By Michael Lohr
Storm Constantine is an imaginative and prolific writer. But don’t just take my word for it. Michael Moorcock hails her as a “goth rock and roll queen and a writer of fine literary fantasy” and Neil Gaiman stated that he “wouldn’t swap her for a dozen Anne Rices.”
From her fabled Wraeththu and Grigori trilogies to such amazing novels as Aleph, Sign For The Sacred, Silverheart (coauthored with Michael Moorcock) and The Magravandias Chronicles Storm weaves a tapestry of dark wonder upon a vibrant landscape. She tackles such diverse and difficult issues such as religion, ecology, politics, mythology, sexuality and gender without batting an eye.
I recently had the opportunity to discuss at length all things myth and reality, life and death, ice cream and sherbet, Coke or Virgin cola with Storm.
ML: I have often said that you indeed are the British answer to Anne Rice; I just wish America would learn this fact. Terry Pratchett is one British writer who comes to mind, who has sold millions world wide, yet has found it difficult to break into the US marketplace. Do you think your novels are a little too cutting edge for American readers in general, or is some other factor hindering your growth beyond cult status in the States?
SC: In the early days of my career, my work was often said to be ‘too English’, which was apparently why I didn’t sell any novels in the States for a long time after Wraeththu. However, I do think a lot of it is more down to exposure and promotion. The Internet has been the biggest boost, because it makes my work (or rather information about it) so much more accessible to readers outside the UK. However, I also think I don’t write ‘comfortable’ stories, which is perhaps why I’ve never been absorbed into the mainstream of US fantasy. The fantasy setting is sometimes incidental to my novels. I like inventing worlds, but what really fascinates me is the interplay between characters. At the moment, I’m obsessed with the way individuals fail regularly to communicate properly and therefore make assumptions and judgments about what others are thinking and feeling, which leads to misunderstandings, problems and conflicts. It’s what I see all around me, all the time, in all walks of life. It’s one of the biggest human dilemmas.
Tell me, what is your primary inspiration? Where do you find your writing muse?
Those are very difficult questions to answer. I suppose writing, or rather telling stories, is simply in my blood. My muse can be a capricious beast who goes on unscheduled vacations at inconvenient moments, but generally we have a good relationship. I use meditation and Reiki when things get really blocked, which bludgeons my muse into slinking back home!
Does the muse ever surprise you? In other words, are you one of those people that have notepads and pens scattered about the house and car because you must be prepared for those moments when you are suddenly struck by the muse, usually at four in the morning, with an idea that must be written down or are your creative energies more controlled?
I tend to get ideas at odd moments, and quite a few of the best ones have never been recorded, simply because they occurred at 4.00 am and I was too lazy to get out of bed and write them down. I sometimes see a movie, or read a newspaper article, and find myself wondering: what happened next? Or some minor character or situation in a story – real or imagined – will get me thinking. A lot of the material in the new Wraeththu trilogy has sprung from me rereading the original and wondering about some of the other characters who didn’t have a big part to play in the first books.
The Wraeththu trilogy was a highly acclaimed bestseller in the UK as well as across the pond, what are your plans to further that popular series?
Well, I am writing a new Wraeththu trilogy at the moment. The first book Wraiths of Will and Pleasure has been submitted to my publishers, TOR, in the US and will come out in 2003. I’ve written about 130 pages of the second book, Shades of Time and Memory. A lot of the ‘hara’ (Wraeththu characters) are second generation in the new trilogy, and it’s amused me to write about how they regard the first generation who were all ‘incepted’ from humans. I’ve addressed a lot of the areas that were sketchy in the earlier books.
Many aspects of the Grigori trilogy were influenced by the work of Andrew Collins. While I don’t agree with Mr. Collins on some of his assumptions and interpretations (mainly his Atlantis location theory), I do find his research on Atlantis, the Nephilim and the Watchers to be quite fascinating. How has his work influenced your writing? Has his studies influenced your metaphysical beliefs as well?
Andy is a persistent and thorough researcher, and his hard work was very useful for my Grigori trilogy. I used his research as background material. We are both very interested in the Nephilim/Elder race ideas. I learned a lot from Andy about magical subjects, and he’s still a gold mine of information! He’s working on new material now, and I’m working on Wraeththu, so we don’t have a great deal in common work-wise at the present time, but we’re still good friends and meet up whenever we can.
One’s personal spirituality is a very private part of one’s life. I, for instance, have studied and written about many or the worlds religions from the most ancient teachings of Hinduism and the Indus Civilization to Shamanism, Gnostic Christianity and Buddhism. To a degree all of them form my current belief system. From the ‘ancient world’ perspective, I know that Bast and Sekhmet are substantial in your spiritual existence, if you don’t mind, would you please elaborate.
