The Wives of Halcyon: Interview with Eirinie Lapidaki

The Wives of Halcyon is the powerful debut novel about coercive control, motherhood and extraordinary women, from Northern Writers’ Award-winner Eirinie Lapidaki. We interviewed Eirinie about her inspiration and research process, the book’s themes of faith and motherhood, and the impact of winning a Northern Writers’ Award on getting published.

Carys Vickers: The Wives of Halcyon tells the story of three women controlled by their husband Elijah, who is the leader of a cult in the remote Scottish settlement of Halcyon. What drew you to write about this subject?

Eirinie Lapidaki: The idea of cults, or fringe religious communities, is a subject which holds a lot of interest for many people – myself included. The pervasive image around groups like these is often of one man at the helm, and documentaries or podcasts tend to take their focus and place it directly on this person. As an avid consumer of cult-y media, I felt the need to redirect this focus and shift attention to unheard female voices in this narrative space. That is why we see life inside the fictional settlement of Halcyon from the perspective of three women, while the leader – the patriarch who would typically be the central figure – appears only on the fringes. Mostly, I wanted to write the sort of book which I wanted to read!

CV: We first read an early version of The Wives of Halcyon when it won a Northern Writers’ Award in 2019. What impact did the award have on the book’s journey – both the evolution of the story, and the path to publication?

EL: Winning a Northern Writers’ Award has been absolutely life changing for me. Part of my prize was a Free Read from a professional reader at The Literary Consultancy, and the feedback which I received on this early draft allowed me to shape and focus my story. Writing can be an isolated experience and receiving encouragement and validation from an external source gave me the boost I needed to push on with the project. I also met my fantastic agent at a talent party which was hosted by New Writing North. As a writer from a working-class background with no literary connections, this was an opportunity which I never would have had otherwise. My advice to anyone contemplating entering the awards would be to go for it – you have nothing to lose, and so many wonderful opportunities and experiences to potentially gain!

CV: Halcyon is expertly realised, and the level of detail that goes into describing its setting and social structures makes it feel real and convincing. What kind of research did you do to help you create Halcyon and its people?

EL: Thank you! One thing which I felt very strongly throughout the research and writing process was that I wanted to make Halcyon and its people feel real. Often, portrayals of cult members lean towards ‘otherness’ (lots of robe wearing and chanting), which can distance us from the stories and characters.

I wanted to make sure that there were enough elements of familiarity and ‘normality’ in my portrayal of the community that readers could not only picture it vividly, but potentially imagine themselves there. I undertook extensive research into religious communities spanning from the Bruderhof to the People’s Temple and the Branch Davidians. I was particularly drawn to interviews with survivors of the siege on the Branch Davidians compound in Waco.

One thing which came up time and time again in my research is that very few people in what we would consider cult groups view themselves that way until it’s too late (if they ever do), and this is something which I worked very hard to capture in my novel, and which I believe contributes to its realism.

CV: In Halcyon, parents live separately from their children and cannot acknowledge them as their own. Consequently, motherhood is a driving force behind Aoife, Ruth and Deborah’s growing disillusionment, bringing them together despite the division that has been sown between them. Why did you choose to focus the story through this lens?

EL: Motherhood really grew into the novel as a theme over time. During a major redrafting period I became pregnant and my daughter was born, and I began working on edits with my agent when my daughter was about six months old. The shift in perspective which came to me with motherhood gave me a new lens through which to view Aoife, Ruth, and Deborah and their relationships (or lack thereof) with their children. I was adding scenes about separation between mothers and children while the very raw, hormonal and emotional experience of having a brand new baby was still fresh in my mind, and I think this proximity allowed me to delve more easily into my characters’ experience of motherhood.

CV: The foundation of life in Halcyon is faith – but this faith, placed in a cruel and coercive person, crumbles, revealing an incredibly complex web of truth and untruth, goodness and cruelty, that the characters are left to untangle. Tell us more about how you used this story to explore questions about faith.

EL: Faith – the placing of complete trust in something outside of ourselves – is such a big part of being human. But by definition, faith (in a person, or a group or organisation) leaves the faithful vulnerable if the object of their faith proves unworthy of that trust. In The Wives of Halcyon the characters’ religious faith is intertwined with their faith in an individual, and as is often the way in real life, this is where the danger arises. Growing up I saw first hand the power of religious community as a force of good in people’s lives, but also elements of religion where people placed their faith above their own needs or health. I hope this story encourages readers to consider the breadth of faith, which like many very human traits is neither inherently good or bad, but is something infinitely more complicated.

CV: Finally, what do you hope that readers will take away from the book?

EL: That we are much stronger united than we are divided!


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The Wives of Halcyon is published on 15 May 2024 with Legend Press. Win a copy, alongside Hera, the upcoming new novel from bestselling author Jennifer Saint!

For the chance to win one of three bundles, tell us what you’re reading on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook using the hashtag #NorthernBookshelf. Winners will be drawn on 12 April 2024.