The Magdala Trilogy by Peter Longley
Author Interview


Where did you grow up and was reading and writing a part of your life? Who were your earliest influences and why?

I grew up in southeast England. My family were from Beckenham in Kent on the outskirts of London. My family have lived in Kent for five hundred years, mostly around Cranbrook. I was educated privately, and taught to read at home by my mother. In England in the 1940's, it was expected in private education that students starting kindergarten school at aged four should have basic reading skills. I am, however, a very slow reader, but I retain most of what I read. My further education from age eight to eighteen was at private boarding schools in southeast England. I attended, Tonbridge School, one of England's premier private schools. Possibly, therefore, my boarding schools were a greater influence on my formative years than my family and home. My mother and father both read a lot, but mostly light reading. My mother wrote poetry and attempted to write novels. She was not published. Private education in England in the 1950's still had a classic slant on English literature and I was introduced to most the classics through this system, as had been both my mother and father. I first became interested in writing while writing a short story for a school prize that was very heavily influenced by my recent reading of The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas. My further interest in writing was fostered at Tonbridge School where I became the editor of a school literary magazine and started writing a 'turn of the century' family saga titled The Seasons at Tunesbury. I was much encouraged in this by my English teacher at the age of fifteen, Richard Bradley. The book that had the greatest influence on me and my future life while I was a teenager was almost certainly The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley that Bradley had encouraged me to read. I think this was because I could so well identify with the hero of the story, a boy brought up on the fringe of privilege in 1900. Part of my early adult life evolved in a very similar way to that of Leo Colston in The Go-Between. My early interest in History also started me off in accumulating a library of history and biography. History remains one of my premier interests to this day. My education was completed at Cambridge University in England where I studied theology. History, English and Fine Art were my majors for entry into St. Catherine's College, Cambridge, to study theology. The arts were important in my family, and manifested in both my elder sister and I having formal education in fine art. She was a scholar and Landseer prizewinner at the Royal Academy of Art. I studied at Tunbridge Wells School of Art for two years. My younger sister was a student at The Rose Bruford School of Speech and Drama.

Tell us about your book Two Thousand Years Later — This book is set on a World Cruise and I understand you were a cruise director for twenty years? How did your experiences help write this book?

Two Thousand Years Later can be read on several different levels. It started out as a cruise romance based on my observations of world cruise travel as I made seventeen world cruises as a cruise director. It was only after I started writing this cruise romance that I conceived the idea of linking this contemporary story with a massive manuscript that I had started writing in 1988 about the origins of Christianity in the first century AD Roman and Jewish worlds. By creating a reincarnation theme in the novel I was able to have the characters of the cruise romance discover and speculate on their perceived first century AD lives in Roman Judea. This is introduced through déjà vu circumstances, dreams, waking dreams, and music association. Finally, it is given some authority by a described regression session on the past life of one of the characters that in format was based on my own experience with past life regression. Reincarnation is not the central theme of the book, however, but rather is the tool that I have used as the author to have a late twentieth century theological discussion about first century AD events. The contemporary setting of the story is very much influenced by my experiences as a cruise director with Royal Viking Line, Sun Line, and Cunard Line (where I was Cruise Director of the prestigious ocean liner Queen Elizabeth 2). My career enabled me to travel the entire world and all locations in the novel are from my first hand experience. The hero of the novel is a ship's officer, as was I, and through my eyes as the author, I am able to reveal aspects of the lives of shipboard officers. The heroine is a concert pianist. I married a concert flautist while I was Cruise Director of the Queen Elizabeth 2 and as a cruise director I was involved in the entertainment business for twenty years. Obviously, my life experience is reflected in this novel from that standpoint, I also gave myself a cameo part in the novel as Harry Hoven, the fictitious Cruise Director of the Queen Elizabeth 2.

I understand that Two Thousand Years Later is an introductory novel to three further self-contained novels titled The Magdala Trilogy? Please explain.

