A LITTLE MORE ABOUT ME...
Exclusive Interview with Author Serena Cairns
June 21, 2016 / Kyle Wendy Skultety /
Something unspeakable has lain beneath an ancient Norfolk church for centuries. Its discovery now forces an unconventional female priest to take on an ancient religious order and brave Hell itself – or are they one and the same adversary? What begins as a supernatural story evolves into a mystery that has stretched over centuries, and a hidden prophesy that completely re-shapes the Church of Rome.
We had an opportunity to score an exclusive interview with author Serena Cairns about her new book, FATHER OF LIES. It’s a winner: Goodreads and Amazon have plenty of 5 star reviews about this thrilling novel. Let’s see what she has to say:
How did ‘Father of Lies’ come about?
It began as just something to read out at the writers’ group I was attending. As the weeks went by and the feedback was so encouraging, I needed to plan the storyline properly. Looking back at the original synopsis, I realise I had no clue as to the ultimate outcome of the book, nor the amazing journey it would take me on to get there. It begins rather like an old Hammer movie, but evolves into a Dan Brown-style conspiracy, only with far less running about. I had no intention of writing for that genre, but the story led me in that direction. I merely put it on paper. I have no desire to write great literature, but exciting page-turners, and grammar and sentence structure are incredibly important to me.
Would you term your book a horror story?
Definitely not! There are elements to it that might be horrific, but I have deliberately understated some scenes. It was not my intention to go into gory description. Usually, such details are better left to the reader’s imagination.
Who or what would you consider has influenced your work?
Having been a lifelong lover of films, hours spent at the cinema in my youth gave me a foundation in ‘scene-turners’, and I see my writing in cinematic terms. I shift scenes frequently to keep the action going, drawing upon facts to keep the fiction credible. There is probably a long ladder of influences leading to each author’s style, no matter how original they believe themselves to be.
Your book involves the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Were you ever worried it might offend anyone?
My original draft was much more controversial. In fact, I rang Dan Brown’s UK agent to ask if they’d had any trouble with the Vatican. After all, I didn’t want the Opus Dei knocking on my door. Although the man I spoke to said he couldn’t discuss Dan Brown or his books, when I told him about ‘Father of Lies’, he just said, ‘Don’t go there – not unless you have a lot of money behind you’. I went into meltdown. The book was finished and, as far as I was concerned, ready for publication. However, as is often the case with seeming disasters, it turned out to be beneficial. I merely made some changes, all of which added to and improved the original, and I am far happier with the finished story. I certainly have no wish to offend anyone, and must stress that ‘Father of Lies’ is a work of fiction. Funnily enough, I’ve had positive feedback from members of the Church of England, even clergy.
The book is very character driven. Where or how did you come up with those characters?
I never seem to have a problem introducing new characters. In fact, I have to be quite strict with myself not to over-populate a story. I probably had most difficulty with the Rev. Laura Coatman, as I have little experience of priests, female or otherwise. It was difficult for me to empathise with her until the final draft, where a few small changes made all the difference. I have never understood why I find it much easier to write from a male perspective. The most interesting character, from my point of view, is Monsignor Benvenuti. In film terms, he was introduced as an ‘extra’ to fulfil his given task and fade into the background. He was having none of it, and became a major player. There was one instance where I typed his words, and then sat back, shocked, saying out loud, ‘Well, I didn’t expect that’. I love it when characters seem to take on a life of their own. It is the interaction between my characters that made ‘Father of Lies’ a joy to write, and seems to strike a chord with its readers.
Did ‘Father of Lies’ require a lot of research on the Vatican and the supernatural?
Very little on the supernatural, as it has always been a fascination of mine, although I did look up a few serpent references. I came up with far more than I could use, and had to keep reminding myself I was writing fiction, not a reference book. I read up on the Vatican and the history of the popes, but again, the amount of material I could use far outweighed what I should. I knew the final chapters had to be set in Rome, but was horrified when, halfway through the book, two of my characters decided to go to the Eternal City. ‘Come back’, I called, but they didn’t listen, so I was forced to research Rome. A writer needs just enough facts to flesh out and make a story credible, without swamping the reader with information that has no direct bearing on the story. I didn’t want to sound like a guide book, but needed to give a flavour of the city. A fine line. I have since found a book that gives a lot of information on the everyday life of a pope, but hopefully I can draw upon it to colour the sequels.
So there is going to be a sequel?
Most definitely. ‘Father of Lies’ stands alone, but there has been feedback that suggests people want more, and my characters have more to tell. I am currently writing ‘Set in Time’, which takes place in Rome and Egypt, and hope to complete the trilogy with ‘Leviathan’.
Do you think the Pope would enjoy ‘Father of Lies’?
Maybe. I’d like to think he might chuckle.
Interview with Serena Cairns
A few moments with Serena Cairns, author of Father of Lies.
