Castle of Dreams – Week Three

Welcome to Week Three of my series. This week I am welcoming a very special person, and as yet unpublished author, AFE Smith, who I met through the wonderful Alliance of Worldbuilders.

AFE tells you more about herself at the end of this piece, so I’m going to hand over to her straight away:

Castle of Dreams
Most people pick their university for its academic record, its sporting/musical/dramatic achievements or the convenience of its location. I picked mine for its castle.

To understand this, you also have to understand that as an eighteen year old applying for degree courses, I was far less interested in my continued academic career than I was in my magnum opus: a three-hundred-thousand-word fantasy epic, stuffed with every cliché imaginable, that I was fondly convinced would be a runaway bestseller. This masterpiece was, quite naturally, full of castles. I’d walked the walls of Warwick, roamed the passageways of Sudeley and Berkeley. I’d wandered through the ruins of Raglan and Goodrich and Tintagel, imagining them back to life and populating them with my own characters. My writing was brimming with crenellations.

As a result of all this, it didn’t seem that important to actually visit any of my prospective university towns before signing up. I simply chose the place that fit best with the fantastic scenes running through my imagination – and that place was Durham. Why? Because of this.


Now, as it happens, Durham University has an excellent reputation in all kinds of fields – which was lucky for me. Because what had caught my eye was that the members of one particular Durham college actually got to live in Durham Castle. Not only that, but they got to eat in its medieval dining hall. Wearing gowns. Add an enchanted ceiling and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d walked straight into Hogwarts. Beside these wondrous facts, little details like the quality of the teaching paled into insignificance. So I applied, and the following year saw me trundling off to Durham to live out my dream.

You’re probably expecting this tale to end with a moral: the importance of knowing the difference between fantasy and reality, perhaps. And by rights, I daresay it should. In a universe that only rewards those who make sensible plans, I’d be full of regrets round about now. But the truth is, I loved every minute of my time at university. I loved the subjects I studied. I loved the people I met. Most of all, I loved the year I spent living in the keep of Durham Castle. I even got to climb up to the roof from time to time*, gaze out across the landscape with a breeze stirring my hair, and pretend I was a heroic character on the brink of an epic adventure. And though my writing may have matured since then, and my castles evolved into something far less generic, the memory of what it was like to have my very own crenellations remains.

So if there’s any moral here at all, it’s this: sometimes it’s OK to chase your dreams, even the most flyaway. Because sometimes, a castle in the air can become reality.

* Under the guise of raising the college flag, which was my job at the time. Of course, that lent itself to all kinds of imaginings as well. One word: pirates.

A.F.E. Smith is the author of several fantasy novels in various stages of completion, all of which include castles, towers and/or ruins. She still likes to pose on battlements from time to time, especially with the wind blowing through her hair (because everyone knows it looks cooler that way). To find out more visit her website at .

Thank You AFE, and actually I think your reasons for choosing your University were very similar to my own – in my case it was a setting with mountains behind and the sea in front – and no, I don’t regret it either!

Don’t forget to return next week to read another fantastic author’s view of a Castle of Dreams.

Leave a comment


  1. Wonderful post. Well done, A.F.E. and Andrea

  2. A brilliant post! Seems like a very well grounded and logical reason for picking colleges. How marvellous…certainly puts to shame the hovel I lived in as a student! Well done A.F.E and Andrea, another fascinating insight into our love of all things castle-ly! 😀


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