Plot Outline:Bec is a young orphan living in a small ring fort in Celtic Ireland. She is studying to be a priestess. She's not especially powerful, but she has an extraordinary memory and her teacher, Banba, believes she can one day prove herself useful to the clan they live with. It is a time of great change -- Christians have come to the country and many clans have already converted to the new religion. Bec's clan still cling to the old ways, but they know they cannot stand against the tide of Christianity for much longer. Bec is worried -- where will a priestess of ancient magic like her fit into the new world? But then her people are faced with a far greater threat -- demons invade and take over much of the country. Night becomes a time of fighting and bloodshed. The world seems poised to fall to the demon invaders.
In the middle of the nightmarish war, a strange boy comes to Bec's village. He's a simple-minded youth who can run very fast but can't even tell them his name. As addled in the head as he is, he carries a message -- his kinsmen are in trouble and need help. The warriors of Bec's village are suspicious of the boy, but, for reasons she doesn't fully understand, she persuades them to help him. A small band of warriors are sent with the boy, to brave the demon-ravaged lands beyond the village. It will be a journey of great danger, savage fighting, stunning revelations and lots of bloodshed.
And Bec is going with them.
Author Notes:AUTHOR NOTES -- PART ONE -- "THE BIRTH OF BEC"
"Bec" was actually the second demon-based book that I wrote, a couple of years after I finished the first draft of "Lord Loss". As I've said elsewhere, "Lord Loss" was never intended to be the start of a new series -- it was meant to be a one-off book, with no sequels. But I'd been thinking about demons quite a bit in late 2002 and early 2003. I was drawing near to the end of my work on "The Saga of Darren Shan" and had pretty much decided I wanted to follow the series with "Lord Loss". I liked the character of Lord Loss and I wondered if there was anything else I could do with him, or with other demons. I didn't plan to write a connected series, just to maybe do a few stand-alone books about Lord Loss or demons in general.
In February 2002, I first met Bas, who would swiftly become my girlfriend. Most of our early courting took place in London, where she was living. But as our relationship developed, she began to visit me in Ireland. At first we'd stay close to home, so she could get to know my family and friends. But, as she spent more time here, we began to explore the area around Limerick. I took her to places I hadn't been since I was a child, like Bunratty folk park, the Cliffs of Moher, Killarney and so on. I liked showing her the sights and places of interest, and telling her what I could recall about Ireland's mystical past. It was also interesting for me to revisit these places as an adult, to think about my Irish history and what life was like in the past, to reflect on where we'd come from and what the country must have been like many centuries ago.
As we travelled around, I began to piece the Irish countryside together with demons. For instance, the Cliffs of Moher are a spectacular sight -- you can crawl to the edge and look straight down onto the crashing waters below. A beautiful, tourist-friendly landmark. But imagine how much more breathtaking they would have looked if you lived in an age when most people didn't travel outside the village where they were born, if you'd never seen the sea before, and walked for days on end, only to find yourself at this awesome place. And imagine how terrifying such a place would be if demons attacked and you had to fight on the edge of the cliffs, a deadly drop at your back.
I'm not sure of the chronology of the story, of the order in which I visited the various sights, or how long exactly it took for the plot of "Bec" to fall into place. From what I recall, it came together gradually, over the space of many months. I didn't visit sights to get ideas -- I'd simply pick things up during the course of our travels, and those notions and story scraps were gradually woven together by the story-weaver inside my head who is the real creative force behind everything I write!! (Whenever people ask me where my ideas come from, I never mention the fact that I have a "story-weaver" inside my head who works in ways I can't fathom -- I think I'd be locked up if I did!!!!!!!)
What I DO recall perfectly is the key visit, the place which really kicked the story into life. Bas and I were doing a short tour of Cork and Kerry. On one of the days, we meant to drive around the Ring of Kerry, a famous tourist route. But the weather was awful that day, rain lashing down -- we weren't even able to see mountains at the sides of the roads!!! We decided there was no point doing a scenic drive, so we started thinking of other places we could go. We both love caves, and had been to an intesting place called Crag Cave some months before. On this day we were close to Mitchelstown Caves, and since the weather doesn't matter underground, we opted to go there.
We adored the Caves as soon as we arrived. Unlike other caves, there was no tourist centre -- the caves are located in a field at the back of a normal farmer's house, and you have to knock on the door of the house and buy your tickets from the people who live there!! It was a wet day, off-season, so there weren't many people with us, maybe 4 or 6 at most. A very friendly and knowledgable guide took us down, and the caves were AMAZING!!! They're probably the best caves I've yet to see. They haven't been over-developed ... the features are incredible ... and they just have a magical feel. We came away buzzing, really excited and impressed.
