So as the release date for ‘Cruelty’ draws closer, I thought I should share a little insight into it (and hopefully getting you really excited and eager to buy it. 😉 What? Even us creative types need to make a living.)
I will say straight away that this is not a novel for children. It’s dark, a little twisted, with a heavy dose of paranormal romance and a female protagonist who will do whatever it takes in the name of self-preservation but more on that later.
As it so often does, it started with a song. I love music. I have a really eclectic taste. I like everything from Gregorian chants to (some) Metal. Folk music, traditional music, Bollywood, theatre and film soundtracks, Ed Sheeran, Mozart, Vivaldi (my favourite) Florence and the Machine, Kate Rusby, Biffy Clyro, Bon Jovi, the list of stuff I love goes on and on. I would recommend that you listen to as much music as possible. Like Literature, like all Art, Music opens up the soul to human experience, alows you to see the world from another, sometimes celestial, perspective. I have music for every mood and although I normally don’t write to music, I often find myself inspired by the story of a piece.
This is what happened when inspiration struck for ‘Cruelty’, which was known in it’s first incarnation as ‘It runs in the Family’ (now the tagline) not a reference to my own clan but to the song ‘It runs in the Family’ by Amanda Palmer (incredible artist and amazing woman). I’ve posted the link but be warned, there are a few vivid images, as well as some strong imagery and a little bit of salty language. I’d forgotten how much I love this song. Still gives me chills.
I am blessed/cursed with a super vivid imagination. It means that I remember more of my dreams and still get the ocassional nightmare, a trope which comes up quite a lot in my writing. I also imagine narratives to songs and particular bits really stick with me. With Palmer’s song, it was the zenith of the song:
‘Mary have mercy.
Now look what I’ve done
But don’t blame me because
I can’t help where I come from
And running is something that we’ve always done
Well and mostly I can’t even tell what I’m running from
Run from their pity
Run from the country
And run from the city
I can run from the law
I can run from myself
I can run for my life
I can run into debt
I can run from it all
I can run till I’m gone
I can run for the office
And run from the ’cause
I can run using every
Last ounce of energy
Run from my family
They’re hiding inside me’
While I was listening, I could just see this woman, nineteenth century garb, hair askew, running through this strange green grey fog in a graveyard. In my mind’s eye, things kept grabbing her. Were they brambles or arms? As Palmer builds to a crescendo, she turns and she is in one of those mausoleum places where the ashes are placed in the wall. The names of her family are on the memorials. The walls burst open and the hands of her ancestors are grabbing at her, pulling her back towards what she is running from. She breaks away and ducks into an alcove. As she catches her breath, the opening begins to close, trapping her in the wall of the mausoleum. The ghostly members of the family fade away and there is a portrait of the woman on the wall.
Now, it’s a little morbid and a little stereotypical but it really stuck with me. It’s so powerful that it’s stuck with me for five years. And at the end of the day, the song makes a really powerful point: we are the product of our families, not just genetically but emotionally and spiritually. For some, like me, it’s mostly postive (hey, all families have issues. It would be naive to pretend otherwise). For others, like those in Palmer’s song, it’s a negative experience. In both cases, it impacts on the choices we make as individuals. Again, to pretend otherwise is naive. Sometimes the impact is huge, sometimes it is small.
Here, an idea was sparked. Somebody running, running away from family. But why? What had happened to cause this person to run? There are a million reasons why someone would run away from their family but (and I mean no disrespect to anyone who has had faced that choice) none of them matched the panic of the woman from the narrative I had created in my head.
This is where my second train of inspiration came from. At the time, I was doing my MA in English Lit and I was doing a Tolkien module, focusing on the inspiration Tolkien had drawn from Anglo-Saxon and Nordic legend. I had also completed a module on Arthurian legend the semester before. As I did my background reading, I came across some Celtic mythology I had never read before. A lot of the mythology we read is mostly Greco-Roman, and recently with the popularity of ‘Thor’ Nordic stuff, but the native mythology of Britain and Ireland is just as rich and varied. It goes way, way beyond Merlin and Arthur. There’s Mebh, the Hound of Ulster, Finn MacCool, the Fae folk, the Summer and Winter Courts, the Veil, the Otherworlds, selkie and kelpie, warrior women and heroes, alternative realities, Avalon, all of them accompanied by tales as exciting as The Odyssey or Romulus and Remus.
