Jules Watson’s second Spectra novel based in Celtic mythology, THE RAVEN QUEEN, went on sale recently, and her editor, Anne Groell, asked Jules to talk a little bit about what it takes to turn a well-known myth and take ownership of it as an author.
Here’s what Jules had to say:
Turning a myth into your own (fictional) version of reality is always a challenge, but when your subject is maligned in ancient Celtic tales as a promiscuous harlot, a ruthless manipulator of men and a bloodthirsty she-devil, the stakes get raised even higher!
Queen Maeve, one of the most famous women in the old Irish epics, is an unusual character. She was supposed to have had many royal husbands, but continued to be free with her favors, bedding other men to increase her power. She became a queen in her own right, and led her kingdom into a great battle captured in The Tain: the most tragic, blood-soaked tale in Irish myth. In other words, she acted like a man at a time when a woman’s will was dominated by her male relatives. Maeve was therefore very modern – someone who wanted to rule her own self, and create a life on her own terms. I think anyone can admire that!
The fact that she was so negatively portrayed was a big draw for me as a writer. Firstly, to gain that reputation, she must have been fiery, courageous, intelligent, and stubborn, which made her a great character to tackle. With Maeve, I could make her as wild as I liked – which gave me a taste of being that brave! Second, I really wanted to rescue Maeve from this smear campaign of old, and bring her “true self” alive again.
The thing is, the old Irish stories were passed along by word of mouth during Celtic and Iron Age times (a few hundred years BC). It wasn’t until seven or eight hundred years later they were finally written down by the only literate people at the time – Christian monks. Sensual, powerful pagan women were the last thing the new religious order in Ireland wanted to promote, so the exploits of challenging characters such as Maeve were probably skewed. She was scorned, treated like an abomination, rather than someone to be admired.
The third draw for me to write this book was that The Tain, the Cattle Raid of Cooley, is the most famous and stirring epic in Irish myth. It is known for the exploits of the great hero Cuchulainn and other famous warriors who get embroiled in duels and betrayals. But no one had really written about The Tain from Maeve’s point of view, and since she is accused of starting the war, it seemed a bit of an oversight!
Of course, being my heroine, I had to find a way for her to commit what could be seen as ruthless actions – those that gave rise to “the myth” – while keeping her sympathetic. The solution is that she has been badly treated as a pawn by her father and husbands. She ends up with brothers, cousins, and various other men baying for her blood. With the entire male world arrayed against her, she is forced to act like a fierce warrior because so many other warriors want her dead.
Along the way, however, she discovers there is a lot more to her than a warrior-queen seeking revenge. She finds her scarred heart opening up to love of a man and of family, and must embrace this whole spiritual, magical side when she comes into contact with the sidhe, the Otherworld beings of Irish myth. In the end, she finds a path to becoming a rounded woman: lover, mother, queen, goddess, and warrior. What fun to write!
To celebrate the release of THE RAVEN QUEEN, Jules has graciously signed some copies for a giveaway. One lucky winner will receive a signed THE RAVEN QUEEN as well THE SWAN MAIDEN, and four lucky winners will each receive a signed copy of the THE RAVEN QUEEN (see details here).
Good luck, and happy reading!
This giveaway is now closed. If you’re a winner we’ll be in touch. And keep an eye out for future Unbound Worlds giveaways!