Roman invaders, a Celtic warrior queen, spooky sisters and a deadly adversary ... Ahead of the publication of Ruth Eastham's new book, The Warrior in the Mist, we caught up with her to talk about ancient folklore, current issues and literary techniques.
The Warrior in the Mist is an intriguing title. Do you prefer titles that don't give too much of the story away? Why did you settle upon this one?
For me, the title The Warrior in the Mist, is full of mystery and intrigue. I love titles that raise more questions than they answer. Who is the warrior in the story? Some might say it’s the warrior Queen Boudicca who makes her ghostly appearances. But could the warrior also be Aidan, fighting for his home and his horse, or his eco-warrior friends Emmi and Jon? I’ll leave the reader to draw their own conclusions!
Fracking is a major issue in the UK, particularly in the north of England. Why did you decide to write a children's novel about it? Do you find this is a topic that comes up in the schools you visit? It must be an issue you know a lot about being from the north west of England yourself.
Yes, fracking stirs up plenty of heated debate. Though I don’t go heavy on the technicalities, I wanted to find a really up-to-date controversial issue of how land is used, besides the usual building of new runways or motorway bypasses! Would you believe in the past I was told by one publisher that fracking would be a flash-in-the-pan issue and that it wasn’t a good idea to put it in a book! On a regular basis, the controversy about fracking hits the headlines. There are lots of plans to frack in the north of England, near where I’m from, with more projects being approved all the time nationally. The truth is there are vast amounts of energy locked deep in Britain’s rocks and a lot of people are worried about the environmental impacts of extracting it. Are the anti-fracking claims exaggerated? Whatever your viewpoint, I think that the fracking issue will be with us for a very long time to come, and, as far as I know The Warrior in the Mist is the very first children’s/teen book to have fracking in the story!
What fascinates you about Queen Boudicca and does she have any connections to the area where you grew up? Do young people learn about the warrior queen at school? Will her story resonate with them?
Boudicca is so iconic, isn’t she? A legendary figure. Theories about her abound. Where was the last battle with the Romans fought? What really did happen to her and her daughters when the Celts were finally defeated? The only written accounts about her are sketchy, and only by Roman historians, so we’re unlikely to be getting a very balanced version of the reality! The fascinating fact is that nobody really knows the truth, and that gave me scope to really use my imagination for The Warrior in the Mist ... But if the tomb of Boudicca turns up anytime soon, I might be in trouble!
Boudicca's emblem, the hare, has paradoxical connotations in folklore. In paganism hares are a symbol of rebirth, good fortune and fertility. But they have also been associated with madness, witchcraft and ill-omen. What do you like about them?
Hares have long been associated with Boudicca. One intriguing story is it that she released a hare from the folds of her tunic at the start of battle, to invoke help from the goddess of victory. When the hare went off running in a certain direction her tribe were convinced they would win! Yes, that paradox surrounding hares really drew my interest. Like you say, in pagan times they were revered as magical and bringers of good luck. It was only later on that our poor hare got demonised. Their magical reputation for appearing by moonlight and vanishing into thin air became something sinister, associating them with devils and evil spirits to the superstitious folk of the time. I often catch site of hares in my travels around the Fens. Watching this beautiful and fascinating creature, for me it’s easy to see where the original mystique came from.
Is this book spookier than anything else you've written before?
The unquiet spirit of a Viking boy in my book Arrowhead was pretty spooky I thought, and the past definitely haunts scenes in The Jaguar Trials… I love creating ghostly goings-on, exploring what happens when the past seeps into the present and upsets the equilibrium… And yes, The Warrior in the Mist is definitely up there on the supernatural scale!