Ayn Cates Sullivan began her writing career over three decades ago. In her early years of writing, most of her stories were simply for her children, but later evolved into published works. Thanks to her creativity and storytelling, Sullivan’s literary works caught the eyes of readers around the world and she became a bestselling author.
Many of Sullivan’s published materials are mythological and visionary books. She has found a niche that allows her to express an unsuppressable creativity. Sullivan isn’t just an international award-winning author. She hosts a popular podcast called Wisdom of the Ages and runs her own publishing company Infinite Light Publishing and Media, which publishes works by like-minded authors.
Sullivan has won 30 literary awards and each time a new book is published, her readers new and old, can experience her undeniably great storytelling.
Ayn, you are a Jack of All Trades in terms of literature and media. Can you start off by explaining how you got into writing and what drew you toward media?
My father was an author and as a child, I would beg to stay home and write with him. At the age of eight, I proudly presented my first poem to my father and he spent a long time helping me craft my work. From early on, I understood both the creative and editorial side of writing. I obtained my BA (with honours) at Hollins University in Virginia, which has a wonderful creative writing program. Then went on to obtain my MFA at Columbia University in New York City. That was an exciting time in my life, and I was able to meet many successful authors, including Joseph Brodsky and Derek Walcott. I was then offered an overseas research award by King’s College London and spent many years studying the work of Lady Gregory and other writers and thinkers who were involved in the Anglo-Irish Literary Renaissance.
I obtained my doctorate in 1993 and continued working as an editor for many magazines and publishing houses. My first book of poetry, Tracking the Deer won a Chapbook competition in Wales. Then my first book of non-fiction was published by Findhorn Press in Scotland. When my children were small, I started writing stories for them. I did not think about publishing them but gave them as presents during holidays. The Sparkle books were their favourite stories and when my children went off to college, they told me that their friends needed the messages in these stories and asked me to publish them. I did not have luck finding a traditional publisher, and so I started Infinite Light Publishing, which eventually became Infinite Light Publishing and Media. I meant to just publish a few books for fun but was surprised by the popularity of the books. I got together with illustrator Belle Crow duCray, and she truly brought the books to life. Sparkle and The Gift sold a few thousand copies. I was told that it wasn’t industry standard, and so I made an easy reader version called Kachina’s Rose. That was followed by Sparkle & The Light, and the easy reader Ella’s Magic. The next book was an amazing success. A Story of Becoming, a spiritual fable, was an Amazon bestseller for most of 2015. I was encouraged to continue on to publish the stories about the mystical women I encountered during my doctoral studies. Legends of the Grail: Stories of Celtic Goddesses sold out the day it launched in 2018. That was followed by Heroines of Avalon & Other Tales, also an Amazon bestseller. My books have now won over 30 literary awards, and a few more stories will be out soon.
You have written a number of bestselling mythological and visionary fiction books. What led you to this genre of fiction?
When I was offered an overseas research award to King’s College London, I responded with an enthusiastic “YES!” before I really understood what I was getting myself into. As a child, my father would give me books of mythology to read, such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, hoping I would fall asleep. Instead he would come back to find me still reading with a flashlight under the covers. I loved imagining Greek gods and goddesses from 8th century BC, and also Celtic tales. Artemis Journal (named after the Greek Goddess of the Hunt) was the first magazine to publish my poetry. Inspired by several muses, I continued to collect and retell many fairy tales and aspects of folklore. Researching the work of Lady Gregory and W.B. Yeats along the west coast of Ireland only added to my obsession. I fell in love with the stories of the Tuatha de Danann, the supernatural tribe of the Irish Goddess Danu.
One thing that excited me was discovering stories of empowered women, those who were considered equal to men, and also heroines such as the Scottish Scatach who taught men how to become heroes. I also fell in love with the tales of the Cailleach, the Old Wise Woman of the World. Again, my children insisted that I write these stories down, so that others could begin to remember their illustrious Celtic and pre-Celtic histories. When I met John Patrick Sullivan, the man who is now my husband, I told him that I knew the history of the Sullivan clans, the Muster Kings. We actually walked the path of St Patrick for our honeymoon. It is very fun to have a partner who loves to crawl amongst cairns, ogham stones and old stone circles as much as I do.
My first novel, Nimue: Finding Merlin, is scheduled to launch soon. It actually came to me while standing beside a waterfall in Cornwall. I love both research and standing on the landscape where stories have been told for generations and bringing the tales to life for the modern age. To me, storytelling is magic.
Sullivan’s influence comes from a variety of areas but her work all falls into the mythological and visionary genre. Her Legends of the Grail series is one of the most popular and readers have discovered fantastic stories and poems. Sullivan’s travels and research took her deep into Celtic and pre-Celtic culture, Druids, and ancient Irish history. All of these areas have helped to mold the books and stories Sullivan has written.
