The Big Idea: Stina Leicht
Posted on February 8, 2011 Posted by John Scalzi 24 Comments
Fantasy authors incorporate elements of the fantastical into the modern world all the time — the genre of “urban fantasy” is all about that. But when authors inject fantasy into the real world, and into events of the real world that have a history of contentiousness and hard emotions, there’s another level of complication… and of opportunity. Debut author Stina Leicht found out about both with her novel Of Blood and Honey, which takes place in Northern Ireland of the not at all recent past. How does one thread the path between fantasy and reality in a setting like that? Leicht explains.
One of my favourite writers, Terry Pratchett, once wrote that stories were parasites that search for people to happen to.
I still wonder why this story picked me.
The first seeds of Liam’s tale were planted during a Science Fiction convention panel about culture and myth appropriation. The question posed was: Is it ethical for fantasy writers to strip-mine traditional stories and characters from minority cultures? During the ensuing battle, one panellist stated that the reason fantasy had ventured into foreign cultures was because the Celtic myths were tired and overdone. I walked away with the impression that what had actually been overworked were concepts based on other writers’ works—not ancient myth. My hunch was that genuine traditional Irish myths would be as foreign to most American readers as a Martian landscape.
Irish fairy tales come in two varieties. The first are no different than our Tall Tales of Paul Bunyan or John Henry. The second, according to Eddie Lenihan, traditional Irish storyteller and author of Meeting the Other Crowd—the Fair Folk—are dark, terrifying and ghostly. In fact, they have more in common with creatures from a Stephen King story than a Disney film. In addition, I wondered what it would be like to return those traditional myths to their native soil but in an urban setting. Unlike the United States, Ireland strikes me as a place where Christianity exists side by side with the Old Ways—maybe not always comfortably or peacefully, but they both exist. I wanted to write a story that treated those elements equally.
Not long after that I was working at BookPeople as a bookseller and found a nonfiction galley left in the employee lunchroom. The ARC was for Those Are Real Bullets, Aren’t They?: Bloody Sunday, Derry, 30 January 1972 by the British journalists Peter Pringle and Philip Jacobson. Like many Americans, “Bloody Sunday” meant nothing more to me than a popular U2 song. Out of curiosity, I picked up the book. The more I read Pringle’s and Jacobson’s firsthand account, the more horrified I became. To think that a government—the British government, mind you, not a third world dictatorship—could get away with such a terrible lie in spite of photographic evidence, film evidence, forensic evidence and eyewitness accounts in my lifetime was beyond belief. When I told close friends about it they thought I was exaggerating. I couldn’t blame them. Who would want to believe it?
So it was that I decided to use fantasy elements to understand the conflict. I started writing about Liam—a Catholic growing up in Derry, Northern Ireland who is told his father was a Protestant who abandoned his mother when she became pregnant. However, his Grandmother’s lies conceal more than an illegitimate birth, and he grows up with no knowledge of what he is—one of the Fair Folk—nor his true potential. Like other teens, he deals with the day to day dangers of coming of age in the middle of a war, and like others in his community, he’s traumatized by it, but Liam inherits other problems from his real father: fallen angels, the fey, a sect of Catholic priest-assassins dedicated to protecting humanity from the supernatural, and a sworn enemy. Of course, then there’s the possibility that Liam might be more than a little bit… crazy.
The Troubles is a complex subject, and Americans are infamous for treating it with little respect. That’s why I was thorough and careful in my research. The novel definitely took me into some uncomfortable places, and it wasn’t always easy to write. However, I soon began to see similarities between the Britain of the 1970s and contemporary America. In fact, I was already a good way into writing Of Blood and Honey when the news hit about the arrests at the 2008 Republican National Convention. The video of American police kicking in the front door of a student protest group in Minneapolis was both eerily familiar and downright chilling. I began to wonder if I was going to finish before history tragically repeated itself. I still worry about our vast political divide, the resulting hostility, and where America is ultimately headed. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from writing this book it’s that frightened people make terrible, stupid mistakes. Frightened people with guns make deadly ones.
It’s important to note that the British government apologized for the massacre at Bloody Sunday last summer—thirty-eight years after British paratroopers shot and killed thirteen unarmed civilian protestors and then labelled them “terrorists.” Most Americans believe the situation in Northern Ireland was resolved with the 1998 Northern Ireland Peace Agreement. However, Belfast now has more walls separating its communities than it did during The Troubles, and the recent economic situation has resulted in a resurgence of tension. So it is that the legacy of that Sunday in 1972 continues to tragically affect new generations. It’s why I believe we shouldn’t turn away from its lessons. Above all, we shouldn’t forget.
