Chrys Cymri is a fascinating individual. An Anglican priest by day, she lives with a small green parrot named Tilly because the upkeep for a dragon is beyond her current budget. (Plus, she’s responsible for making good any flame damage to church property.)
She loves Doctor Who, landscape photography, single malt whisky, and her job, which is looking after a parish church in the Midlands area of England.
She also generously volunteers her time as a Goodreads moderator in the Review Group Reading Rounds, so that indie authors can legitimately acquire enough reviews for their books to be taken seriously. It was in this context that we met several years ago when I reviewed her book, The Temptation of Dragons, which is also the first book in the Penny White series.
If I had to pick a famous writer in whose literary footsteps she follows, my answer would be CS Lewis, which I feel to be high praise. However, Ms. Cymri’s work is no Narnia knockoff.
The protagonist Penny White, like Ms. Cymri herself, is a priest for the Church of England. Penny inadvertently makes contact from someone from an alternate parallel world, one that exists side-by-side with ours, and the “person” she meets is actually a dragon. This results in her being drawn into his world, which also boast such creatures as unicorns, gryphons, harpies, and snail sharks.
It’s a well-written and absolutely unique book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. When asked about the Penny White series, the author herself says it took her way out of her comfort zone:
First off, it’s in first person, which I normally avoid. I tried writing the first chapter in third person, but Penny wanted to tell her story directly, thank you very much! I also never thought I could write laugh out loud moments, but reviewers regularly comment on how funny they find the books. Finally, I never expected to write a nine novel series. I’m happy with how the various plot and character arcs played out.
Speaking of characters, how do you develop yours?
I wish I had that much control over my characters. They pretty much emerge in my head and tell me who they are and what they plan to do. Well, usually. Sometimes they do something I don’t expect and I have to scramble to catch up.
Where do you come up with ideas for new characters or stories?
They come to me. Sometimes it’s a scene, usually quite some way into a story, which comes to my mind. Occasionally from dreams. (I have vivid dreams, and often remember them.) The characters insist I tell their stories and haunt me until I oblige them.
And what about the character names? How do you decide on them?
I keep a list of interesting names that I come across. For my ‘Penny White’ series, I stuck with very common names for the human characters. Icelandic names were used for the dragons (they live in Viking-like longhouses), Welsh for most of the other non-humans. I thought it would help readers remember who was human and who wasn’t if the names were an indicator.
What’s been the most memorable piece of research you’ve turned up?
Looking into the mating of snails. The snail shark character, Clyde, in the ‘Penny White’ novels is a lefty. Most snails have shells with the spiral on the right. It seems a lefty can only mate with another lefty. I also found out that snails have blue blood!
How much do you structure your stories before you write them?
I don’t. I know pretty much where the story needs to go, and the pivotal scenes. Sometimes I have to scratch my head for a while in order to come up scenes between the pivotal ones. It’s interesting what can emerge. My most popular character in the ‘Penny White’ series is Clyde. I needed an action scene, and came up with the idea of an invasion of snail sharks in a village. Only after Penny had defended herself against the largest snail (the size of a German shepherd dog) did she spot the snail’s child in the bushes. Clyde’s appearance was a much a surprise to me as it was to her.
Do you have any revision tips to share?
I keep a list of things to look into/change as I write the first draft, as I prefer to concentrate on finishing a first draft before I start to revise. My next step is to work through that list, sometimes checking things like eye or hair colour (keeping a list of main characters and their physical details is very helpful). I try to finally read through the entire book in a day to spot where I’ve repeated myself or contradicted myself. Sometimes I’ll say dialogue out loud to make sure it sounds like real speech. Then I send the book off to four people who edit for me, spotting not only typos but inconsistences.
What has been the hardest thing about publishing for you?
