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Guest Post | Stina Leicht has Trouble with the Troubles

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Guest Post | Stina Leicht has Trouble with the Troubles

Of all the first novels involved in this event, Stina Leicht's Of Blood and Honey was the only I hadn't finished yet prior to agreeing to host them. I was about halfway through, having seen enough to recommend it, but not really knowing how high it would rank. As I finished it last weekend it became pretty clear that any doubts I had about my ability to trumpet it were foolish. It's an amazing blend of historical fiction, urban fantasy, and magical realism that captures the wonder of fantasy and the authenticity of history.

Leicht hit on a fascinating time in history, a period of ethno-political conflict in Northern Ireland known as The Troubles. Reading her novel I was as drawn into the setting as I was to Liam's story. The end result is a perfect marrying of the two and a novel I strongly suggest everyone read. It's certainly worthy of the recognition Leicht has received as a 2012 nominee for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

Stina Leicht on trouble with The Troubles...



I'm Stina Leicht -- SF and F writer, reader, history nut, martial artist, muscle car enthusiast, music freak, and dabbler in paint, photography, and er… baking. Oh, and I travel as much as I can. And Blue Skies from Pain (second in the Fey and the Fallen series) is my second published novel. I was short-listed for a 2012 Crawford Award, and I'm a nominee for the 2012 Campbell Award for Best New Author.

What was it like to write And Blue Skies from Pain versus Of Blood and Honey (my first published novel)?

Anyone who has done it will tell you that the second novel is much, much more difficult to write than the very first. This is true for a whole host of reasons that get discussed quite a bit. (Strangely, new authors still act surprised when they discover it for themselves.) aBSfP was difficult for additional reasons. To begin with I'd studied the Troubles for three years prior to the final rewrite of OB&H. So, when it came time for me to write the second book I choked. There was no way I could spend an equal amount of time researching Northern Ireland of 1977 the way I'd exhaustively studied Northern Ireland of 1971-1977.

For those who know nothing of the Troubles, I'll attempt a quick summary. First, understand that I'm not Irish. I'm an American. My education on the subject was acquired through extensive non-fiction reading, memoirs, photographs, films, and interviews with a few who lived through the era. Nothing I say should be viewed as more authoritative than a native's experience. With that qualifier established, I'll continue. 

It's my impression as an outsider that The Troubles -- the 30 year conflict in Northern Ireland -- wasn't about religion. It was and is about one group having power and control over another. It just so happens that the majority of those with the power (Unionist/Loyalist) happen to be Protestant and the majority of those being controlled (Nationalist/Republican) happen to be Catholic. Therefore, they're easy labels. Human beings like labels. The conflict between these two groups has cycled through turbulent to dormant over and over for many hundreds of years. The era prior to1969 had been a dormant one. When the civil rights movement took hold in the American south Irish Catholics saw parallels to their own situation. Martin Luther King inspired them to take action and use peaceful protest to demand a voice in their government, fair access to housing, and employment. From 1969 up until Bloody Sunday (January 1972) it seemed like non-violent change was possible. And then Bloody Sunday happened -- thirteen unarmed protesters were killed by a British Paratrooper unit. (A fourteenth died later in hospital.) Peaceful idealism died with them. 

Overnight, people lined up to join the ranks of the IRA. As a result, direct rule was imposed. Then in 1974 the Prevention of Terrorism Act. By 1977 the political climate in the UK began a seriously conservative shift which resulted in the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979. The war (we might as well call it what it was) steadily ramped up the violence. So, Belfast wasn't the same -- just as Liam isn't the same. Both sides had given up hope for any kind of peaceful negotiation or resolution. Also, to say at this point that there were only two sides is an oversimplification. Both the Loyalist and Republican paramilitary groups splintered multiple times into subgroups, some of which warred with one another. If you get the impression that the longer the war went on, the more complex and confusing it got… you'd be right.

Also, by the time I started writing aBSfP, OB&H was already getting a lot of positive attention from critics. I was terrified. Not only did I have the problem of a turbulent, changing setting, but I knew right away that aBSfP was going to be a very different book from OB&H. OB&H borders on magical realism because Liam isn't aware of his connection to the Fey. Therefore, the emphasis is on the historical context because that's the world in which Liam lives. By the time he appears in aBSfP he's forever changed. He's aware of the preternatural beings existing in the cracks of every day reality. He knows he's a shape-shifter. He's done with rationalizing. That puts aBSfP squarely in Fantasy territory.

I was afraid I'd lose some readers during the transition. No doubt I did, but I feel it was worth it. In addition to the Irish political research, I also needed to delve into the Belfast punk scene. At the time, there were exactly two books published on the subject and one of them was out of print. A third came out just before aBSfP had to be turned in, and I read it as fast as I could. Thank goodness I had the help of Nicholas Whyte and a few others who had lived in Belfast at the time. Otherwise, I don't think I could've done it.


You can find Stina Leicht on her website and Twitter. Be sure to visit the former to learn more about the Fey and the Fallen series. Leicht is practitioner of Kung Fu where she frequently injures herself (or so it seems!).

Come back later today for an excerpt from And Blue Skies From Pain!

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At July 20, 2012 at 8:24 AM , Blogger Anne Lyle said...

Being a Brit over the age of 30, I know at least the basics about the Troubles, but I was wondering what drew you to that period - it's not exactly an obvious choice for a fantasy setting! (I know that one of the reasons I hesitated before settling on Elizabethan England for my own series was the religious tension, which I didn't want to detract from the bigger cultural conflict between humans and skraylings.)

At July 20, 2012 at 8:35 AM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

I think the transition to a more Fey and Fallen oriented book was a good transition. Mainly because it gave me more of what I wanted in book one...

At July 20, 2012 at 10:49 AM , Anonymous Stina Leicht said...

I felt the era had certain parallels with what is going on in the U.S., politically. It's a subject which most Americans know very little to nothing at all. Also, I kept seeing the word "terrorist" being used over and over. I wanted to take a closer look at that word because I feel Americans should. Our news is so... pathetically self-absorbed these days. I wanted to encourage Americans to delve deeper into the subject.

One of the reasons why OB&H has a more magical realism bent is because I wanted to show respect to the war and everyone that suffered as a result of it. I didn't wish to be flip about any of it. So, the tone of the first book and it's emphasis is what it is.

At July 20, 2012 at 10:50 AM , Anonymous Stina Leicht said...

I'm very glad you feel that way. :)

At July 20, 2012 at 2:25 PM , Blogger Anne Lyle said...

Thanks, Stina! Modern eras are definitely more tricky - no-one cares so much about what happened 400 years ago!

At July 22, 2012 at 6:58 AM , Blogger Andrea Johnson said...

Stina, I just listened to a podcast you did a while ago (was either with Functional Nerds, or SF Signal? Yes, I'm way behind the times!) where you talked about the research you did for these books, and how the Troubles were about classism and voting rights, and had I not already read your books (and loved them to pieces), that podcast and this interview would have gotten me reading. I'm a sucker for buckets of historical research and magical realism.


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