Saturday, February 6, 2016

A Conversation with Mark Tompkins about his NEW book THE LAST DAYS OF MAGIC

On sale: march 1, 2016
Published by Viking
ISBN: 9780525429531

Blending together Celtic mythology, biblical lore, and 14th-century history, THE LAST DAYS OF MAGIC, it’s a richly imagined world that’s perfect for readers of both fantasy and historical fiction.  Spanning from the green forests and villages of Ireland to the lavish courts of France and England and to the Vatican’s inner chambers, it takes readers back to medieval Europe when Ireland was rich with magic and mysticism.

Medieval Ireland is the last magical outpost on Earth still remaining strong against the Vatican’s ever-expanding influence. But when an ancient treaty between the Celts and faeries is broken leaving them vulnerable to the machinations of the power-hungry Roman Church, the very existence of magic is threatened as is Ireland itself.
In 14th century Ireland, the reincarnated Morrígna twins are goddesses in human form and the chosen rulers charged with keeping the uneasy peace between the human Celts and Ireland’s faeries, the Sidhe. When one twin is assassinated in an act of defiance by a sect of tree faeries, the second twin, Aisling, is left weakened and alone in ruling both the earthly realm of Ireland and the Sidhe’s Middle Kingdom.
The Vatican, meanwhile, is plotting the eradication of all magic from Europe and sees this as an opportunity to strike. They enlist Jordan, a Vatican commander, for the invasion but he’s plagued with doubts of his own. With budding magical abilities and a growing attachment to the enchantress Najia, he’s torn between desire and duty. As the Celts, Sidhe, and Vatican forces prepare for the battle ahead, Jordan must decide who he stands with—a decision that will have repercussions in the magical world centuries later.
Spanning from the green forests and villages of Ireland to the lavish courts of France and England and to the Vatican’s inner chambers, THE LAST DAYS OF MAGIC effortlessly blends historical, fictional, and mythical events to create a richly imagined world and a mesmerizing story of adventure and enchantment.
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A Conversation with Mark Tompkins

Q: In addition to biblical lore and Irish mythology, THE LAST DAYS OF MAGIC also incorporates 14th century history into the storyline. What was your research process like and were there any surprising discoveries that you made along the way?

A: My research process in writing this novel could best be described as overly extensive – because research is my preferred excuse for not actually writing! I believe the best research is done onsite, to get a true feel of a place and allow for serendipitous happenings. It would have been hard for me to write about what it is like to blindly run through a narrow gap between giant bonfires had I not actually done it. Or to have described the feeling of laying a hand atop the Lia Fáil on the Hill of Tara without having touched the stone with my own hand. Conversations with local historians, visits to museums, chance meetings with raconteurs – all of these encounters provided a wealth of information that I otherwise would never have stumbled upon. For example, I had not heard of the wells of Tara before going there, or of St. Patrick’s bell before visiting Armagh.

For the rest of the research, I still prefer paper books over the internet. My bookshelves are crammed with so many tomes on exorcism, witchcraft, and demonology that a friend once quipped that he expected to arrive one day and find a crater shrouded in green smoke where my house used to be.

The most surprising discovery for me was how little is actually known about the 14th century. Records were often written on just a single piece of parchment, and when that was destroyed, lost, or hidden, a portion of history vanished. The few surviving records provide pinpricks of vivid detail with big gaps between them – wonderful spaces for alternative history authors like me to work within.

Another surprise was that the Irish culture was in many ways more advanced before the English invaded, as the Irish Brehon laws frequently emphasized equality and fairness over birthright. It was certainly a very strong culture. Ireland simply absorbed may “invaders,” and they became níos Gaelaí ná na Gaeil iad féin — more Irish than the Irish themselves.

Q: Without giving too much away, is there anything in the book that readers might be surprised to learn actually happened in history?

A: Serena, my wife, reads novels with her iPad handy so she can check what is true. In THE LAST DAYS OF MAGIC, there are a lot of Easter eggs for second screen aficionados like her. There aren’t many I can talk about without spoilers, but to mention a few:

You might be surprised to discover that St. Patrick created a bell know as the Bell of the Blood, which has reputed dangerous magical powers. You can even see it today in the library of Armagh, Northern Ireland. This, of course, makes him a sorcerer.

Then there is Geoffrey Chaucer, who, in addition to writing The Canterbury Tales, engaged in clandestine activities for his king, invented Valentine's Day, and wrote of magic, a dangerous practice in those days. And did you know that the obelisk the Vatican chose to place in the middle of St. Peter's Square during the Renaissance was brought to Rome by Caligula, possibly the most depraved of the Roman emperors? I was surprised to learn how many queens and others in the French and English courts were accused and sometimes convicted of witchcraft. In fact, all of the witches mentioned in the novel, except one, have a historical basis.

Of course, when speaking of events six hundred years ago, and eras prior to that, the distinction between history and myth is often elusive. Each of the ancient books of magic that appear in the novel has its own history and advocates on authenticity. These include: The Sworn Book of Honorius, later used by John Dee, magician to Queen Elizabeth I; the Book of Raziel, used by the twelfth century Jewish mystics Chassidei Ashkenaz; the Testament of Solomon, the biblical King of Israel; and a body of work on magic by Moses, possibly referred to in Jude 9 (ESV).

