When I first met Liz Taylorson in 2017, I quickly realised she was some way removed from my stereotypical image of a romantic fiction writer. Her second novel, The Little Church by the Sea, had just been published, and is the charming tale of a lonely, female vicar finding love in an idyllic North Yorkshire coastal village:
But our conversation unexpectedly turned to J.R.R Tolkien, and our mutual teenage love of Lord of the Rings. As Liz became a regular book reviewer on my BBC Radio Tees show, we frequently found ourselves discussing the links between romantic and fantasy fiction: their shared common ground in traditional storytelling and balladic derring-do. And I was predictably intrigued when Liz told me that, as a 1980s teenager, she had written – and, amazingly, completed – an epic fantasy novel that combined her love of both genres.
Finally, the day has come for Liz’s unpublished first book to see the light of the day. Over to you, Liz…
“When I was thirteen, I was secretly in love with Robin of Sherwood. More than anything in the world, I wanted to be an outlaw in Sherwood Forest. I’d have hated it, of course, because I was never very good with insects, mud or trees and I suspect that life as an outlaw in Sherwood Forest would have featured quite a lot of all three. So, to fulfill my Robin of Sherwood fantasies, I took the less extreme step of writing a novel. It wasn’t actually about Robin Hood, that would have been way too simple. It was a fantasy ‘epic’ (I was also a huge Lord of the Rings fan at this point in my life) called To the Far Distant Horizon, and was entirely written and illustrated by me. Here it is:
I used to carry my novel everywhere with me, in case I had a few spare moments to write. It was in an enormous black A4 binder covered in little stickers that said things like ‘Bring Back Blake’s 7‘. I think it took me the best part of a year to write, and I even remember sitting down to write a few pages on Christmas morning, that’s how obsessed I was! I think (from a rough estimate) that the finished work ran to about 30,000 words. The dialogue is dire, the illustrations are worse, and I can’t believe I’m even considering sharing this in public, but here we go ….
Cue a bit of Clannad here!
‘Rian staggered into his hut exhausted after a hard day’s work in the fields …’ is the stirring beginning of my magnum opus. I then describe, in some detail, what he had for tea.
Our hero, who looks quite a lot like Michael Praed’s Robin, is an orphan. A mysterious stranger gives Rian a massive sword covered in runes (I wonder where I might have got that idea?) and sends him off to find some outlaws who live, quite obviously, in the… aha, I’ve got you there! They didn’t live in a forest at all, because I don’t like forests. They lived in the mountains, and I do like mountains. To get there, Rian has to cross the (imaginatively named) ‘Great Moors’. I also like moors, having spent half my childhood being taken for long walks across them while imagining I was a character in Lord of the Rings. There were no Playstations in the early 1980s, remember.
Rian sets off on his epic journey, and meets a girl named Ayla (who was meant to look a bit like me, but that drawing is atrocious.) Handily, she is one of the outlaws and guides him across the moors to their camp. She is somewhat suspicious of Rian, because she thinks he might be a spy for the evil dictator who has deposed the true king and usurped his throne. I also had quite an interest in the English Civil War at this period of my life, thanks to the swashbuckling 1983 Sunday night drama series By the Sword Divided, so much of the politics in my epic effectively consist of royalists versus roundheads.
On reaching the outlaws’ camp, the leader of the outlaws, Robyn (who also looks a lot like Michael Praed) recognises Rian, from the sword that he carries, as the lost king. They all set off on an epic Lord of the Rings-ish journey (there’s even a map!) with many trials and tribulations, mostly involving grey, rainy moorlands, to restore Rian to his throne.
There is a big showdown between Rian and the usurper. Now, here comes the good bit. Because Rian was brought up as a farm lad, he’s not very good with the sword and he’s losing the fight. Ayla (who has been secretly in love with him all along – bet you never saw that coming!) gets her trusty bow and arrow and shoots the dictator in the back to save Rian’s life. Now that is actually a twist worthy of a proper novel! Between them they cover up the fact that Rian didn’t actually kill the dictator in a proper fight.
Rian then marries Anne, the daughter of the dictator to (cliché alert) ‘heal the wounds of the country’. I got fed up with drawing faces by the time I got to Anne, so she had to look out of the window – I never liked her that much anyway. There is bloodbath of an ending which I suspect owes something to the multiple deaths in Les Miserables, which was on a continual loop on my tape recorder at this stage of my life. Ayla and Robyn are murdered and found lying in a pool of blood, their deaths rather prosaically discovered when they don’t turn up for breakfast one day! Rian decides it’s all too much and he doesn’t want to be king, or married to Anne, any longer.
‘He shouldered his bundle, turned his back on the city and began to walk away into the darkening night. He did not look back at Anne who stood at the gate, a lonely figure gazing outwards to the far distant horizon.’
Cue more Clannad.
My first novel was complete, with a huge debt of gratitude to J.R.R. Tolkein, Richard ‘Kip’ Carpenter, Victor Hugo and John Hawkesworth. I was a sobbing wreck and I think there may even be tear stains on the manuscript. They’re either tears or tea.
I’d like to say that this was the end of my Robin of Sherwood obsession, and I moved on, but thirty-something years later, I’m actually a real, proper novelist with a publisher and everything – but this is still part of the notice board that sits on my desk!”
Huge thanks to Liz: her two novels, The Manor on the Moors and The Little Church By the Sea, are widely available and highly recommended. And her website is here:
Felt Trips is a collaborative effort. If anyone wants to contribute their own childhood drawings from the era, I would be utterly delighted – please drop me a line using the “Contact” link at the top of the page. A good quality scan would be perfect, but – if not – then a clear photo of your artwork, lying flat, is fine. And maybe a few words of explanation, too: when the drawings were done, how old you were, what inspired you to tackle those particular subjects? Thanks so much.