I have done a lot of work based around the Egyptian goddesses Bast and Sekhmet, but I don’t devote myself primarily to them, or indeed any one system. I hesitate to use the word ‘eclectic’, because don’t you think it seems as if everyone who’s ever read a Silver Ravenwolf book wants to call themselves an ‘eclectic witch’ nowadays? That’s just me being elitist, of course! But at the end of the day, I suppose I am pretty eclectic in my beliefs. I am spiritual, but not at all religious.
Yes, I understand and I agree completely. What inspired you to co-author the non-fiction book Bast and Sekhmet: The Eyes of Ra, with Eloise Coquio?
We had done so much interesting work on Bast and Sekhmet, we just saw the opportunity – and in fact need – for a book on the subject.
Lou and I work really well together, and are currently in the early stages of writing another Egyptian ritual book. We also co-run the Lady of the Flame Iseum, which is a magical group that offers training courses.
What was your basis of inspiration in co-authoring the non-fiction book The Inward Revolution: Discover the Secrets of the Greatest Human Power, with Deborah Benstead?
It started life as a book of magical rituals, but got diverted along the way by editors and publishers, who had their own ideas. It didn’t turn out quite the way I planned, and I got side-railed quite a lot, simply by trying to be democratic and allowing the authors’ names to appear in alphabetical order on the jacket! Too much hard work for too little reward. An experiment not to be repeated.
I enjoy reading your short stories as much as your novels. Your short story collections The Oracle Lips (Stark House Press USA) and Three Heralds of the Storm (Meisha-Merlin USA) are excellent. If you had to pick just one short story from your career to place in a time capsule, which story would it be? Why?
Now you’ve got me! That is really difficult to decide. I have quite a few favorites, but I’ll name the one that popped into my head first, which is ‘Blue Flame of a Candle’. It appeared in The Oracle Lips, a collection that was published by Stark House in America. As to why, I just like the atmosphere of that story. Sorry, can’t be deeper than that!
You have discussed in previous interviews about the mythos of angels and the associated factual information pertaining to the recent archaeological discovery of a tribe that performed Shamanic rituals while wearing griffin vulture wings. This iconic imagery seems to represent the eternal desire by humanity to fly. The gift of flight is a very ancient concept and the representation of angels in our mythos could be the conveying of this desire in association with the immaculate higher self. In your novel Stalking Tender Prey the magical ones, the enlightened race, came from a sacred mountain. Do you think it is a coincidence that in the mythology of many of the ancient world’s cultures their gods resided on sacred mountains?
No, I don’t think it is a coincidence. I’m tempted just to leave it at that, but realize it would appear a bit oblique. Perhaps many myths derive from the same source, and Andy Collins’ ideas about an advanced Elder Race living in the ‘High Place’ isn’t far off the mark. I’d really like it to be true, but I guess we’ll never know for sure. I keep an open mind about these things.
Parallels of the archetype of the fallen angel, the one who rebels against the order, the bringer of schism, can be found in the imagery of many cultures. The stories of the Egyptian god Set and the Nordic god Loki are but two such rebel myths. The Native American myth of the raven spirit as trickster also has elements of the rebel schism. I have often wondered about what Set did after he was exiled from Egypt, where did he go? Maybe he went north and founded the Indo-European race. Did you know that Set was supposed to have vibrant red hair and pale skin?
Yes, I did know that. There is a theory that the stories of the Egyptian gods are based on misty memories of very early pharaonic dynasties, so therefore might have a basis in fact. This is especially true of the Ennead – Atum, Shu, Tefnut, Geb, Nuit, Osiris, Isis, Set and Horus. I’ve often had a spooky feeling that a long time ago, these might have been living people, and that the myths of them being gods got tacked on way after the event. It might also, of course, be a complete delusion! Christian O’Brien, in his book on the Sumerian pantheon, Genius of the Few, came to the same conclusion about Anu and Ninlil, etc. It does make sense really. Characters who are ‘bigger than life’ because of their power and charisma, could very well end up being remembered as supernatural beings. Stories were once passed on word of mouth rather than written down, so they were bound to change along the way. No CNN in those days! Many of the characters from Welsh and Irish myth, who were simply ‘heroes’ in the old stories, are now thought of as gods and goddesses in neo-paganism.
Indeed. I get the same feeling when thinking about the Ennead. I think this ‘feeling’ must be some remnant memory that we all share. As for myth turning people into legends and then into gods, the Irish story of Mab and the Teutonic story of Wotan are perfect examples. Actually archaeologists have been excavating a couple of sites along the Black Sea and finding artifacts that show that Wotan, or Odin, was most probably a First Century B.C.E. Germanic tribal chieftain who migrated northward to escape the insurgence of the Romans, hence the invasion/migration tales of the Vanir and Aesir. The Vanir could have very well been the pre-Indo-European tribe that resided in the north when the more warlike Indo-European tribe, the Aesir, migrated into that region.
It seems that the only profession worse off in karma other than literary critics are those in the law profession, especially those money hungry types in the States. Do you pay much attention to the critics these days?
