Interview with Gillian Philip, author of the Rebel Angels series which includes the recently published Bloodstone, book #2 of the series. The books are historical urban fantasy set in old Scotland and originally published in the UK.
Let’s welcome Gillian!
The second book in your Rebel Angel series titled BLOODSTONE has just been published in the US. It has a 17th century Scotland setting. Tell us about your Scottish roots and if they have been used as a foundation for your story; and about the historical and fantastical world that you’ve written about in your Rebel Angel series?
OK, here goes! I was born in Glasgow and now live in the Highlands, and I always wanted to write a fantasy story set in Scotland because I love the landscape (the cities as well as the countryside) and I love the myths and legends associated with it. It took me a long time to get round to it, though. I actually got the kick I needed when I came home after living in Barbados for twelve years. I’d missed the landscape terribly and as soon as I got home I was seeing scenes and stories everywhere I looked. Scotland has an incredibly bloody history, of course, so the people appearing in my head tended to be a bit violent. But at the same time, Scots are notoriously sentimental and romantic, so there was going to have to be a bit of a love story, too. A hard-edged love story, mind you.
The Rebel Angel series contains fairies; tell us a bit about them and the mythology of the fairy realm that you’ve created.
I’d always loved Scottish folk and fairy tales – which have a tendency to the same combination of romance and violence – so I took myself back to them and read as many as I could lay my hands on. It’s surprising how many of the traditions and superstitions survive even in modern Scotland – lots of people would be afraid to cut down a rowan tree, for instance, because they’re sacred to the fairies – and that fascinated me.
But one thing I really wanted to do was to make my fairies human. I wanted them to be us, but differently evolved. My Sithe are human, and they don’t understand why they’re hated and feared by other humans, but the truth is they don’t realise how scary and threatening they are. I made them telepathic (not something I’d recommend to any writer! Man, does it complicate things) and extremely long-lived, though not immortal. They have their own gods, but they don’t pay them a lot of attention. They’re not very fertile, and they love to fight, so they’re practically an endangered species. And they’ve cut themselves off into a separate dimension, only rarely and reluctantly venturing into our world – but the Veil that separates the worlds is dying. The Veil also protects them in our world, blurring our perception of them, so most of the Sithe fear its loss; but some, including the queen, want it destroyed because of their own personal ambition. The battle over the Veil is the conflict that runs through all four books in the series.
I’ve messed around with other Scottish myths and legends, too – I especially love kelpies, the water-demons that take the form of horses, so I’ve used them as my characters’ warhorses. I’ve twisted the selkie legends as well, making them death figures. The series title comes from an old legend that the fairies were the rebel angels – the ones who fell on land when they were thrown out of heaven. (The ones that fell in the sea became the selkies; the ones that were caught in the sky became the fir chlis, the Northern Lights.)
You’ve mentioned that your characters talk to you telling you what to write. This sounds fun but I am also wondering if the voices scare you at all or perhaps someone may have joked about medication? Tell us more about your muses.
Ha! It is fun – sometimes annoying, sometimes helpful. They do seem very real to me, and I’m sure many other writers would tell you the same about their characters. If I’m taking the plot in a wrong direction, it’s the characters who’ll put me right, and they’ll soon let me know if there are words I’m putting in their mouths that they just wouldn’t say. They don’t scare me, though I’m sure I’d change my tune if I actually woke up and found one standing over my bed. That’s when I’ll know it’s time for the medication…
The trouble with the Voices is that some of them are so much louder than others! Seth was a minor character who took over the series and demanded it be all about him. I’ve finished the fourth and last book in the series, but Seth still won’t leave me alone and he won’t let me get on with something new. He’s very annoyed about being abandoned.
Interestingly, in addition to being a prolific author you are also a ghost writer. Tell us more about this.
I have a great time ghost writing – it’s a lot of fun playing with other people’s inventions. I find it really stretches different writing ‘muscles’, because I’m not usually much of a plotter, and with these books, the outline is written for me by a team of editors. It turns writing into a really different experience for me. And I do still get very involved with the characters, because I can bring along my own angle and my own quirks. The characters become real to me when I start to write them (although none of them are as aggravating as Seth).
I’ve especially enjoyed being an Erin Hunter, writing the animal fantasy ‘Survivors’, about a pack of dogs in a post-apocalyptic landscape. It’s been so much fun to watch their characters grow and change, and I tour the US every year and get to meet the fans. That is a fantastic experience. I’ve also written Darke Academy, Beast Quest and now a new middle-grade adventure called Mysteries of Ravenstorm Island. That’s about fairies and folktales too, and it’s been the biggest fun to write a different kind of magical fantasy.
You have two children, three dogs, two cats, a hamster, fish, and a bunch of chickens. How do you get any writing done considering your menagerie?
Good question! Well, the cats are good at keeping my neck warm at my desk, though it’s irritating when they walk across the keyboard or attack the printer. The dogs are enormously helpful when I’m writing Survivors – I get to watch their relationships and interactions as a pack. The other animals don’t bother me at all, except when Speckled Jim the cockerel starts crowing RIGHT outside my window. As for my beloved twins – well, they tend to barge in when I’m in the middle of a sentence, either to get me to referee a major fight or to put in outrageous Christmas present requests – but they make up for that by helping me understand the world of Xbox (Jamie) or recommending good soundtracks for my books (Lucy). My own music choices tend to date from prehistoric times (well, the 1980s) so it’s nice to have something more up-to-date…
Thank you Gillian. It’s been a pleasure.
About the Author: GILLIAN PHILIP was born in Glasgow, lived for twelve years in Barbados, and now lives in the north of Scotland with her husband, twin children, three dogs, two sociopathic cats, a slayer hamster, three chickens, and a lot of nervous fish. For more info, please visit: www.gillianphilip.com.
For more about the first two books in the series – Firebrand (book #1) and Bloodstone (book #2)and a giveaway please link to the giveaway post.