Part Five: Conversation with Eric Hemmers — Where Did the Idea come from for ‘The Lay of Moel Eyris: The Saga of the Bear’s Son’?


Part 5:  This conversation is in ten parts.

EH: I see. So, your writing career pretty much started with children’s books. When did LOME come into your mind as a story then?

OD: The genesis for LOME began in 1978, I would say. Everything I saw and experienced began to shape ideas, characters, beliefs, histories, etc.   I began drawing maps, writing stories, all loosely connected but not completely formulated as a mythology yet, and amassing a huge amount of research notes. I think I must have more than two thousand pages of notes, if not more.   It would take me about ten years to really create the world of Moel Eyris.   Like Tolkien I wanted every detail to be correct and exacting, from the flora and fauna right down to the architecture and characters that would inhabit my mythical world of Moel Eyris.

EH: Then would you say that you have been working on LOME since 1978? Or 1988?

OD: I would say that 1978 started the creative process. It was that first trip to Scotland, the Orkney Islands, the Outer Hebrides that shaped my ideas and concepts.   Over the course of the next thirty years I kept returning to Scotland, kept doing research, kept discovering more and more about archaeology and folk beliefs that really began to take shape in my mind and how I might use this information to create my own mythology, my own epic saga.

EH:   Would you say then that it was Tolkien’s books and your trips to Scotland that shaped your writing of the story?   Was there anything else that inspired your ideas?

OD: Definitely. Tolkien’s books were the springboard for my wanting to learn more about philology, languages, Norse mythology, Celtic mythology and so on. But I would have to add that the Arthurian legend was another tremendous influence on me as a writer. I think I have read every version of the Arthur story that you could think of.

EH: You mean Disney’s ‘The Sword in the Stone’ type of Arthur story?

OD: [laughing and shaking his finger at me] No! No, no, NO! Absolutely not! Most people seem to only have seen that Disney film and think that is the true version of the Arthur story. The books I mean include my favorites such as The Once and Future King by T. H. White; ‘The Merlin’ trilogy [The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment] by Mary Stewart; Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliffe; and my most favorite retelling of the Arthur story Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. But, I also read the early medieval versions as well, starting with Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum BritanniaeHistory of the Kings of Britain written sometime in the 1130s.

I’ve always loved the story of King Arthur. But, it wasn’t the chivalrous knights that appealed to me most. It was the ‘dark skinned wild men’ and Merlin. The Arthur story propelled me down the path of reading and researching anything I could find on Medieval Romance, druids, and Celtic mythology.

EH: How in the world do you remember all these books and so much history?

OD: Eric, when you are passionate about something it’s not hard to remember. These are simply some of my favorite books that I have read and reread many times in the course of my lifetime. But, it was still Tolkien and his books that really made me want to write my own stories, create my own mythical world. Like most of Tolkien’s fans I have my favorite characters in the stories and my favorite chapters that I go back and reread fairly often.

EH: Can you tell me what a few of them are?

OD: Sure! Beorn is my most favorite character and was my introduction to the concept of shape-shifting.   Of course, I had to look up to see what Beorn meant because it made me think of Beowulf. In researching folk motifs in literature of came across the bear’s son cycle and motif and this had a profound impact on my thinking in regard to my main character, Caelean Faolán, whose father is bear that could shape-shift into a man.   This naturally led to learning about the taboo of the beast marriage and began to shape my idea for who Cael’s parents were and why he was so special.

One of my most favorite chapters was the one when Frodo and his companions arrive at Bree. You have to remember that this was many years before the movies came out.   And my interpretation of Bree was not nearly as dark and sinister as Peter Jackson presented it in the movies.

For me, traveling by train in the old-fashioned first class compartments or staying in a snug inn like the Prancing Pony is what appeals to me as a writer. I like cozy and snug, what can I say?

Having learned that Tolkien studied Old English, or Anglo-Saxon prompted me to buy a number of Anglo-Saxon dictionaries and begin my own adaptation of some of the words.