I found myself reading more and more about Irish mythology, little pieces of information storing themselves away in my head. I found out so much that I had never known. Blood rituals, the Tuatha, Mebh of Connaught, the Fae and Otherworlds. I then relocated a book that my parents had given me, years ago, about world mythologies, a glossary for each culture. I read the whole Celtic section while listening to Palmer. I read something about how the Celtic people, all over Europe, believed that everthing was a cycle and that power and blessing needed to be paid for. The two collided. That’s what she was running from; a family who had a Fae creature under the house. A family who had magic and a terrible ritual to keep the power flowing in a cycle. It was like a thunder storm, sudden and terrible, it all filled my head, all at once. Eliza, a powerless member of this family bound to a blood religion, tries to leave but gets caught and faces Hell for doing it. I scrabbled for a notebook and began to write. It happens like that for me; I get a rush of inspiration, bash the basic plot out and polish it later.
Now, before we move on, we have to have a serious discussion. My novel is dark. There is a rape scene. It serves a purpose as part of the Ritual that the Family completes every year for the magic. It’s all part of that pagan tradition of the sacrifce of virginity to the gods to ensure abundance in the coming year. It is essential as part of the motivation for Eliza, why she keeps fighting when all seems lost. She is not the victim. Being powerless, she has no value in continuing the cycle. I did not include it to be shocking but to hammer home how abhorrent this secret religion is, how terrible the cost of power is.
The novel also has sex. It is not included to be gratuitious or titilating but is inspired by my reading around Celtic women. Again and again within the tradition, women who are left in a vulnerable and dangerous situation, sex is the only weapon they have to defend themselves with. This is the case with Eliza. She uses her sexuality to protect herself, to manipulate dangerous situations so that she, and later on the ones she loves, can be protected. With Faroust, she often is completely powerless and it is only her use of sex that saves her life. I was inspired by tales of Deidre, Brainne, Igrannie and other women of the Celtic world who were used as sexual pawns in a larger games or were forced into situations where sex was the only way out. And Eliza gets a little lost in the thrill of it all, not seeing the danger it creates for her until it’s too late.
My protagonist is female (funny that). She is the youngest member of her immediate family and the only girl. Her father is the leader of the whole clan and they are descended directly from the first of the Family to have magic. They are the Patriarch line, the strongest magically speaking. Her mother is known as the Blood-Red. Unlike the rest of the Family, Ruby has red hair, a magical sign that she is the most powerful of women of the clan. Eliza is magically Barren and this is a source of great shame to her parents. She is fair game for ridicule and has been plotting for a long time to escape. She isn’t needed and she doesn’t need the Ritual. Her presence causes her parents hurt, so she leaves. She is clever and not a little calculating. She can often be manipulative but she is capable of making hard decisions and puts herself in danger to save the Family from Faroust and the Ritual.
Cornelius is the head of the Family security. He is from the Lesser Branch of the Family and directly descended from the Slave who stole blood from Faroust and made the slaves magical like their masters. He is powerful and ruthless when he performs his duty. He protects the Family and all their interests, magical and ordinary, with a dreadful efficiency. He makes use of a range of torture devices in the course of his duty. When he catches Eliza, he is determined to punish her for leaving the Family but through a course of events, he sees the woman under the betrayal and his heart softens. They become lovers and when Eliza discovers that Faroust is keeping the souls of their ancestors trapped, he helps her to discover it, even though it betrays everything he was brought up to believe. He is passionate, loyal and keeps Eliza from going too far when she is tempted to just charge ahead.
Faroust (pronounced Far-ust. This a recent artistic decision on my part.)
