Monday, 22 November 2010

The Mythic Faery Interview - Seth MacGregor, Red-Hot Faery Boy

Since I interviewed Seth MacGregor's 'Boss', Gillian Philip, on Scribble City Central back in July, Seth has taken an unsuspecting world by storm.  I described the first part of Seth's memoirs, Firebrand (published by Strident and now in its second printing), as 'rare, new and infinitely exciting', and it seems I am not the only one to be so seduced.  Amanda Craig of The Times has made his book her Top Fantasy Novel of 2010 (Oh! How I agree with you, Amanda!), and Mary Hoffman of The Guardian has just described Seth as 'red-hot' and Firebrand as 'stark and brutal but with moments of heartbreaking beauty'. As of last night (Sunday) Firebrand was at #16 in Fantasy Books on Amazon and at #559 overall.  Cor! And just look at Seth on the cover--who wouldn't want a piece of THAT? *let's all take a moment for fanning purposes here*
Since Seth sneaked onto Twitter (quite against the express wishes of 'The Boss', but then that's our bad, disobedient, authority-defying faery boy all over), he and I have been having some...I shall use the word 'interesting' here (make of that what you will)...conversations. He's given at least two excellent interviews in other places, but for this one I wanted go with the Scribble City tradition by tapping into Seth's mythical faery heritage and trying to delve deeper into the intriguing world behind the Veil.  So without further ado, let's plunge into what I think is a fascinating conversation with the wickedly alluring (and appallingly flirty)...

                                           SETH MacGREGOR

So, Seth...let's begin with 'Faery tales’. That conjures up nice sparkly Thumbelina stuff for little children. But faery tales originate in a much deeper darker space, don’t they? Faery tales first began in the fiery heart of story where the old myths full of blood and ancient magic live. How far back into the mists of myth do your Sithe records go? Who are your lorekeepers? (Or do you not even keep records?)

Yes, blood and ancient magic. I like your style. Faery tales weren’t for children, not to begin with; they were the soap opera of the ancients, told for adults, full of truths and hard reality. And you and I know that however they’ve twisted and turned with the centuries, however they’ve changed, they began in that reality.

Our records go back as far as yours, I think... the further back you go, the more obscured they are by time. We keep the same stories, but like any myth or fairytale, we have our own take on them, our own filter. Full-mortals feature in our tales, but in not quite the same light as they do in yours. Your reputation with us is as mixed as ours with you. And like you, we have books, songs, oral history... there’s always a Shenachie to tell tales on a dark night when everyone’s had more than enough to drink*.
* That'll be pretty much every night, then?

Your brother, Conal is described as ‘heroic’, but you’ve been called ‘half-feral, a bastard boy full of hatred.’ I think that only shows the surly outer armoured skin you have presented to the world so far. There’s someone much more complex underneath all the angry posturing of your younger self, and I’d like to know more about how you would describe yourself nowadays, as compared to in your childhood. Do you, perhaps, see yourself as a kind of mythic hero (or indeed antihero) figure akin to all those butch Greek demigods like Achilles, or do you feel more comfortable closer to home, with heroes like Fionn mac Cumhaill and Cúchulainn—or do you feel like none of them?

I’m blushing** at the very thought of Achilles and Cuchulainn. Hell, I’m not the legendary type, though I love those heroes. They always seem so much larger than life, Lucy, and I’m just... life-sized. I know they had their human frailties, and it’s true I can throw a temper with the best of them, and have been known to sulk in my metaphorical tent... but consorting with gods isn’t for me. Fionn is a little different, isn’t he? He’s closer to us all, more man than demigod, and I like that he had wits as well as strength. More Odysseus than Achilles. I can also vouch for his existence, since Griogair knew him (Aonghas and Reultan named their daughter after him). Needless to say, I only heard the stories with the rest of the clann. My father never talked to me about him.