Languages fascinate me, and one thing led to another.   For example, in the Orkney Islands there is a now defunct dialect called Norn. I first came across this fact while doing research in the Kirkwall library in the late 1970s through the mid-1980s.   I began to look at other languages such as Gaelic, Irish Gaelic, Old Norse, Old Dutch, and Old Welsh for example. I took copious notes on words that interested me and that I thought I could use in my mythology. Some words I kept the definitions, others I completely made up my own meanings.

EH: Is that where the word ‘moel’ comes from?

OD: Not exactly.   The word ‘moel’ has a much simpler explanation and history.   I was trying to type the word ‘mole’ and I simply made a typo and when I saw ‘moel’ instead of ‘mole’ I loved it! And I made it my own.

I then went on to create an entire history for the word ‘moel’—in its most archaic form you have ‘mool’ or ‘maol’.   The islands where I set my mythology and stories became Moel Eyris. Eyris is my word for ‘island’ but it has become problematical because I came to the conclusion that ‘eyris’ is actually the plural form of ‘eyr’. And then I went on to come up with ‘ey’ for an islet, a very small island. A rock, really. ‘Ey’, of course, is completely inspired from the Norse.

Once I had the word ‘moel’ the entire mythology really did begin to take shape. That one word inspired place names, characters, history and so much more for my stories. I can’t explain how this one word propelled me to create my own mythology. But, it did.

Eric, I have to tell you that I had once read a historical novel titled The Camerons, set in Scotland, in the 17th or 18th, possibly 19th century, and had come across the word ‘moudiewart’. I had no idea what this word meant and, once again, I turned to my trusty OED and looked up it. I was thrilled to discover that moudiewart was the archaic Scottish word for mole! And in 1989 my book Deep Down Underground was published that features one “wee moudiewart, digging, digging, deep down underground.”

Just real quickly I should tell you that, just as I discovered when I looked up ‘barrow-wight,’ having looked up the word ‘moudiewart’ led me to learn other words that were used for moles: moudiewart, moudiewort, mouldiwart, and the most archaic: moldo warpo, which literally translates as ‘earth thrower’. You can’t get any more descriptive when describing a mole than earth thrower!

If you study the Myvyrrian Map [the detailed map of Moel Eyris] you will see how the variations on the word ‘moel’ have been used in numerous place names or geographic features and specific regions (skeelings): mool dykes, Mowdie, Moudiewart, Moel Terre, Moel Weorpe, Moel Breeks, Moel Faulds, Moolland, Moelfree, Moel Gearde, Moolstery — these are the best examples as to how one word inspired an entire island world.

Part Four: Conversation with Eric Hemmers — Where Did the Idea come from for ‘The Lay of Moel Eyris: The Saga of the Bear’s Son’?


Part 4: This conversation is in ten parts.

EH: It does sound like 1978 was the turning point in your life. Don’t laugh, but it’s how I felt about meeting you.   Meeting you changed my life and really made me want to travel and be a writer—just like you.

OD: Eric, those are potent words. I never thought of myself affecting someone so intensely. But, it happened to me and I can see how it must have happened to you. Funny, isn’t it, how when you least expect it you meet someone and your entire life can be changed. Hopefully, for the better!

EH: So, did you head to the Orkney Islands after meeting those two French archaeologists?

OD: Not right away. Remember, I had promised Fairley that I would visit her elderly relatives in Scourie. So, once I reached Thurso, instead of heading to John O’Groats to take the ferry to the southern Orkney Islands, I headed west to Scourie.   I have to tell you that this stretch of the northern coast of Scotland is breathtakingly beautiful. At least it was to me.

EH: Did you find the relatives in Scourie?

OD: I did. I took the mail bus from Thurso to Scourie. I had bought them a couple small gifts in Thurso so that I wouldn’t arrive empty handed.   The mail bus dropped me off in the village and I asked how to find the people I was looking for. I counted on everyone knowing everyone else in the village. Fairley had told me that the village was very small.   And, of course, everyone knew who I wanted to find and I had no difficulty finding their small cottage perched not too far from the North Sea.

EH: How in the world did you go about introducing yourself?

