Hot Seat

Hot Seat: Peadar Ó Guilín

Every week, YAPS! kidnaps a gifted author or artist and straps them to the Hot Seat, a blistering steel throne assembled from cursed Ikea flat-pack furniture (we were trying to build a book shelf.) This week we talk to Peadar Ó Guilín, author of pulse-pounding survival novel ‘The Inferior’. Visit Peadar at his web-site, or pick up a copy of his latest novel, ‘The Deserter’, which is available in all good book-shops.

1) The Inferior is a heart-warming tale of cannibalism, tribal warfare and betrayal in which a young man must fight for his life against those who would eat him. Was there ever a point, when you were writing the book, that you questioned your handling of the violence in the story?

The violence is vital for the theme of the book. I’m dead set against it in real life, especially in a modern, safe country like ours. But Stopmouth was born into a situation where he has no choice but to live and act like a savage. What I wanted to explore was how *we* would behave if we had to share the perils that are part of his daily existence.

 2) It’s possible to see The Inferior as belonging to a new breed of dystopian novel, a breed that includes books like Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go. Why have these books attracted such a huge teenage readership? Why is so much of today’s Young Adult writing concerned with dangerous futures?

I read lots of books just like this when I was growing up. The only difference was that the characters were fully-grown adults rather than my own age. I think I would have liked to see somebody like myself involved. But the main thing for me then, and for most readers of all ages, is an exciting, dramatic story.

As for dangerous futures, young adults are the ones who might have to live in them. Of course they’re interested!

3) The young hero of The Inferior is named ‘Stopmouth’ because of his speech impediment, however he refuses to let his stammer decide who he is, taking great risks to create his own identity. How fleshed out was Stopmouth’s character when you began The Inferior? Did you start off writing from the point-of-view of someone with a disability, or did that come later?

No, the stammer was there from the very first sketch of a scene. It is absolutely fundamental to shaping who Stopmouth is and who, therefore, he will become.

A few of my favourite characters have stammers. The Roman Emperor Claudius in Robert Graves’ amazing book I, Claudius has always been important to me: how he became master of the world with so many disabilities should be an inspiration to anyone.

Then there’s the character of Fursey in Mervyn Wall’s The Unfortunate Fursey. A monk whose stammer prevents him from saying his prayers properly, leaving him unable to drive off ghosts and demons like the rest of his brethren can. Hilarious consequences ensue.

Reserve this book!

4) With writers like Bram Stoker and John Sheridan le Fanu, Ireland has a rich heritage when it comes to fantastic literature. Today, there are many Irish writers and artists, including yourself, who honour that heritage. What do you think of the exposure you, and artists like you, receive at home compared to the likes of Britain or America?

I haven’t noticed a whole lot of difference to be honest. It’s a wired world these days and far more people have read my book in the US than on this side of the Atlantic.

However, when The Inferior first came out, I imagined, being local, I’d have no problems getting a little exposure on RTE radio or in some of the Irish papers. But it didn’t work out that way. In spite of our rich fantasy heritage, there’s not a whole lot of love for the genre in our media unless it is for a book that has already proven to be a great success.

The libraries, on the other hand, were very supportive, arranging readings with schools and workshops. Thank you! I’ve really enjoyed my visits!

5) What books made a big impact on you as a teenager?

Well, obviously, there’s Lord of the Rings. I read it ten times when I was in my teens. Then there are the Science Fiction adventure stories of Harry Harrison — a man who lives in Ireland, I might add! I also enjoyed quite a few books about myths and legends, especially the Irish ones, which are so much darker and funnier than most modern fiction.

6) Your style of writing puts a heavy emphasis on ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’ the story. Very little is spoonfed to the reader. Characters are revealed through their behaviour, story is revealed through action and readers are given the dots and left to join them up by themselves. What are the benefits to this approach? Has it ever hand-cuffed you when writing a story?

I think the benefits are that the story can feel more immersive for the reader and doesn’t insult their intelligence. I love figuring things out for myself and I imagine a lot of other people do too.

However, while this writing approach worked for me in The Inferior, it made the sequel, The Deserter almost completely incomprehensible at first. As a result, I had to rewrite the book many times and this caused it to be delayed by several years.

7) Imagine you are a cannibal. Which three people would you invite to a dinner party and why?

I would invite my butcher to dress the food; my cook to prepare it… and whoever is reading this now. Come early and make sure to eat some stuffing first.

8 ) What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve just finished a near-future dystopian detective novel set in a flooded Dublin. Now that I’ve put that one to bed, I’m hip-deep into an epic fantasy on an alien world. It has lots of adventure and a bag full of wonders. I hope.

Visit Peadar at his web-site!


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