On the Origins of My Species

I am often asked why I chose to write in a genre where it is notoriously difficult to succeed. I still have nightmares about the reactions I received for a piece I submitted to a writer’s group four years ago: “stop this nonsense, stick to writing crime”, being the essence of the message. I cannot! Historical Fantasy is in my blood!

Why historical fantasy? I suppose the simple answer is evolution.

My father was educated in the classical grammar school system back in the nineteen-fifties. As such, bedtime stories in our house tended to be read from a tome of Greek mythology. My formative years were filled with hydras and Heracles, Gorgons and flying horses, minotaurs and one-eyed giants.

Small wonder that when I graduated from listening to reading, Henry Treece was high on my agenda. Next to The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, I invariably had a copy of one of Henry’s Viking sagas. And from there, to the adult versions of Jason, Electra and the Green Man. Not to mention the works of Mary Renault, notably The Bull from the Sea, The King Must Die and The Praise Singer. And then the twentieth century ended with David Gemmell’s Lion of Macedon and later in the noughties, The Troy series.

The thing I loved most about the works of Treece and Renault, and later Gemmell’s Troy, was taking away the magic and monsters and making the stories (for me at least) more believable. Don’t misunderstand me, I do love a dragon or two, when appropriate, but I also love putting humanity into the ancient myths. I love that Treece’s Heracles was a Eunuch and Gemmell’s Odysseus was a storyteller with a vivid imagination.

But why Irish Myths and Legends?

I think it is probably because the Irish myths are there, within touching distance. They are not so distant in time as the Classical myths of Greece and Rome: Conaire Mór was high king when Caesar was invading Britain; Queen Medb was cattle rustling just before the birth of Christ; Conor Mac Nessa’s head exploded at news of Christ’s crucifixion. For me, that places them more in the historical aspect of the genre than the fantastical.

So, my evolution leaves me with a question; a question that will not recede.

If the history of the tribes of Ireland had not been a verbal tradition, passed from druid to druid, but a written one, would we still have the Irish sagas firmly stuck into the Mythological pigeonhole they are in?

I think not.

Micheál May 2020

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