OD: Easy! I walked up to the front door, knocked, and when an elderly woman, Fairley’s aunt, opened the door I simply introduced myself and said that I was a friend of their niece and they welcomed me with open arms!   The world was a lot less suspicious in 1978 than it is today, believe me. Fairley’s aunt and uncle were in their early nineties. I ended up spending about five days with them and helped out with the heavy chores around the croft in exchange for room and board. I loved listening to their stories of the ‘old days’.   They were happy to have a young person be so interested in their lives and their stories. Remember, they had been born in the late 19th century and I wanted to hear all about life in Scotland before it became modern. And, of course, they wanted to hear all about Fairley and her life in Philadelphia. They had a large wedding portrait of Fairley hanging on the wall and she was one of the most beautiful brides I’ve ever seen. The entire arrangement worked out perfectly for all of us.

Again, meeting these two generous and hardworking elderly people was one of the highlights of my first trip to Scotland. I can’t even begin to tell you the things I learned from them. It was their stories about the superstitions associated with ancient burial mounts and standing stones that I was most interested in. This was probably the beginning of putting my interest in archaeology and prehistory together with folk beliefs associated with ancient sites.

Bit by bit, my interests were starting to take tangible shape. After spending a wonderful time with them, and listening to their stories, they told me that I didn’t have to go all the way back to Thurso and John O’Groats to reach the Orkney Islands. There was a smaller, more interesting ferry that left from Portskerra, not too far from Scourie, that would take me right to the town of Stromness on the Mainland.   Stromness is one of the most picturesque fishing villages in the islands. And this ferry goes right past the Old Man of Hoy, a four hundred foot high rock stac rising out of the North Sea right off the coast of Hoy.

And that’s what I did. My first trip to the Orkney Islands was by way of Portskerra.

EH: And was it everything you had hoped it would be? How long did you stay there?

OD: I was everything and more! I had no expectations except that I wanted to see as many prehistoric sites as I could. It was in Stromness and Kirkwall that I bought the first of my extensive collection of books on prehistoric Scotland. I still have a very small model of a traditional straw-back Orkney chair in my studio that I bought that year. Luckily, there is no shortage of sites to see on the Mainland as well as Hoy and Rousay—these are the two next larger islands that lie close to the Mainland and are easy to get to.

EH: Mainland Scotland?

OD: No, the main island in the archipelago is called the Mainland. Kirkwall is the largest town and that’s where the magnificent St. Magnus cathedral stands.   I only spent a week in the Orkney Islands that first visit. I had only just began my long twenty years of research at this time.   It was in 1978 that I first visited Skara Brae, Maes Howe, the Ring of Brodgar, the Standing Stones of Stenness, Rennibister Earthhouse, Gurness Broch, Taversoe Tuick, Midhowe Broch, and other well known prehistoric sites.

I was beside myself with everything that I saw and experienced. It was another world, vastly different from anything I had ever seen or heard or smelt before.

EH: How did you get around the islands? Or the Mainland? Did you rent a car?

OD: No, I didn’t rent a car. I wasn’t that brave. I rented a bicycle and cycled all over the Mainland.   There are ferries that go to the other islands and on Rousay and Hoy I hiked everywhere.   It’s difficult and would take too much time to try to explain the eerie emptiness of these islands, the absolute otherworldliness of them, and the sense of magic that permeates everything you see and do.

Sitting alone in a dark earthhouse underground or inside an ancient burial mound is beyond description. It’s the feeling that you experience in these ancient silent places.

Skara Brae was nothing short of stunning!   As I walked around the site by myself I tried to imagine what life must have really been like living in those snug little stone houses. It was all the ancient stonework that I saw that fired my imagination the most.

I have to tell you that it was when I was on Rousay and discovered the round cairn called Taversoe Tuick that really started my mind working.

EH: Howso? What was it about this particular cairn that made it so special and different from the others?

OD: Cairns and barrows were built in different styles. There are long barrows, round barrows, stalled cairns, chambered cairns, horned barrows, for example. What made Taversoe Tuick so special was the fact that it is one of the rare ‘two story’ cairns. This cairn looks like a rough, tussocky hillock and you enter it from the top through a metal hatch. You climb down an iron ladder into the top level and then can climb down a smaller, narrower ladder to the lower level. The cairn is small, cramped, and dark. Enough light came in from the open hatch that allowed me to actually get some pretty good photos of the interior and I even managed a self-portrait of me sitting in the cairn.

