Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Meet Para Kindred author Maria Leel

Today I'm pleased to have fellow Wraeththu Mythos Para Kindred author Maria Leel visiting for a quick Q&A. Welcome, Maria. What do you love about the Wraeththu Mythos? 

The books that comprise the original Wraeththu trilogy, now the Wraeththu Chronicles, have been my constant companions since late 1989 when, during a lunch break from work, a copy of The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit mugged me in Hammick’s bookshop and insisted on being purchased. I confess I wasn’t terribly productive for the rest of the afternoon when I returned to the office. The trilogy has moved house with me more times that I can count; it has travelled around the world with me and to this day still occupies a prized spot on the bookshelf nearest to my bed. If you had told me then that I would have the opportunity to contribute stories to that world I loved so dearly I simply would not have believed you.

I have been fascinated with the ‘post-apocalyptical’ genre since childhood probably because I’ve been at odds with the dominant human culture from a very early age. I grew up in the 70s at the tail end of the hippie era surrounded by beautiful people with long hair and glam rock... And then you give me a whole trio of books set in a post apocalyptic Earth filled with amazingly beautiful creatures with long hair... Well, there was no hope for me!

Everyone’s story will have that spark that set the wheels spinning? What was yours?

Two things really. At the time the call for submissions to Para Kindred went out I was studying some of the work of Dr Paul Stamets, a pioneering American mycologist (check out his TED talk), specifically his work on fungi’s ability to clean up contamination. I mean, did you know that there is evidence at Chernobyl of slime moulds siphoning radiation out of the air and using it as their own power source? That and fungi’s role as a great underground information and resources network in primary forest; a genuine living phenomenon which for me had great resonance with the Na’vi’s ‘deity’ in the film Avatar.

I was reading Paul’s book Mycelium Running and my brain was literally pounding with the possibilities.

Around the same time I happened to re-watch a film called Raise the Red Lantern about a young girl who willingly becomes a concubine in the oppressive household of a wealthy warlord. I found her story both depressing and compelling.

Then the call for submissions came in and I was left wondering how I was going to bolt together a bunch of mushrooms and dynastic China into a workable story... without resorting to something hallucinogenic...

Without giving any spoilers, can you share a bit about your story?

The story centres around Chenga who lives in the dynastic territories of the Far East where ritual, protocol and tradition are valued above all things. Despite this, Chenga enjoys an almost blissful childhood thanks to his hostling, Lian, and his human teacher, Master Deshi-Tu. Chenga is fascinated by herb lore and enjoys a rare ability to hear the whispering chatter of the fungi that grow in abundance in his forest home. Master Deshi-Tu promises to teach Chenga the secret of the threads when he comes of age.

But Chenga’s childhood is tragically cut short and he is sent as a child bride to become the tenth consort of a wealthy and powerful dynastic overlord. Depressed and desperately unhappy, Chenga finds the overlord and the regime of his household cruel and divisive and he longs for freedom. Eventually the threads call to him again and he begins to see how escape might be possible.

Are there any underlying themes you visited?

Primarily the complexity of the living world – we really don’t understand how it all works and we mess with it at our peril. It’s all about relationships.

Oppression is another major theme. The dynamics of controlling and abusive relationships are both hideous and fascinating both in the case of an individual species’ abuse of a natural community and that of a single individual’s abuse of another. Stories need conflict and inevitably oppression is a good source for that.

I also think that literature is a particularly good medium for exploring the dynamics of abuse and bringing this hidden form of warfare into the light.

Then, a little bit about yourself and your influences.

My first degree was in Ecology and much of my work has been in the field of conservation so my stories all have strong link with natural systems and the landscape.  I have travelled widely and lived in some pretty isolated places and those experiences tend to weave their way into my writing whether I wish them to or not. I am deeply grateful to Storm Constantine for welcoming contributors to the Wraeththu mythos and allowing fledgling authors to test their wings in the world of published writing.

I come from a family of dancers steeped in the folk traditions of England. My extended family are Morris dancers and from an early age I was surrounded by people with painted faces, dressed in wild costumes, bearing an assortment of curious instruments. This has led to a fairly relaxed attitude to the unorthodox.

Originally from the flat Fenlands in the east of England I now live on the hilly Welsh borders with my husband, two geriatric cats and a varying number of chickens. We have recently taken on a large urban garden which we are in the process of turning into a permaculture paradise. We’ve just put in a mini orchard and our next challenge is to convince our neighbours to allow us to bring in a couple of piglets to tractor up the patch where we plan to put the forest garden. Wish us luck with that one ;)

See my author page with Immanion Press is where you can also find details of my Wraeththu novel Song of the SulhI can be found on Facebook.

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