An Interview with Philip Womack
Philip Womack is the author of four critically acclaimed novels for children whose most recent book, The Double Axe, is a reworking of the myth of the Minotaur for young readers, which revives the Greek myth for a new generation. Having harboured a life-long passion for Classics, Philip now teaches Latin and Greek, as well as writing about books for a variety of publications. He lives in London with his wife, the architect Tatiana von Preussen, their son, and their lurcher.
Q. What led you into writing?
A. Bloody-mindedness… Seriously, I always wanted to be a writer. I remember, from a very early age, wanting to write stories. I think it stemmed from wanting to create the same kind of magic that entranced me as a child.
Q. What was your earliest career aspiration?
A. See above! Although my earliest ambition was to be a diplomat – I liked the idea of being charming in foreign countries.
Q. Can you describe your latest book The Double Axe and its inspiration in thirty words?
A. It’s a re-imagining of the myths around the Minotaur. Greek myth fascinated me from a very early age, so I think ultimately it’s the result of all that reading.
Q. What is your favourite Greek myth?
A. I think Perseus and Andromeda as it’s so perfect.
Q. What do you think contemporary readers can learn from the Greek myths?
A. There’s room for a whole essay here: but succinctly, I don’t think it’s really so much about learning as about understanding what makes a society and a culture. If you read Greek myth, you understand what has stood at the cornerstone of literature for centuries, and how people think about the world they live in.
Q.How has reading and studying classical mythology influenced your writing and your life?
A.Enormously. I would be a very different kind of writer without it. It puts things into perspective, certainly; you realise that however hard you try, you can’t really escape myth.
Q.What does the story of the Minotaur mean to you?
A. The figure of the craftsman Daedalus is a fascinating one – here was a master of technology at the beginning of time. The labyrinth is of course also a wonderful metaphor for all sorts of things – the mind, the creative brain, life itself – and the monster at the heart of it that must be overcome. The fact that it has spawned so many versions is testament to its enduring power.
Q. Do you have any plans for your next book?
A. Yes, a follow up which will look at the myths of Daedalus, Icarus, Ariadne, Bacchus and Theseus.
Q. What has been the most exciting moment in your career?
A. I think writing is a career guaranteed to avoid excitement… But I suppose nothing can really top the moment when I first signed a book deal with Bloomsbury for The Other Book. I carried the letter around with me everywhere.
The Double Axe
Dark forces are at work in the House of the Double Axe. Stephan, the thirteen-year-old son of King Minos of Crete, stumbles across a terrifying conspiracy. Is the Minotaur, a half man half bull who eats human flesh, real? Or is something even more dangerous threatening to engulf both the palace and the world? Stephan must race to save his family from a terrible fate and find out what really lurks inside the labyrinth…
The Double Axe is the first instalment in Philip Womack’s Blood and Fire series, which reimagines classical myths from the point of view of teenage protagonists.
Q. What are you reading right now?
A. I usually read about four or five books at a time. I’ve just finished reviewing Ruta Sepetys’ Salt for the Sea for The Guardian. I’m wading my way through Robert Tombs’ magnificent The English and their History, and I’m on a George Eliot binge – having delighted in Middlemarch, I’m now about half way through The Mill on the Floss. It’s not looking good. I’m also re-reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses for a talk.
Q. If you could have dinner with any three people, past or present, who would they be?
A. That’s a very difficult question… I think Ovid, William Shakespeare, and Alexander the Great.
Q. Which period in history would you most like to have lived through?
A. Again, too difficult… If I had to choose I would have liked to have been 15 years old when Queen Elizabeth came to the throne, and been a young courtier.
Q. If your house was on fire, which three books would you save from the flames?
A. My folio Ovid Metamorphoses; my tattered Penguin copy of Philip Sidney’s Arcadia; and my first edition of Iris Murdoch’s The Flight from the Enchanter.
What do you do to relax?
A. I don’t relax… I suppose playing the piano has a relaxant effect. Also walking the dog – I have a beautiful lurcher, and I love watching her run.