RIP Kit Berry, author of the Stonewylde series

Remembering Kit Berry

Sad news always seems to reach me months, if not years, after the event. But today I've found out that Kirsten Espensen, better known by her pen name Kit Berry, author of the wonderful Stonewylde series of novels, passed away last year.

For those not familiar with Stonewylde, it is a five-part book YA series set in a self-sufficient Pagan community in Dorset where Sylvie and her mother go to recuperate from the modern world. But things start to take a strange turn when they meet Magus, the charismatic leader of the village...

I first found out about the world of Stonewylde when Kit contacted me while I was running The Friends of English Magic web site, originally dedicated to Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. She had liked what I had done and asked me if I'd like to check out her book. Which I gladly agreed to do. And having read it, I wanted to do an interview for the site. It would be my first ever video interview.

As this would be my first ever video interview, I borrowed video equipment from work (that I had used for filming visual effects professionals talking about our product) and went to Reading where Kit picked me up from the train station and took me back to her home. We spent about a good hour filming the interview and I was incredibly pleased with the result. I still have it somewhere - on video tape!

Kit was an exceptionally warm, vibrant, and generous person, and when the opportunity came to do another video interview at Waterstones in Guildford, I leapt at the chance (this time shooting it on an iPhone). Again, Kit's personality shone throughout and the passion she had for Stonewylde, and storytelling, was plainly evident.

What was even more remarkable to me was that the initial first three books in the series were entirely self-published. These proved to be so popular that Gollancz, one of my favourite publishing houses (see Robert Rankin's wonderfully insane far-fetched fiction - another of my all-time favourite authors), took on publishing the rest of the series.

During all of this, Kit's husband built all the websites relating to Stonewylde (as well as Kit's own site) which allowed such a wonderful community of fellow readers and fans to thrive.

When FoEM was eventually retired, and I moved away from most social media, I lost touch with Kit. But I occasionally would check in to see what was happening with Stonewylde as well as what she was up to. She certainly was busy - she regularly visited schools and ran creative workshops, and she was attempting to get Stonewylde made as either a film or TV show. But most recently she was doing research for a new historical novel set in Dorset during the Civil War.

I'm so glad to have had a chance to meet Kit and to have read her work. It was incredible. She was incredible. It saddens me greatly to think we have lost such a talented storyteller and well-loved person.

-- Martyn Drake, 27th April 2022

2005, Italy. Doing my bit for Stonewylde. Tonight I shall drink to Kit's memory.