Throughout human history, stories have been used as a medium to inspire change, shape discourse, and turn hearts. Olga Gibbs is an author who understands this power fully, and it’s manifested into her brilliant Celestial Creatures series. I asked her a few questions to pick apart the deeper elements of her story. Have a read below, but before that, here’s the purchase link:
Judging from the reviews of Heavenward, everyone loves Ariel. She’s very real and relatable. I’d say in some respects she’s an archetypal protagonist, from the point of view that she’s got this amazing power within her, and is in the centre of a romance. But then on the other hand, her absolute weakest moments are depicted in great detail, and strongly influence her and the story as a whole – which is most strongly seen in Ch 2 of Hallow. I wonder, how type of character are you looking to create with Ariel?
Before we go any further, I’d like to correct you and say that not “everyone” loves Ariel. In fact word “annoying” was used and her actions and reactions were questioned by some reviewers, and some irritations were voiced. So I wouldn’t go as far as saying that she loved by everyone. She’s not. And on some weird level, I am pleased about that; I am pleased that not everyone likes her. I wanted to make her real: with flaws and stupid ideas, over-reacting and diabolical sometimes, broken, yet loving and still forgiving. I think the one thing that all “real” characters have in common it is their own, unique imperfections.
And I think forgiveness is important element of survival and recovery – forgiveness of yourself. It’s the hardest thing to do – forgive and accept yourself. I think hate and self-loathing will eat you up and will kill you before anyone else does.
When I’ve developed Ariel’s character, it wasn’t a clinical process of ticking the boxes. In fact I wasn’t sure what type of character she’ll become. All that I knew at the time is the simple fact that I wanted to give an abused girl a power. That’s it.
Speaking of Ariel’s power, it’s the essence she’s got inside of her. If you were to wake up tomorrow with somebody else’s essence inside, who would most want inside of you, and who would you least want?
I know the logical thing to want or ask for is something Godly, world-changing power. But taking a step back and moment to think, I wouldn’t want to have the world-changing power of any kind. I think ultimate, absolute power changes people, turns them into someone, something else, something more sinister. And as much as I would understand that transition, I wouldn’t want that for myself.
This question had stumbled me a bit. I never thought of it, nor am I a person of “wishful thinking”. I’m quite rational and practical. I don’t remember thinking “I wish I had his power or his money”. Of course some things are nice and it’s nice to have some things that can make life easier, but it is what it is – life is what is given to you and what you’re making of it, and I don’t know what I would’ve taken or wanted.
Genre wise, Heavenward and Hallow are ‘dark fantasy’. But there’s so much reality here; mental health, abuse, abuse in the name of religion, social class etc. are all themes throughout, but they’re very real problems. And that convinces me that you’re wanting to achieve not just a compelling story, but a narrative of these important issues. Hopefully this isn’t too personal to ask; what are you trying to achieve with your books?
Every time you and me are having a conversation about my books, I’m left stunned and speechless at your analysis of my characters and at the deep of your perception of my stories, at your ability to “read between the lines” and to “see through it”. And this question is one of those.
A lot of folktales, fairytales or myths originally had social messages behind them, which are now lost or forgotten. They were created to encourage or support people against daily struggle, oppression; they were a compass of morale for new generations, explanations of “right” and “wrong”. And the current literature is not much different, I think: we still want for “bad” to be punished and “good” to prosper, we want our heroes to do “the right thing”.
You’re right, for me my story was more than a story of a girl. Let me rephrase: it wasn’t just a story of a broken girl. Ariel doesn’t live a vacuum and neither do we. Our everyday lives are affected by the world around us, by society, laws, and my decision to bring Ariel back home, only followed that I should’ve shown her life, her home, her challenges. I needed to show the world she lives in, I needed to show her character in more depth.
I do have a passion for social issues, for social justice. I don’t believe that a postcode should dictate the quality of one’s education; I don’t believe that birth right should tell (allow or block) who you are and what you’ll become. I am a great believer in education, in power of education; and not just an academia of it but the power of knowledge.
The social issues are important to me and I guess, with this books I showed some of the social issues I am aware of (and I bet not only me), I wanted readers to notice, acknowledge them too, yet to decide for themselves what they would make of them.
As I said, I believe in power of knowledge and what it might bring if you only ask a question. A lot of status-quos were changed with a few simple questions: “Why?” and “Why not?”
The story you’ve set up is quite complex. I don’t mean that in sense of the overt plot, but in terms of all of the moving pieces; you’ve got Ariel, this sprawling celestial world, the interactions between the two worlds, and finally, Ariel’s schizophrenia. Yet, it’s all very balanced, and meshes together extremely well. How did you manage all of this and synthesise it into a coherent whole?
First of all – THANK YOU! The fact that you can see it all, appreciate the complexity yet seamless execution of it, of all my worlds, means that I’ve done my work of planning and writing it all out well.