But I was buzzing a bit more than Bas. Because while I was down there, I'd had a thought, a flash of an action scene. That's how a lot of my stories begin life -- I think of a certain scene, maybe a fight, or a conversation, something dramatic or intriguing. It's like seeing a clip from a movie inside my head. The "movie clip" I saw on this day was of demons breaking through into the cave. Imagine what that would be like ... trapped underground ... a window open between our universe and the Demonata's ... having to fight in this beautiful but deadly, claustrophobic trap.
The scene followed me from the Caves like a hound. Over the coming weeks, it echoed through my thoughts, tormenting me. It was a scene I hungered to write. I could tell it would work great on paper, a small band of heroes trapped in a cave, up against demonic forces, maybe the future of the world at stake. It would be like fighting in a massive coffin -- if you died here, it would serve as your grave. I could feel the tension every time I played the scene out in my thoughts.
The trouble was, I didn't have a story to go with it!!! I approached the scene from a number of different angles. I think initially, I wasn't going to link it to Lord Loss. But then I began to realise that I wanted him there, that this was the sort of place and situation he'd love and perfectly suit. That moved me forward a bit on the plot front. But did I want to set the story in the past or present? My first idea was to set it hundreds of years ago. I had a few ideas, based on other places I'd visited in Ireland, and I could sense the cave becoming the focal point for those vague story-lines. But I also had some ideas for a more modern story. Which to go with?!?
In the end I opted to go with the story set in the past. I was interested in exploring a new avenue of writing (new for me, at least) -- HISTORICAL HORROR!!!! I've always been interested in history, but most historical stories are quite dry, especially for someone who loves fantasy and horror. What if I could tell a story that was like the myths of ancient races, that combined historical fact with a strong dose of fantastical adventure? That's how people used to record history before the advent of writing -- they'd make up tales of gods and magicians and witches, and use them to make a story memorable. For instance, if they wanted their children to learn the names of mountains, they'd invent stories in which gods battled on those mountains. The kids would remember the stories because of the exciting fight scenes -- but they'd also learn the names at the same time!! Learning through enjoyment -- it's something a lot of teachers today seem to have forgotten!!!!!!!
Once I'd made that decision, "all" that was left for me was to put together a solid storyline, figure out a way to work Lord Loss into it, undertake research to find out what Celtic Ireland was really like, invent a realistic excuse to introduce demons into that world, and get on with the writing. Easy!!!!!!!!!
NOTES -- PART TWO -- "THE RESEARCH"
Apart from Mitchelstown Caves, the other place in Ireland which played a key part in the conception and writing of "Bec" was the Craggaunowen Project. This is a Celtic theme park in County Clare, where they have recreated as much of ancient Ireland as they can. For instance, they've built a wooden ring fort, which is similar to the enclosed villages where many of the people in Celtic times lived. There are pits for cooking food and an explanation of how food was cooked in the past. There's a crannog, which is a fenced village built on an island in the middle of a small lake. They have dolmens -- tombs where the bodies or ashes of the dead were laid to rest. An old wooden road which has been dug up from a bog, upon which carts used to trundle. And lots, lots more.
Craggaunowen was exactly what I needed to kickstart the book into life. From what I recall, I had most of the plot worked out by the time I visited -- I realised I wanted to set the story around the time of Saint Patrick, when the country was converting from paganism to Christianity. That must have been a time of upheval and mixed emotions -- people were being asked to abandon gods and beliefs that they'd respected for countless generations. A time of chaos and change. The perfect time for demons.
I got more ideas from Craggaunowen, but also the confidence to undertake the research necessary for the book. I'm not a natural researcher -- I prefer to let stories flow naturally, smoothly, without worrying too much about making sure all the minor details are correct. For instance, in "Cirque Du Freak", I describe Madam Octa's body bulging out and deflating as she breathes. In reality, spiders' bodies don't act that way, but it was a great image, so what the hell!!!! But in this case, I knew I'd have to pin the facts down. I couldn't just set my imagination loose and hope for the best. I was going to be setting the story in a specific place, at a specific time, and if people were going to believe in the world I was writing about, it would have to be an accurate recreation. I'd be adding demons to the mix, so it was obviously going to be a work of fantasy, but apart from that I wanted it to be a totally true depiction of Celtic Ireland, so that even historical scholars couldn't find fault with the framework.
At Craggaunowen, I felt for the first time that I could really pull this off. Walking around the structures and monuments, I began to get a feel for what Celtic life was like, and a belief that I could put myself into that mindset and write a story that was both true to the time and place in which it was set, but which would also be pacy and involving enough to excite modern-day readers. I went to Craggaunowen wondering if I should make an attempt to write "Bec" or if I should just forget about it and dismiss it as a fanciful but impractical idea. I came away determined to conclude my research and push on with all guns blazing.
