Launch Interview: Charlotte Clutterbuck’s The Gannet Quartet: Twin Stars


Since she was a very young child, Charlotte Clutterbuck has loved words and figuring out how to put them together—­­‘Grammar is the ground of all’, as one of her favourite authors, William Langland, puts it. In her adult life, she has published a wide range of stories, poems, essays, film-scripts, journal articles and literary criticism. She is now working on The Gannet Quartet, a series of novels set in stone-age Scotland. Living on an estuary on the Central Coast of New South Wales with her wife, she spends a lot of time birdwatching, tending her vegetable garden, gazing at stars through her telescope, or taking their grandchildren kayaking.

How would you describe this book and its themes in a couple of sentences?

Set in Scotland during the Middle Stone-Age, Twin Stars tells the story of Bhòid and Sulaire, twin boy and girl, who are born as thralls and must fight the custom of the Bear Tribe to fulfill their talents. Even when she’s crippled by a fever, Sulaire clings to her belief in her healing power, while Bhòid longs to become a hunter, a leader in his clan. The twins survive exile and separation before they are reunited as the first settlers on the Isle of Bute. The main themes are the twins’ devotion to each other and their ability to gain the affection and respect of other characters as disparate as the outcast Ruad, the deaf boy Parsa, the headman Fiada, and the healer, Oran.

What inspired and attracted you to writing historical fiction after a lifetime of teaching?

When I was a child, I often told stories to my sister. We both loved historical fiction, with Rosemary Sutcliff as our all-time favorite. As an adolescent, I wrote novels about Roman soldiers or about Crusaders and Robin Hood but was discouraged by being advised to, ‘Write what you know’. For many years, I diverged into essays and poems, but when I retired and revisited Bute in 2018, I suddenly found myself gripped by the twins’ story. Through my research and my developing knowledge of their characters, I have learned instead to trust myself to ‘know what I write’.

This is the first book of The Gannet Quartet. When will the next book in the series be released? What are you working on now? Is it connected to this one in any way?

I’m still working hard on Volume II and hope it will be released late in 2024. Water-stone continues the twins’ story as they build up their own clan and face the threat of the hostile Aurochs Clan. I’ve already got a first draft of Volumes III and IV with a strong idea of the main events.

Does any part of your own life experiences connect with any character or events in the story? What difficulty did you have in writing this one?

Apart from some of my grandchildren posing for the cover art, the characters are completely imaginary. I lived on Bute as a child, and the story is deeply rooted in my love of the island. As for the twins, I don’t know where they came from, unless, as one of four sisters, I’m in search of my missing brother!

Is there a key historical event you found in researching that inspired you to write this story to portray a key message prevalent now?

There are no written records of specific events in the Mesolithic period, so my focus was on how my characters might survive and thrive in the natural world with only the simplest tools made from bone or flint. The themes of kindness, survival, and willingness to challenge unjust hierarchical customs are relevant in any time. My account of their spiritual beliefs were strongly influenced by my love of cosmology––the stars that shone on my characters still shine on us.

What kind of research did you have to do for this story?

Lots! I’d have maps spread all over the floor while I worked out the contours. How high can that waterfall really be on that stretch of that burn? Can you really see X from Y or is there a hill in the way? The internet has been invaluable. What herbs did they use for fever? What’s the earliest instance of polio? What might a boar hunt actually look like? How do you sharpen a flint knife? What is a wolf’s gestation period? The answers are all there.

How do you think the reader will connect with your main characters? Is there one that you feel connected to and why?

I hope readers of all ages will feel as drawn to the twins as I do. Personally, I’m a little in awe of Sulaire, and I think her brother Bhòid is too. He knows she has a stronger power to connect with the spirit world than he does. I’m specially attached to Athru: I drew the names of my characters from Gaelic and, as I wrote, he developed so much that I had to change his name from ‘Fearg’ (anger), to ‘Athru’ (change). But it’s Bhòid who most touches my heart. Perhaps he’s my long-lost brother guiding me as I follow his story through the Quartet.

Every author has their own publishing journey. Tell me about yours.

Twin Stars didn’t seem to fit easily into the current Young Adult market where fantasy and dystopian fiction are two of the most popular genres. At 73, I already have more than enough rejection slips to wallpaper my study, so I self-published with the wonderful help of MoshPit. As for success, I’ve had great fun doing some school workshops and Twin Stars has been listed for the New South Wales Premier’s Reading Challenge.

What advice would you give to other aspiring historical writers?

Historical fiction is such a good way for young readers to learn about far-off times, places, events, and people. I’d love to see more of us writing about periods earlier than the twentieth century.

What is the last great book you read? Why?

Clive Oppenheimer’s Mountains of Fire is a wonderful historical, literary, spiritual account of some notable volcanoes. Or I could say that Kate DiCamillo’s pitch-perfect The Puppets of Spelhorst has touching characters and a deeply satisfying conclusion.

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