Here is an interview I did with author Chris Hill on Song of the Sea God. He lives in the UK and I sent him these five questions because I was curious about his characters. I felt it would make a good college discussion because there are so many surprising twists. Here is how he replied:
1. Who does John Love represent to you?
Firstly, thank you Lynn for having me along here to your blog, it’s a real pleasure to be here.
Just to put it in context, for people who have not read the book, Song of the Sea God tells the story of a man who comes to a small island off the coast of England and tries to convince the local people he is a god. It’s a story about the nature of religion and what it means to people.
John Love is my ‘god’ character and I suppose an interesting thing is that when I was writing the book I was concerned more with what he might represent to the reader than what he represented to me. One of the main things I wanted to do was to make sure there was a lack of certainty surrounding him on a number of levels. It’s hard to pin down what his motivations are – beyond the basic premise that he wants to become a god. Is he evil? Does he somehow believe he is helping people and acting in a good way? And beyond that I wanted there to be a grey area surrounding his very nature – is he just a con-man, a magician, a charlatan? Or is there something more to him – something supernatural? Even if you begin by believing one thing about him your opinion is likely to waver and shift during the course of the book. It was crucial for me that people be allowed to make up their own minds on these questions – perhaps because belief is such a core part of all religion.
2. What made you tell this story?
I’m not sure to be honest, Lynn! I suppose it developed over time and evolved from me wanting to think and talk a little about religion and what it means to people. I’m not particularly religious myself – I suppose I would describe myself as an agnostic, but saying I don’t know the answer to the mysteries of the universe is definitely not the same as saying there are no mysteries. I wanted to talk about that god-shaped hole people find in their lives and how it can be filled, for good and bad.
3. What were you trying to show when Walter & Grazier were mobbed?
When I was writing the book I did quite a lot of reading around faiths and beliefs – particularly ancient ones – pagan religions and so on. It seemed clear to me that, however high-minded their initial set of beliefs were, however much talk of love and positivity, that, somewhere down the line, there was a very dark side too. So often, hand in hand with all the good stuff, came the sacrifices, the martyrs, the holy warriors. It seems as though you can’t deal with these very powerful feelings and forces without there being destruction of some kind as well.
What Walter and Glazier share is that they are both outsiders in some way. Walter because of his physical and mental health conditions and Glazier because he’s the only black person on the island.
Both of these deaths are very shocking I think, not only because of their brutal nature but because of something else they share, which is that they are manifestly unfair and unjust. In Walter’s case, he is so vulnerable and I think there is an unspoken human code that people who are as vulnerable as he is are protected in society. He’s harmless basically, so why harm him?
In Glazier’s case I would say he is the closest thing in the book to a good character – a good person. He has his issues and problems of course, like everyone else in the book. But, he is strong, as he has grown up marked out as different from everyone else, and he is brave as, when he feels he has to stand up for what he believes. Yet there is an incredible sense of injustice with his death because the community, which he has every right to consider he is a part of, turns against him, not only physically but in a very harsh, racist way.
I would say the world of Song of the Sea God is one where there is no sense of natural justice but, sadly, the real world can often be like that too.
4. Why does John decide to self- destruct?
Another key think you find when you read around the world of different faiths and cults is that it often doesn’t end well for the god. One of the key texts I referred to when I was writing was The Golden Bough which is a collection of ancient faiths and beliefs from around the world gathered in the 19th century into a huge volume by Frazier and the Cambridge anthropologists. It struck me this book could be used as a ‘how to be a god’ manual. In Sea God, John Love has a copy and seems to refer to it in that way. The Golden Bough has a huge section on the death of the god. There are many examples of these self-destructive deities – I borrowed one of the most extreme as the model for John Love’s demise.
5. Theme or message to readers?
I am a big believer in what Dr. Johnson said: ‘A writer only begins a book, a reader finishes it.’ I don’t deal in simple messages or themes and my hope is that I provided enough food for thought for people to draw their own various conclusions.
When I wrote the book I wanted to create something layered and interesting – with darkness and jokes and plenty to give the reader pause for thought. I’ve been delighted to find people who read it come to all sorts of conclusions and take it in all sorts of different directions. That’s been a real joy for me.
Thanks Chris for being my first featured author,