As for how I see myself nowadays? I’ve mellowed, or I think I have. I hope I’m smarter and wiser. The Boss says I still have a sizeable chip on my shoulder. Hah! She may know me pretty well, but even she doesn’t understand all my motives, not all the time.
** YES! I made Seth blush! This may be a first....

You and I share a love of animals, Seth.  If you had to choose two mythical creatures from any culture to go into battle with and to guard your left and right sides, who would they be, and why?

I have good friends, and good fighting comrades, but there’s no-one I trust more in battle than Branndair***. I know his head and he knows mine: we’re like extensions of each other. So if I was going to choose two mythical heroes instead, I’d take Bran and Sceolan, Fionn’s hounds, the ones with the hearts of men.
*** Branndair is Seth's wolf companion
 I trust you know the cautionary kelpie tale ‘Myself is Myself’+, Seth? It’s said in most of our old Scots legends that the waterhorses can shapeshift. Is this true of your own roan kelpie, or has something got skewed in the story as it travelled across the Veil? We mortals are easily confused about such things!
+ If any of you Lovely Blog Readers don't know it, it can be found in my Coll the Storyteller's Tales of Enchantment

You’re not the only ones. A lot of stories have got skewed and tangled. There are tales of shapeshifting creatures, and I don’t know if they’re true or not, but my horse isn’t a thing that can mutate. I’ve heard people say that water horses and kelpies are two different things, that kelpies are shapeshifting spirits; but we have always called our horses kelpies (and not all the Sithe can ride them). And then there’s the Brollachan, another shapeshifter that’s been known to take the form of a horse.

You ask me, I think tales shapeshift more easily than creatures. I’m not sure you have stories about the Lammyr, do you? Yet there are plenty of them over in your world, taking protégés all the time. Perhaps you notice them even less than you notice us.

In the shamanic tradition it is taught that everyone has a spirit animal (mine is a bear) with which they share affinities. Your true name, Murlainn, as well as symbolising the swift and deadly falcon spirit within you, set off all sorts of mythological echoes for me, being, of course, the same as the great Arthurian wizard of my own culture. Do you think that that Merlin too might have had Sithe blood, or even been a Sithe? Is he someone the Sithe know about?

A bear? That’s lovely. It suits you, because you’re beautiful and have a soft exterior+++, but you can be fierce. I like my true name well enough; it could have been worse. I’ve overheard bitchy comments in the dun before now, like the tosser who said he’d no idea there wasn’t a Gaelic word for ‘snake’. Breaking his nose was a satisfying moment.

And yes, I’ve had full-mortal friends who mistook my name for the wizard’s, and that has sometimes been helpful. I don’t doubt the man had Sithe blood, though I don’t think he was all Sithe: there’s definitely something else there. Didn’t he live backwards through time? Some of his abilities were undoubtedly Sithe, and he had plenty to do with us, or so I hear.

I don’t like the Sidhe of your BBC Merlin. They’re nothing like us. I spend Saturday nights shouting at the Boss’s TV. She gets cross and tells me to shut up, because all she wants to do is drool over Arthur and his knights^ – even though they’re terribly slow with a blade.
+++The less said about how Seth knows this, the better.
 ^You're very mean, Seth. 'The Boss' needs her downtime, just like the rest of us.  If she wants to drool over slow knights, let her (there's even a  free BBC picture below specially to distract her).  The rest of us will drool over slow nights with a certain faery...Oops! didn't mean to say that. Delete delete delete!

When I wrote my own book of Celtic myths and legends, my storyteller set off from the stone circle at Callanish on the the Isle of Lewis (Eilean Leodhas). There are so many stones and circles in Scotland, and they’re pretty much all associated with the Otherworld in some way—generally with mortals wandering through and then coming back tens or hundreds of years later (as you know, to your cost). You’ve told us that there are rings of ancient stones in the Sithe lands too. Do they equate exactly with the ones in the mortal landscape? Is the Veil thinner or somehow more penetrable around them—and if so, why?

