From youth mental health works to a fantasy story in which the dreams and reality are mixed. How useful was your medical education for Sebastian’s story?
I don’t think it was vital, but it certainly helped inform the story and saved me a lot of back-research. I wanted to write a rip-roaring adventure series like the ones I had loved a as child, but I also wanted to portray a number of other things: the loneliness of childhood trauma; how children deal with grief; the soothing power of dreams and dissociation; the external forces acting on the moral and psychological landscape of a child turning teenager; and dislocation as therapy: what would happen if you took a child from a vicious home life and placed them in a nurturing, but potentially more traumatic environment. Through my work as a youth psychiatrist I have been exposed to hundreds of victims of child abuse, and gained an expert knowledge of dissociation as a protective tool.
What made you to write fiction / fantasy?
My love of literature. I wrote regularly from nine, including a fledgling fantasy novel that came to nothing, utter bobbins the lot of it. After slaughtering poetry as a teenager, I buried myself in medicine and academic psychiatry for years before resurfacing in an artists commune in Italy for a month in 2005 where I began writing again in earnest, initially stream of consciousness drivel after reading Ulysses, which I burnt, and then autobiographical stuff, again playing with form and consciousness in the context of trauma and those early pre-cognitive memories- smell and touch memories, photo snapshots and jpegs, before fully formed narrative memories develop. This necessity of reflecting pain through immediacy dredged up a lot of stuff for me, a lot of trauma, a lot of guilt. As luck would have it, rather than thrusting me into woeful catharsis, it led me to writing a book on the history of football (round ball); I’d been pretty ordinary at it at school in Sheffield and the city was the home of football, possessing the oldest club in the world in any code, Sheffield FC (the second, coincidentally, is Melbourne FC). At the time, Sheffield FC’s 150th anniversary was approaching, so I decided to write a book on the development of the sport in Victorian England to coincide with it. After that, I turned to the fantasy series I’d been flirting with for some time. As a lonely child, I’d escaped into a magical world of books, and it was this – this rare and noble alchemy compressed between the covers of a children’s book – that I longed to recreate.
I saw on your old site a few posts with Tintin – are there any similarities between Sebastian and Tintin? What are Sebastian’s features? There is a Violette in Beyond the Gloaming?
Tintin and Sebastian share the same yearning for adventure, though Sebastian is far more of a coward by nature; he is thrust into adventure whereas Tintin seeks it out. Both start off lonely to a degree, certainly Tintin is before he meets Haddock. Also, Tintin is parentless, Sebastian to all intents and purposes is as well. Both characters reflect the author (and reader) to an extent, there is a certain passivity about them, we can look through their eyes at the amazing world around them and the wonderful, eccentric characters who inhabit both books. They are the eye of the storm, someone we can identify with and aspire to. You can read further posts on Tintin in the Hibercadian Digest section of hibernauts.com
. Sebastian’s physical features (if that is what you meant) are that he is short, with blond hair and blue eyes. Finally, yes, Sebastian was named after my son (now seven), and now there are to be six novels written about him. My daughter, Violette, aged four, does not appear in the first three books. I would love to work her into one, though I have plans for a series about her afterwards. Beyond the Gloaming is also dedicated to her. I certainly don’t want her on the psychiatrist’s couch in ten years!
Why did you choose the Celtic folklore/mythology as the source of your fantasy world?
I’d always had a love of mythology – Greek, Egyptian, Nordic and Celtic. I’d been dipping in and out of Celtic mythology for years and wanted to write a book loosely based upon it. While I was born in England, all my ancestry is Celtic. My father was from Ireland, and my mother’s grandparents were Irish on one side (from the same town as my father) and Scottish on the other. Most of my relatives are still in Ireland. That being said, we can trace our in-laws back to William the Conqueror!
Why do you think children should read fantasy and could we become too old to read such stories?
It is the sombre duty of all adults to kindle and fan the flames of the horizonless imaginations of children. Fantasy stories are one of the many wonderful way to do this. Someone, quite dismissively, upbraided me for writing childish things a few weeks ago, but they were missing the point on several levels. God forbid that I should ever lose that childlike wonder and the ability to ask, why, why, why. Furthermore, the book can be read on several levels; it is not only a seat-of-your-pants adventure, it is also a treatise on child abuse, as well as an allegory of the Irish Troubles.
Sebastian and the Hibernauts, the fantasy series you’ve been dreaming of. Let the wonderment begin.
Mythical Books: http://mythicalbooks.blogspot.com.au