How do you find influence for your books? For example, the mythological genre of books, how do you create the stories and characters for these?
I am an avid reader. Often, what will happen is that a character will excite me, and I simply must imagine more about them. It is rather like making a new friend who shares all their secrets with me. For instance, I loved the idea that Ceasair, the granddaughter of Biblical Noah, was not allowed to board the ark and so built her own ark and set sail to Ireland. I felt her willpower and passion, and could almost feel the wind on my face as I imagined spinning in dark waters and calling out to Eriu for rescue. Her story appears in Legends of the Grail: Stories of Celtic Goddesses. I was also excited to discover that the first person to achieve the Holy Grail was a woman named Dindraine, and her story appears in Heroines of Avalon & Other Tales.
Many of the women in my stories were demonized and, in my books, they speak in first person freeing themselves of years of misunderstanding. I have enjoyed getting to know all of these characters, who seem to be intimate parts of my own psyche and yet also have lives of their own. Nimue is a very complex character, and even while I was writing the novel, I wondered if she was light or dark. What emerged was more of a sense of wholesomeness. Nimue, known as the seducer of Merlin, is not only an empowered woman, but an enchantress in her own right. Writing the novel, I felt a thrill of understanding the path of the priestesses of Avalon, and how they might live on today. I believe women and men are interested in discovering more about their lineage, especially what an empowered woman looks like. Roles for both genders are changing rapidly, and it is also interesting to read about men and women who lived, taught, fought and lived as wise equals. Sometimes I am asked why these women are so interesting to me and I often reply, “If Eve could tell her own story do you think she would tell it differently?”
In 2020, you will be launching your first series of books for children. What inspired you to write for kids?
The first book in my Sparkle series was published in 2012. It was called Sparkle & The Gift. That was followed by Sparkle & The Light (2013) and then A Story of Becoming (2014). After that I turned my focus onto the Legends of the Grail series, which is for an adult audience. In 2020, I am planning to launch a new Sparkle Kids Picture Book series which includes Kachina’s Rose, Ella’s Magic and Undina’s Spell, as well as a Middle Grader Reader, Eva & The Rainbow Dragon, all illustrated by Belle Crow duCray. I have also written a book for children based on a Celtic folktale called Mother Swan, which is currently being illustrated by British painter, Jacob Sutton. I absolutely love writing and publishing uplifting and magical children’s books.
As I mentioned earlier, I wrote most of these stories for my kids, who then insisted that I publish them. I have had the honour of working with independent publishing coaches Ellen Reid (who sadly recently passed away) and Mike Daniels who taught me how to produce not only well written, carefully edited and beautifully illustrated books, but how to produce a top-class off-set printed books that stand out from the crowd. There is something special about holding a well-designed book. Of course, reading the book is the real treasure.
I was inspired to write for children because I have a large family, and I love telling stories and watching children’s eyes light up. Once I read A Story of Becoming to some children in England, and a little boy exclaimed, “That was the best story ever!” That one enthusiastic comment kept me going for years.
Sullivan finds writing for children to be fascinating and the curiosity and openness kids have toward reading and stories drives her passion. Writing for children also allows Sullivan to be at her most creative when crafting stories and poems.
Do you find children easier to write for compared to other ages? Or is it more of a challenge since you are aiming to keep them engaged?
Children are open and curious with great imaginations. I actually love writing for children, inviting them to sit next to me, and making up the voices of the characters. I write both continual readers, and also industry standard picture book length. What I find is that when you are fully present with a child, they love the story and they love you too. One little girl recently told me with very starry eyes that she planned to be a writer too. It always makes me happy to hear that the bardic impulse is still alive and well in the modern age.
Storytelling is very important, especially for children. I remember the first picture books my mother read to me, some of them word for word. These early tales impact our consciousness. In the Celtic tradition, Bards were meant to learn 250 stories of their people. Of course, there were no televisions then, and oral entertainment was important, but there was a deeper reason. The stories we learn and tell shape the lives we live. Words have power. After all, what is the difference between learning to spell and casting a spell? Good stories are designed to enchant us, and also teach us how to face and overcome challenges, so we can live strong and healthy lives.
Ayn not only are you an international best-selling author, but you host your own podcast, Wisdom of the Ages which is on the SuperPowerUp Network. Can you tell us about your podcast and what listeners can expect to hear when downloading it?