If I did I would be suicidal or a serial killer! No, to be fair, some critics have been kind to me. Criticism itself is a strange thing, because anyone’s opinion of a movie or a book is so subjective. I’ve been to see a movie, for example, where I’ve been on the edge of my seat all the way through, then I’ll recommend it to a friend and they’ll be utterly bored by it. The thing I hate most about critics is that they never use the phrase ‘In my opinion’, which of course everything is. They say something is brilliant or rubbish as if their words are carved in stone. That’s what I don’t agree with and what makes my blood boil. Another thing that really makes me laugh is when you read a review of a book, which tries to belittle it in a condescending way, then when you read the byline about the critic, you find out they are a ‘writer still trying to get published’. Happens so many times. Those who can write; those who can’t criticize!
Paul Devereux book Haunted Land discusses haunted, lonely places, in particular “the legend of the ghost road” and the “phantom vehicle”. I know of several people that have encountered such phenomena. Both England and Wales, it is said, have the highest rate of this type of incidence of any other nations on earth. Everything from Roman soldiers to Viking marauders to long dead highwaymen has been seen walking the back roads of England. Have you ever encountered a phantom vehicle or a ghost of any kind?
I have had a lot of inexplicable experiences, too many to list. Most of them though are really minor things. It’s not like big ghosts have come swooping towards me going ‘Wooooo!’ (I wish!) Just really strange little things happen. OK, one example. A few months ago, as I was coming downstairs, I saw what I assumed was my husband, Jim (tall male), walk into the living room. I followed him in, talking away about something I wanted him to do, and when I got in there, there was no one around. Jim was actually outside in the garden at the time. This has happened a couple of times in our house. On another occasion, I saw another tall male figure walk into the same room, who I thought was a friend of ours, who was staying with us at the time. Again, I walked into an empty room and the friend was elsewhere in the house.
Have you ever seen a UFO? What is the strangest experience that you have ever had though?
No UFOs, but I did encounter a flasher when I was a teenager and I was so short sighted I didn’t realize that he was flashing until he’d walked right past me (wouldn’t wear glasses and didn’t have contact lenses in those days). As for the strangest experience, once when I woke up one morning around 5 am and could hear all the dreams of everyone in our street. It was psychic babble, white noise, and very frightening. I felt I had to push an invisible helmet off my head to get rid of it and every time I visualized doing it, I’d lose concentration and it would slip back down again. Horrid. Don’t know where that came from, but it was as if the voices were in the room with me. I couldn’t wake Jim up either. I’d been doing some intense magical work at that time, so perhaps I somehow opened myself up to a strange cosmic channel! It didn’t last, fortunately, and may well only have been a very vivid dream. I am as much of a skeptic as a believer in these things.
I heard that a Wraeththu Festival is being planned. What are the details about this development?
We’ve booked a convention center in Stafford, Midlands, UK, for the weekend of 10th-12th October 2003. The event is called Grissecon 1. If anyone’s interested, they can visit my official web site (http://www.stormconstantine.com) and find a link to the relevant page. I’ve also got Andy Collins, Freda Warrington and Ricardo Pinto as guests, and might well add to that list as time goes on.
Have you ever considered writing a children’s book or is that too limiting of a focus, creatively speaking, to pursue?
I think I’d have a problem toning down the aspects of my work that would certainly not be appropriate for kids. In some ways, I’d like to write for them, because children have such an amazing sense of wonder, but because I don’t have children myself, and few of my friends do, I’m not sure I’d use the right voice for them. I’m not in touch with their world or with the way kids see things nowadays. Also, I don’t think there’s much worse than an adult trying to emulate a younger person’s idiom in order to connect with them.
Eloise Coquio and I are considering writing non-fiction books for the currently exploding Teenwitch market, because it seems clear to us a few more sensible books need to be added to the ‘turn your ex-boyfriend into a frog’ genre. I spoke to a teenage friend to get her opinions and the first thing she mentioned was that it’s really embarrassing when older writers try to use teenage language. But if it’s written in an adult style, some teenagers would find it too dry. Lou and I are still spiked on the horns of this dilemma. We can see that writers with children of their own are more adept at getting round the problem, because they live with that language every day.
I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview. It certainly was a pleasure to “shoot the breeze” with you about a sundry topics. Whenever next I am in England I owe you and your significant other a good Indian cuisine dinner or at least some fresh fish and chips down at the local pub. We can discuss the significance of the Guy Fawkes celebration as a continuation of good, muddy pagan fun.
Anytime, Michael, but I would opt for the Indian cuisine.
If you have not read a Storm Constantine novel before, I am not going to recommend any one book or series because they all are excellent. Do yourself a favour and pick up one of Storm’s novels today and be prepared to be intrigued and entertained. As for you writers out there, especially you beginners, I would suggest picking up her two short story collections The Oracle Lips and Three Heralds of the Storm and study her style and word mechanics. You would have no better teacher.
One final thought before I depart, always remember that British made Coke is sweeter than its American made counterpart. Why you ask? Sweet beets and a spell cast by the ghost of Boudicca a long time ago! Don’t Ask.