I spent a long time sitting quietly in Taversoe Tuick. I wanted to memorize the stonework from the inside so that I would have a better understanding as to how it was built. And it was at this moment in time that I began to imagine who would live in a cairn like this.   You have to keep in mind that I knew it was a burial mound but my research had revealed that in the 18th and 19th centuries cairns were believed to be ‘fairy houses’.   It was this bit of folklore that I latched onto and was most interested in thinking about.

Eric, you have to remember that as I was seeking out ancient sites at the same time I was collecting, and reading, books that described the sites in great detail and had detailed drawings and diagrams showing how they looked in plan and section.

EH: Wow! So, this was the beginning of LOME? It all started with your exploring ancient burial mounds and standing stone circles.

OD: Almost. This was my first venture to Scotland and my first time actually seeing and exploring ancient sites.   That visit to Taversoe Tuick actually inspired my first picture book that is titled Ravena. I wrote the story shortly after returning home. But, it wasn’t until the next year that I actually showed it in New York City in hopes that an editor or art director would want to publish it.

Part Three: Conversation with Eric Hemmers — Where Did the Idea come from for ‘The Lay of Moel Eyris: The Saga of the Bear’s Son’?


Part 3: This conversation is in ten parts.

EH: So what happened while you were in Inverness? Anything special?

OD: I don’t remember much about my time in Inverness to be honest. It was just a very grey city.  The only definite plans I had were to continue north and see where it led me. I don’t think I was very fair to Inverness because I really wanted to be in the countryside and not in a city.

EH: You really had this trip planned out in detail, didn’t you?

OD: Sort of.  But, I never knew exactly where I was going to end up.  I just followed my instincts and got my money’s worth with my BritRail pass.

Wait a minute! Now I remember why I was heading north. I had worked for a wonderful architectural firm in Philadelphia called Baker Rothschild Horn and Blyth in 1977. One of the partners, Cecil Baker, had a beautiful wife named Fairley. Fairley was Canadian but her family originally came from Scotland and she had relatives in a small village called Scourie right on the north coast of Scotland.   So, I was making my way to Scourie, which is west of Thurso. Thurso is the largest town in the far northeast of Scotland.

EH: Did you know all these towns before you went to Scotland?

OD: Of course not! I only knew that Fairley had elderly relatives in Scourie and I had told her that I would look them up.   She said that they would be happy to meet me and spend time with me. I was young and fearless and didn’t think it was odd that I would stop in to meet someone’s elderly relatives.   And I had lots of maps so that I could find my way.

EH: You are brave! And how did it all work out?

OD: Well, from Inverness I decided to take the train to Thurso. The train stopped in a small town on the northeast coast called Helmsdale. I got off the train with my backpack and looked around the town. It was interesting to me for some reason, but I don’t remember why. With my BritRail pass I could get on and off trains as often as I liked without restriction.  My approach to traveling was that if I didn’t like a town I could hop on the next train and keep traveling.

I never made advance reservations. I am the eternal optimist and never worried that I wouldn’t find someplace to spend the night—even if it was in a train station or on the train platform. In Helmsdale I missed the last train to Thurso so I ended up staying in the youth hostel there for the night.  I do remember that the weather was nasty—cold and rainy.   After looking around the town I spent the evening studying my guidebooks and Ordnance Survey maps in order to plot out my route to Scourie. It was the next morning that I overheard two young French archaeology grad students having a lively discussion and poring over their own Ordnance Survey maps planning their day of exploration on the moors looking for something called “souterrains”. Back then my French was still pretty good and I could understand most of what they were saying.

I introduced myself and asked them what exactly they were looking going out to look for. They explained all about souterrains, or earth-houses, to me and that this was part of their graduate thesis project. They were looking for lesser known, unexplored earthhouses and were going to take measurements, do map plotting, etc. I thought this sounded fascinating and asked them if I could come along. They said that I could and I could help carry the measuring equipment. In other words, I served as their pack mule. That day, out on the empty moors in northern Scotland was magical. There’s no other way to describe it.

