Tuesday 5 July 2011

The Mythic Faery Interview – Conal MacGregor, Smouldering Sithe Warrior

Gillian Philip's faery warrior, Conal MacGregor--what a treat that man is to talk to!  And today I'm sharing him with all of you, because I'm generous like that.... 

A little while ago, I was lucky enough to be given the very first sneak preview of Gillian's new novel, Bloodstone--the second in her 'Rebel Angels' series and the sequel to Firebrand, which The Times dubbed their 'best fantasy of 2010'.  Naturally I was sworn to secrecy about the contents--and I'm not going to put up any spoilers here.  Suffice to say that the action has moved on 400 years, into our own 21st century, there are new and exciting characters as well as old friends--and the fast-moving, viscerally real action is just as gripping as ever, if not more so.  The wickedly feral, amoral Seth (the 'red-hot faery boy' of my last Mythic Interview) tells the story, just as he did in the first book, and I'm as entranced as ever by what goes on inside his head (and by the reasons why he acts and thinks as he does). I still want to smack him half the time, and hug him (well, that's the polite way of putting it...) the rest of it.  But there is a new storyteller's voice too--Finn MacAngus, the stroppy, wild, rebellious Sithe girl who has no idea how powerful she really is.  I think you'll like her as much as I did--and I look forward to seeing more of her in later volumes.  All I will say now is that there's a treat coming for those of you who loved the first book--and some heart-stopping surprises too.

However,  it's neither Seth nor Finn who is the star of this interview.  Conal MacGregor is the quiet one--the 'good brother', and I feel that sometimes he's overlooked for that very reason--though he's just as..um...'huggable' as his younger brother. I also really wanted to know a bit more about what made him tick, and to get inside his head.  So Gillian very kindly agreed once more to act as amanuensis, and write down Conal's answers to my fearsomely intrusive and personal questions.  (Honestly?  I'm just really nosy! But Shh! Let's just pretend I'm an intrepid journo on assignment for Hello! for the moment....)

SCC: Conal, you  seem to be pretty perfect all round—selfless, noble, responsible, loyal, gentle, caring and all that (which might be annoying if you weren’t so obviously nice). Your rude brother calls you ‘the insufferable saint’. But everyone has a dark secret hidden in their character somewhere. What’s yours?
Uh... am I all those things?! Well, thanks, Lucy... It’s no surprise that Seth is rude about me; he’s pretty insolent about everyone and he’s easily wound up where I’m concerned. As for my dark half – well, I wish I were as perfect as the man you describe, but I’ve had my moments, and being under orders doesn’t excuse anything. If it’s a character fault you’re looking for, I know what Seth would say is my worst – the temper. I take a while to get riled, but when I do, I overreact. And Seth knows exactly which buttons to push. I'd better not say he can push my buttons anytime, had I?  *oops, too late*

SCC: You’ve had to make a lot of choices and hard decisions, both for yourself and your Clann. If you could go back and do one thing differently in your life so far, what would it be and why?
One thing, or many? There have been plenty of things I’d change, but if I had to choose one moment that could have made a difference, I’d have challenged Kate NicNiven earlier. Seth reckons I could have taken the crown from her way back, before the worst of it happened, and he might be right*. The trouble is, I didn’t want it; I only wanted autonomy over my own dun. But yes, I should have challenged her more strongly and a lot earlier. If I’d done that, it need never even have come to fighting.
* Ohhh! How I wish you had too.  She needs a good walloping, that one!

SCC: Your brother Seth is clearly very important to you—and you’ve made a lot of sacrifices for him. Tell us the thing about Seth that you most love—and the thing you most hate.
Ha! Yes, I love the little toe-rag. It’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it...

What do I love most? His cheek. He’ll insult anyone, even me, and sometimes it takes a while to realise he’s done it. It’s got him into all kinds of trouble, but there’s a kind of reckless bravado about it that echoes the way he fights.

What do I most hate? The way he won’t let himself be loved. The little git, he needs to bind to someone, but he’s what you might call a commitment-phobe. And it’s insane, because he has a lot to give, he just won’t let himself. He isn’t doing himself any favours there**.
** No, he isn't.  And I wish he'd learned that lesson too.  But emotional maturity is clearly going to take him several more centuries to get a grip on--if the annoying little cuss survives that long!

SCC: First you were a kind of father-figure to Seth, and now, in Bloodstone, you’re doing it all over again with Finn. You and Eili have had no children of your own (so far). I know it’s hard for the Sithe to have kids and that they’re incredibly important to you—so what would be the most vital piece of advice you’d want to pass on to your own bairn?