Although my first two novels were professionally published, they only sold around 5000 copies each, so both the publisher and my agent weren’t interested in continuing with me. That disappointment put me off writing for years. When I returned to writing, I decided to self-publish. However, I wanted my books to be as professional as possible, which meant finding my own cover artist and editors. Fortunately, I managed to find both. I’m still annoyed, though, if someone finds a typo despite the four people who pick through my books for me before I publish. The other hard part is advertising. I’m terrible at it!
Any advice for aspiring authors?
Join various peer review groups. And listen to what they have to say! I’ve come across too many writers who stubbornly want to write their own way, and then wonder why no one wants to read their novel. I write because I need to write, but I also write because I want people to enjoy what I offer.
What do you do when you get stuck writing your story?
Give up, pour myself a glass of red wine (if it’s evening), and go off to find something on Netflix. There’s no point trying to push it. Usually, by the next day, something has occurred to me.
If you could instantaneously master one writing skill, what would you choose and why?
The use of contractions first time around. For some reason, I seem to write dialogue without them. When I revise, I’m perpetually putting contractions back in. Real people contract all the time. Why do I initially make everyone sound like a robot?
What is the most memorable writing comment you’ve ever gotten?
From a review on Amazon for the first ‘Penny White’ book: “Going from missing teaspoons in the parish hall to theological discussions with dragons is enough to make anyone’s head spin.”
What is the single most important quality in a novel; what must an author do to win you over?
It’s the characters. I can forgive a lot if the characters are people I want to spend time with. If I don’t like the characters, then it doesn’t matter how rich the writing is or how intriguing the plot. Sadly, real life can offer enough unpleasantness. I want to spend my leisure time with people I like!
If your writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do with your success?
I wouldn’t want to be too rich and famous, as there is a great advantage to being able to move through life anonymously. If my books made enough to let me take whatever holidays I wanted, and to upgrade my camera equipment a bit more often, that would make me happy. I enjoy giving money to charitable causes, so I think it’d be great to be able to do that regularly. My travel blog is http://www.travellinghopefully.co.uk.
What’s something most readers would never guess about you?
Those who know me say I’m very much like Penny White, in that both of us love ‘Doctor Who’, red wine, and single malt whisky. However, I always feel the need to emphasise that I certainly don’t drink as much alcohol as she does! She speaks her mind more than I do, and I sometimes envy her for that. People might not guess that I most of my leisure reading is non-fiction, rather than fantasy or science fiction. I do enjoy listening to ‘Doctor Who’ audio adventures, but I also subscribe to a number of factual podcasts. Watching the British version of ‘The Apprentice’ is a guilty pleasure.
Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?
I’m a very keen photographer. When I was younger, I wanted to be a painter, but I could never capture the scene in front of me with a canvas and brush. Then my father gave me one of his old cameras, and I never looked back. Normally I travel all over the world with my cameras. The pandemic has kept me closer to home, but I’ve tried to take photos regularly in my local park, ranging from local wildlife to close-up shots of insects and flowers. My photography website is http://www.stalkingthelight.com.
Do you have a favorite quote you’d like to share?
‘Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind.’ The dying words of the Twelfth Doctor. I adore the British TV series ‘Doctor Who’ and those words are ones I try to live by.
Tell me something surprising about you.
I speak four languages fluently, namely American English, British English, German, and parrot. My mother brought home our first parrot when I was six years old, and we had budgies before then. I’ve grown up with birds, and I can quickly read their body language. Parrots tell you a lot about how they’re feeling by how they hold their feathers and their heads. ‘Does she talk?’ people ask when they see my parrot on a Zoom call. ‘All the time,’ I reply. ‘Sometimes even in English.’ I have her on my shoulder for my YouTube videos, in which I read out parts of my ‘Penny White’ novels. Her antics are very amusing! Here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdZHwEqj0lg
I watched that video, and Tilly’s antics are hilarious. I highly recommend it. : )
On Friday, March 19th, The Temptation of Dragons will be free, and otherwise, it’s only $.99. It’s a great read, and you can pick it up here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01DOGQ3HU
Her website is at www.chryscymri.com
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