Your comment made me smile and has filled me with pride at my creativity and the work I’ve done – thank you.
It was tricky to execute – I’m not going to lie. During and before writing, I had created a list of every character in the story with traits, descriptions, connections between each other, their powers etc; list of every world and place I’ve created.
I am visual learner, so I had to even draw maps of different worlds (celestial & earthly) and using my child’s cut-outs from “Charlie & Lola” board game, I was tracking my characters movements, their interactions with other characters. While plotting, I had my sheets, notes, scribbles and cut-outs spread around my living room for days. I banned everyone from touching any of it. It was an “organised mess”. I remember my kids used to tippy toe across the room like through mine field, to come sit on a last, small, free square of the sofa.
But as clearer and more detailed became the plan, the mess began to fold as well. But not completely – I only moved from expropriating the entire living room, to only surface of dining room table.
The good guys are Angels, and the bad guys are Angels too. I know you’re inspired by Judeo-Christian eschatology, which (I’m no expert here) has a lot of narrative around the devil, demons etc. Do you intend to expand the mythos to include these?
The Devil and demons are already in my story. They are there, only I called them different names. I called demons – angels.
The premise on which I based my story is that “demons”, or creatures living in “Hell”, are fallen angel – angels, nonetheless. They are the same creatures as the creatures of “Heaven”.
When people do despicable things, they don’t grow a tail or horns. Some monsters, walking Earth now, are impossible to spot, to see among people. They don’t have symbols to tell us how monstrous they are or what horrible things they’ve done. So I thought it would only be logical if my “angels” and “demons” will look the same, identical: pretty angelic faces and wings.
Just like humans, angels in my story are not “Heavenly creatures”. They’re just another set of creatures from another world, but ultimately, like people, they have bad and good among them, scheming and honest, and their morality drives their alliances and as a result, the place of their residence. Like people, my angels, gravitate towards ones, who’d match a set of their values, just as you’d look for friends from like-minded people.
But coming back to your question, demons and the Devil are already there.
Speaking of your influences, you also mentioned your interest in the Sumerian religion, which I hadn’t heard of before. I had a great time reading up on it, and I really appreciate the depth that it adds to Heavenward and Hallow. My brief Wikipedia spelunking informed me that An is a male, whereas An is female in Heavenward and Hallow. You’re too intelligent for that to have been unintentional…
Thank you for the compliment!
Yes, it was intentional. Once I’ve decided what story Ariel will have, and once I’ve decided on angels, I made a decision to make my original world creator a female – against all recordings and religious calls and beliefs. That was just another decision that sounded logical to me.
“Mother Earth”, “giving birth”, “creating life” – all these phrases are associated with females, a mother-figure, and for me it was only logical that the entity that had created universe (that if we are to believe in one) is a female.
Besides, the actions that I have attributed to her, the sacrifices that she made for her children (Mik’hael and humanity), forgiveness, wisdom, with which one would watch irrational shenanigans of children – they are very “mother-like” traits to me.
But, ultimately, like with everything in my books, I wanted to put a thought out there. Remember what I said earlier about the power of knowledge? I think it begins with curiosity, with a “what if?” question. Hopefully my books will encourage people to look into topics and themes I’ve raised, think on them, and I hope that their curiosity will take readers further, leading them deeper into a research and will result in their own conclusions.
So, there’s those lizard creatures disguised as humans all over the planet, in many positions of power. Firstly, is that a metaphor for the ill-intent of many people of power? And secondly, is it a reference to that Reptilian Elite conspiracy theory?
I don’t want to answer this question – not because I don’t know the answer, or I never thought of it, or placed these creatures there randomly, but because I want readers to decide for themselves. So many issues were raised in my books, so many you’ve seen and commented on, but above all I wanted readers to have a personal relationship with my books. I want readers to feel what they will feel. I wanted to ask a question, place a suggestion, maybe suspicion into readers’ minds, but I wanted them to find answers for themselves. I want them to find answer that would suit them, which would ring true to them.
I love and applaud free thinking in everyone. I encourage it in my children. Hopefully these books made readers think, maybe even interest someone enough to encourage delve deeper into subjects, research further and then decide for themselves.
Towards the end, Hallow talks about ‘planes of existence’. I absolutely love that phrase, it excites me greatly. I wonder, what do you have in mind when using this phrase? Does it refer to the human plane, celestial plane, and other planes? Or is it more existential than that, instead referring to alternative realities, parallel universes, or the realm of pure consciousness?
Another question where I want a reader to interpret the phrase the way it would make sense to them. But as a hint of my thinking, I wasn’t thinking merely in terms of Earth, Arllu (Hell) & Uras. We have established (for story purpose) that these are real and exist like say London, Bristol or Birmingham. I was thinking wider, deeper, in more philosophical and existential terms. But again, I want readers to decide how they will read it and what Rafe (a thousand years old angel) was talking about.