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Interview Jeanette O’Hagan

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Today we have with us Jeanette O’Hagan to tell us about her Under the Mountain series – there are already three published (Heart of the Mountain, Blood Crystal, and Stone of the Sea) & two more soon to be published (Shadow Crystals and Caverns of the Deep.)

Can you describe your world or setting?

The Under the Mountain world is set in a mining realm deep beneath the mountain. It is also part of a larger world, Nardva, and some of the novellas explore the surrounding outside world as well – The Great Forest, Tamra and the Lonely Isles.

How did you build this concept, what research did you do?

I started with the idea of a realm of miners cut off from the world for over two hundred years and imagined what that society might be like, how would they be organized and led, how would they live, what would they eat, what terminology would they use, what would they look like, how would the outside world appear to them once contact was reestablished.

My initial research depended my own experiences of the underground – primarily cave systems I’d visited, and in particular an underground tour of Mt Isa Mines, plus stories of people who had worked underground, including my brother and father. I also drew on other fictional stories for inspiration, including The Hobbit, Francis Hardinge’s A Face Like Glass, and De Prau’s City of Ember, perhaps even Lewis’ Silver Chair – though the Glittering Realms is not a exact replica of any of these settings.  I did additional research on a ‘as need to’ basis – how deep mines went or what can live or grow underground etc.

Why did you choose this setting?

I was writing a short story for an anthology on the theme Glimpses of Light and an underground situation seemed a good setting. I like to set most of my fiction to Nardva – and a splinter of back story for one of my characters (a shapeshifter) had him visiting an underground realm that had closed itself off the outside.  So I decided to tell that story.

What’s unique about your world?

It’s a working mine (past it’s glory days), powered by crystal technology (the Crystal Heart). The toolwuns are organized primarily around work roles – living in cribs with their crews, a creche for youngwuns, and the ‘day’ is divided into three shifts – and they are ruled by the Overseer. After rebelling against their overlords two hundred years ago, the community descends into superstitious beliefs and practices. Meanwhile, the Crystal Heart which powers the light and ventilation is beginning to fail.

How do you explain the science or magic in your world?

The science isn’t that different from earth science. Nardva has two moons, but it is otherwise not that different from earth except for the presence of magic. Certain people are gifted, and giftedness is inherited and can be enhanced. The people under the mountain are not magic users, though the rocksingers (who detect seams of minerals) have a remnant of one of the gifts, and at the beginning of the story (in Heart of the Mountain), a shapeshifter is trapped in their realm and becomes a catalyst of change.

What was the most surprising thing you found out while researching/writing your latest book?

I’m currently writing books 3 and 4 of a 5 novella series – and have researched the causes of potato blight, the endurance and carrying ability of pack animals, starvation diets, glow worms, and other exciting things. Nothing particularly surprising that I can remember.

How do you handle the food in your world?

Food in the Glittering Realms is limited to what is available underground (as they no longer trade with the outside, at least at the start of the series). So, they have underground farms which uses the glimmer lights and includes potatoes, algae and mushrooms. They also catch and eat underground creatures – cave-crays, snails, bats, small birds in the upper cave systems, birdnests, treeroots and fish (which is a luxury). Toolwuns tend to have the more basic food, while the Overseer and other highwuns have access a greater range of foods. As the story progresses, the availability of food becomes an increasing problem.

Food for the groups outside have more variety though what is eaten depends on the region – Forest versus high mountain cultivation or the islands and coastal groups. There is some trade between these groups.

Do you have a recipe that you could share, maybe one that our readers could try, based on the food in your world?

Snail soup anyone? Or maybe algae cakes with thin mushroom gruel? (The nearby Tamrin have a much more interesting diet though I haven’t developed any recipes yet.)

That’s ok, I think our readers can skip those recipes 😉

What was the most mundane item that you used that really has cool tech or magic behind it?

Do lights count as ‘mundane’? The lights in the Glittering Realms are powered by the Crystal Heart – large crystals that amplify energy, in particular geothermal heat, and converts it to light and heat and movement (powers the ventilation fans and the glimmer trucks and lifts), in part by magical means.

What did you include that you wish was real today?

The shapeshifters or Forest Folk. They would be a lot of fun to meet, though scary at times, and even more fun to be one.

Anything else you would like to share with our readers?

The third novella Stone of the Sea came out in October. We see a lot more of the surrounding realms in novella 3 & 4, but the big finale in novella 5 will be back where we started, deep in the caverns in the Glittering Realms.

Also, Akrad’s Children (first novel in the Akrad’s Legacy series) is set in Tamra (which gets a cameo appearance in Stone of the Sea) some centuries later.

And finally, Shadows of the Deep (in Tales From the Underground, Inklings Press) is a prequel tale to the Under the Mountain series.