Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Interview with Ellen Crosháin author of Cruelty: Unmasked

Today on the Speculative Fiction Showcase it gives us great pleasure to interview Ellen Crosháin, whose novel Cruelty: Unmasked was our featured new release on 30th May.

The name ‘Cruelty’ is striking – why did you choose that?

It actually came about in the rewriting and editing. In its earliest days, it was called ‘It runs in the Family’ because it was focusing on magic and power being contained within one family in Ireland. As the story developed and progressed, it became more and more evident that someone who was magically Barren would be shamed and maltreated. Eliza would be someone to make fun of, to isolate, to bully simply because she was different to everyone else. Furthermore, the Family is willing to go to any lengths to protect their magic and power and do whatever their twisted god demands to keep their magic and influence, including hurting and harming ordinary people. Their cruelty pervaded everything they did, so it was a better name than the original. 

In Cruelty: Unmasked, you return to the family and characters from the first book. How do you think they change and develop in this instalment?

Well, it is over twenty years later, so Cornelius and Eliza have become parents to Áine who is bright, hard-working and motivated and her younger brother Caolán who is also bright but a pain in the backside. He’s sixteen, it’s his job. As Caolán keeps pushing boundaries, Cornelius’ own unresolved issues with his father bubble up and they fight, constantly. The Cruel, his persona in the first book, isn’t entirely at rest either and it finds ways to express itself throughout the book. This adds strain to the relationship between Eliza and her husband, adding strain to a woman who is already at breaking point. She is still as calculating and as cunning as ever, keeping more secrets than she should, and this trait has also rubbed off on both her children.
At the end of the second novel, Faroust has been reduced to a mortal, who goes by the name of Henry and is compelled to stay at the Big House as the gardener, serving the family he once ruled. He hasn’t changed that much at all; he is still devious, scheming and capricious but watches himself around Eliza, in case she decides that he should die. He isn’t sure how she’d do it, given that she sent her powers away, but he knows she could find a way to do it. 

Your writing seems to interweave contemporary reality with the imaginary and mythical . What are the challenges of doing that?

Keeping the logic is always hard. You can do whatever you like with reality as long as the logic behind it makes sense. Maintaining consistency across books is also difficult. Once a book is printed, you are kind of bound by the rules you established in it so if you want to use something different or change something (like I had to for Book 3) you have to do it delicately so that readers aren’t cheated by the experience. Furthermore, there are so many versions of myths, you have to choose your version and stick with it. 

The books are mainly set in Ireland – to what extent did you draw on Irish myth and folklore (if at all)?

For the first book, it was mostly only for Faroust’s back story as a Fae god, so I chose Mebh and Angus Mac In Og to be his parents. It was just enough to give him an ancient flavour because it wasn’t the focus of the story. In Book 3, there’s more of it but there’s lots of Fae myth from throughout Europe. 

 The “family” in these stories is clearly something dark and sinister, like a Mafia family. Can you explain more?

They are the descendants of the people who raised Faroust and worshipped him as their god. He made their ancestors magical by sharing his blood with them and created a bond with them that lasted until the early 11th Century. Some of his believers found something better in Christianity and it forever changed the nature of the relationship between him and his people. They are terrified of losing the power, of breaking the cycle, because he convinced them it would mean that they would all die. As time goes on, they grow in influence and power and they will do anything to protect it. 
Fae are very much connected with the earth so it made sense that Faroust’s followers in the 21st Century would be what we could term as eco-warriors, concerned with protecting green belt land and reducing carbon footprints etc. They do good work with their power and influence but they play every trick they know and can to get their way. 

Where you see the series developing from here? Is there another volume in the works?

There is a third book in this story arc, and a novella set after the events of the third book, both coming out this year. I’m also working on another novella connected to the world of ‘Cruelty’ and have planned another one but that one is set in 10th century Scotland. 

Will you write another dark fantasy series, or something entirely different?

I’ve got a supernatural detective piece that has been waiting for three years to be polished and a more traditional fantasy piece that needs typing and editing but I think I’m always going to write darker stuff. It’s what I like to read and it comes naturally to me. 

In your bio, you mention that you work as an English teacher. Has this influenced or changed your own writing? 

When you mark as many creative pieces as I do, you become more and more aware of what works for you as a reader, so that comes into your writing because you try to emulate it. 

Why is myth so important to us today? And what are the new myths?

Myth gives us a connection to the beliefs and stories of our ancestors, what inspired them, what made them afraid, how they explained the world that they were in, how they made sense of their existence. That’s what humans continue to do. We have so much that explains how things work and yet we still search for meaning. As for modern myths, Fake News springs to mind. In all seriousness, myth has become a word which has become synonymous with idea of something that can be dismissed or disproved, so it has become something negative. It’s a pity and I think we need to claim it back.
Lots of writers suffer from displacement activity. What do you do to relax? Or indeed, to displace!

I have a small child and I am expecting a second, as well as working a full time job so not much. I was running in the mornings but second baby is too heavy for me to do that now, though I’ve managed to keep up with the yoga. I do sing and bake, when I have a spare moment. Writing tends to be my escape from the other things that cause me stress. 

Why does urban fantasy resonate so strongly with modern society?

I think it’s because there is still that desire to discover something secret, the idea that behind our reality there is something else, something new to be discovered. We have so much in the modern world that explains how everything works that we’ve sort of become cynical about our reality. I think the idea that this is all a façade and at any moment we could discover a secret world or adventure really appeals. It does to me any way. 

If someone asked you to do the “seven books that profoundly influenced me without explaining why” meme, what would you choose?

1. Anne Rice, Interview with the Vampire
2. J.R.R Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
3. John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men
4. Christina Rossetti, Goblin Market
5. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
6. Derek Landy, Skullduggery Pleasant
7. Neil Gaiman, Stardust

Tell us a little about what you’re reading at the moment (or listening to, or watching).

I’m listening to a lot of Christina Perri and Florence and the Machine at the moment. When I listen to them, stories unfold in my head and I am just whisked away. As it’s exam season, I haven’t had a chance to read much but I have my summer reading just waiting for me. 

Do your books have a soundtrack? 

I don’t have a whole music list in my head but there is music connected to it. In fact, ‘Cruelty’ was inspired by Amanda Palmer’s ‘Runs in the family’. I adore her and everything she stands for. She has such a way with words and music that really makes me excited. Certainly, for key bits in the novel, there’s songs that come to mind. For example, when it comes to the sacrifice scene, Florence and the Machine’s ‘Rabbit Heart’ fits it really well. 

About Ellen Crosháin:

Ellen Crosháin grew up in Northern Ireland but despite the fact she has a proper Irish Mammy hailing from Dublin and a Northern Irish father, her accent is so slight, it can only be caught in snatches. She says it makes her work as a spy much easier as no one actually knows where she’s from.

Her love for story telling was cultivated by both her parents as they would spend hours most days reading to her and her three younger siblings. She would spend hours herself entertaining them on the long trips they had to take when her father joined the army and they moved from place to place. She doesn’t remember a time when she wasn’t writing or telling stories. She always has a notepad on her and takes every opportunity to scribble down an idea or work on a chapter.

In her non-writing life, she is a teacher of English, a job she absolutely adores. She lives in Wales, land of dragons, with her husband and her hoard of loyal guinea pig minions.

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