In 2019, I gave 64 interviews about my Legends of the Grail series. When Tonya Dawn Recla, president of SuperPower Experts, asked me what my superpower was (one of her favourite questions) I happened to be holding a swan feather. I said, “My superpower is air, because at night I fly through the night-time sky gathering stories for children to heal their souls.” That was the beginning of a great partnership. She thought my bardic, mytho-poetic background was a good match for the oral storytelling we do with podcasts. I wasn’t so certain at first, but I have now recorded thirty Wisdom of the Ages episodes and have close to 200,000 listeners. I like interviewing wisdom keepers, spiritual teachers, and authors with inspiring messages. I love shows about supernatural subjects and encourage people to speak openly about the revolution in consciousness that is taking place on the planet. I do believe we are stepping into increased frequencies, and that the invitation is to step into a culture of life where we can all live and thrive. Of course, we need to make new choices. Most of my fairy tales are about listening to the animated universe and making good choices. My podcast focuses on weaving the sacred into modern day reality. It is upbeat, and most episodes end with a meditation, blessing or practice designed to uplift the listeners. The network currently has about two million listeners in over 90 countries. You can listen to the show on https://superpowerexperts.com/wisdom-of-the-ages/
Sullivan has her hand in many different areas from writing to publishing to podcasting. All three areas give her the chance to express herself and connect with others.
As previously stated, you are a Jack of All Trades. Not only do you write fiction, but you run a publishing company as well. How do you combine your work as an author with being an entrepreneur and publishing company owner?
I write children’s books, fiction and nonfiction, and I work as an editor. After winning 30 plus literary awards, and achieving bestseller status, other authors started approaching me with their books. I coach some authors, and this year Infinite Light Publishing and Media LLC is bringing out several very exciting new authors. Iva Kenaz is one of my favourite young authors. Marcela Benson has written and designed an extraordinary book on living food called Love, Peace & Vegetables. I write and select books for Infinite Light Publishing and Media that I feel are a valuable contribution to humanity. It makes sense to me to network with other authors who have similar interests. We learn from one another, and everyone that is part of Infinite Light Publishing is committed to making the world a better place.
What are some of the challenges of being an author and publisher these days with so many options for entertainment?
Once upon a time, the bard was the sole entertainment. Now, stories can come in many forms, and I actually like the challenge new technologies are presenting us with. Not only do we have printed books, but digital books which can be anywhere in the world in an instant. I have several books coming out as audio books, which I really love. Audio books spark my imagination and I do believe stories are meant to be heard. We are also doing some video imagination books that will appear on youtube. We are playing with a variety of experimental storytelling technologies. While the way we tell stories might change, the fact that we need stories remains constant.
Ayn, you have won over 30 literary awards in your career. You offer “Sessions with Ayn” via your website allowing aspiring authors to work with you. Can you explain the sessions you lead when working with others aspiring to publish their works?
Every author is very different. I coach some people with their writing, and help others polish their work, while others want to understand how to self-publish or independently publish and promote their work. I am very selective about who I publish, but I do love watching young writers such as Iva Kenaz emerge as strong voices. I really enjoy working with established authors also. I like to succeed, and it brings me joy to see others succeeding as well. I think of my sessions as sacred journeys in which ideas, books and inspirational messages blossom and thrive.
What does the future hold for you as a writer and media personality?
We never know what the future holds for us exactly, but my prayer is that many more stories, poems, and tales will be forthcoming. I have wonderful spirited readers and listeners, and I hope to befriend many more people in the upcoming years.
Ayn, what is a day in your life like?
It is important for me to connect to my inner guidance and to nature before I begin my day. When I take time to attune, the day tends to flow with grace and wisdom. My schedule is very busy, fun and creative. On Mondays and Thursdays, I record Wisdom of the Ages episodes. Then I will either be involved writing or editing one of my books, or a client’s material. I do my best to take time in nature, spend time with my family, and to travel to exotic places. One thing is true, life is a very fun and evolving adventure, and even with a full schedule, I never know what magic is around the next corner, or what truly wonderful person I will meet next.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
In the 1980s, I worked as a fashion model for Kay Models in New York City.
Can you share two of your favorite quotes with us?
“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” – William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
“Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame!” – William Butler Yeats
If you had the power to change just one thing in the world what would it be?
I would wave my magic wand and dissolve the violence of humans against humans, leaving poetry, wisdom and loving kindness in its wake.
Sullivan has searched high and low walking ancient roads to find influence for her award-winning books. Her work not only recounts age-old mythology but gives it a new twist for modern times. Sullivan’s travels have taken her all over the world from New York City to London to her current home in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. All the while, Sullivan has used her experiences in the works she produced. Now a part of a podcast that gives her the chance to connect with fans on a new level, Sullivan continues to express her creativity and build upon the award-winning stories she has crafted.
* After our original interview with Sullivan, she was awarded the prestigious Independent Association of Top Professionals Top Female Author of the Year Award 2020. The award reiterates the excellence of Sullivan’s work as an author and the ability to connect with readers.Totalprestige Magazine extends its congratulations to Sullivan and her incredible work.
Images credit: Starla Fortunato
Journalist and author. Contributor