Ginger Nuts of Horror
TWENTY QUESTIONS WITH PEADAR Ó GUILÍN:LET’S HEAD TO THE LAND OF THE SÍDHE AND THE BRUTAL WORLD OF ‘THE CALL’ DUOLOGY
BY TONY JONES
Today we have an in-depth interview with Peadar Ó Guilín who in 2016 wrote one of the most outstanding fantasy/horror YA novels of the last few years ‘The Call’ which in the time since it was published has steadily begun to pick up momentum through word of mouth praise. It was also Long Listed for the prestigious Carnegie Medal book prize, this is very high praise, as genre fiction rarely does well in this competition. In the last couple of weeks, the highly anticipated sequel ‘The Call 2: The Invasion’ was released and having read both books it may be one of the rare occasions when a sequel truly tops the original. Both books are set in a version of Ireland where children aged between the age of 12-18 are ripped out of time for 3 minutes and 4 seconds and magically reappear in ‘The Grey Lands’, the exiled home of an ancient race from Irish mythology, the Sídhe. What happens to them there is pretty nasty, but we won’t ruin the surprise. Let’s find out more from Peadar….
GNoH: Irish mythology is at the heart of both novels, would an Irish teenage reader be
familiar with the legends of Sídhe and specific gods like ‘Dagda’? Do you think these old
legends been usurped by Disney princesses? I asked my fourteen-year- old Irish niece who
lives near Cork and she knew very little?
Peadar: Irish kids do learn traditional legends, but a lot of the stuff I used in ‘The Call’ is more obscure. Some of it comes from dying superstitions, some from storytellers or academic studies. There are also large parts that I made up in order to score a political point that nobody will notice. But I amuse myself any way I can.
GNoH: Nessa, who dominates both books, is one of the pluckiest teen characters I have
come across in years. Forget Katniss from ‘The Hunger Games’, this spunky fourteen is the
absolute real deal and you put her through the emotional and physical roller-coaster in both
books, maybe more so in the second. Could you give us some insight into how you came up with such an amazing young woman?
Peadar: I am always interested in people that others discount. The supposed no-hopers who won’t accept the role that society has prepared for them. Nessa is one of those. I remember seeing a line from the Bible about the end of the world, and what a terrible time it would be for the mothers of young children. Most people want to escape the apocalypse. This includes not just the mothers of young children, but also people in wheelchairs. Are they just going to lie there and wait for the zombies? I don’t think so.
GNoH: In both novels the Sídhe enter Ireland through these mounds in the earth, known as
‘fairy mounds’ which are common in Ireland. Obviously as a child you had a very fertile
imagination, did you live near one or visit one as a kid?
Peadar: I did have a pretty vivid imagination, all right! At least, I like to think I did. But sadly, although I was chased through fields by more than one farmer, I spent most of my life in a town and only experienced the Sídhe through books.
GNoH: Would we be right in saying you have a day job working in computing, but are also
skilled somewhat in languages?
Peadar: I do work with computers. I love languages and can speak Irish, Italian and French. I also have a smattering of other tongues.
GNoH: I read you’ve always been interested in writing. Which authors have been pivotal in
your personal development as a writer?
Peadar: Robert Graves, Tolkien and Tanith Lee were all big for me. The first produced my favourite character in the ‘Emperor Claudius’. The second filled my imagination to bursting point. And the third, Tanith Lee -- particularly in ‘Silver Metal Lover’ - did the same for my emotions.
GNoH: Your version of the faerie folk, or the Sídhe, is particularly violent, this race live,
breathe and take great joy in inflicting pain. Is your vision of this race inspired by anything
specific or did you just want to make them as nasty as possible to fuel the novels?
Peadar: Their cruelty had to be proportionate to the suffering that we, the Irish, had caused them, and were still causing them. They are in the ‘Grey Lands’ forever, while we live in what should have been their paradise. They are entitled to be vicious.
GNoH: Which YA authors, not necessarily horror do you read? You share the same homeland as true giants Darren Shan, Eion Colfer and John Connolly after all…
Peadar: Ireland is crawling with writers, of course and I try to keep up with them all. Recent scary stuff I’ve read has come from Deirdre Sullivan, Celine Kiernan and Ruth Frances Long. Meanwhile, the non-Irish Martin Stewart has just written a horror called ‘The Sacrifice Box’ that I’m keen to get my hands on.
GNoH: Your fiction is a fine balance of dark fantasy branching into horror, tell us which adult
writers really give you a kick, I’m guessing you read both genres?
Peadar: Lots of the writers I most admire span the very same two genres. George R. R. Martin, N. K. Jemisin and R. Scott Bakker have all ploughed that particular furrow very well.
GNoH: My twelve-year- old daughter is a particularly fussy reader but devoured ‘The Call’ in
three days loving it, however, upon completion her immediate reaction was “Daddy, Nessa
should have been called earlier!” Would you care to comment [I don’t agree by the way]?
Peadar: I’m delighted she read it and I acknowledge that she has a good point. But narratively, I don’t think it could have worked. Also, in the logic of the world, Nessa might have had to wait until she was 17 to be Called, so, it wasn’t that late.
GNoH: Dystopian literature has been riding a wave of success in YA for over ten years now,
‘The Call’ has many dystopian hallmarks, but the mythology twist takes it into a much
fresher direction. Did you intentionally write a novel which was crossing into several genres?
