Click here to read Part Two of the interview.
I noticed at the beginning acknowledgment of Tantony, that you thanked your mother for teaching you to listen to the voices. Would you share with our readers a bit more about what that means?
On ‘Inside’ and ‘Outside’ Voices: A person is born and before they’ve had a chance to look about and decide anything, they’re being told How It Is in the world. All the rules and decisions have been made before we were even thought of. When we’re growing up, and afterwards too, there are many voices outside of ourselves telling us what is right, what we should think and feel, and how to be. They are not just friendly suggestions, they can feel like commands. They are loud insistent voices, coming from the TV, magazines, songs, teachers, parents, holy books and churches, and even from our friends. They often do not match what we really think and feel, or what we feel is right.
Sometimes we agree with these outside voices. But plenty of times we just pretend to agree with them. We do this because we want to belong. People like to belong. And we don’t want trouble. Disagreeing out loud can bring you big trouble. We can be bullied, teased, excluded, mocked and sometimes even shouted at and frightened.
Sometimes it is quite useful to pretend we agree, like when we don’t really like our friend’s new haircut and they ask us what we think. It’s only a haircut, right? It only matters that our friend is happy with it. We can pretend to like it without feeling bad about ourselves.
But other times, like when we lie about what we really believe or feel, it’s destructive. It makes us sad and angry. We are sad and angry because we are lying about our true selves, and people cannot be happy when they are lying about their true selves. Sometimes people even start to believe their own lies, and then they get a bit mad as well as sad and angry.
We all have a small, quiet voice inside that tells us what we really feel.
My mother taught me to listen to myself, to that inside voice, in a few ways.
First, she herself never gave in to opinions she did not believe in. Even if everybody else in the world was of that opinion, she’d just say, ‘Well, they’re all wrong, then.’ And that was that. It was sometimes maddening, but it was also a good lesson in being true to yourself.
Remembering that has often given me the strength to withstand other people when they found I didn’t agree with them.
Second, she challenged me to explain myself. I had to find my true inside reasons for thinking what I thought. I wasn’t allowed to lazily say something just was: she’d say Why do you think that? I often didn’t like this either but it taught me to discern what I really thought about something, rather than just copying what I’d heard other people say.
Three, even if she didn’t agree with me, she made me feel my opinion was fair enough.
She gave me the notion that to thoughtfully and honestly disagree was an honourable thing to, and that to cave in to an opinion just because everybody else had was dishonourable.
And lastly, she respected eccentric or uncommon thinking in general. She did not belittle unusual thinkers or their ideas. In fact, she loved them.
And my mother is a very happy person.
Both Merrow and Tantony contain words from the Manx language. Can you tell us a bit more about the Manx language? How did you research it?
When I was considering the voice I wanted for Neen, I knew I wanted her capable of both tough plain-speech and of poetry. And I wanted the language to be unfamiliar but not unreadable. I started looking for her name as a way into the way she might talk. First I looked at Irish sites online, but the names were either too difficult for English readers (the spellings!!) or were too recognisable (Declan, Liam, etc, are very Australian names now). Then I tried Welsh, and then Scots. But they weren’t Quite Right.
Eventually I found the online Manx-English dictionary. It just popped up when I was searching general Celtic stuff. When I saw some of its words, such as moaney for bog, and sallow for willow, I knew I’d found the right voice. I looked up words I knew I’d use, like daughter, sea, and bird, and found Neen, Marrey, and Ushag, and that was that. I knew I’d found her and her world. The Manx words are unfamiliar words to us, but they have the sound about them of what they mean. And the spelling is mostly recognisable to English speakers.
Manx is called a Goidelic Celtic language, like Irish and Scottish. It developed from Primitive Irish, which changed into Old Irish, and then into Middle Irish. About the tenth century Middle Irish was the language spoken in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. The island was colonised by the Norse about this time, and they left behind some of their words. One of their placenames, Laxey, is a Norse word meaning Salmon River.
The Manx were an oral society, which means folklore, history and suchlike was passed on by word of mouth. It was generally not written down, although there was a Bible translated into Manx.During the 19th century English became the official language of the island, and Manx began to be lost. There were some recordings made of the last native speakers. The last native speaker, Ned Maddrell, died in 1974 but since then there has been a revival. In 2001 there were over 1500 inhabitants who had some knowledge of the language.
The Manx themselves sometimes call their language Çhengey ny Mayrey, or the ‘tongue of the mother’.
After I found the Manx words, I looked further into its lore and history. As well as online resources, I found three books by Kathleen Killip in the Deakin Uni library. They are collections of Manx folklore and stories. From them I got an idea of the particular lore of the island, as well as how the words I got from the online dictionary work in practice. The Manx people have their own forms of English as well as their own Celtic talk.
Now I use the Manx online dictionary all the time.
I hope I do their words and faery lore justice. I love it, but plainly I’m an outsider so I’m sure sometimes I’d make a native of the island speaker wince.
What attracts you to Celtic mythology and history?
Well, I guess the simple answer is that it’s my story, my culture, my history, and I have a special feeling for its lore and imagery. I enjoy all myth and legend but the Celtic speaks more to my heart, to my soul if you like, than the stories of other places. And that’s strange because often the stuff of legend is the same all over the world. Sea-dwelling folk, such as the merrows for instance, exist in just about every country’s story-hoard.
So there must be something in the language of the telling that I’m responding to as familiar, something in the rhythms and the music of the telling, that touches me … quite apart from the subject matter of merrows, sea-monsters and so forth.
Do you have a Celtic background/ancestry?
Oh, yes. England, Scotland, Wales. And Germany. Plus some Italian to add heat and colour.
Why is the sea/ocean setting quite prominent in both Merrow and Tantony?
The sea is the perfect metaphor for just about everything; it’s always moving, it has a reflecting surface, a light-filled middle section and dark deeps. Landlife, including us, cluster around its edges, while its own sealife is monstrous, beautiful and alien. It has forests but not of trees, warm-blooded mammals pretending to be fish and even singing in the cold depths, and fish with lamps on their heads that live in blackness. It can give us dinner, seaside holidays and adventure and also, wrecks, tsunamis and death by fang or stinger. It is the classic Other-place, where anything might happen. What’s not to like?
Will there be any more books in the Secrets of Carrick series?
I am researching the third one now. It’ll be set in the southern settlement of Market-Shipton.
(And a question just for fun) If a movie was made about your life, who would play you?
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