The principal characters in the contemporary story of Two Thousand Years Later discover their counterparts in the First Century story to be a fictitious Roman named Linus Flavian, Joshua of Nazareth (Jesus) and Maria of Magdala (Mary Magdalene). These are the three principal characters of The Magdala Trilogy. The series was originally one massive epic titled Beyond the Olive Grove that was written in six parts. The first volume of The Magdala Trilogy has now been published as A Star's Legacy (iUniverse Publishing ISBN 978-1-4401-4256-7). The trilogy will now come out as A Star's Legacy, Beyond the Olive Grove, and The Mist of God. Glimpses of all three volumes are found in the first century scenes of Two Thousand Years Later.

A Star's Legacy is a novel set in the turbulent Jewish State in 7 BC. — How has your studies in Theology helped in writing this novel? What is your current perspective in regard to the Middle East?

Part one of A Star's Legacy actually spans the period 7 BC to 4 BC and encompasses the historical reality of the comet that was visible in the Middle East in 5 BC, the probable year of Jesus's birth. From my theological studies I know that if Herod the Great is to be a part of the nativity story, then the latest possible date for Jesus' birth must be very early in 4 BC. Herod dies in April, 4 BC. It is even more likely that Jesus was born in the fall of 5 BC, and that the comet of that year could be a part of the story. My initial theological studies at Cambridge University gave me a very solid background in ancient history and life in the Jewish world contemporaneous to Jesus. I also lived in Israel in 1965, working on Kibbutzim, and used that time to explore many of the archeological sites. My use of the star or comet in A Star's Legacy is not so much for divine revelation purposes as to express the deep superstition of the times in the reactions of all contemporary people — Romans, Jews and desert travelers alike. Trade between Rome and the East becomes the glue of all these books and had much to do with the plausible origins of Christianity as the series would like them to be revealed. Rome was on the threshold of imperial greatness and the Middle East was a fringe area deeply effected by Rome's needs. Here, there are some striking parallels with today's world. Rome is somewhat mirrored in the western world that now has needs in the Middle East. Politically and traditionally, the western world is not part of the Middle East any more than traditionally was Rome two thousand years ago. Clashes of ideology and faith are inevitable. The Palestinian struggle can also be mirrored two thousand years ago in the clash of Samaritan and Jew over the very same territory with a roadmap for peace that mirrors Rome in today's western world. Rome never was able to expand her territory and influence beyond the coastal levant of Syria and Judea, the lands of Parthia and Chaldea remaining in a different ideological and cultural cast. But trade with these lands was vital — the route across the desert led to the riches of India and Cathay (China) that Rome needed. The currency was gold, frankincense, precious stones and myrrh. Today, is the currency oil?

Love is Where Your Rosemary Grows is a novel that finds the lead character Jake Saunders, an art teacher on a cruise ship — Tell us about Jake and how much of the author is in this character?

This novel is entirely written from the viewpoint of the main character, Jake Saunders. It is inevitable, therefore that Jake Saunders reflects the eyes and ears of the author. When you add to that the reality that many of the settings in the novel do come from my life, it can be acknowledged that some of the author is in this character. However, as the author, I have to say that if it were not for the transformation that I feel occurs in all three of the characters in this love triangle, after Marianne is diagnosed with cancer, I would not particularly like the character of Jake Saunders. Jake, like many men his age is facing a mid-life crisis. This allows him to make some rash decisions in his relationship with a totally unsuitable young girl. I hope that I as the author, would make better decisions, but I feel it is necessary in this novel to go through this tortuous on/off relationship to establish the circumstances that eventually lead to the spiritual twist in the novel that is its purpose. Love is where your rosemary grows — it is Jake's creation of the garden at Wayzata Shores that is the catalyst for change in this novel. The fact that I, as the author, am both a painter and a horticulturist gives credence to Jake's character but does not make it autobiographical. I have, however, lived most of my life on St. Simons Island and Sea Island, Georgia, and spent part of my married life in Minnesota. It was as a ship's artist that I first went to sea where for twenty years I served as a cruise director on ships.

Tell us a little about your work as a speaker and lecturer.