That research involved a lot of reading. I went to Limerick, bought several books about Celtic Ireland, and ploughed through them, one after another. I learnt a lot about the Celts that I'd never known before, how they lived, their customs, their beliefs, their power structures. They lived in small kingdoms known as tuatha (we'd call them counties today). They arrived in Ireland about 400BC. Some were sailors and they captured and kept slaves from Britain and Gaul (France). Druids knew about gods, history, the measurement of the Earth and stars, and were not subject to the laws of normal people. Divorce was common, as was fostering for children of a certain age. Women had legal rights -- they held onto property if they divorced. Many warriors fought naked. There were four social classes -- kings, noblemen, freemen, slaves. Wedge tombs (long, rectangular burial chambers) were more common in the southeast -- where the story is set -- than the smaller dolmens, and almost all of the dead were cremated. (I made this a part of the story when I came to write it.) Etc. Etc. Etc.
I knew I wouldn't use everything that I noted -- I didn't want to bog readers down with an overload of facts. But I needed to know as much about Celtic Ireland as I could find out, so that I could create as natural an effect as possible. In a weird way, it's a bit like the world of "Star Trek". On the original show, they never explained about weapons or how the ship worked or the history of space travel -- the logic being, the people who lived in this place and time would have a natural understanding of such things, and so wouldn't talk about them in their day to day lives. But the people who wrote the show had a "show bible", which listed all the facts about the universe in which the stories took place. A lot of fantasy writers like to create similar "bibles" for their books, but I usually prefer not to -- I think it can be a distraction, and a lot of writers get so involved in the creation of their world, they lose sight of the power of the story!! But in this case I broke one of my own rules and put together a rough "bible" that I could refer to during the writing of my book.
As part of my reasearch, I needed to find out what people were actually called in Celtic Ireland. I love coming up with weird, unusual names for the characters in my books, but in this case I'd need to use real names -- or at least modern equivalents which readers would be able to decipher and pronounce easily. I found a book that listed loads of Celtic names, and went through it, drawing up a longlist, which I then narrowed down. At that time, I had no title for the book, and no idea what my main character was going to be called. But as soon as I came across the name Bec -- which is derived from the word beag (pronounced byug), which means little one -- I knew that was the name of my girl. I also decided to use it as the title. I figured I'd work out a better title later -- but, the more I lived with the book, the more I grew to like the simplicity of calling it after the lead character -- and so "Bec" stood.
NOTES -- PART THREE -- "Making it fit"
As I said already, "Bec" was the second demon-based book that I wrote, after "Lord Loss". At the time, I had no plans to write a lengthy series about demons. I knew I wanted to include the character of Lord Loss in this book, but I didn't mean to link it to the story of Grubbs Grady. The first draft differed substantially from the finished book. The overall structure was the same, but I've added to it since then, tying it in with the other stories of the series.
It wasn't until some time after I'd finished "Bec" that I realised it was going to be part of a series. I had an idea for another demon book, set in modern times, in which a cave like the cave in "Bec" would feature. In the early days, before the story had fully come together, I thought maybe I would connect it to either of my other demon books, i.e. "Lord Loss" or "Bec", but instead make it a stand-alone book, in which the demon master, Lord Loss, was the only connecting link -- I thought I could maybe write a few books which were linked by Lord Loss, but where were otherwise unrelated. But the more I thought about it, the more I knew I wanted to tie these various story strands together. I wanted the cave in "Bec" to be the same cave in my new story, and I wanted Grubbs Grady to be the modern-day boy who discovered the cave, and I wanted to find some way to make Grubbs' story link up with Bec's.
But how??? Bec was a girl who lived sixteen hundred years in the past. Grubbs was a 21st century boy. They come from different times, and their lives -- and the stories I'd told about them -- were completely unconnected. It was impossible ...
... or was it?!?
Thankfully, over a number of months, I began to see ways to weave together the stories of the three books. I went ahead and wrote the new book (which actually became 2 books -- the two-part story of what will be Books 5 and 6 of the series), then went back and rewrote "Bec", adding new layers and finding ways to sow seeds which I could reap later. "Bec" might seem, on first read, to be only marginally linked to the story of Grubbs (and Kernel, whose story came even later), but as you read on through the series, you'll see how the little girl from Celtic Ireland has more to do with Grubbs and Kernel than anyone could possibly imagine.
