Steve McHugh is the author of the popular Hellequin Chronicles. The fourth book, Prison of Hope, is out on April 14th. He lives in Southampton on the south coast of England with his wife and three young daughters. When not writing or spending time with his kids, he enjoys watching movies, reading books and comics, and playing video games.
by Steve McHugh
From the moment the character of Nathan Garrett popped into my head and began his creation, from the second his exploits formed into what would eventually be the Hellequin Chronicles series, I knew I wanted to have mythology involved in the stories.
The problem was that as much as I love mythology and find it fascinating, it doesn’t always have the most accessible or easy to follow stories. Take Greek mythology, there are so many children of gods, gods warring with one another, betrayals, evil deeds done against innocent people, and general all round awful behavior, that it’s hard to figure out who did what and why. And even harder to figure out why anyone in their right mind would think these people heroic, or even good.
So when I decided to use mythology in my urban fantasy series, I knew I couldn’t just take it verbatim. It was a fairly quick decision to do away with most of the stories surrounding various mythological beings by suggesting that these stories were spread as a form of propaganda. So Zeus would piss of Hera and she’d get her people to go around telling everyone that he turned into a swan so he could have sex with someone. In return Zeus did nothing, because he’s Zeus and probably couldn’t care less what anyone thought.
Treating the myths in that manner allowed me to get to grips with the characters behind them. I never wanted to do straight up Zeus was the goodish guy, Hades the bad guy, that’s seen in so many movies. As I began writing the books, it became obvious that Hades, far from being some monster, was actually a caring husband and father who’d had a mother-in-law (Demeter), who just couldn’t handle the fact that her daughter had run off with a man she disliked.
This had the effect of giving readers surprises about characters they may already think they know. It allowed me to interpret these characters of immeasurable power and influence and make them less Clash of the Titans, controlling every move mankind makes without consequence, and more… well, human I guess.
That was made easier when I decided that none of the mythological characters (no matter the pantheon) were all powerful gods and goddesses. They were elementals, or sorcerers, or necromancers, something that had strengths and weaknesses. And most of them continue to weald power and influence, and consider it their right to do so.
As it turns out Urban Fantasy as a genre lends itself brilliantly to having these types of characters in them. Creating a world where people who were once considered gods and goddesses, or even monsters, continue to have an impact on the world around us is not only great fun to write about, but gives me a million ideas for characters to use in one of the stories.
So far I’ve written 4 books—Prison of Hope is on 14th April—and I’ve used Roman, Greek, Japanese, British, Irish and probably a few others I’ve momentarily forgotten about. It sounds complex and difficult to keep track of, but it really isn’t. Each of those characters, such as Hades, or Merlin are in the story because they fit, because without that character there, the story wouldn’t have the impact it does.
The fact that the main character, Nathan, isn’t a god, was never worshiped or written about, and has grown up around these characters, means he’s less afraid of them, and more likely to challenge what they often consider their right to dominate others. Sometimes to his own detriment, but that tension between the main character and people of incredible power, makes for tense and interesting scenes.
Using mythological beings within Urban Fantasy feels right, they fit pretty well, but having characters from mythology behave in ways that aren’t necessarily what people might expect is a lot of fun. It’s nice to be able to mess around with the expectations of what a character most have heard of might do or be.