as background, rather than retell the old stories as some authors do. The Seven Fabulous Wonders books are a mixture of history, myth and magic, but they are much more history-based than my Pendragon series, which might be why they appeal to boys.

Rinn: All your books so far are predominantly within the middle grade/young adult range. Do you think you would ever write something for older audiences?

Katherine: Well, I started out writing short stories for adults, and also wrote fiction for women’s magazines under another name. But my first novel (Song Quest) was published on a children’s list, so after it won the Branford Boase it made sense to go down that route for a while. I think the effect of the award has worn off now, however, so there’s a high probability I will publish adult fiction in future, as well as more children’s books for as long as publishers continue to want them.

Of my published books so far, I Am the Great Horse is probably the most mature, being enjoyed by all generations – I couldn’t persuade Chicken House publish an “adult” edition of that one, but the ebook is available to everyone!

Rinn: I note that one of your favourite books is Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (same as mine!), what other novels have really drawn you in?

Katherine: Too many to count… I enjoy fantasy and science fiction that transports me to another world, and used to be a great fan of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonrider books as a teenager. But it doesn’t have to be fantasy – any book where I can get totally wrapped up in the characters and the storyline works for me. The last book I read that really drew me in was The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

Rinn: On your website, you say that you did a degree in Mathematics. How did you end up becoming a writer?

Katherine: I think I’ve always been a writer – not professionally at first, but I’ve always enjoyed creating stories, starting with telling my little brother bedtime stories when he was four (I was eight). I did a Maths degree because my teachers said it would be more useful than English… and they were right in a way, since I now need it to understand my royalty statements and do my accounts!

Rinn: All writers have times when they struggle – what do you do to get around writer’s block?

Katherine: Before I was published, I never had writer’s block. These days, I get blocked whenever I start thinking “will this book ever sell enough copies to pay the mortgage?” or “why is everyone else getting six-figure deals / hitting the best seller lists / getting their books promoted in the shops?” I don’t know how you get around that, apart from burying your head in the sand and staying away from the internet completely, which is more or less impossible these days. But I find most blocks occur at the business end of writing, not in the actual stories themselves.

Rinn: Do you use the online community for feedback for your books, and if so, do you let it influence your work?

Katherine: It’s impossible to avoid seeing reviews, so I’d be lying if I said these don’t affect my work. But I’ve learned only to take notice when several people (who should be the book’s ideal readers) are saying the same things. Negative reviews are bound to happen sometimes, usually when someone gets hold of the book who wouldn’t normally read that genre. Generally it’s good to get feedback, though, even if it’s negative – better than silence!

Rinn: What do you do when you are not writing?

Katherine: This might sound sad, but I’m pretty much always writing – or at least doing some kind of writing-related activity such as a blog post, interviews like this one, keeping accounts, research, reading other people’s books, publishing my backlist as ebooks, creating book trailers, keeping up with social media, etc. There’s so much more to do now than there used to be, it’s difficult to find time to actually write the books! Other than that, I try to exercise every day – I cycle, and I enjoy skiing in the winter. I used to have a part-time job riding racehorses, though I’ve not done that for a while. I do all the usual DIY, gardening, cooking stuff… but mostly, I write. It’s my career, so it’s important to me.

Rinn: What are you currently reading?

Katherine: I have three books on the go at the moment – Celia Rees’ The Fool’s Girl, Julia Golding’s Young Knights of the Round Table (which I couldn’t resist starting, since I’m doing an Arthurian event with Julia at the Bath Children’s Literature Festival in September), and on my Kindle I’m reading Alison Morton’s Inceptio – a brilliant alternative history debut set in 21st Century Rome.

Rinn: And finally, one more question… who would attend your fantasy dinner party?

Katherine: Prince Elphin, of course, to play his magic harp – so probably Rhianna would gatecrash, too. I’d have her father King Arthur, Merlin, Luke Skywalker (I’d give his dad a miss), the beautiful Fallen Star from Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, Gandalf the Grey (who would have to sit next to Merlin), Galadriel from the Lord of the Rings, Killashandra Ree from Anne McCaffrey’s Crystal Singer, and you of course… just let me know who you would like to sit next to!

Thank you so much to Katherine for letting me interview her! (and inviting me to dinner – I can just imagine dinner conversation with Gandalf…)

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