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Shauna Lawless on why she decided to set her fantasy novel in Ireland

Shauna Lawless on why she decided to set her fantasy novel in Ireland

Irish mythology has always fascinated me. From the Mythological Cycle to The Táin, the old stories of Ireland have gripped me. Magical tribes, famous warriors, and tragic kings await the reader. I think then, when I started to read fantasy books, the progression felt very natural. The Lord of the Rings was a wondrous adventure to be sure, but with familiar undertones. I could see that Irish myth had probably inspired Tolkien. And I loved it.

As I read more and more in the genre, I found I could spot Irish mythology in quite a few stories. Again, I liked this, but it made me think, why are none of these stories ever set in Ireland? In secondary fantasy worlds, medieval Europe or England is often the backdrop. Game of Thrones, for example, draws on the Wars of the Roses and the Anarchy as inspiration. I think this is part of the success of that series. It’s new and exciting, but with a dash of the familiar. But where was Ireland? Only in theRigante series by David Gemmell did I read anything that came close to feeling authentically Celtic.

Ireland was culturally very different from the rest of Europe in the tenth century. These differences always intrigued me. Perhaps it was because the Romans had never invaded. Perhaps it was the poorly observed conversion to Christianity that kept the Irish culture at the forefront for much longer. Either way, Ireland felt distinct. It is, in my mind, underexplored as a setting in literature of all genres.

Thus began the seed of an idea.

Then an older idea bubbled up. I had long been fascinated by the mythological wars between the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Fomorians. The Tuatha Dé Danann fought for the freedom of the Irish people against the Fomorians and their king, Balor of the Evil Eye. The Fomorian army was eventually defeated. However, one Fomorian, called Bres, survived.

What then if this war continued, hidden behind the mortals’ wars. What if both these groups of magical people had to hide their magic because they feared discovery by the other?

The final piece of the puzzle came to me while I was reading an Irish history book. For anyone who studies Irish history, Gormflaith is a well-known character. Reputedly married multiple times, she is characterised as a schemer and political manipulator. Historians have judged her harshly for this. The men around her must have been every bit as ambitious, and yet this was not a failing for them, just for her. Why was this? Was she truly a warmonger, or as a woman, was she judged more harshly for the same faults?

When I put pen to paper, Gormflaith quickly poured onto the page. She was born into an Irish royal family, then married into the Viking royal family who had settled in Dublin. Her son, Sitric, was of mixed heritage. Chaotic and vibrant, this duality was key to her character.

Fódla came next. She represented old Ireland, and by befriending the everyday Irish people, she ponders on the identity of Ireland and the place war has in its society.

Even as the novel swept me away, I knew it might have been easier to pitch it as a work of historical fiction. It would equally have been easier to pitch as a work of complete fantasy: replace the names and the word ‘Ireland’, and it could be an epic fantasy set in a new secondary world. However, I couldn’t do either. All the research, all those societal differences that I had discovered, now breathed on the page. I didn’t want to remove Ireland, for as I said, it has a rich history and culture that is not widely known. The mythology gave the story its soul. No, I couldn’t take that away either.

And there we have it. This was how my story started and how Ireland became the setting. I had finally found a way to combine all my favourite things: Ireland, mythology, and fantasy. I hope you enjoy reading The Children of Gods and Fighting Men as much as I enjoyed writing it.

The Children of Gods and Fighting Men was published by Head of Zeus on 1 September 2022

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