Most YA literature is usually very easy to pigeonhole ‘The Call’ novels are most definitely
Peadar: Honestly, all I did was follow the logic of the initial premise. I don’t think there’s any point in classifying a book even as you’re writing it. You’ll just be second-guessing yourself the whole way through instead of creating the strongest possible story.
GnoH: Ginger Nuts of Horror gives YA horror must wider coverage than anywhere else on
the web, but in recent times we’re struggling to find good new stuff to read. What’s your
take on the current state of the YA horror market? Also, there has been fresh interest (and
republishing) of vintage Point Horror novels… Personally I don’t think this reflects well on
the current state of YA horror as I don’t think they’ve aged well… Any thoughts?
Peadar: You and your readers would know far more about this than I! I don’t deliberately go looking for horror. I’ll pick up whatever seems interesting and sometimes it will be a chiller like Nick Cutter’s ‘The Troop’, which I read a few weeks ago, or a non-fiction book or a historical novel. As a result, I am the last person to realise if a particular genre is suffering from a lack of publishers’ attention.
GNoH: Nessa may be the driving force of both novels, but lots of other characters also have
voices, were you ever tempted to tell part of the story from a Sídhe POV?
Peadar: No, never. They are quite insane, and I would be afraid that I wouldn’t do them justice.
GNoH: Superb pacing is key to the success of both novels (no matter what my daughter
says), especially the way you gradually reveal what a desperate mess Ireland is in. For
example, we find out very slowly: there has been no change of government for 25 years,
disabled children are offered poison as an alternative to The Call, or the fact that there is
now only one surviving radio station in Ireland. Could you give us any tips on how you went
about creating such a vividly drawn version of Ireland devastated by The Call? Your ‘world
building’ is truly superb.
Peadar: Thank you! I usually use an extrapolation worldbuilding technique. In other words, I start out with a premise, i.e., the existence of fire-breathing dragons, and from then on, every detail I add must make sense. For example, all villages are built underground. Humans evolve asbestos skin etc.
GNoH: The endnotes of ‘The Call 2’ imply that a sequel was not always on the cards? Did I
read that right? As duologies go it’s near perfect, with one of the best YA sequels I have read
in a long-time. Surely ‘The Call 2: The Invasion’ was not an after-thought?
Peadar: Oh, I always hoped there’d be a sequel and I knew if I wrote one, it would involve an invasion. But other than that, not a single plot-point of the sequel was imagined until the first book was already complete.
GNoH: As YA goes both books are very violent, book 2 perhaps more so, there is a lot of
bloody body-horror with poor unfortunates being turned into horrible creatures and worse… How did you gage the levels of violence? Did your editors ever ask you to tone it down?
Peadar: They never did ask me to tone it down, but there were a few points where I wondered if I’d gone too far. Also, there was already so much violence in the second book that I myself started removing gory details that weren’t absolutely necessary for the plot.
GNoH: By day I work in a school library and have been championing ‘The Call’ for ages, as
has Ginger Nuts of Horror, but the dull-as- dishwater hardback cover really did it no favours.
What possessed your publishers? Initially, the only kids to borrow it from my library did so
on my recommendation and latterly word of mouth. What did you think of the cover?
Personally, I thought the American cover was much stronger….
Peadar: I am the least visually artistic person in the universe. I never know what will make somebody pick up a novel. The thing is, I think publishers are always trying to figure out the exact same thing. After all these years, they still seem to hit on the right design through luck more than anything else.
GNoH: Could you tell us a little bit about your earlier series ‘The Bone World Trilogy’ which
concluded in 2014? Do you think the success of ‘The Call’ will revive interest in this earlier
Peadar: I still love my first books. ‘The Bone World Trilogy’ is about a primitive tribe of humans who share a giant, ruined city with equally primitive tribes from a wide variety of alien races. For generations, all these tribes hunted each other for food, because nothing else was edible. The tribe are considering swapping the main character for food, but just then, a civilised woman falls out of the sky and everything changes. I would love if these came back into print, but we’ll just have to see.
GNoH: If you could hang out with an author for an evening (living or dead) and it doesn’t
have to be horror, who would it be and why?
Peadar: I’d love to spend a bit of time with Douglas Adams and hang on his every word. I’m sure I’d laugh enough to ruin everybody else’s dinner, though.
GNoH: Here’s a real curveball question for you… I was wracking my brains for books I’ve read which use Irish mythology and recall reading Bridget Wood, whose real name is I believe Sarah Rayne. Between 1991-94 (around the time I read them) she wrote a spectacularly brutal violent four-book- series called ‘Wolf King’. I’m not sure if they’re well known or not, but you should check them out. Or maybe you have come across her? I think she has Irish connections…
Peadar: I’m really sorry, but that’s a new one for me! I never heard of her. But it does sound great.
GNoH: I imagine you are, deservedly so, going to be riding ‘The Call’ wave for a while now,
but what do have planned for your next writing project?
Peadar: I am currently editing a YA epic fantasy set in an imaginary land that resembles a mix between 1970s Africa and 19th Century Ireland. It has helicopters. It has witchcraft and demons and a President for Life with a chest-full of medals. I just hope some publisher is interested!
GNoH: That’s twenty questions Peadar and twenty fascinating answers and plenty for our readers to chew over. Thank you very much for taking the time to visit Ginger Nuts of Horror, we’ve had great pleasure recommending ‘The Call’ to everyone we know, and we hope your superb sequel gets the success it richly deserves.