Shaun Ivory is an author who lives near the North York Moors, which is where his novel The Judas Cup is set. Contrary Life finds out more about the book and Shaun himself…
Q. The Judas Cup is a supernatural thriller. Tell us about it…
A. At its most fundamental, it is good versus evil, with the protagonists young and perhaps idealistic but with a great awareness of right and wrong. The notorious 30 pieces of silver given to Judas has (in my book) come down the centuries as a variety of worked objects but finally fashioned into a cup or chalice and used in satanic practices by various groups and people for evil ends. With time it becomes the very symbol of evil and after some 1500 years, the Vatican gains possession of it, locking it safely away in their vaults.But during Napoleon’s conquest of Europe it was sent by him to Paris, with so many more of the continent’s art and treasures. With his downfall countries demanded all this back but unfortunately it wasn’t entirely successful; the Judas Cup was one of the artefacts that went missing en route.
This is where the story begins: a media magnate is also a Satanist and has discovered the general whereabouts of the cup. He wants it, desperately needs it, not only for its latent power and what it represents but also to seal a deal with the Vatican involving his own media empire, thus assisting a high-up cardinal to the pontiff’s throne in the next enclave (there’s a very big surprise here). So he has been blackmailing a rogue priest into searching church archives to pinpoint its source, which he does, discovering it is somewhere in a church in a Yorkshire valley that is soon to be flooded for a new reservoir. So, a race against time. As a consequence, the priest invokes a satanic spirit form to help him further. Unfortunately, two surveyors working with their new laser equipment on the reservoir at that precise moment inadvertently break open an age-old seal to a burial chamber in which an Iron Age chieftain and his giant guard dog have lain for several millennia. Cromleac, the spirit of the hellhound, is activated and is drawn instead to the priest’s conjuration, appearing in front of him in the church. It escapes, unleashing a reign of terror that results in people dying, at first mysteriously.
With the local police confused and reluctant to accept the truth it takes a young journalist, Jake Ransome, to pick up the scent. He meets the beautiful but enigmatic Caroyln Draycott, ward and niece of the media magnate. Her mysterious chronic illness is created by her uncle as he uses her to be his astral portal to the nether world. Jake suspects, then proves, what is happening to her and together they turn and fight against the tide of evil that threatens. In this they are helped by a local historian before she too is murdered in the most horrible fashion. A Polish physicist who specialises in sound offers them a solution and then all characters converge to a thrilling climax. There are several frightening scenes of spirit invocation, deaths by violence, arson, sex, chases and a thrilling finish … but all done in the best possible taste! It is all meticulously researched and as true as I can make it.
Q. The book is set in the North York Moors, near where you live. I imagine it’s a great place for inspiration?
A. It is indeed, as 19th century literature will testify, and a great place for introspection when the mood is on one. It all depends on the weather, of course, as with just about everything else in this part of the world. Certainly not a landscape to find yourself in at night, when the moonlight is intermittent and the wind rises. At such times the mind can play just about every trick in the book, even to believing in such creatures as the Barguest, which looms large in The Judas Cup. The hellhound is a much documented feature in this neck of the moorland. As much a perceived reality as myth and legend, it is the ultimate bete noir, the black beast that seemingly dwells in all of us and – who knows? – needs to be externalised before it can be exorcised from time to time. It is deep in the Celtic soul… that terrible dark cloud that can descend on one’s consciousness for no apparent reason. What I tend to call my “Celtic glooms”. But if I look in the mirror and it’s no longer there than I can once more get on with my life… until next time!
Q. Are you hoping the The Judas Cup will get some of the success that books such as The Da Vinci Code have had?
A. I could say “I wish!” but that would be untrue. If I was a lot younger, then sure, why not? Fame is good, whenever it’s provenance, certainly more so than Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” mantra. The irony for me is that my book was actually written before Mr Brown’s but presumably didn’t have the wherewithal to grab an agent’s interest. Or perhaps the public was not quite ready; reading patterns and interests have always been cyclical. One could say his success helped me. So good luck to him. I just wish he would research his material more thoroughly; his ideas and storylines are spot on but he should be advised about the old adage: the devil is in the detail. He can – and can certainly afford to! – hire the best people there. I am the opposite, spending too much time perhaps researching and then having to leave 95% out when I get down to the writing. But without that solid base to build/write on it’s difficult to proceed with complete confidence. The research on satanic rituals was scary in the extreme and left me with a deep fear, if not respect, of these evil practitioners. They are out there and very real. Also witness the section re the Vatican and its problems with the Italian government. That and the timely (for me) coincidence of the Church’s trauma worldwide means that for a writer luck can play a very big part in a book’s success.
Q. You’ve tried your hand at various things, from barman to instrument technician. Is there anything else you’d like to try your hand at?
A. Sure, my philosophy has always been to keep accelerating until I hit that heavenly brick wall! Even more so now, in my eighth decade. I’d like to sell some – well, even one! – of my paintings; ride on one of those old Wild West stagecoaches across Monument Valley and…. rollerblade. You see, when we were kids back in Ireland nobody could afford to have a complete pair of roller skates – you had to tip one up to your brother or worse, your sister! So I never really got to master skating. No matter, I got through life learning to live with that gaping hole in my CV until 1992 when I retired and went to visit New York for the first time, staying at the Days Inn on 57th Street. Walking across the street one morning to the diner for breakfast I passed a nearby apartment building. The doorman was resplendent in maroon coat and hat with all the gold trimmings and as I drew near he turned, saluted and opened the door. Out shot a lovely young woman in a business power suit, carrying a briefcase… and wearing rollerblades! Away she zoomed down the road like a thoroughbred out of the gate at Hialeah (that’s a racetrack there). She looked so cool before that word was even fashionable and I just hope she rose to the top of her profession as swiftly. But I really would like to do that. Too late now, I’m afraid, what with my knees, the potholes and the ‘elf ‘n’ safety’ jobsworths lurking everywhere. I’d be restrained – for my own good of course. But to me, humans seem to demonstrate their ultimate mastery of grace and form when skating on wheels or ice.
Q. Are you planning to write more thrillers or will you be writing something completely different next?
A. Well, that was actually my second thriller. My first, Chainshot, was a long time ago and eclipsed by one with the same storyline… The Hunt for Red October! Who could compete with that?! But I have recently completed a young adults’ thriller set in the Ireland of 1943. A rites-of-passage thing, with lots of action – threatened by a butcher in an abbatoir, trapped in a coffin, confined in a blazing warehouse full of exploding jars of human body parts, a seance, on the set of the film of Henry V, etc and so forth. But it’s a difficult genre and also in the first person plus I am a bit far from the hub (Ireland) in publishing and agent terms. I might have to do it all myself and hawk it round Ireland’s bookshops. More experience for the old CV!
I’m currently researching and writing a draft of how the west was lost (did you know it was officially “closed” by Washington in 1890?) One immigrant’s life and passage through it, from the Civil War right up to early Hollywood and the silent movies. After that it’s a new take on the Dracula story, which I occasionally lecture on up here – mainly to ladies’ church groups…. there’s Freudian! And then…? I guess it’ll be a case of “Waiting for God-oh!”