Faroust is the 5,000 year old son of Mebh and Aonghus (Celtic cupid). He was charged by his mother to protect the Veil, the doorway to the Otherworlds. When he is eighteen, the Veil and the villagers who care for him, is attacked by the Tuathane, god-killers, who wish to access the Otherworlds. Faroust cannot fight them off alone, so gives his blood to the villagers, who transform into Fae-creatures like him and defend the Veil. After his mother is killed by Cuhulain (the Hound of Ulster), Faroust takes her body to the Veil and the last of her magic passes to him. The Fae find that they cannot exist in the world of Man and so begin to retreat. Faroust cannot cross the Veil because his blood is bound to the mortals. Furthermore, he cannot return until one is born who is stronger than he is. He then sets his mind to guarding the Veil, the paper thin wall between realities. He claims that he was attacked by the Church, a thousand years previously and that it weakened him, meaning that the Ritual had to change to enable the magic to keep flowing. Of course, the Family is willing to pay any price to keep it. (This is a pretty big plot point, so I’m not going to give too much more away about this.) He is a creature of contradictions. He can be incredibly caring and loving and ruthlessly vicious in the next moment. He is quick to anger and self-indulgent but he is not to be dismissed as a simple lustful pagan god.
Plot (no spoilers)
Eliza, the powerless and much maligned youngest daughter, of the MacTir clan decides to leave her family and its ways behind. She manages to avoid capture for six months but is eventually caught by Cornelius, who is fully intent on punishing her. However, after he captures her, they are involved in a car accident and she is hospitalised. While they are there, Cornelius discovers that not all is as it seems, that Eliza left for noble reasons; she didn’t want to cause her parents anymore shame. Despite all his resolves and promises, he finds himself softening towards her. Eliza seizes her moment and offers her virginity to him to stop him from hurting her. Given the value virginity has within the Family for use in the Ritual, Cornelius gives in. Together, they work together to frame someone for Eliza’s kidnapping and thereby allow her to return to the Family.
The sex causes more problems than it solves. It causes Eliza to blossom and become magical. To be twenty-three and suddenly blossom is unheard of. As are the powers that awaken in her (again, no spoilers). People start noticing that something is different, including their god when they perform that year’s Ritual. She manages to keep the magic from him but he discovers that she has been sleeping with Cornelius. In exchange for his safety, Faroust blackmails her into becoming his concubine.
While there, Eliza begins to discover things about Faroust and that he has been lying about many things over the millennia. After an encounter with the souls of her relatives trapped in the Veil, she feels that she cannot leave them there and sets on a mission to discover the truth and set them free.
We have journies to the Veil, visions, encounters with monsters and the Fae folk, all building to a climax of epic and terrible proportions. That’s all I’m going to tell you; I want you to buy the book afterall. I will leave you a copy of one of the reviews I’ve already had:
‘Reviewed By Jack Magnus for Readers’ Favorite
Cruelty is a dark romantic fantasy written by Ellen Crosháin. Eliza faked her death to get away from her family. It took a lot of time and planning, but finally she emerged wet and shivering from the wreckage of her car where it had crashed into a river. She changed her likeness with hair dye and tanning creams, but, nonetheless, six months later the Hound and the Cruel had caught up with her. Eliza was friends with the Hound and had no fear of him, but the Cruel was quite a different story. When she was small, she had secretly witnessed the return of her cousin, Josh, after his punishment for running away from the Family. While the Doctor could heal most of the horrific injuries the Cruel had inflicted on his body, Josh’s mind had never recovered from the event. Eliza shuddered to think of the plans the current Cruel, a handsome youth with white-blond hair, had for her.
Ellen Crosháin’s dark contemporary fantasy, Cruelty, is a captivating and intense read. The author quickly gets the reader involved in Eliza’s plight in this well-written and absorbing story set in Ireland. Eliza is a marvelous main character; she’s one of the Barren, a non-magical member of the Greater Branch of the Family, a disgrace and embarrassment to her family and kin, but she’s unable to escape and live her life on her own. I loved seeing how she uses her mind to survive the very complicated situation she finds herself in. Crosháin uses the theme of chess moves throughout the work, and her embattled Eliza is a master at her game, though she does make some very daring and perilous moves. While there is a sensual theme running throughout the story, with some mild elements of BDSM, I was at no time offended or felt that the sensuality was over-the-top. It was, quite simply, an essential element in this intriguing and thought-provoking tale. Cruelty is most highly recommended.’
See? It’s awesome. The response is so positive that I’m writing a sequel.
If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them. Either leave me a comment on Facebook or on this post.
Until next time.
Love Ellen. Xoxo.