CAROLE JOHNSTONE

British Fantasy Award Winner 2014; 3x British Fantasy Award Nominee

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Seeing The Wood for the trees

Guest Blogger: Andrew Richardson

The two questions I get asked most about ‘The Wood’ are; ‘How did I get the idea?’, and ‘How does the story tie in with Celtic myths?’ I’m grateful to Carole for inviting me over here, which gives me a chance to answer both questions at the same time! And thank you, Carole, for the sparkling review. I really think you grasped what I wanted the story to do.

The general idea of having a party of adventurers trying to avoid nasties isn’t new. It’s been done everywhere, from ‘Alien’, to ‘The Descent’ (a personal favourite) to Dungeons and Dragons games that everybody except me seemed to play when I was a teenager. I wanted to write something where the characters were fighting their way along narrow passages, in the same way as in these films and games. But I wanted to come up with an original scenario, too.

I used to be an archaeologist and the Celts have always fascinated me, so it was natural that I’d look here for inspiration. I suppose it’s also why a lot of my characters are archaeologists or historians.

I’ve always throught the Celtic myths and legends provide huge and largely untapped potential for writers. The different stories interpret beasts and places differently, so that the writer has a unique opportunity to choose whichever facts fit the story he wants to tell! In fact, it’s possible to plot a story outline and then find Celtic ‘facts’ to base it around later! The Celtic Otherworld, for example, can be anything from identical to our own world, to a land of evil and dead spirits. Naturally, I used the unpleasant sort in ‘The Wood’!

A lot of writers use the ‘headline’ Celtic myths for their background. King Arthur is probably the perfect example, but there are also less well known stories of fairies, gods, monsters, love and war that can provide the basis of almost any type of story. A lot are set in real locations that can still be visited – my previous novel, ‘Andraste’s Blade’, was for the most part set in places I know well.

I also think the Celtic myths are more gentle and subtle than stories from some other cultures. The Viking and Germanic myths, for example, seem to be based on war and the power of might. Yes, war and power play a part in the Celtic equivalents, but the stories also serve to explain some of the features in the British and Irish Countryside through clever stories with intriguing twists which I’ve found great inspiration.

Anyway, back to ‘The Wood’. The Celts treated the head as almost sacred, believing it housed the soul. Archaeology and myth both seem to confirm that heads were used in ceremonies – warriors used to collect enemy heads as trophies. A line of skulls acting as some sort of fence doesn’t come straight from the history books, but is certainly plausible. And, of course, a line of heads on sticks is a great horror image!

So, what would the line of heads protect my travellers from? Well, evil was the obvious choice! I’ve always been fascinated by pine woods. They are dark and unmoving, and bare and stark where they lack undergrowth. Pine forests have an atmosphere of ancient stillness, as if the trees don’t want visitors trespassing in their domain. It was this feeling of the wood being a single, living evil entity, rather than individual trees and animals, that I particularly wanted to get across in ‘The Wood’.

With the skulls and the malevolent pine trees, my forest seemed to me to have ‘horror’ stamped across it before I even started typing. I just hope my readers agree!

The Wood is available from Amazon.com, and as an e-book from Eternal Press

Find out more about Andrew Richardson at his website

5 comments:

  1. Thanks for the blog, Andy; it's a really interesting read!
    As obviously the hordes are yet to arrive, I thought I'd ask you something :)
    Do you find that your horror fiction seems naturally to incorporate fantasy, or is this something that you always set out to do? In other words, do you consider yourself alternately a horror writer and a fantasy writer, or always a bit of both?
    And have you ever been tempted to use one of those 'headline' Celtic myths like King Arthur or The Morrigan as a basis for a story of your own?

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  2. Hello Carole; thank you for having me. You've raised a couple of points, so I'll try to be brief!

    My Celtic stuff does tend to incorporate fantasy. I think that when you're dealing with peoples who believe in gods, beasts, demons and the like, and having these come alive, I'd find it very difficult not to incorporate fantasy elements. I don't think of myself as a fantasy writer becuase I tend to look for the darker elements - but I suppose others might! Before I concentrated on novels I did have both 'pure' fantasy and 'pure' horror shorts published, though.

    I've always wanted to do something around the Arthurian myths, but it's been done so many times before I wanted to wait until I could think of something new to add to them. I'm working on a story using early, Welsh versions of the myths and legends at the moment.

    The Morrigan? 'Andraste's Blade' was a Morrigan story set in Britain. We know very little about the goddess Andraste, so I gave her Morrigan-like qualities and made her a British equivalent.

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  3. Hi Andrew, thought I'd pop over and say "hello", and I hope you don't mind me weighing in with some very inexpert comments on the above posts (I'm not a big horror fan, but what the heck...)

    First off Andrew, as soon as you bring gods/beasts/demons alive, to me that is pretty much the definition of fantasy--i.e. speculative fiction which depends on straying outside the boundaries of natural laws. So no wonder it's difficult not to incorporate fantasy elements--you are already there!

    BTW--that is also why I have difficulty with the idea of mixing fantasy with sci-fi, because they are based on diametrically opposed concepts. Sci-fi works to stay within (extrapolated) natural laws. But that's a whole other discussion.

    As to your question Carole, I'd question whether "horror" can really be considered a single genre. To me, it looks more like the dark underbelly of a lot of different genres. When does a thriller border into horror? When does fantasy? What about sci-fi? To me, the common thread is when excitement/tension/fear cross a threshold into a darker reaction, usually involving raw terror and/or a visceral "yuck" factor. The horror element might well be dominant in a story, which is what marks it out as "horror" rather than anything else, but the root is firmly in some "parent" genre. If you look at it in that way, then it would not be surprising to find writers leaning consistently towards fantasy elements, or sci-fi, or real-world.

    Just my 2 cents worth. Let the dissent begin :-)

    Ian

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  4. Hello Ian; good to meet you. And apologies for the delayed response - Blogger was down this morning, then the day job beckoned...

    I do agree that there is a blurring between horror and several other genres, but I've always maintained that my Celtic-based stuff is horror, because I concentrate on the darker side. Others probably disagree - Alien is one I've often seen mentioned in this context - did it stop being SF when the monster appeared? And in Predator, the alien could easily have been replaced with some local god without any change to the story, and it would have been fantasy horror instead than SF horror.

    And I also agree that horror writers have a very large scope to choose from, from psychological horror to monsters. I tend to be at the blood and gore end of the scale - I'd have as little idea of how to approach writing something similar to Frenzy as I would a crime story!

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  5. Hi Ian and thanks for your comments!
    I'm inclined to agree with you re. the difficulties in classifying horror as a stand alone genre. I personally don't believe that it should be either, as anything shoe-horned into 'horror' is frequently marginalised. I think I have just become too used to having to consign a genre whenever submitting work to publishers, hence my question to Andrew.
    For me, there is as much horror in David Gemmell's Legend or even Caesar's De Bello Gallico as there is any zombie/vampire/paranormal novel!

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