The Big Idea: Gabriela Houston
It’s not how you look on the outside, but what’s on the inside that makes you a monster. This is especially true in Gabriela Houston’s newest novel, The Second Bell. Explore Houston’s Big Idea with her as she tells you of a society that is terrified of monsters, yet is monstrous itself.
If everyone you’d ever met – your whole family, your friends, your neighbours, believed your child is a monster which must be expelled from the community, what would you do?
In The Second Bell, the humans of Heyne Town believe that any child born with two hearts—a striga—is a monster, which, should she be allowed to remain within the community, would grow in strength till her unholy powers inevitably manifested themselves in some catastrophic way.
The only way such a disaster can be averted is to leave the infant on the edge of the striga forest, for the other strigas to find her. The mother is expected to forget about her baby, and count her blessings that the taint of her child does not extend to her.
But every now and again, a mother decides to leave with her child, to brave the hostile world outside the safety of the town, and join the strigas in the mountains. Miriat, the mother in The Second Bell, makes just such a choice, breaking every taboo and law of her community in order to raise her daughter, Salka.
That is the initial premise of The Second Bell.
The Big Idea behind the novel, however, is the natural question which arose from its starting point:
How hard is it to go against everything you’ve been taught to believe, when a conflicting loyalty arises?
Miriat didn’t suddenly, magically, unlearn everything she’d been told since childhood about the strigas. Just because she feels the pull of maternal love for her infant doesn’t mean she’s suddenly had an epiphany that prejudice towards the strigas is wrong, and that love must prevail.
Humans don’t think like that.
Miriat makes the choice to join her daughter in banishment in spite of believing that there is potential for great evil residing within her child. In fact she shifts her internal concept of duty, from staying away from all strigas, towards protecting Salka from the evil inside, and to stop her daughter from becoming a monster at all cost.
The fear doesn’t just go away because love temporarily overrules it. And so it remains, pervading every element of life.
The strigas, whose community Miriat joins, share the humans’ belief that they are, on a fundamental level, evil; that the only thing which will stop them from realising their dark potential is the rigid structure of laws and regulations, and that any transgressions must be severely punished for fear that any leniency might lead to disaster.
The Big Idea I kept in mind when writing The Second Bell was, what – if anything – could finally have the power to overturn years of conviction? A conviction that has become central to a people’s identity, the core of what they consider their self-knowledge.
Love isn’t always enough to do it. Neither is friendship. Battling a belief that strong demands the shattering of one’s entire identity.
And then, once the old self is in ashes, it requires courage to build something new in its place.