Oh, I’m sure that’s true, that the Veil is thinner in those places. You can feel it, can’t you? And not just in the stone circles – there are other rocks, streams, caverns where the other world seems very close. I think of places like Colonsay, or Gigha, or Tomnahurich Hill in Inverness, or the older places of Edinburgh. And I know, for instance, that the Veil is denser and less penetrable around duns and fortresses, so why wouldn’t it work the other way?

Still, full-mortals can’t just wander through, say, a watergate – you’d need someone of Sithe blood with you. That’s why there are all those tales of musicians or knights or midwives enticed through by some unscrupulous Sithe with a few coins or a convincing story.

Some of those stones have equivalents in the full-mortal world, some don’t. I suppose it depends on whether they have been moved or destroyed, or preserved, and why they were built in the first place – some were put there as markers for weak places in the Veil, which makes sense when you think of their atmosphere.

There are a few stone circles in your world I have special affection for. The place my sons are buried, for one. And another where – well. That’s a story for another time^^.
^^You're very good--I had hoped to tempt you into some revelations, but you're too canny for that

You faeries are burdened with the hideous Lammyr (which, incidentally, creep the flesh off my bones). They’re obviously pretty hard to get rid of, and I certainly wouldn’t want to meet one on a dark or any other night. We mortals think about a lot of scary things in our spare time—including vampires and werewolves. Do the Sithe have any experience of those—and if you yourself met either one, how would you deal with them?

I suppose our closest equivalent to your seductive bloodsucking destroyers would be our dear Queen. And I’d like to say the Lammyr are undead creatures, and alien to the Sithe, but unfortunately they live and breathe and we are related. At some point in the past we have to accept responsibility for them. Maybe they creep the flesh off their own bones, who knows? It would explain the way they look.

But werewolves – now, we don’t have shapeshifters, but I know that the Sithe have always had a close relationship with our wolves, just as we have with the ravens. (And of course, wolves and ravens have always had a symbiotic relationship, too, even in your world.) Not that I’m fond of my stepmother’s ghastly bird, I might add; that thing’s got it in for me.

Perhaps the werewolf legends came about in the same way the centaur ones did? A full-mortal sees a Sithe and a wolf working together, just as the ancients saw a man on a horse, and.... ah, but on the other hand, there’s every chance werewolves and centaurs are as real as the Sithe, isn’t there? We don’t know everything of every world.^^^
^^^ Interesting.  So you admit there ARE other worlds....

In these modern times, we mortals have started seeing a lot of what are known to us as ‘urban faery tales’—stories about the Sithe, taken down by people probably not unlike The Boss. Many of them are set in the United States, and feature what seem to be some of your very distantly related kinfolk. Would you ever get on an aeroplane and travel across the Atlantic—or would you prefer to take a boat instead? Can you yourself go very far from the Veil—or can you get back to Sithe lands from anywhere in the mortal world?

Oh, I have travelled across the Atlantic, many times. I was in Antigua only recently #...but again, that’s a story for another time. To be honest, I prefer boats to planes, but I’m not as frightened of flying as the Boss is.

The Sithe certainly have kin in the United States, but then we have family everywhere – I’ve known Sithe from Germany, Belgium, Norway, Chile, South Africa and Pakistan. Some of those have different names, of course, but we’re all one race. Watergates exist in all countries; the Sithe world exists alongside yours in its entirety. I can go any distance from the Veil, any of us can – but I would never want to be too far from a watergate. You know how homesick I get.
# and there you go again with the enticing hints....

Now, finally (and this is a complete indulgence on my part), I just have to know the answer to this: 'The Boss' apparently has huge trouble controlling you and your urges, or so she tells me. You’re a kind of mega-flirt legend on Twitter already, and you have hordes of swooning female fans already (of whom I am obviously Most Important Number One, whoever might dispute that fact). So tell us, what would be your ideal night out with a lady in the mortal world of today (no expense spared)? Details, man, details!

