Leon Steelgrave: The tag line on your latest novel, Darke, references the Magician, the fool and the Devil of the Tarot, and by extension the journey depicted by the cards of the Major Arcana. Was this a consideration in the characters’ own journeys?
Julie Morrigan: When we were kicking around ideas for the cover, Steven suggested using Tarot cards to represent the three main characters. (The first version of the cover featured those cards.) It wasn’t a conscious consideration when I was writing, and yet it does seem very appropriate, and perhaps especially so in the case of Joe Fox, who is represented by the fool.
Darke draws on Faustian pacts, elements of Voodoo and demonic possession. How much research went into the preparation of the novel? Have you ever had a personal experience of the supernatural?
The idea for Darke fell out of some stuff I’d been reading for Heartbreaker. I was checking out some old blues musicians and reading about the crossroads mythology, and I discovered that it wasn’t just the ability to play guitar that was on offer, but also the ability to do real magic. That seemed like it would be good fun to play around with and from there it was a small step to mojo bags and black cat bones, and I read up on those, too. Next was possession, exorcism, general devilment … all sorts of stuff. I stumbled across a book called How to Satan-proof Your Child while I was looking for source material, which amused me immensely. I wish I’d bought a copy as it sadly now appears to have been withdrawn.
As to personal experiences of the supernatural, I’m an expert at scaring myself silly, which probably doesn’t help, but yes, there have been some things that are hard to explain.
I grew up in a house that scared me. It had cold spots, sneaky shadows, odd creaks and groans. The folks next door told us that their house was also a bit odd.
Some years before I lived there it had been traditional for the curate of the parish to come to tea regularly with my nana. One particular curate, after he’d visited a number of times, asked for permission to conduct an exorcism as he felt very uncomfortable in the house. And apparently he did, although bearing in mind the experiences I had growing up, I would suggest it wasn't terribly successful. Not just me, either. My dad’s eldest brother wouldn’t go upstairs on his own even as an adult. Something on the quarter landing at the turn of the stairs greatly disturbed him.
When I was eleven or twelve my dad had an accident which left him with a broken arm. He’d been working nightshift and came home in the early hours with his arm in a sling, and he had to go back to hospital next day to get a plaster on. He decided it would be best to sit up in a chair for the remainder of the night, so my brother sat up with him and my mam came into my room rather than be on her own. At some point after that I awoke to see what I thought was my dad, in funny clothes but without his sling, standing at the side of the bed. He bent over Mam as if to talk to her and I just went back to sleep. When I asked about it next day, I was told Dad hadn’t gone upstairs at all. I described what had happened and when my mam dug out a photograph of my grandfather, I realised it was him I’d seen. He’d died when I was a week old.
From references in the novel, the events take place in the same reality as Heartbreaker. I have also encountered a similar portrayal of the Devil in one of your short stories. How much of your work do you consciously place in the same universe? Are we likely to see, for example, characters from Convictions or Wired make an appearance in a future novel or short story?
It wasn’t a conscious decision to have a ‘story world’, as it were, but it seems a natural thing to do. I think of it as a parallel universe to the real world. Some places and events are the same, whereas others are invented, depending upon the needs of the story.
As to seeing characters meander from story to story, yes, definitely. I’m working on a novella that will include characters from Behind Blue Eyes, a short story that was included in charity anthology Off The Record, and I expect some of the characters from Razor Wire are likely to pop up, too. I have plans for a follow up to Convictions and while I don’t want to write a traditional series of crime novels, I like the idea of having a revolving cast of characters to draw upon. And it’s not just characters: the Black Dog, initially found in the story of that name, also pops up in The Writing on the Wall and in Darke.
Duality, the choice, for want of a better term, between good and evil is also a recurring theme in your work. Is this something you feel particularly drawn to as an author?
Yes, I think it is. In fact, the outcome of choices and decisions generally is something that interests me. I love Everett’s many worlds theory, which suggests that everything that could possibly have happened has happened somewhere in the multiverse. We follow one path in this reality and so it is with the stories we tell, but there is another version where things turned out differently, where other choices were made and other outcomes resulted from that. I can think of at least three occasions when, had I made a different choice, I probably wouldn’t be here now. Equally there are other realities where I can assume I never made it this far.
Moving on from there, we can assume that there is a world in which, when Ian Brady said, ‘I know — let’s go and kidnap a child!’ Myra Hindley replied, ‘Are you insane? No!’ and then went to the police. There is a world in which John Christie didn’t allow Timothy Evans to hang for murders he himself committed. There may even be a world in which Fred and Rose West are good parents. If you entertain the idea of a multiverse then anything is possible and the outcome, for good or ill, is determined by the choices we make.
Darke has been a number of drafts and revisions. Would you say this is typical of your work, or have you found this particular story harder to tell than others?
It certainly has been kicked around over the last few years!
I edit and revise everything I write, but I think one of the main reasons this one took some getting into shape is that Crossroads, which was the original version of Darke, was only the second novel I had ever completed. I still have a great deal to learn about writing and story-telling now, and I’ve learned a lot in the years since I wrote that first draft. So a lot of it was just digging down to get to the bones of the story, cutting away extra characters and sub-plots that didn’t add much. Doing that made it obvious that the focus should be squarely on the three main characters, Harry, Thaddeus and Joe, and that made things much clearer.
In many places, Darke has an old school horror feel to it, and I’m reminded of the work of Dennis Wheatley. Was this a conscious influence or did you take your inspiration from elsewhere?
I just tried to write the story I felt needed telling. I’ve not yet read Dennis Wheatley (I know, hang my head in shame) although he’s on Mount TBR. When I was a kid I spent my weekends at my nana’s house and she had a television, which we didn’t at home until I was about thirteen, and the Friday night Hammer horror film was a much-loved treat. I don’t doubt that’s had an influence.
We were talking about spooky experiences earlier, and I just remembered another. There’d been a high body count in the Friday night film and fragments of the story were still on my mind when I woke up on Saturday morning. One of the bodies had tumbled out of a wardrobe, and I sat up in bed and stared at the wardrobe in the room. It was opposite the foot of the bed and I’d normally hop out and walk round the bed to go past it, but on that morning I didn’t dare. I stared at it for ages, wondering what might be mouldering inside, and then the door swung slowly open, to reveal … my nana’s clothes. It was bursting at the seams. It was a heart-stopper at the time, though. It gave me quite a fright!
From conversations we’ve had, I know you have a number of incomplete projects bubbling away. Have you singled anything out as the next likely contender? Are you in a position to share any of the details yet?
Incomplete projects? Indeed! Although I think we’re both in the same boat as far as that’s concerned.
I think the next from that pile might be The Last Weekend, which is currently a rough and gappy first draft sitting at just over 50k words (I wrote it for NaNoWriMo some years ago). The basic premise is that a group of people who want to commit suicide get together for what will be their last weekend, during the course of which someone starts to bump them off. Murder is a different proposition entirely from suicide or euthanasia, even though the end result is the same, and so it’s interesting to see how the various individuals react to the game change. It’s quite dark, but funny in parts, I hope.
Other than that, I’m working on the novella I mentioned earlier. All good fun!
Thanks for taking the time to answer those questions, Julie, and I look forward to your next book.
Darke: The Devil, The Magician and The Fool is available now from Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing: