Friday, June 22, 2018

Q&A with Emily Hauser

Emily Hauser is the author of the Golden Apple trilogy which concludes with the release of the final book; For the Immortal this month. For the final stop on the blog tour promotion, I asked Emily a few questions about mythology and her inspiration. 

1. Classics is no longer a subject that is routinely taught at many schools, however with the popularity of your books and those of authors like Madeline Miller do you think we are seeing a ''golden age'' of interest in the ancient world?

It’s been really interesting to watch this growing interest in the ancient world over the past few years – particularly in fiction. I do think there’s been a real resurgence of interest, particularly among women writers. It’s something I’m interested in as an academic, too – why are women going back to ancient Greece more and more, especially given that it was hardly a place known for its tolerance of women? I think there’s something about the fact that women writers can now find a place for themselves within the canon by rewriting and reworking the classical past. In my own writing, I’ve certainly found it to be an interesting thought experiment: what were the realities of women’s experience in Bronze Age Greece? What was it like to be a Greek, an Amazon – and what difference does it make that I’m writing through a woman’s eyes, as opposed to a man’s (which is almost always how we learn about the ancient world in the historical record)?

2. What do you think are the essential lessons for aspiring writers that can be learned from classical mythology?

The central lessons of Greek mythology collect around issues that are sometimes hard to relate to today – a particular focus, for example, is in opposing hubris, the arrogance that leads mortals to think they are better than the gods. It’s a common theme that the artist or musician who thinks they are better than a deity often ends up losing the competition (and being punished for it). So… don’t compete with the gods?

But seriously: classical mythology is full of rich and competing stories, and to me, that’s the major lesson we can learn – that to every story there is another, for every version that says, for example, that the Trojan War began because of a contest over a golden apple, there’s another one saying it was the attempt of the king of the gods to wipe humans from the earth. Every story has a different possible motivation, a different plot when it’s told from another point of view – and that is where the richness of narrative lies.

3. If you were going to introduce a reader to Greek mythology, where would you recommend they start?

Greek mythology doesn’t really exist, itself, as a separate entity – what we have from antiquity are retellings of myths, each of them slightly different, and often with the assumption that the reader is deeply familiar with the myth being told. As such, for readers unfamiliar with Greek myth, I would point them either to fictional reworkings like the Golden Apple trilogy – which are intended for an audience who hasn’t grown up knowing classical mythology – or to a good compendium of classical myth, like Vernant’s The Universe, The Gods and Men, which retells the major ancient Greek myths.

4. Do you have a favourite myth or character from mythology and why?

It’s interesting – as I’ve written the books, my favourite mythical character has changed as I’ve got to know them and their stories. At first it was Briseis, one of the main characters in For the Most Beautiful; last year it was Atalanta; and now it’s Hippolyta, the Amazon queen, one of the protagonists of For the Immortal. I had always viewed the Amazons from the perspective I had seen through Greek eyes – terrifying, man-killing, occupying a liminal position at the edge of the world. It was an incredible experience to go into her world and realise how different things seemed from her point of view – to unpick the historical realities beyond the prejudices, and to get a feel for her resilience, and to uncover her incredible and very human story. In a way, it’s the human stories that are sometimes even more fantastic than those of the gods.

5. Who are the writers; both ancient and modern that inspire you?

Homer, of course – my writing began in Homer, as an interpretation of the story of the Trojan War told in the Iliad. But in a way, the Golden Apple trilogy also began because of a modern author – Margaret Atwood, whose Penelopiad (a retelling of the Odyssey from Penelope’s perspective) inspired me to start writing the stories of Briseis and Chryseis. And Robert Graves has always been a huge inspiration for me: I received I, Claudius for Christmas when I was ten and, as soon as I read it, knew that I wanted to write historical fiction to bring the ancient world alive, too.

For the Immortal is out now in hardback from Doubleday, thanks to Hannah Bright for asking me to take part. 

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