All the details? Are you sure, Lucy? I’m not sure the Boss would allow that...!##

OK, but seriously... it would involve music, live music. And dancing. And down to the beach afterwards, to ride my horse together by moonlight and (probably) sober up. And then – oh, don’t talk to me about sand. It gets everywhere.

## I have a nasty feeling 'The Boss' has had her red censor pen out when she was transcribing this.  She has a very Puritan Streak when it comes to your extracurricular activities, does Gillian. *sigh*.
Well, that's all we have time for right now.  Thanks to the gorgeous Seth, (and to Gillian 'The Boss' Philip) for transcribing Seth's messy notes.  I'm just off for a cold shower and a lie down. 

You’re a wonderful interviewer as well as lovely, Lucy. Thank you!


kathryn evans said...

Dancing? Beaches? Massage Oil ( I may have added a little to the fantasy myself there...) Happy sigh....

Kath said...

I haven't actively been resisting Seth but hadn't yet got around to buying and reading his book. (Please don't tell him this.) However, after reading the wonderful interview between you two, I've decided that I can't wait for Santa to bring Seth to me and have just ordered it. I need a post-NaNo treat and Mr Macgregor sounds like he'll do very nicely indeed. Thanks both for such a fascinating interview!

Linda Strachan said...

Yes, Kath, don't hesitate - but be prepared to put everything else aside until you've finished it. He's fascinating and you might get lost in his world...
Great interview Lucy!

kathryn evans said...

Yes, and don't cook anything that burns easily....

Lucy Coats said...

Mrs Evans! Enough with the massage oil already!
Kath--what Linda said (thank you, Linda). Truly, you won't regret it.

Rebecca Brown said...

Brilliant interview, fascinating questions and Seth never fails to deliver.

Just one correction. I am, obviously, Most Important Fan Girl. :)

Conal MacGregor said...

Nice. Gives a good account of himself, doesn't he? Of course, some of us have to LIVE with him.

Gillian Philip said...

@Conal MacGregor, I don't think you're being entirely fair. Seth was discreet enough not to mention that he has met at least three werewolves, including Lucy herself... OOPS.

Katherine Langrish said...

He's a bit of a tease, isn't he? I'd be careful if I were you, ladies... like a certain jongleur of my acquaintance, he's fascinating, but hardly to be trusted!

Sue Hyams said...

Great interview, Lucy and Seth. Fascinating. And as for that beach....

Book Maven said...

Loved the interview, Lucy, and found only one mistake. You are NOT the first to make Seth blush. I did that on Twitter. At least he SAID he was blushing, though I didn't believe him.

JaneyV said...

… am having … a bit of trouble … with coherency.

I've come over all hot and peculiar. Must be coming down with something. Sand gets everywhere you say? (Dear lord I hope nobody out there can read minds...)

What was I saying? **fans self furiously**

Oh yes - lovely interview. Thanks Lucy. Thanks Sexy! Ahem - I mean Seth .....

Oh my!

kathryn evans said...

Conal you have your own fan club you know....

Lucy Coats said...

I'm not even going to dignify that with a response, Rebecca.

Conal--you are very restrained. Living with him must be a trial, I know. Perhaps he could come and live with me...?

Gillian--Seth is about as discreet as his Boss. Oops!

Kath--the untrustworthy bit is why we are all so hooked!

Sue--am trying not to think about the beach too hard. VERY distracting.

Mary--you can never believe a word that faery boy says about blushing I have come to discover.

Janey--I advise a cold shower. And have you got any bromide in the house?

Kathy--there may be interesting news for those on Team Conal very soon....

Becky said...

Love this interview with Seth. I am so pleased that his story is getting the attention he deserves. He is HOT! And Gillian is like this AWESOME writer person. I love them both!

P.S. The comment from Conal made me chuckle.

I need the next book NOW! Pretty please!

Lucy Coats said...

Seth--hot. Gillian--awesome. You are entirely correct, Becky, although Seth might have some problems with the latter (he is very disrespectful to the Boss).

As for Conal...well, watch this space. I shall say no more.

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