Of Blood and Honey: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Powell’s
Visit the author’s LiveJournal. Follow her on Twitter.
John? You know my Visa has a limit, right? I mean I have to EAT too! And here you go posting another intriguing Big Idea. Dammit, Scalzi…
(Ms. Licht… sounds very intriguing. On the list, thank you. )
This one sounds thought-provoking and substantial; I’ve just put it on my To Read list. Looking forward to checking it out.
BookPeople FTW!! Definitely going to have to pick this one up. Stina, are you doing any local signings?
I bought it yesterday morning, and only stopped at Chapter 24 because it was late and my eyes were closing. Hope to finish it this afternoon. This is a fascinating, haunting story with a lot to show the world…
I have already finished ‘Of Blood and Honey’ and am recommending it to anyone I know who reads.
There are worse addictions to have, I suppose. Ms. Licht, your story sounds intriguing; as well, do you have any recommendations for books about the history you mention? I know just enough about it to know that I really don’t know anything about it.
Bloody Sunday AND Fae Folk?! SOLD. Already several chapters in…
My copy is on its way to my house right now.
Wow. This sounds truly awesome!! Love the tale of serendipity in the idea. :)
::marks to buy::
Wow. This sounds *great*. Thank you for sharing it, going to fetch my credit card now…
Thanks so much, y’all. Andrew Hackard, I’ve a signing scheduled for BookPeople on March 17th at 7pm. (I’ll also be at most of the Texas Sci-Fi/Fantasy cons this year and NorWesCon too.)
htom, I’ve quite a few recommendations, actually. “Ireland in the 20th Century” by Tim Pat Coogan wouldn’t be a bad start. However, it’s a little overwhelming at 900 pages. I’ve made a list of recommendations in the back of my novel. Also, I’m checking with a friend who is an expert on the subject (I’m so not) and asking him what he recommends. Will post it on my blog the moment I find out. (He’s busy. So, it takes time.) Hope that helps.
Again, thanks so very much everyone!
:Gulp: Be careful what you ask for. ;) Actually, that does indeed sound like what I want, and I’ll look at your blog for the addenda. Thank you, Ms Leicht.
I need to get this book, I think.
Let’s be fair; the legacy of nearly 900 years of English presence on Irish soil continues to have its impact. Bloody Sunday was the spark of the most recent wave of active attempts to end it or mend it. The Peace Agreement is a much-debated attempt to do the latter.
And gods above and below, I want this book.
Dammit, John, I’m as addicted to reading books as some people are to crack cocaine. Why do you insist on continually forcing the pipe into my poor, innocent hands? Have you no shame?
Stina, your Big Idea sold me. Just bought the Kindle edition. I love stories of the Fey; thanks for sharing.
I love that you have authors do posts like these. It helps me spot books that I normally wouldn’t, since I tend to read more biographies now than fantasy/scifi like I used to. Purely due to chance, I was book shopping today and snapped this book up the instant I saw it on shelves. I can’t wait to start it, especially after reading all the comments!
Wow, that sounds fascinating! I’m going to go check it out.
Sounds wonderful. Also wanted to mention, very nice cover.
Fantastic. This sounds right up my alley. Sample sent to my Kindle!
Ms. Leicht, I’m curious if you’ve read the novel Too Long a Sacrifice by M. D. Broxon? It’s a bit similar to your book–it’s about an Irish couple who are kidnapped (well, the man is kidnapped, the woman follows him) by the Fair Folk in the Middle Ages. They’re let go–or escape, I can’t quite remember how it worked–sometime in the eighties, I believe, in the middle of fighting in Dublin. I really enjoyed it when I read it.
Kaitlyn, I’ve never read “Too Long a Sacrifice” but it sounds interesting. Having read the premise described on Amazon, though, I have to say it has very little in common with OB&H — other than the Troubles and the fey. But I’ll leave that for you to decide. Hope you like it.
For the first time I bought a book based on one of these articles; it arrived yesterday at my local independent bookseller. The first couple of chapters were very good and I’m looking forward to the rest of the book.
Stina has been a close friend of mine since the mid-90’s and I’m thrilled to see she’s enjoying such success with her first novel. Naturally, I didn’t get in on this post in time, but I can safely vouch that the book is excellent. Enjoy and congrats, Stina!
Just thought I’d mention that I bought the book through Amazon. When it arrived, I decided to show it to my MIL, since she was born in Ireland and raised in England (she moved to the States in her twenties). Hubby thought that was a silly thing to do, since “she never reads fantasy”.
I’m gonna have to wait to get it back from her before I can start it.