Today I’ve got something pretty special for you all – military horror author Lee Murray is here to talk about her new book Into the Sounds!
Matthew: Lee, can you tell us a little bit about it?
Lee: Taine McKenna is back to face another monster, this time deep in New Zealand’s Fiordland sounds. Here’s the jacket cover:
On leave, and out of his head with boredom, Sergeant Taine McKenna of the NZDF joins his girlfriend, biologist Jules Asher, on a Conservation Department deer culling expedition to New Zealand’s southernmost national park, where soaring peaks give way to valleys gouged from clay and rock and icy rivers bleed into watery canyons too deep to fathom. Despite covering an area the size of the Serengeti, only eighteen people live in the isolated region, so it’s a surprise when the hunters stumble on the nation’s Tūrehu tribe, becoming some of only a handful to ever encounter the elusive ghost people. But a band of mercenaries saw them first, and, hell-bent on exploiting the tribes’ survivors, they’re prepared to kill anyone who gets in their way. A soldier, McKenna is duty-bound to protect all New Zealanders, but after centuries of persecution will the Tūrehu allow him to help them? Besides, there is something else lurking in the sounds, and it has its own agenda. When the waters clear, will anyone be allowed to leave?
Matthew: Throughout Into the Sounds I noticed an almost constant juxtaposition of old versus new, from culture to technology. Was this something that you intentionally set out to do?
Lee: I should say yes here and make out like I know what I’m doing, but actually I didn’t intentionally set out to do anything of the sort. However, I think when your work examines evidence of an early New Zealand population, then to a certain extent a juxtaposition of old and new is inevitable. I did a lot of research into the Tūrehu people, both the mythology and the scientific anthropological studies, and there is a lot of evidence that this was a very successful population pre-dating the arrival of the Māori. Given the ruggedness of New Zealand landscape, I expected to find that the Tūrehu were a resourceful and forward-thinking people, with their own unique way of life. Of course, what I found offered opportunities to consider how modern-day protagonists, stripped of their new-fangled technologies, might fare in similar circumstances.
Matthew: One of my favourite things about Into the Mist and now Into the Sounds was that both stories are based on Māori myths and legends. First, the taniwha in Mists, and now the Tūrehu in Sounds. What was your biggest challenge in bringing these myths to life?
Lee: Actually, I didn’t need to bring them to life because in New Zealand darkness and monsters are an everyday occurrence. Writers here understand that the land has its own power, and mythology is a living breathing thing. For example, about the time I was writing the Into the Mist, New Zealand’s Te Urewera Act was passed, making the land, once a national park, a legal entity with “all the rights, powers, duties and liabilities of a legal person.” Sometimes the landscape will pay such a powerful role in a story that readers will insist it has become a character in its own right, but in New Zealand we’ve enacted that idea into law. The landscape has its own identity. The same is true of our taniwha, and the Tūrehu or fairy people. These are not simply mythological beings to reside in stories and lore, but real tangible entities that walk in our everyday. So my task was made easier by our ideological tendency to treat these entities with respect and reverence in our daily lives. And for the more sceptical, there is plenty of scientific evidence that theropods roamed Urewera ranges, so much so that the New Zealand government commissioned a research study in 2016, just after the release of Into the Mist, the results of which should be made public soon. Similarly, there is myriad evidence that the Tūrehu people existed, and that their descendants live among us in New Zealand, although perhaps not exactly as I have portrayed them.
Matthew: How did it feel like revisit Taine McKenna and Dr Jules Asher? Did you always plan to take them on another adventure, or did they take you on an unexpected adventure?
Lee: It was fabulous writing about characters I knew well. Like visiting old friends. However, I hadn’t intended to write a series, and since there was no preconceived, long story arc to hang a second book on, I carried several characters over to the new adventure ‒ Taine McKenna, Jules Asher, Matthew Read, Trevor “Trigger” Grierson, and Rawiri Temera ‒ and set about developing their stories inside a fast-paced, full throttle adventure. It helped that I picked another isolated and treacherous area of New Zealand, this time right at the bottom of New Zealand in Fiordland. Then, I threw in a lost tribe, more of that Kiwi mythology, and a monster lurking in the waters… It was a new approach for me, and one I found challenging, but my early beta readers assure me that the final product, Into the Sounds, is a ripping read. I hope they’re right!
Matthew: Lastly, I feel like this isn’t the last Taine McKenna adventure. Is there anything you can tell us about what’s next for him?
