horror, women in horror, writing

Mythology & Me: Catherine McCarthy

Hi, I’m Cath. My head is almost permanently immersed in the world of books, whether it’s reading or writing. My favourite reading genres are magical realism, gothic fiction and supernatural horror.

I have a collection of my own stories on Amazon entitled Door and Other Twisted Tales.

My choice of viewing material is similar to my reading preferences, and I’m currently re-watching the series Penny Dreadful – totally up my street!

I review on Goodreads and have many friends in the twitter Writing Community. My current read is Iseult’s collection, Return to Hades and Other Adventures, and I’m really enjoying it

Q.1: How does mythology influence your writing?

Myths, legends, folklore – I love them all, and have done so since early childhood. Mythology presents a sense of meaning to us as a species, I think. In my first novel, The Gatekeeper’s Apprentice, which is middle grade fiction, I created my own mythos as to how the whole Gatekeeper’s role came into being. I invented a secret box containing artifacts which were actually ‘keys’ to other dimensions, as well as an accompanying set of ancient tomes etc.

Throughout my short story collection, Door and other twisted tales, I base several of the stories on pre-existing legends/myths such as The Rainbow Serpent of the Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime, and the legendary giant catfish, Namazu, of Japan.
Most creatures of myth exist as a warning to mankind regarding his behaviour. The Rainbow Serpent warns of revenge for the disturbance of its sacred watering hole, while Namazu seeks retribution for human greed by creating earthquakes.

In the novel I’m currently writing, I incorporate Welsh myths and legends as it is set in Wales, my home country.

Q.2: Where do you think horror and mythology intersect?

As humans, fear is to a degree, instinctive. Whilst we do not wish to fear everything there is a part of us that enjoys ‘safe fear.’ We know that vampires, werewolves, zombies or other mythical monsters do not really exist, and yet when reading or viewing horror which incorporates these elements we can allow ourselves to be afraid but from a safe distance. As a species, we tend to develop a fixation with death and infection. Monsters therefore tap into our primal fears and act like a switch to our cognitive development.

Q.3: Why do you think mythology has such an enduring appeal?

Mythology presents a sense of meaning to us, I think. Mythical gods and creatures were invented by man almost as an early form of religion, way before organized religions existed. They provide a kind of universal truth and are often exaggerated versions of realistic threats experienced by our ancestors. We only need to think back to our hunter/gatherer days to consider where man’s fear of powerful wolves, for example, derives. Consequently, regardless of where we are along the evolutionary scale, we will often need to face our fears. Even modern urban legends carry cautionary warnings. At the end of the day, since mankind is the only species that is concerned with its inevitable death, mythology has developed as a means of imagining that there may be more beyond the real world, that perhaps death is not as final as we think.

Q.4: What role do you see horror playing in making new myths?

Horror entertainment, whether in movies or literature, derives in part out of the things that mankind fears in any given time period. For example, the fear of atomic radiation in the 1950’s gave birth to works such as The Incredible Shrinking Man and Them! I imagine that soon we’ll see new myths deriving out of crises such as climate change.

Q.5: Which culture’s mythology most appeals to you and why?

I love dipping in and out of many culture’s mythology. For example, Circe, by Madeline Miller was one of my top reads in 2019. I’m particularly interested in Australian Aboriginal myths associated with the Dreamtime, and I also find myths associated with the indigenous peoples of the Americas fascinating.
However, being Welsh and thus of Celtic origin, I find those particularly accessible and intriguing. Therefore those are the myths I most frequently refer to in my own writing. Tales such as The Legend of Gelert have been with me since early childhood when my mother first told of them. I also love to include elements of Celtic magic in my stories and enjoy researching the symbolism of plants, animals, birds etc.

Thank you so much, Catherine, for taking part in this series. It was wonderful working with you this month.

Want to find out what Catherine asked me, and how I answered? Read all about it here.

Read my interview with Catherine here, and my review of Door and Other Twisted Tales here.

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