At one point we had settled onto a small mound and were having a bite to eat when we heard bagpipes somewhere off in the distance. We never saw who was playing the bagpipes but it was one of the strangest and most magical music I had ever heard. I didn’t realize that hiking across rough moorland with no landmarks was going to be such an arduous thing to do. At one point the two grad students stopped and consulted their map. They kept looking around and said that the souterrain they were looking for had to be somewhere nearby. We spread out and searched for it. I thought it would be a well-marked site and I really had no clear idea what it was supposed to look like.

Suddenly, one of the grad students yelled out that she had found it. The other grad student and I ran over and all that there was to see was a small, squarish hole in the ground. I was amazed that this is what they were looking for. They had brought flashlights and we had to get down on our stomachs and slither into the tight, narrow, dark stone-lined passage that led down to a corbeled stone chamber. Very small.   The three of us could barely fit into it.

This was the very first time I had ever experienced anything like this. We were in an undocumented prehistoric structure and I was thrilled! We found and documented a number of souterrains on the moors.   I found it all absolutely thrilling and exciting.   When we returned to the youth hostel at the end of the day wet, cold, and tired, all I could talk about was what we had seen and done. Over our simple dinner we made for ourselves at the youth hostel they told me that if I found this little bit of archaeology exciting I should visit the Grey Cairns of Camster a bit farther north and then take the ferry over to the Orkney Islands where there was a treasure trove of archaeological sites.

EH: That’s great! So meeting these two graduate archaeology students from France made you want to see more. Did you visit these cairns?

OD: I did! From Helmsdale I continued north to Wick, right on the east coast. From Wick I had to take a bus in order to get to the Grey Cairns of Camster. For me the most memorable event was when I visited the Grey Cairns of Camster in Caithness. These were the first prehistoric burial mounds that I visited. I had never seen anything like it before and my imagination was set on fire!

My plan was to continue traveling north. I still planned to find Scourie, get to John O’Groats, take the ferry over to the Orkney Island and then hitchhike across the north coast of Scotland to Cape Wrath and down the west coast to Ullapool. And from Ullapool I would take the ferry out to the Outer Hebrides.

Meeting those two young grad students literally changed my life and gave me purpose for the rest of my stay in Scotland. I now had to find and visit some very specific prehistoric sites. EH: I remember your book Skara Brae: The Story of a Prehistoric Village! Did you write and illustrate that book because of your having gone to the Orkney Islands that year? OD:   I did. But, that book didn’t happen right away. I didn’t work on that particular book until 1985, and it was published in 1986. At this point in time I hadn’t even gone to New York City yet to try and get published. I didn’t venture to New York City until 1979.

In 1978 I was at the beginning of my love affair with Scotland and all things prehistoric.   The magic and mystery of Scotland and its isles had captured my heart as well as my imagination.

EH: How do you remember all this in the order that it happened?   I mean, it seems like you did a lot during that first trip to Scotland in 1978.

OD: [laughs] Eric, I know that to you 1978 must seem like a long, long time ago. But, to me, 1978 was the year that literally changed my life and gave me a sense of direction. Focus, if you will.

My theory is that when you experience a life changing experience you remember it in great detail. It’s like remembering your first kiss or the first real love of your life. I have always said that people come into our lives for a reason. And leave our lives for a reason. Fate meant for me to meet those two young women. I don’t think they had any idea as to how much our meeting changed my life so drastically.

Part Two: Conversation with Eric Hemmers — Where Did the Idea come from for ‘The Lay of Moel Eyris: The Saga of the Bear’s Son’?


Part 2:  This conversation is divided into ten parts.

EH: I see. Makes sense to me.   So, you first read Tolkien’s books in 1972 or 1973 and the books made an impression on you. How old were you then?

OD: I was born in September 1953 so I had just turned nineteen.   A bit old to be discovering Tolkien’s books for the first time, but thank the bees and trees for Dr. Taylor requiring us to read those books. They changed my life forever.

EH: Howso?

OD: Well, I’d never really read fantasy before. And, I suppose if I was going to read fantasy I was lucky that I my first experience was reading one of the best fantasy writers that ever lived.   Like all of Tolkien’s fans I was immediately sucked into the world of Middle Earth and its inhabitants. Every minute detail of the Shire fascinated me. I was completely obsessed with the architecture of Hobbiton. But, what really intrigued me was some of the words that I had never come across before.