Lee: Ah, well there’s a national emergency, so this time out, the NZDF have Taine heading into New Zealand’s Central Plateau doing a sweep for the civilian die-hards who can’t, or won’t, leave the area. The third book in the series INTO THE ASHES includes some of the best loved characters from Into the Mist ‒ Lefty, Eriksen, Read, and Temera ‒ as well as some new personalities introduced in Into the Sounds. Dr Jules Asher makes an appearance, too. Here’s the back-cover copy:
No longer content to rumble in anger, the great mountain warriors of New Zealand’s central plateau, the Kāhui Tupua, are preparing again for battle. At least, that’s how the Māori elders tell it. The nation’s leaders scoff at the danger. That is; until the ground opens and all hell breaks loose. The armed forces are hastily deployed; NZDF Sergeant Taine McKenna and his section tasked with evacuating civilians and tourists from Tongariro National Park. It is too little, too late. With earthquakes coming thick and fast and the mountains spewing rock and ash, McKenna and his men are cut off. Their only hope of rescuing the stranded civilians is to find another route out, but a busload of prison evacuees has other ideas. And, deep beneath the earth’s crust, other forces are stirring.
“Murray’s Into the Ashes reads like a gauntlet ‒ an action-packed adventure where death strikes from every side. A thrilling read!” ‒ Ashley L. Knight, co-author of Herald (with David Wood).
Currently with the publisher, there is no primordial monster in Into the Ashes, although there is a monster, and there are definitely some evil forces at play. I hope readers will stick with me on this one, because I think it’s the best to date. Taine McKenna is in for a hell of a day.
Matthew: Thank you! Next, I’ve got some more general questions for you. Is there a property or franchise you would love to write for?
Lee: I’d love to write one of the new Firefly novelisations coming in 2019 from Titan Books. Some colleagues are involved ‒ Tim Lebbon and Nancy Holder ‒ and I’m trying not to be too insanely envious. I quite like the character-driven darkness of the Gotham franchise, so I think it would be fun to write in that one. And who wouldn’t want to write a Batman story, even just once, right?
Matthew: What are your top three monsters?
Lee: I think you’ll find that man is always the worst monster, even in the monster movies. Even going back to the pioneers of the genre. Take a look at Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: the author puts the name of the monster on the cover. Of course, that isn’t what you’re asking. I’m stalling because I love monster stories for the way they reveal so much about ourselves: our fears, our helplessness. Three, you say? Okay, for contemporary monsters, I loved Greig Beck’s wonderful sapient squid in Beneath the Dark Ice. The premise isn’t new ‒ scientists head into a bleak landscape in pursuit of the truth only to find that truth in pursuit of them ‒ but Beck does monsters so well that he had me scrabbling through crawl spaces with my heart in my throat. And Beck’s giant squid has its origins in reality, adding another terrifying element to his narrative. Definitely check out Beck’s titles ‒ his books are riddled with wonderful monsters. For a fabulous daikaiju tale, I absolutely loved Jeremy Robinson’s Apocalypse Machine. Gripping, fast-paced with an important message about man’s rapid race to extinction as the planet fights back. Robinson’s another writer that monster lovers should check out if they haven’t already – his Hunger and Antaktos series introduce some dangerously addictive beasties. And what about an Aussie offering? I absolutely loved Matthew J. Hellscream’s Carnifex. Again, the premise is much-loved and familiar ‒ a bunch of tourists, an isolated national park, and a pack of ancient hunters conjured from the outback. What’s not to love? However, as well as understanding the importance of setting and habitat in any monster narrative (Hellscream showing his respect for the raw Australian outback in Carnifex) like Shelley, also understands that man’s predatory malevolence runs deeper than the most rabid of monsters.
Matthew: If you could give one piece of writing advice to writers just starting out, what would it be?
Lee: I think a lot has been written on this, things like reading widely, writing every day, sharing your work, following guidelines to the letter, creating a social media platform, attending workshops and other professional development, and getting a mentor / editor / and support network [insert as required]. However, the piece of advice I like to give new writers is that in the face of shrinking markets, fickle publishers, literary snobbism against [insert your genre here] and an increasingly lean environment for authors, newcomers will need to be more and more resilient. So my advice is be brave. Get tough. Zip up your Kevlar. Because, if I knew how to grow a carapace, I would.
Thank you so much for your time, Lee!