When it comes to surprising biblical lore, I am fascinated by the accounts that Adam originally had two wives in the Garden of Eden, his first being Lilith. Although she has disappeared from many modern Bibles, she can still be seen in the relief depicting the Garden on the front of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris (carved in 1225). She also appears in many ancient documents, including the Latin translation of the Christian Bible begun in 382 by St. Jerome (called the Vulgate, the version commonly used).

Q: What sparked your interest in Irish folklore and mythology?

A: Years ago, while looking for an obscure graveyard, I became hopelessly lost on the back roads of County Clare, Ireland, and stumbled upon a small castle. Inside, framed on the wall, was the legend of Red Mary. She was such an interesting and strong character that whenever I thought of starting a novel, she would appear in my mind and demand to be in it. I can’t go into her legend without giving away too much of the plot; however, for my book I realized something more than her land and title had to be at stake.

Camped in a Paris café working on an outline, the solution came to me: all of Irish magic had to hang in the balance! This meant faeries – big, powerful, old-school fairies, not the Disney ones. So I dove into Irish mythology to discover where the faeries came from, what their powers are, their motivations, and so forth. It’s a fascinating field. Red Mary ended up inspiring one of the novel’s main magical characters: Aisling, the broken goddess.

Q: You include biblical lore and Vatican history extensively in THE LAST DAYS OF MAGIC. Has religion played a large role in your own life or were there other reasons you wanted to explore this topic in your book?

The year I was born, Pope John XXIII knighted my grandfather. I vividly remember him showing me, when I was young, the sword he received along with a document stating that all of his sins, and those of his family, past and future, were forgiven. It struck me as strange that someone who had never even meet me could forgive my sins. I was later to learn that in medieval times, popes regularly sold such indulgences. Interestingly, the new Pope Francis made John XXIII a saint because of his ability to preform miracles of healing. This means that my mother’s Irish American father was made a knight of the Roman Church by a Pope who could work enchantments.

My family history may have sparked my later interest in religion, culminating in my editing a book on faith in 2006 entitled Illuminations: Expressions of the Personal Spiritual Experience. While researching and studying theology, I was struck that most religions seemed to have a mystical faction that dealt with what was essentially magic, as well as witches, sorcery, and demons. Did you know that in the King James Version of the bible witches and sorcerers and the like are mentioned by name forty-three times? That enchantments and witchcraft are mentioned twenty times? This was not what I had learned at Sunday school as a boy.

Q: The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls comes into play early on in the novel, and in a historical note at the start of the book, you write: “the scrolls were repressed for decades following their rediscovery, and it is possible that some finds are still kept secret.” Why do you think the contents of the scrolls were kept a secret for so long and possibly even still today?

A: The Vatican’s history of suppressing various biblical related texts is well documented. Suppression of knowledge is a significant theme in the novel and the scrolls are briefly mentioned as an example of that.

As to why the scrolls were repressed, I do not believe that that question has ever been satisfactorily addressed by the Roman Church. The obvious answer is that they contained something the Church did not want to become public knowledge. But that just leads to another question: what? Certainly the released scrolls do not seem to contain anything worth the trouble the Vatican took. So if there are still hidden scrolls, it’s interesting to imagine what may be on them.

Q: Did you interview any pagans during your research?

A: While researching the novel in Ireland, I made arrangements to meet with a number of covens and pagan groups in Ireland. Today it seems that most witches prefer to meet in pubs, rather than cold, dark woods. I had fun hanging out with them over pints of stout, and they were generous in sharing their beliefs and stories.

When I learned that one group would be conducting a midnight full moon ritual on top of the Hill of Tara, I jumped at the chance for a bit of field experience and wrangled an invitation. However, it seems that modern pagans are not particularly punctual. Midnight came and went, and I was still alone, standing in the thigh-deep, soupy fog of a B-horror flick. My overactive imagination quickly suggested that I had been lured there as a snack for their pet demon. So I sank down onto the ground – the fog at eye level – and waited for something to happen. An hour later, when the pagans finally arrived, I rose up suddenly and gave them a fright of their own.

Q: Were there other fantasy series that inspired this novel? How do you think THE LAST DAYS OF MAGIC differs in its treatment of the genre from other books?

A: Every since I was a boy, I’ve been deeply curious about the magical and the mystical. Why do so many stories about magic seem to be set in the past? Why has magic faded? How many, if any, magical creatures still populate our world? These questions addressed in a fierce and magical world immersed in Celtic mythology and biblical lore make THE LAST DAYS OF MAGIC distinctive.

My inspiration came from many sources: fantasy books, of course, but also from historical fiction and other types of literature. Authors from Neil Giaman to Salman Rushdie, Lev Grossman to Geraldine Brooks, Karen Joy Fowler to Deborah Harkness, George R. R. Martin, Ken Follett, and Hannah Tinti, just to name a few. There was no single book, no single series; THE LAST DAYS OF MAGIC was inspired by all the books I have ever read and loved.


  1. Hi Angie,
    Thank you for the kind words! They are oxygen to me as I wait for the released (March 1st) of my debut novel.
    Mark Tompkins

    1. I am glad that I could help in promoting your book. Best of luck!