The most enjoyable part of writing "The Demonata", for me, has been finding ways to twist structure and people's anticipations around. It's not a straightforward storyline like "The Saga" was, and it's only as you read "Bec" and the books which follow that you'll start to see just how twisted yet interconnected all these stories and characters are. A lot of the mystery will reveal itself when you read book 6, which is when you'll see all the knots which bind these stories in place. Until then, my advice is to just go along for the ride. By all means look for clues and construe some theories while reading "Bec", but don't worry about it TOO much. Everything will be made crystal clear in the end ...
NOTES -- PART FOUR -- Celtic terms and how to say those awkward Celtic names
To make "Bec" as authentic as possible, I needed to use certain terms and words which people in Celtic Ireland would have used on a regular basis. I tried to minimise the use of Celticisms, in order not to confuse readers too much, but incorporated them wherever I felt I could comfortably fit them in. I also used Celtic names (or more modern-day, Anglicized derivations of them) for all the characters. To make life a bit easier for readers, I produced a glossary of the Celtic words, and a guide to name pronunciation, which we have included at the back of the book. (I'm already regretting not putting the glossary at the front -- I think a lot of readers won't realise it's there until they've finished the book and it's too late!!! Oh well, I can't change that now!) But for those who want to be one step ahead of the game, I'm including the glossary here too, for your enlightenment and entertainment ...
Rath – Raff — a round fort, surrounded by a wooden fence.
Coirm – Kworm — an alcoholic drink.
Fomorii – Fuh-more-ee — an ancient tribe, reputed to be part demons.
Souterrain – soo-tur-ane — an underground tunnel, often used to store food and drink, or as an escape route.
Tuath – Chew-ah — a county.
Tuatha – Chew-ah — counties.
Sionan’s river – Sun-un’s river — river Shannon.
Quern – Kern — a bowl.
Cathair – Ka-hair — a round fort, surrounded by a stone wall.
Crannog – Kran-ogue — a fort built on an island in the middle of a like.
Dolmens – Dole-mens — tombs made of three upright stones, set in a pyramid type shape, capped by a flat stone. Normally one person would be buried beneath them, or their ashes might be left in them.
Wedge tombs — tombs in which lots of stones are stacked side by side, in the shape of a wedge, then topped with large flat stones.
Seanachaidh – Shan-ah-key — a story-teller or poet.
Brehons – Breh-hons — law-makers, an early type of judge.
Ana – Ay(as in “play” or “way”)-nah — the mother of all the gods.
Nuada – Noo-dah — the goddess of war.
Cashel – Cash-el — a stone fort.
Neit – Net — a god of war.
Ogham stones — owe-am stones. Stones with lines cut into them — an early form of writing.
Curragh – cur-ah — a small boat, like a canoe.
Pict – Pick-t — an anicent tribe from Britain.
Bricriu – Brick-roo — a trouble-maker.
Macha – Mack-ah — a female goddess of war.
Tir na n’Og – teer na nogue (rhymes with rogue) — a mystical land where people never got sick or grew old.
Leprechauns — the Little People if Irish legends.
Banshees — the souls of dead women who wail loudly when somebody is about to die.
Morrigan’s milk — Morrigan (More-ee-gan) was a war goddess.
Hurling – Her-ling — a traditional Irish sport, the fastest team game in the world. It’s played on a rugby-sized pitch, 15 players per side. Each player has a stick which ends in a curved, flat head. They use it to hit a small, hard leather ball about, and score goals and points by hitting it into their opponent’s goal or over the bar.
Geis – Gesh (rhymes with mesh) — a curse.
Balor’s eye — Balor was a one-eyed giant, one of the Fomorii.
Banba — Bon-bah.
Goll — rhymes with doll.
Conn — Kon.
Connla — Kon-lah.
Bec — rhymes with Deck or Heck.
Ninian — Nin-ee-an.
Amargen — Am-are-gen.
Lorcan — Lor-can.
Ronan — Row-nan.
Fiachna — Feek(rhyme with speak)-nah.
Ena — Ee-nah.
Scota — Scow(rhymes with sow or low)-tah.
Erc — rhymes with perk or work.
Nectan — Neck-tan.
Cera — Keerah.
MacCadan — Mac-Cad-an.
Tiernan — Teer-nan.
Bran — rhymes with man or ran.
Orna — Or-nah.
Padraig — Paw-drig. This refers St Patrick. (The book is set in Ireland in the middle of the 5th century AD, when St Patrick was converting Ireland to Christianity.)
Drust — Jrust (hard D sound, like in dread or dry).
MacRoth — MacRoff.
MacGrigor — Mac-Grig-or.
Torin — Tore-in.
Ert — rhymes with Hurt.
Fand — Fond.
Aideen — Aid-een.
Dara — Darr-ah.
Aednat — Aid-nat.
Fintan — Finn-tan.
Struan — Strew-an.
Brude — rhymes with crude.