I know that’s a sore point with Eili, and I do feel guilty about it. One of these days, though, gods willing... anyway, what advice would I give? Don’t be scared to speak your mind to people you trust. Listen to the counsel of your friends and your lovers. And never turn your back on a smiling Lammyr.

I’d give myself a bit of advice, as well. I would never, but never lie to my child***. I’ve seen where that goes.
*** I'm so glad you said that.  Lying to your kids will always come back and bite you in the bum.  And what's the point?

SCC: I once asked Seth whether he saw himself as a kind of mythic hero—and he went all embarrassed on me (have you ever seen him blush? It’s rather sweet!). You yourself have actually been described as ‘heroic’, so how about you? Do you feel like a hero? Who would be the hero you most admire and relate to in any culture—and why?

Really? You made Seth blush? Brilliant - that I’d like to have seen. I can see why, though – what a question! If somebody has described me that way, it’s nice of them, but no. I don’t feel heroic. I feel as if I’d like to be heroic, but never quite get there. I have a lot of ground to make up, mistakes to correct, sins to expiate. Besides, I haven’t achieved what I need to achieve, not yet.

Which hero would I most admire? Tristan^. He was a warrior and a fantastic horseman, but he knew about love and loss. He wasn’t perfect, but he did his damnedest to do the right thing. And for the same reasons (minus the swordfighting) – Iseult too.
^ Tristan is the perfect choice for you--I can quite see why you'd pick him.  It seems to me that real heroes (ie you and Seth) are so because you don't have that kind of hubris which tells you that you're perfect.  The flaws and doubts make the man, I think.

SCC: The Queen of Elfland, The Faerie Queen, even Galadriel...we humans have so many tales of the ruler of your world. She’s always eerily beautiful, often cruel and human men seem find her irresistible. I hate to bring up Kate NicNiven, but why would anyone find her character attractive? You yourself say ‘she’d start a war for the fun of it on a dull weekend.’ She’s even more of a monster than the Lammyr, isn’t she? Why is she such a...well, ‘cow’ would be the politest term, I suppose! And why do all the Sithe put up with her?

It’s hard to explain, Lucy. If you can suspend your disbelief long enough, I could tell you that she’s...charming. And so beautiful, of course. And incredibly indulgent of her favourites.

Most of all, though, she knows how to win affection. She’ll say just the right thing, pay the right compliment, give the most apt favour at exactly the right moment. She knows better than anyone what you want or need – sometimes she uses witchcraft, sometimes it’s simple instinct – and she can give or withhold it as she likes. Most often she gives – so long as it suits her. She can make you dance to a tune you never knew you knew; she can play you like a fish on a hook, and persuade you no bait ever tasted better. It’s political nous, I suppose, and it’s better than any magic spell^^.
^^ Ah! So she's really a bedamned and thrice-bedamned politician.  That explains everything!

SCC: Talking of those human men—did you ever meet Thomas the Rhymer or Tam Linn? Why is music so important to the Sithe? And what would be the one modern song you absolutely have to have on your i-Pod?

I never met either of those two personally – before my time, I’m afraid – but they’re both still well-known by reputation. It seems Tam was a little humourless, but utterly devoted to Kate. Everyone knew she had him bewitched, and a lot of people lost a lot of bets when the full-mortal girl got him away from Kate. Thomas Rhymer was smarter, I reckon. He charmed Kate as much as she did him, and he flattered her, so when he asked to go home, she let him. You see? She rarely makes the kind of mistake she did with Tam Lin. And of course, he came back to her in the end, and died at a fine old age, still spouting those wacky prophecies that amused her so much.

I have met more than one other full-mortal, though, tempted across by Kate or by someone else. Lots of people fall for a full-mortal now and again, and want to show off. But the difference with Kate is that she has a nasty habit of, say, employing pipers and fiddlers for an evening’s entertainment, just when she knows the time’s going to warp. When they go back, they don’t survive longer than it takes to find out the date. She really is La Belle Dame Sans Merci. It’s cruel. Some Sithe think it’s funny; some don’t, but it’s damned difficult to say so to her face.

Speaking of full-mortal musicians, though, you’re right – we’re fond of music. You are too, though, aren’t you? After a hard day’s work or horse-training or fighting, there’s nothing better than a party. Even I know that, and you won’t catch me singing for love or money (unlike Seth, the show-off. But then he’s good).

As for my own iPod – I play Paolo Nutini a LOT – I never get tired of him – and I’m really fond of Brown-Eyed Girl by Van Morrison. Seth tells me I’m hopelessly unadventurous, but you should hear some of the shit he likes^^^.
^^^ Yep.  I'm certainly a music girl. But Paolo Nutini annoys the crap out of me, I'm afraid--and I'm not such a fan of Van the Man either--though I'll listen to him.  I fear some of my musical tastes may veer towards Seth's.  Eclectic, that's me! Hildegarde of Bingen one day, Lady Gaga or Seasick Steve the next!  

