Wizards, dragons and sorcery may not feature in the lives of most Oxfordshire women, but for Juliet E McKenna, they are just part of her average working day.

As well as being a wife to Steve and mother to sons Keith, 13, and Ian, 11, Juliet is the author of nine fantasy novels, all set in fictitious worlds where magic and swordfights are part of the landscape.

Her debut novel, The Thief's Gamble, was published in 1999, the first of five books under The Tales of Einarinn banner. They were swiftly followed by The Aldabreshin Compass series, the fourth and final of which, Eastern Tide, went on sale in October last year.

Studying at St Hilda's for a degree in Greek and Latin history and literature in the 1980s deepened Juliet's interest in legends and myths, but her love of stories and storytelling began much earlier.

"As a child, I would read anything and everything I could lay my hands on," she explained.

"I would make up stories, cobbled together from my favourite books and tell them to my brother."

Although she lives in Witney, Juliet, 41, still has a special affection for Oxford.

She said: "It has an astonishing tradition for writers of fantasy, such as Lewis Carroll.

"One of the great things about it is the feeling of ongoing history.

"The early colleges have been there for hundreds of years and lumps of the old city walls are still built into the fabric of the place, but it is not frozen in time. You have a medieval building next to a Georgian building with Victorian additions. And that's next to a set of traffic lights and a Starbucks. So there's this sense of history being a living thing and that is something that permeates my work."

Juliet takes inspiration from local traditions and customs too: "The Cotswolds have fed into my writing in that many of my characters are closely tied to family and home.

"Although I have moved around a lot in my life, my husband's family have been in this area for hundreds of years and are deeply interwoven into the local social networks. That is something I look Continued on page 47 on as an outsider, but can use in my work."

When it comes to the business of actually putting down words on paper, Juliet finds it easier to write during school hours to fit in around her boys.

"It is extremely difficult to carry on crafting an intricate scene when you can hear two lads fighting over the X-Box downstairs," she laughs.

But working around the children does have its advantages. "If I have a day where it has been going extremely well, where the words are coming and the whole sequence of events is really flowing, then it can be intensely frustrating to have to stop. But if it has been like wading through treacle, where what I have in my mind is just not translating properly onto the page, then the boys coming home can come as a relief."

Her children are proud of what she does but it wasn't always that way: "When they were little they saw nothing remarkable about it at all. Some mummies are teachers, some mummies work in shops and some sit in a desk in the corner of the bedroom and write books.

"As they've got older and started to read seriously themselves it has become quite cool, having a mum that writes. My elder son went and took out one of my books from his school library the other week, which I think he did just to be able to tell the librarian My mum wrote this'.

Having a domesticated background can have other unexpected bonuses too.

"Often, by about 7.30pm when I have dealt with the boys, cooked tea and washed up, I will suddenly think "Ah, I know!" and the solution to a writing problem I've been worrying about for several hours during the day will just pop into my head. It's as if when I switch off and concentrate on something else, my subconscious is somehow still beavering away at it.

"What I do then is scribble it down on some paper and stick it on the notice board in the kitchen. I sometimes wonder if we are the only household in Oxfordshire where there are odd notes about swordfights and magic spells stuck next to letters about Scouts or the school cake sale!"

Her own success has made Juliet keen to pass on encouragement and advice to aspiring writers. These days she is much in demand, frequently invited to visit schools, colleges and libraries to talk to students or writers' circles. In October last year, she spent a week tutoring on a residential writing course held in a castle in a remote part of Scotland and when I met her, she was preparing to travel up to Yorkshire the next day to lecture students on Leeds Universitys Creative Writing Course.

She's often called upon to be a panel member at literary festivals and science fiction and fantasy conventions too. And the fact that her books have been published in 10 countries means that these can be all over the world. She's flown to Dublin and the USA in the last two years and in March this year will be venturing over to Croatia to be guest speaker at a Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention there.

Juliet is currently working on a new fantasy trilogy and a contemporary magic novel set in the Cotswolds. For more information about her, her books and to read her advice for aspiring writers, visit her website,