I have had a long career in public speaking from Radio and Television broadcasts for the Church of Ireland, through many years as a licensed lay preacher in the Anglican (Episcopal) church. From 1978 to 2001, I led a very public life fronting cruise ships as a cruise director, and later as a world cruise lecturer speaking on all aspects of world cruise ports of call from their physical appearance to their art, history, geology, and philosophy. The sweep of civilization and cultures worldwide has been a major topic of all such lectures. I have also been involved in several programs of spiritual and philosophical lectures with such organizations as 'Whole Life' and 'Mind, Body, Spirit'. Several of my articles on spiritual and theological matters have also been printed in various periodicals and newspapers, along with some political statements on current affairs. I have also been a speaker for Unity Churches speaking on Christ consciousness in a new paradigm of thinking about the Divine. I have taken part in several seminars as a guest speaker and in November, 2003 I was on the panel at a significant discussion on The Da Vinci Code. I am a member of the Westar Institute, the lay branch of The Jesus Seminar. I was accepted for a potential possible future position as a lecturer and teacher in philosophy, religious studies, history and ethics at Drury University, and have taught classes on Spirituality at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri. I am also known for my illustrated talks on horticulture and the history and design of English gardens, and have presented these both on cruise ships and to garden clubs as well as being a guest lecturer at Master Gardeners' programs.

What do you hope to achieve with books? What do you hope readers will take away after reading your books?

I hope, through my books, to reach a greater public than through my current lecturing. Books can also significantly increase my chances for larger audiences in the lecture field. As an author, I must also add that there is a deep personal satisfaction in writing. It is part of the creative process and is in some ways an expansion of my role as a painter. Painters and writers are observers, and their crafts are intertwined. Both, however, require good marketing if they are ever to get out to the public. I hope to succeed in doing that as I feel my books carry a significant message. All my books, including Love is Where Your Rosemary Grows have a spiritual message. That message centers on finding a new paradigm of thinking about the Divine that will allow the reader to become inspired by his or her own spirituality in a world in which traditional organized religions, outside fundamentalism, are failing. The scientific challenges of our times demand a new look at the meaning of spirituality on many levels, but I do not believe that you can carry the majority of people by wading in to emotional alternatives without creating a bridge between what is familiar in the old and what is scientifically and philosophically acceptable in the new. This is what I have tried to create in my books, and it is especially significant in the novel form of The Magdala Trilogy, which carries new thoughts and teachings on the message of Jesus and the origins of Christianity in the guise of a recognizable historical epic as relevant for nominal Jews as it is for nominal Christians. My hope is that my readers will take away from my books a feeling that they have been moved into a new way of thinking about themselves and the Divine.

What has been your feedback from readers?

Fundamentalists will not like my work, but generally feedback has been good. I believe that the vast majority, about 70% of nominal Jews and Christians in the western world are seekers who have basically rejected their organized religions and are hungry for a spiritual alternative. This is born out in the enormous success of such books as James Redfield's The Celestine Prophecy, Neale Donald Walsch's Conversations with God and Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, all of which raise questions that fire up the interest of the spiritual seeker. Outside fiction, I would also cite the great interest that has been seen in the rapid growth of self-help books and the medical and philosophical alternative thinking of writers like Deepak Chopra. The gradual coming together of Eastern and Western thought in a shrinking planet has helped contribute to this. It is mostly a similar audience that has given me feedback on my books. Two Thousand Years Later has been called "a rip-roaring, can't put it down page-turner, which just about says it all" by a New York reader. Scholars, such as Dr. Jim Veitch at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, described it as "Superb." From the establishment, came this comment from The Venerable Canon Robert N. Willing, Archdeacon Emeritus, New York — "An inquiring search for truth, worthy of serious examination, utilizing another view of Jesus that challenges contemporary Christian thinking." Finally, The EDGE newspaper from the New Age world gave the book this review — "Intriguing... Two Thousand Years Later shows us a new concept of our interconnected consciousness with all creation throughout the universe and gives us an alternative message of Jesus appropriate for the cosmic thinking of the millenium." A reviewer on called the novel "A thinking man's book." The novel has a current 4.5 star rating on

The first review for A Star's Legacy included the following comment: "You kept me up well past midnight for a week, but I made it in the end. I loved it. You wove a wonderful web with the story line and the characters all became alive in the reader's eyes." A Star's Legacy received this review from T.B. (Good Books) — "Fans of The Da Vinci Code will absolutely love A Star's Legacy. A truly great read."

