award-winning novelist, poet, bookseller, workshop leader, part-time teacher, and mentor, Eileen Kernaghan is as well-known a presence at West Coast science-fiction conventions as she is at literary events and festivals. Over the thirty years that she has been writing, fantasy has gone from being considered a sub-literary genre to having a place in the ranks of respectable literature. When her first novel, Journey to Aprilioth, was published in 1980, fantasy was still the domain of genre writers. Reviewers in mainstream literary periodicals such as Books in Canada complained that they did not like "books about elves" (though Kernaghan has never written about elves). Nine years later, however, when The Sarsen Witch, the third book in the Grey Isles Trilogy, was published, fantasy was being taken more seriously. In a review in The Reader (June 1989) fellow Canadian science-fiction writer Michael Coney stated, "Kernaghan writes the way people ought to write; her prose has a smooth, poetic flow that draws you irresistibly into her world of horse-tribes and clan-chiefs and Stonehenge, and the story of Naeri the witch."
Kernaghan's preferred brand of magic is the magic of the shaman, which lies dormant inside all humans until they learn to unlock its power. It is a world of magic closely linked to the worlds of religion and spirituality. Kernaghan's specialty is historical fantasy, whether it is the prehistory of the Bronze Age, some four thousand years ago--in Europe or in the Indus Valley--or the atmospheres of eighteenth-century Bhutan or nineteenth-century Scandinavia. Kernaghan's research is meticulous, and as a result her novels resonate with details and descriptions that instantly place the modern reader inside the story, however distant and unfamiliar the culture may be.
Kernaghan was born Eileen Shirley Monk on 6 January 1939 in Enderby Hospital, in the interior of British Columbia. She was the first of two children born to Belinda Maude (née Pritchard) and William Alfred Monk, and she had an isolated rural upbringing on their dairy farm in the village of Grinrod. A solitary child, she had an insatiable appetite for books. Her mother taught her to read before she went to school, and from the age of five she read fairy tales, ghost stories, Greek myths, pulp magazines, and an entire collection of Weird Tales from her uncle's general store. Later, her tastes grew to include the work of Thomas Hardy , Jane Austen , and Charles Dickens .
Her interest in writing developed early. In grade three she wrote a pastiche of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), which she called "Molly in Mouseland." When she was twelve, she made her first sale: her story "Wolverine," about a boy trapper in the north woods, was published by The Vancouver Sun. She received $12.65. While in junior high school, she became a stringer for the Enderby Commoner newspaper, responsible for covering the social events of her area. She proved to be so shy, however, that her mother had to research the social events for the column on her behalf.