I’ve known Serena now for a number of years as a member and keen supporter of the Ottery Writers’ group. She’s a prolific writer of excellent short stories and I was privileged to have worked with her when putting together and publishing the Between Stops Anthology last year. Her debut novel, Father of Lies has been a long and considered time in the making and offers a thrilling journey for a young woman of the cloth when she is pulled into a terrifying mystery that leads from a rural English church all the way to the Vatican.
With the opportunity to put some questions to Serena I couldn’t wait to delve into what makes a writer such as herself tick.
Firstly, how would you describe Father of Lies as in terms of genre?
How I hate having to fit stories into genres. They are so often hybrids, and Father of Lies is no exception. I believe ‘supernatural thriller’ would sum it up best. It begins as a sort of literary early Hammer film, but evolves into something resembling a Dan Brown conspiracy novel, though without all the chasing around.
Father of Lies is a hugely imaginative concept, what first gave you the inspiration to write it?
It began as a writing exercise, with no story in mind. I came up with a very loose plot, so I knew where the ending had to take place, but most of the twists and turns came from the ether. I kept finding things I could use, and they were as much a surprise to me as to the reader. I won’t say I was led, but it certainly felt like it at times. I’d write a section based on an article, something I’d possibly filed away years before, only to find I’d made references previously that tied in with it. I was quite near the end when I found the link that told me how I was going to reach the final chapter, and was amazed that the book had already seemed to mould itself to that resolution. My muse had obviously been working overtime whilst I’d typed on in oblivion.
I’m assuming you were an imaginative child; what were you like at school and what outlets did you use to express yourself when you were younger?
I was an only child, and used to make up stories, living incredible adventures in my head. I was also a lover of movies from a very early age. In fact I believe films and books were my chief joys. I was shy and lacked confidence – something I still struggle with today – but not in my fantasy world. In my teens, I would often regale my classmates in the lunch hour with detailed accounts of films I’d seen -– mostly x-rated material that I’d sneaked in to see. Later, I made up stories for some of the girls, featuring themselves and their latest crush, not just the romantic stuff but with loads of adventure thrown in. Some of these would be spread over break periods. I’ve always run the stories like films in my head.
Did you always write?
Not seriously. This is where the confidence issue came in. I wrote but never believed it could be a serious career move. I do have a pile of ideas filed away though, that might still see the light of day.
When did you decide to start taking your writing seriously?
Possibly in my thirties, when I worked for London Cannon Films. I came into contact with creative people and dared to dream again. Nothing gets the imagination working like being in a creative atmosphere with the right people. When writers get together, for instance, it’s as though they call into existence an invisible cloud of ideas. I also won a short story-writing course with The London School of Journalism, which was a tremendous boost to my self-belief.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment, promoting Father of Lies is taking up quite a lot of time, but I have already started its sequel, Set in Time, and am toying with ideas for the third [book] in the trilogy. There are others on the back burner, but Set in Time will have to take precedence.
Do you have any hints for us what could be coming after that?
I’ve probably answered that, but don’t expect me to stick to just one genre. I have the beginnings of a couple of crime novels and, if I live long enough, I’d like to write my own vampire novel.
How do you feel about publishing your first novel and what do you feel about writing and publishing in the current times?
There is a tremendous sense of achievement and almost disbelief – ‘Did I really write that?’ The first euphoria is quickly dowsed when the difficulty of bringing your book to the attention of the book-buying public becomes apparent. It’s a problem that all writers face and is very sobering. Valuable time is spent trying all manner of means to raise awareness, especially if finances are limited, time that should be spent on the next novel. With the surge in self-publishing, there is the difficulty of rising above a tidal wave of books, churned out, in some cases, by people barely able to string a sentence together – and don’t get me started on the subject of grammar.
Finally, do you think that the process of writing, editing and publishing Father of Lies has changed you as a writer? Will your approach be different in future?
I hope so. The process has taught me so much, both about my writing skills and the tenacity needed to get a novel ‘out there’. Writing is a constant learning process, uncovering things you didn’t know about yourself, how to convey your story in the most desirable way and even how to listen to your characters on the page. They, I feel, often know a lot more about your novel than you do.
It’s been a privilege speaking with Serena as well as interesting reading and reviewing her work. Father of Lies is available to buy in paperback and Kindle format from Amazon:
For further information about Serena and her writing:
Or follow Serena on twitter via @serenacairns
About Simon Cornish
Always a storyteller, both in words and visually, I have worked as a professional animator, scriptwriter and illustrator for most of my career. I’ve directed commercials, short films and plenty of dubious corporate miscellany. A number of my short films have been shown at festivals and I’ve produced a couple that have won awards. I have also created illustrations for industry magazines and children’s publications. Wanting to explore my writing in more depth I undertook an MA in Professional Writing at Falmouth University, graduating in 2011, and have been working on script and prose writing since.