Hi. This week I’m doing an interview with my friend and fellow author Iseult Murphy. Most of you will know her from her guest posts here (on David’s blog) TOPPER’S SHOP and from her brilliant short story collections available on Amazon. Iseult is participating in a series of exchange interviews MYTHOLOGY AND ME and you can read more of these on her blog. I’ve known and worked with Iseult for about three years now ever since I had the chance to review her brilliant short story ZOO OF THE DEAD. Since then we’ve been able to support and encourage each other in our work and I’ve watched in amazement and envy as her writing has gone from strength to strength.
David, you’re too kind! The introduction is supposed to be about you!
David’s breath taking debut novel, the dark fantasy, Crowman, is now available for purchase in both ebook and paperback format.
Q1. When did you first become interested in myth or folklore?
Well, I blame Granny, who sat me on her knee and read me stories when I was a boy. My big sisters and mum were equally guilty. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, all of these fairy stories are central to my formative years. And then there is the Bible. Regardless of your views on religion, there is a mythic quality in the stories of Cane and Abel, Noah and his Ark, Moses, each of these stories reveal deep truths, spiritual and otherwise.
When I learned to read I read Norse and Greek mythology. And I did read the tales Finn and Cúchulaine. A love for myth and story has been with me a long time, and to date I have not grown out if it. Treasure Island, Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Narnia, Lord of the Rings; we are still creating myths today and they are still as relevant.
Q2. How has the mythology and folklore of Scotland influenced your writing?
A lot but not necessarily in the way you might imagine. Scotland is a little behind Ireland in terms of self-discovery. We don’t really have a coherent mythology like the Irish, in part because of English cultural imperialism. But we do have a mass of fascinating myths; the Loch Ness Monster, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Selkies and Kelpies, and also fascinating remains from our past that we try and invent stories to explain. No one knows what cup and ring marks are, but I’ve heard school children tell me that they are for blood to run into from human sacrifices. There is no evidence of that at all, but it’s a great myth. On a wall near my house there is a stone carving of a cauldron from an old dye works, but of course, this is a witch’s cauldron. When the tenements were being pulled down every abandoned close was haunted by ghosts. Our streets were stalked by Bible John the mass murderer, and legendary razer gangs. And we created myths around Willie Gallaher, Benny Lynch, Billy Connelly, Jimmy Johnstone, the Wee Ginger Dug and so many others. I guess, I’m more interested in Scotland’s living mythology than in it’s past.
Q3. There are elements of Crowman that resonate like all good legends do. What inspired the development of your mythology for this book?
I guess there are two ways to think of this. One is to think about where the original elements are taken from. And in that case I have to admit that the ideas come from a wide range of sources. The start of the idea came from North American Native stories of the Raven trickster and how he stole the sun from a box. But it also incorporates other myths about the sun. Some of them are from Japan, others from Mayan culture and some from Egypt and Greece. I’ve also borrowed from modern myths, of course I am influenced by Tolkien but also by Gene Wolfe, and by various Anime shows. The other way to think of it is what your myth is trying to say. And when I re-read the book, it seemed to me that this was a story challenging tropes about Good and Bad, Black and White. I guess also it has a central theme of redemption. That all sounds very pretentious, and may I say, the first and foremost thing I tried to do was to make a good read, to have fun, and to scare people from time to time. Hopefully I succeded.
Q4. Insects, especially moths, are a recurring theme in your work. Where does this fascination come from, and what does its symbolism mean to you?
Confession time. I have studied entomology. I have spent hours looking at microscope slides of spiders, beetles, flies and the odd moth. Insects are amazingly beautiful and diverse. But the theme of moths first appeared in my short story BLACKBIRDS almost as an aside. Moths came into my bedroom through the open window while I listened to the radio in bed during hot dark summer nights. There really was hundreds of them. In a funny way moths have become a symbol of my youth, and dare I say it sexuality, not least because of their beauty and transient nature. It’s a theme I love to revisit and explore. For others, they seem more sinister. My sisters were terrified of them, which is why I got the attic room to myself. And so was my mother, she had TB as child and when she was in the sanatorium she had to sleep outside and moths would flutter by her face. They had a very different meaning for her. Moths are often symbols of decay and death, think of the role of the deadhead moth in Dracula. But for me these beautiful, secretive, night flying creatures, addicted to sweat and perfume are like divine messengers and symbols of life.
Q5. Do you have a favourite myth, legend or tale? Why does it fascinate you?
Just one! I suppose that Cupid and Psyche is one that I have been very interested in of late. This was the inspiration of my recent novel THE LEPIDOPTERIST’S BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER, which I hope will be published soon and which you can read extracts from on my website. It’s about love and betrayal, forgiveness and reconciliation. It’s about atonement and punishment. It’s about a meeting of the divine world and the mundane. It’s about secrets and revelations. That’s the myth, and hopefully also my novel. It was great source material and yes it does involve moths.
Thank you so much, David. Your answers, like your writing, were thoughtful and entertaining. I’m not surprised to hear you studied entomology, as your knowledge of insects (and other invertebrates) is considerable. I too love moths, and find it fascinating how they mean such different things to different people.