So, we’ve shared a little Q&A, and you can read the first bit here… And I’ll provide a link below for Cat’s half of our discussion.
Nerine: Ade fascinates me – he’s a liminal creature who doesn’t quite fit in the role that he has been cast and he exists in an uneasy state that is not wholly of his world. Can you shed a little light about his role as a midwife within his community? (And he’s not quite an ordinary midwife either.)
Cat: The Onnerys are a family of Hob midwives and they perform the usual midwifery services in their community, but they have one significant difference. The eldest Onnery has an ability to sense magic in others and remove it. They do this because their people are under threat of the colonial powers who would use any trace of Hob magic as an excuse to commit genocide. Ade is interesting in that he was never meant to be the Onnery with power - it’s always the first-born female. He has never actually had to perform the magic-removing, and doesn’t know if he could do it and sentence that child to grow up in need of lifelong care. He’s a strange thing, kept controlled both by his mother and by his own sense of insecurity, but under all that is a person who will find out just how powerful they can be.
You have a fondness for liminal characters yourself, and the conflict that creates as they try find their place. Unia is in a constant struggle to prove her worth - as a member of the order of the Fennar, as a woman in a world where men hold power, as the sister to a traitor, and as a magic user. Even her tribal roots are held against her. What is about Unia that you found most relatable when writing?
Nerine: I think with Unia, what spoke to me the most was that she was absolutely determined to succeed, no matter what the cost – as we discover. With her I draw upon that early certainty I had as a young teenager about truth and, yes, religion – and how that can blind you to a more nuanced way of examining the world. Adversity and her deep-rooted sense of dissatisfaction with life causes her to double down – not always a good thing – and yet that same determination also gives her the bravery to take action when it’s called for. We are sometimes our own worst enemies, if that makes any sense?
But back to Ade – he really does dig himself a deep hole with the choices that he makes, and he has quite a few fetters to overcome. He goes from being quite passive to taking action, which is a joy to behold. What are some of the greatest obstacles that he faces?
Cat: At first glance, his biggest obstacle probably looks like the way he looks and how he has been brought up, but that lack of confidence is something that he overcomes throughout the story. Yes, he’s an anxious figure, but how much of that is something innate and how much is down to the things that were done to him without his understanding or knowledge. So I think for me, the biggest obstacle he faces is his own upbringing. His family and what they have taught him. At the same time, it is his family that provide him support, and his love of family that provides the catalyst for the story. Hard to fight your roots - when what gives you support also cages you.
Family - and the complicated ties that bind us to them - is also prevalent theme in The Firebird. When Unia must watch her brother tortured as an enemy, that stirs up all kinds of warring memories and forces Unia to make some tough choices. Again, I think like Ade, Unia’s biggest obstacles are ones within her.
But let’s talk worldbuilding and symbolism. We’ve both lived many years in the same area in South Africa. I can recognise it in your writing, but can you explain a little more about how where you live influences your worldbuilding in you (gorgeous!) setting for The Firebird.
Now, go visit Cat's site to read the rest of this discussion here.
Buy Empty Monsters here.
Aden Onnery is the eldest son of a family of midwives who use their power to eradicate magic. As a boy, he was never meant to take on the Onnery mantle, but an accident of birth has left him marked and strange. His whole life he has believed that the Onnerys destroy the monsters that will bring the end of his people, until he is forced to enter into a bargain with a magical survivor.
In order to save his sister from the harsh law of the colonial powers, Aden chooses to enter the world outside his experience and go against everything he has been taught to believe. He must help save the very thing his family are meant to exterminate—a magical lineage in his people. In doing so, Aden will confront the truth that the monsters are his own family.
EMPTY MONSTERS weaves magic, family, and love into a bitter tonic about growing up and accepting that even the best intentions can exact a terrible price, and love is never simple.
Buy The Firebird here.
What is true evil? How do you fight it?
Since she was little, Lada wanted to be part of the Order of Fennarin, one of the warrior-monks who are the last bastion in a war against the demons and insurgents that threaten her island home. Yet to achieve her dream, Lada turned blood traitor, her decision leading to the death and exile of her family.
Her betrayal comes to haunt her now, ten years later, when her elders demand that she oversees her brother Ailas’s trial. Lada feared him lost forever, thanks to his covenant with demons, which makes him anathema to her and her order.
Will she deny her blood and uphold the order that’s become her family? Or will she listen to the whispers of the demons? After all, they might just be telling the truth – though a truth that may make her question everything, even the organisation to which she’s entrusted her very soul.