EH: Which words? I’m curious to know.

OD: The word “barrow-wight” is the first that comes to mind. I had no idea what either of these words meant. Naturally, I grabbed the OED, the Oxford English Dictionary, and looked it up. The definition for ‘barrow’ to led me to look up other words and I began writing them down in a notebook.   For example: Barrow is a burial mound; a prehistoric burial mound. At the end of the OED definition the citation said “See also ‘tumulus’, ‘cairn,’ ‘souterrain’.   Of course, I had to look those words up too and I was thrilled to learn that these were ancient burial structures that are found throughout the British Isles.

EH: And so these words prompted you to write your own mythology? Create your own Middle Earth?

OD: More or less. Probably more.   I really do love words, odd words, unusual words. And the more I read about Tolkien’s life and work the more intrigued I became with Anglo-Saxon and Norse mythology.

In the summer of 1974 I worked as the drama counselor in a summer camp in the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts. It was there that I met a guy from Scotland who became one of my best friends. I graduated from college in 1975 and went on to graduate school on the west coast. I left grad school and moved to San Francisco for a very brief time and then found my way to Philadelphia.   I met my first partner in July 1976 and finally being in a stable, secure relationship gave me the confidence to settle down and figure out what I wanted to do with my life.   I was twenty-two years old. My greatest fear in life was that IF I didn’t get my big break by the time I was thirty it was never going to happen. The clock was ticking!

EH: Interesting chronology. So, how did all this affect your writing?

OD: It was my first partner, Ed, who encouraged me to do watercolours and keep drawing. Then in 1978 I flew to Scotland to visit my friend and his new wife and new baby in Glasgow. I spend six magical weeks in Scotland. By this time I had amassed quite a bit of knowledge about prehistoric structures in Britain, especially Scotland, and I decided that I wanted to see barrows, cairns, brochs, duns, earthhouses, crannogs, etc. for myself so that I could more fully appreciate Tolkien’s books.

EH: And did you see all these structures during that first trip to Scotland?

OD: Yes, I did! Quite a few, in fact. I ended up returning to Scotland year after year from 1978 to 1998 doing what I called my field research.   I had bought a BritRail pass in 1978 and my friend in Glasgow urged me to travel to the Highlands, see Inverness, Skye, and so on. He and his wife drove me to Pitlochry and found a nice little B&B for me to stay at when I began my six week tour of Scotland. Pitlochry was my first real introduction to begin exploring the Scottish countryside.   From Pitlochry I took the train to Inverness. I stayed in Inverness for a few days.

Over the course of the twenty year research period I was most interested in the Highlands and northern Scotland, the more remote areas of the country. And also the Orkney and Shetland Islands, the Outer Hebrides, and the mysterious St. Kilda, far off the west coast of the Outer Hebrides.

EH: Wow! So you really did want to get to know the country and the prehistory quite well in order to write about it and use the research in creating LOME? Did you go to Loch Ness and Urquhart castle?  Did you see the Loch Ness monster?

OD: Of course I went to Loch Ness! But, no I didn’t see Nessie. And believe me, I spent an entire day walking around the castle and constantly looking out across the loch hoping to catch a glimpse, just a tiny glimpse, of Nessie.

EH: Do you believe that Nessie is real? Or is it just another legend to get tourists to Loch Ness?

OD: I honestly believe that Nessie is real. Or, at least I want her to be real. There has to be unexplained mysteries in life in order to keep us interested.

Part One: Conversation with Eric Hemmers — Where Did the Idea Come from for ‘The Lay of Moel Eyris: The Saga of the Bear’s Son’?


Part One:  This conversation is divided into ten parts.

Eric Hemmers: I’m sitting in a quiet café, tucked down a side street, having coffee and pastries with the renowned and internationally acclaimed children’s book writer and illustrator, Olivier Dunrea. I first met Olivier when I was a boy in the mid-1980s and was fascinated by the stories he told, and the slides he showed of his research expeditions to Scotland and the Orkney Islands, as well as of his mythical world of Moel Eyris (Mole Islands). Olivier had a large leather portfolio filled with sketches, colour studies, drawings, watercolours, and most impressive—a large detailed map of his island world.   Finally, I get the chance to ask him all the questions that I had wanted to ask all those many years ago.