SCC: The Sithe are clearly excellent fighters, and enjoy a good brawl. You are one of the best with a sword. But if you didn’t have a sword, dagger or anything else long, sharp or pointy, what would you do? Do any of the Sithe practise any type of martial arts combat which involves no weapons? If not, shouldn’t you use all that time you’ve spent in the human world and start training your Clann so that you’ll have an advantage over your future enemies?

There’s no formal martial art, with special moves and rules or indeed any spiritual dimension – but oh, yes, we can fight barehanded. There’s a certain ability we have to kind of stay in the air and move, with nothing solid for leverage. It’s a mind thing. But we can’t do it for long. It’s not like we have those wee gossamer wings+, whatever anybody tells you.

Anyway, people tend to work out what works for them, depending on their size, speed, talents...and we’re nothing if not adaptable. Some Sithe fight pretty dirty. I could introduce you to a guy called Cuthag. Not one of my favourite people.
+ I'd give anything to see you and Seth in a pair of wee gossamer wings...! *has small fantasy moment*

SCC: Cù Chaorach, ‘The Sheepdog’, is your true name. While sheepdogs are wonderfully faithful and intelligent animals, they also tend to do what they’re told. How did you feel when you first found out what you were called? Did you secretly want to be something more glamorous like a wolf, or a bear or a stag? Do you think a sheepdog is really cut out to be a leader of men?

Don’t get me started. There’s a rumour I didn’t speak to anyone for a month when they found my name, but that isn’t quite true. I wasn’t very enamoured of it, though. And yes, you’ve got it: I wanted to be a wolf, or an eagle, or... hell, at least a stoat or a badger would be a proper predator.

But I’ve grown accustomed to it. I still don’t...quite...get it, but people say it suits me. Apparently I am sometimes annoyingly bossy and I-know-best++. The gods know, Eili tells me that often enough.
++ I guess dogs are descended from wolves--you can comfort yourself that you're a civilised wolf who can get people to do what he wants.  How's that for an idea?

SCC: Finally, I’m always wondering this myself (and am always changing my greedy mind), so I’m going to indulge myself and ask you what your last ever meal in the world would be, if you could choose. Mine currently involves eggs, chicken, truffles, purple sprouting broccoli, asparagus, mashed potato, a lot of cream and butter—and chocolate (obviously). Where would you eat your final supper? And with whom?

You know what, Lucy? I think I’ll join you...

But if you absolutely made me choose my own, I’d go for really fresh fish, straight out of the waters beside the dun. I’d like it grilled over an open fire, just with some butter and lemon and herbs. And artichoke hearts+++, because they’re so much fun to eat. And then I’ll have some rare steak, cooked over the same fire; and since this is a fantasy meal, I’ll take some proper modern Scottish chips with it, incredibly fatty and straight out of the local chip shop near Tornashee. But forget the deep-fried Mars bar afterwards – I’ll have Strathdon Blue cheese and plenty of whisky. Macallan, I think.
+++ Artichoke hearts--oh! I am SO stealing those for my last supper.  Mashed with plenty of butter and salt and pepper. Yum!

And of course, I’d eat it with Eili, and we’d sit on a hill overlooking the dun. And I know you said ‘final’ meal, but hey, you’d let us have some time with each other afterwards++++, wouldn’t you...? ++++ Says he, wistfully!  Yes, of course!  The night is yours and Eili's to do with as you will.  I'll be down the road with your dear brother...

Oh gods, now I’m sounding like Seth! Thanks for a terrific interview, Lucy. You’re an amazing lady and you’re welcome in my dun any time – once I get it back. I know you’d spin us some fabulous stories.

Thank you, Conal--and Gillian.  You've spun us all some fabulous answers, and I know many many readers will be even more desperate to read Bloodstone when it comes out on 19th August from Strident Publishing.  In fact, I think I'm away now to read it again myself!

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Katherine Langrish said...

Splendid interview, Conal and Lucy, and it's good to hear from Conal - Seth does sometimes tend to grab all the attention... though I know he wouldn't begrudge Conal anything...

I hadn't realised Conal's true name meant 'The Sheepdog' (and I've often wondered how to pronounce it!)

I too rrrrripped through 'Bloodstone'- a fantastic book with some very brave decisions taken by both characters and author... just biding my time to say more about it when I get ny breath back.

MC Rogerson said...

Thanks for posting this interview with Conal. I never guessed that he'd be into Paolo Nutini. Thought that he'd be more of a Marillion fan myself.

Can't wait to read Bloodstone!

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