Realising an ambition: an interview with Susan Cooper

MARSHFIELD, MA, USA - APRIL 13: Author Susan Cooper Cronyn at her home in Marshfield, MA. (Photo by Tsar Fedorsky)

So, while I might be a Buddhist, I’m also the publisher of Pagan Dawn magazine, which is the magazine of the Pagan Federation here in the UK. I started helping out mainly because my wife is the Editor, and before I knew it I’d built it a website, started organising its advertising, begun learning Indesign and laying out pages, and a whole lot of other stuff. Call it mission creep, but one of the perks is that occasionally I get to interview people I’ve always wanted to, and one of the highlights of the past year has been this email interview I did with the wonderful Susan Cooper, author of The Dark is Rising sequence.

The intro is below and the full article can be read here: Writing The Dark: an interview with Susan Cooper. Next on the hit list: Alan Garner.

Besides, I guess Buddhists are technically pagans by at least some definitions…

Writing The Dark: an interview with Susan Cooper

For many children growing up in the latter part of the 20th century, Susan Cooper’s works, particularly The Dark is Rising sequence, were vivid touchstones. Part of a literary trinity, along with Alan Garner and Ursula Le Guin, these three authors introduced readers to worlds filled with dark, uneasy magic; landscapes where good triumphed – mostly – but bad things more than likely happened along the way. This was ‘Young Adult fiction’ in all its senses, several decades before the term was popularised.

For many children growing up in the latter part of the 20th century, Susan Cooper’s works, particularly The Dark is Rising sequence, were vivid touchstones.

Unlike Le Guin though, Garner and Cooper are very much rooted in place: Britain in particular. The country’s landscape, myths and legends, are central characters in their work, whether the Alderley Edge of Garner’s early books or the Welsh hillsides and Cornish fishing villages of Cooper’s. The magic is the magic of the land, intertwined with the histories and stories of its people, and it’s often wild.

Perhaps The Dark is Rising sequence is all the more powerful because it was born out of longing; written by a homesick Cooper who had not long emigrated to America where she still lives (and, incidentally, is still homesick). She has written much over the years: novels for children and adults, plays, screenplays and more; a biography of JB Priestley, the Orwellian nightmare of Mandrake and on to The Boggart. But it remains The Dark is Rising for which she is most known, and the books still resonate powerfully and richly reward rereading long into adult life.

“I took a piece of paper and wrote down the names of all five books, their characters, the places where they would be set, and the times of the year,” she writes of their creation. “The Dark is Rising would be at the winter solstice and Christmas, the next book Greenwitch would be in the spring, at the old Celtic festival of Beltane…

“On another piece of paper I wrote the very last half-page of the entire story, and then I spent the next six years writing the rest of the sequence—and pulled out that half-page when I reached the end of Silver on the Tree.”

All in all, they are magical books created on what she herself refers to as “a magical day.” They are also very much the products of place and, as she reveals in the interview, of time too.

You grew up in England during WW II. Does a sense of conflict – and its aftermath – permeate your work?

If you spend childhood nights in an air-raid shelter listening to the bombs that somebody’s dropping in the hope of killing you, inevitably you’re going to grow up with a sense of the good guys and the bad guys, us and them – the Light and the Dark. I put my conscious memories of World War II into my only realistic novel, Dawn of Fear, which is largely autobiographical, but the fear and the sense of conflict clearly went down into the unconscious  – to emerge decades later when my imagination gave me The Dark is Rising sequence.

As for the aftermath – well, in World War II the good guys won. Hitler killed himself and the Nazis were routed, so you could call that a triumph for the Light, and I think all my books try to end on a note of hope. But the hope depends on mankind. As Merriman says to the children at the end of the last book in the sequence, “The world will still be imperfect, because men are imperfect. Good men will still be killed by bad, or sometimes by other good men, and there will still be pain and disease and famine, anger and hate. But if you work and care and are watchful, as we have tried to be for you, then in the long run the worse will never, ever, triumph over the better.”

Read the rest here.