Friday, 7 May 2010

Mythic Interview Friday: Number 6 - Philip Womack

Philip Womack is a new voice in children's books--and one I want to see a lot more from.  His first novel, The Other Book is a deft and imaginative delve into the story of Merlin and Viviane--I found it left me with gooseflesh down my spine and a need to look over my shoulder.  His second involves the Dionysian cult of the maenads (or Bacchae if you're from the Roman school) transposed to modern London. I've never really been too keen on the maenads since they tore Orpheus apart--and this incarnation didn't dispose me to like them any better--but it's a cracker of a story which I enjoyed immensely.  For me, it's wonderful to find another author who is as much of a mythographer as I am.  Philip really knows his stuff (well, he should with a Classics degree from Oxford), and he's not afraid to delve into the darker side of things either.  The gods of Greece (or almost any culture) in their scarier incarnations are easily a match for all those terrifying vampires and werewolves currently filling the shelves--I'm glad that Philip is giving the creatures of the night a run for their money.  Welcome to Scribble City Central, Philip. I'm delighted to have you here for the sixth Mythic Interview Friday--and even more delighted that you too love the Beast Glatisant, one of my own top favourite Mythical Creatures.

1. Do you think that the retelling of Greek and other myths is important or relevant for the children of today? Why should they care about some “dry old stories” which come from ancient cultures they might never even have heard of?
Myths are vital. They are the silver veins in the rock of our civilisation, a deep well of joy and fear. They show the strangeness of our earliest beliefs, and yet in that very alienness is humanity in all its strength and weakness. They are, in fact, the most relevant things of all, as they underpin anything and everything – not only from a storytelling viewpoint, but from a cultural one too. You cannot read Milton if you don’t know Virgil, you can’t look at Titian without the stories of Ovid.

2. What age were you when you came across your first myth or myths? Tell us how you felt then about the myths you first discovered. Did you love them or hate them? Did they scare you, excite you—or were you indifferent? What kind of myths were they? Greek? Norse? Native American? Celtic? Or from another culture entirely? Were they in a book you read? Or did you hear them as oral storytelling from someone else?
My father, when he was a child, was given a book of Greek myths. He was disappointed, as his sister got a watch. The watch was lost; the book survived, and was passed down to me. I read it from a very early age. I absolutely adored them, even though the book was very academic and aimed at an older audience. It was like opening a door into a new world. I also read Norse myths and Arthurian cycles.

3. Looking back, what is your favourite myth of all time, from any culture? And why would you choose it?
I think Persephone and Hades, because it has excitement – Hades galloping up from the Underworld to snatch the girl playing with her friends; the sad pain of Demeter who through love wanders the earth in search of her, but doesn’t find her, and the earth is plunged into winter; elements of folklore – the six pomegranate pips that Persephone eats whilst underground; and a beautiful ending that is both poignant and joyous, as Persephone returns to earth in the spring, and must leave in autumn, thus explaining the natural cycle of the world. Wonderful.

4. Who is your most hated mythical hero or heroine, and what made you feel that way about them?
Scylla in Book VIII of the Metamorphoses, who cuts off her father’s purple lock of hair because she’s in love with Minos. I don’t know whether she counts as a heroine though. I suppose Phaedra. I never liked her, but only because I couldn’t see what was so bad about her being in love with Hippolytus.

5. Is there a mythical beast you are particularly fond of? If so, which one?
Absolutely – the Beast Glatisant, or the Questing Beast, in the Arthurian cycle, that poor King Pellinore is always after. Definitely my favourite: it has the head and neck of a serpent, the body of a leopard, the haunches of a lion, the feet of a hart, and its belly makes a noise like thirty couple of hound barking. Dear old Glatisant.

6. How have myths had an influence on your writing, if at all? 
Very deeply. My first book reworked the story of Merlin and Vivien, and my second was directly inspired by Euripides’ The Bacchae.

7. If you could choose to be the demigod child of any one mythical god or goddess, which one would it be? Which power would you like to inherit from them—and what would you do with it?
I would like to be the child of Apollo, and I think I would like to have his prophetic powers, so I could save people. Or at least warn them. They probably wouldn’t listen, though.

More about Philip:
Philip was born in Chichester, West Sussex in the middle of a thunderstorm. He was educated at Lancing College, and read Classics and English at Oriel College, Oxford. Philip now lives in London, is a Contributing Editor to the Literary Review and has also written for a number of national newspapers and magazines. His first novel for children, The Other Book was published by Bloomsbury in 2008 and his second, The Liberators, is out now. Philip imbibed myth and legend from a very early age. Sometimes he wishes he was a Greek hero. His website is He blogs at The Liberators Facebook Page is HERE


Mary Hoffman's Newsletter said...

I KNEW my instincts were right to bestow an affectionate kiss on Philip the first time I met him! (OK, I thought he was someone else)

What a right-thinking man! I shall get hold of all his books and read them. They sound right up my street.

Nicky S (Absolute Vanilla) said...

Brilliant interview and I have a sneaky suspicion I'm going to love Philip's books, with that kind of background in myth, how could one not!

Lucy Coats said...

Mary and Nicky--obviously I think Philip's books are great--am quite sure you both will too!

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