Love is Where Your Rosemary Grows was selected by iUniverse Publishing Co. for their Editor's Choice award. It has not yet been reviewed, but I have been told that it reads very easily and that the ending has made people cry.

What's next?

Although I wrote a brief documentary on changes in the cruise industry titled Twenty-Five Years before the Mast for which I have not as yet found an agent or publisher, my main focus is on getting out the remaining two books in The Magdala Trilogy. I am in the process of revising them and editing them into self-contained novels. The next in the series, following on A Star's Legacy, is Beyond the Olive Grove, that iUniverse Publishing will be bringing out in the fall of 2009. It is at present in its final edit prior to publication. As soon as it is ready for publication, I will start on the revision of The Mist of God. Whereas A Star's Legacy sets the scene for the entire historical epic and can also be read as an alternative view of the Christmas story, much of the content is speculation in the realm of fiction as it also deals with the notorious 'missing years' of Jesus. The fictitious story, however, sets the reader up for explanations that become important in examining the life of Jesus in light of an alternative scholastic rendering to be revealed in the later books. Last winter, I wrote a massive family biography mirroring John Galsworthy's famous Forsyte Saga that I titled Forsythia.

What was the last book you read?

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown and The Force is With You by Stephen Simon, producer of Somewhere in Time and What Dreams may Come — Mystical Movie Messages That Inspire Our Lives. I also recently re-read the full Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy, and a biography of Marie Antoinette, followed by a biography of her daughter, Marie Therese by Susan Nagel. I have also recently read Titanic Survivor, the memoir of Violet Jessop, introduced, edited and annotated by John Maxtone-Graham, and Jan Struther's Mrs Miniver. Currently, I am reading Darwin's Armada by Iain McCalman.

Do you have hobbies? What are they? How do they enhance your writing?

Apart from writing, my greatest hobby and semi-profession is horticulture, which is revealed in certain aspects of all of my books, but especially in Love is Where Your Rosemary Grows. I designed gardens for Close Memorial Park in Springfield, Missouri, notably their English garden, and for a number of years was on the board of Friends of the Garden at Close Memorial Park. I am now involved in the forthcoming creation of our Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center at the park. I was a recent delegate for Friends of the Garden at the National Association of Public Gardens in America in St. Louis at the Missouri Botanical Garden. I also manage a small farm and retreat center here in the Ozarks that at present is on the market, but where in the past I had created seven acres of gardens. I was an estate manager at Tullamaine Castle in Ireland for sixteen years and at that time enjoyed horseback riding where I rode to foxhounds for ten years, and for a while I owned horses here in the Ozarks. I appreciate music, which certainly plays a part in Two Thousand Years Later where the heroine of the novel is a concert pianist. I was married to Bettine Clemen, who is a well-known international solo flautist. We also shared a deep interest in spirituality. I have painted all my life, which accounts for some of the facets found in the character Jake in Love is Where Your Rosemary Grows. I love to travel and explore the flora, fauna, and cultures of our world. As a cruise director, I had the great opportunity to travel to almost every corner of the globe and I use that experience widely in the many and varied settings of my novels. There is nothing like first hand knowledge of exotic places to enhance an author's descriptive ability. In connection with my travels, I have enhanced my knowledge of global history that is very significant in my novels, especially in Two Thousand Years Later and A Star's Legacy. Along with this, I have been able to visit many archeological sites, giving insight into antiquity and religious ceremony, all of which I have incorporated into my writings. I would like to be able to share my love of travel with my present partner, Nicole Marie Glenn. History remains a great hobby of mine and I have collected a considerable library of history and biography. Ballroom dancing has always interested me, but most of all I can probably say that writing is my foremost passion and my most creative endeavor.  


Author of Two Thousand Years Later, A Star's Legacy, Beyond the Olive Grove, and Love is Where Your Rosemary Grows