Olivier, I have to tell you, it is wonderful to see you again after all these years. When you came to my school as a visiting author I was mesmerized by your stories, humor and tremendous energy. The story you told that I remember and loved most was the one when you had been stranded overnight on one of the more remote islands in the North Sea and had to spend the night in the prehistoric barrow. You made that story so real I felt I was there with you, huddled on that ladder in the pitch black darkness.   And it was great to see the photos you had taken to prove that the burial mound was real! It was because of you that I decided to pursue a career as a journalist and writer.   I’ll never forget you telling us “Words are power! Use them!”

OD: Did I really say that?   It sounds like something I would say. And mean. Thank you, Eric, for being so interested in my work. I appreciate it. The story of my spending the night in the prehistoric barrow is one of the best stories, I must admit.   That barrow is located on the Holm of Papa—a tiny, uninhabited island off the east coast of Papa Westray.   Westray, Papa Westray, and the Holm of Papa are the three remote islands in the northwestern part of the Orkney Islands. That expedition was one of the most memorable during all my years visiting Scotland and the Orkney Islands.

EH: Your stories have stayed with me all these years.   You have a way of telling a story that makes a person live the story as if it’s happening right then to them. You have to be one of the best storytellers I’ve ever met. And your sound effects are the best! If I hadn’t met you I’m not sure I would have been so determined to become a writer myself.

OD: Eric, that is great to hear! And quite a compliment. Thank you. I’ve always said that I probably should have been a motivational speaker or an agent. I’m fairly good at prodding others to accomplish great things.

EH: When I was a boy I always wanted to ask you “Where did the ideas come from for you epic mythology The Lay of Moel Eyris?” but, you were always mobbed by kids and other people, all clamoring for your attention so I never got the chance to talk to you and ask my question. So, I’m going to finally ask my big question to start this interview: Where did you get the idea for The Lay of Moel Eyris: The Saga of the Bear’s Son?

OD: Well, from this point on we can simply refer to the mythology as LOME. Much easier than to keep saying the full title of series. I suppose it’s fair to say that it all started when I was an undergraduate in college, a sophomore.   For one of my English classes I took Children’s Literature. The professor was Dr. Keith Taylor and his love of children’s books, the authors, the illustrators, and energetic style of teaching impressed me beyond belief.   We were required to read 450 children’s books, including picture books as well as middle reader and young adult novels. It was in his class that I first read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

EH: What year was that? Do you remember?

OD: Of course, I remember.   I’m NOT that old! That was either in the autumn of 1972 or the spring of 1973.   I can’t believe I can’t remember exactly when I took that class! My memory is starting to slip faster than my underwear!

EH: [laughs out loud] See, that’s what I remember about your visit to my school. Your wacky, wild sense of humor! Did you know that you always wanted to be a writer and illustrator?

OD: Yes, pretty much, I think, although I did get sidetracked into theatre and music, which is what I took my undergraduate degrees in and pursued as a graduate student. I quickly learned that I am a much more solitary kind of person and not a group effort kind of guy.   Since I was twelve years old I always wrote in a journal. I also wrote out my “Life Plan” when I was twelve. I was a very focused and determined young boy. Today it’s called being ‘obsessive-compulsive’. In fact, one of my journals that I wrote when I was seventeen years old became the basis for my autobiographical novel titled 4” written under a pen name—Gabe Hooton.

EH: I don’t want to stray too far from LOME, but real quick, what is 4” about and why did you write it under the name Gabe Hooton?

OD: 4” is an edgy and compelling coming-of-age story. It’s based directly on one of my journals with a bit of artistic license taken in order to tell the narrative that I wanted.   I wrote it and published it under the name Gabe Hooton because I didn’t want it to compete with my children’s picture books.   I thought there might be too much of a conflict of interest. And I always wanted to have a pen name. I have several pen names, in fact.

My absence


Just a very brief post.  On 20 March our beloved Springer Spaniel, Molly, slipped and fell into the Delaware River and was instantly swept away underneath a massive ice sheet.  We are in  deep mourning and I am having a very difficult time coming to terms with her death.

Will post again soon.Molly up close