The Portrait of Alatiel Salazar is my first book, so I can only speak about this volume at present. There’s a favourite section of mine in the novella, a twist in the storytelling style that alters the tone of the ‘narrator’. Helena Graham, whose journal is quoted in the first five chapters, changes from a compassionate and sensitive young woman into someone who delights in wickedness; under the influence of the malicious Alatiel, Helena’s natural kindness is replaced by a gleeful cruelty. She is ‘possessed’ by Alatiel and, though the two share same mind, it is Alatiel alone who now writes the journal entries. Curiously, the shift from ‘I’ to ‘We’ suggests that, somehow, Helena is complicit in Alatiel’s crimes – the excerpt below refers to the fate of the poet Callum Flynn:
‘A few weeks after we left him, a drinking partner of his found the Irishman’s body after breaking into his house, having been concerned for Flynn’s welfare. The fragments of poetry lying upon his writing desk were testament to a style that had become an obsession, one which harkened back to his Waterford childhood or perhaps the ancestral memories of his people. All of them related how the Leanan Sidhe, Mistress of Death, fired his vision and promised him riches, fame, the glory of the world. There had been, however, a terrible price to pay for her favours—the life had drained out of Callum Flynn. His pitiful corpse bore the ravages of starvation and violence, the hands with which he had scrawled his poems were stripped of all flesh. In truth, we tired of reading his words—though they were instructive—and the tedium of waiting for him to die of hunger. He tried our patience with his lingering, and so, we tore him apart.’
At least a couple of the characters are pyschologically flawed people, well-meaning but ripe for corruption by the Salazars, Cristian and his cousin Beatriz; Gabriel Holland and Marcus Allen are not your everyday heroes, even though they seek to end the Salazar reign of terror. I quite like them but they’re not without their faults. Perhaps my favourite character is poor Helena Graham – she’s sympathetic to others, and, unlike her circle of artist friends, considers their models as people rather than mere objects of beauty; the following is taken from Alatiel’s introduction to the group of artists, in Chapter One:
‘The mood had darkened, and Julian attempted to lift the gloom once more by making a show of choosing which of his friends would be the first to make use of Alatiel. You see, this was how they worked—I had witnessed it a few times before—one of the circle would find a ‘stunner’ amongst the city’s waifs and strays and they’d pass her along between them, like a mysterious parcel excited children long to unwrap at birthday parties. Soon enough, they would tire of the game, and this fascination with the more decorative poor would pass. Granted, they only used the young women as subject or inspiration for painting and poetry—at least that is what I, in my innocence, believed—but afterwards the unfortunates were dismissed with a few coins and they would return to their miserable, poverty-stricken lives. I had never been struck by this carefree heartlessness until that day.’
I’ve grown up around books of all kinds, from Very Serious Novels to the most outlandish pseudo-occult nonfiction paperbacks ever written. This has had the effect of making me passionate about literature and history; even in the worst of ‘Was God an Astronaut?’-type books, the study of our mutual past is paramount and this sense of ‘other times, other lives’ fuels the imagination of a would-be author. As a result of this upbringing, my work is often set in centuries past, ages which were arguably less trivial and more interesting than our own. The Portrait of Alatiel Salazar is a Victorian novella, in spirit no less than in style.
I had to do a little research, primarily because my character Cristian Salazar is a native of Catalonia, a place I’ve never visited. Cristian is based on the artist Salvador Dali, who was from the Basque country. I chose the name simply because of the ironic factor: a man steeped in witchcraft being named after a religion with which he has no affinity. The ‘Salazar’ surname was chosen simply because I liked it. Curiously, when I was researching the Basque witch trials of the 17th century, I found that a scholar named Salazar saved many accused witches from certain death by claiming that witchcraft was all ‘fantasy’, something that no intelligent person would believe in. The trials subsequently ended, with no more burnings or hangings. Alonso Salazar became known as ‘the friend of the witches’…
It took ages. Well, around three years, in truth. Still, the entire process – from the initial idea to the business of submission – has been invaluable to me and will hopefully stand me in good stead regarding future writing projects. The Portrait of Alatiel Salazar is my first piece of writing beyond short-story-length, so I had to learn about plotting, pacing and all the other basics that come more or less naturally to established writers; this is a tough and ongoing process but, thankfully, critical insights provided by friends and professionals greatly accelerated my literary development.
Dealing with publishers has been an interesting experience in itself: one wanted me to have Druids and dinosaurs in my story…which is a Gothic thriller set in Victorian London. On the whole though, publishers and editors have been enormously helpful and courteous. Immortal Ink Publishing, the imprint I’m with now, are a great fit for me personally and I can’t praise IIP enough.
I surround myself with scented candles, do some Yoga, and listen to Gregorian plainsongs. Actually, I just light a cigarette, drink too much Coke and write the first of many outlines. Then I get distracted by Twitter. Three months later, I might have an entire paragraph written(!) Or not…
Ordinarily, I work to an outline which has a paragraph-length summary of events relative to each chapter. I simply have to adhere to the outline because I’m not the most organised of thinkers, nor am I the type of writer who can (as many do) set down 500 or 1000 words per day. I admire people like that, and wish I was one of them; unfortunately, I’m not so disciplined and, instead, I’m a ‘mood’ writer. So, there’s no in media res-style cleverness from me but, instead, a steady progression from Chapter One to the finale.
The Portrait of Alatiel Salazar was published by Immortal Ink in June this year. Right now, I’m working on three projects: a Victorian-style ghost story, a Gothic Romance novel, and a ‘Clockpunk’ book set in the Tudor court of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Thank you very much for the opportunity to talk about my work.
About Steven Katriel
Steven J. Katriel writes Gothic Horror, Paranormal Fantasy, and Literary Fiction. He has lived in Wales, UK all his life. In recent years, he wrote history articles for a community magazine. Steve’s literary heroes and heroines range from Oscar Wilde to Hilary Mantel. He has a passion for past times and this is reflected in his writing.
The Portrait of Alatiel Salazar by Steven J Katriel
When Gabriel Holland’s beloved Helena vanishes from his life, he journeys to the home of disgraced artist Cristian Salazar, the man he holds responsible for her disappearance and the death of several friends. Once in the town of Carliton, Gabriel finds only malice and mystery in the tales told by the few brave enough to speak ill of Salazar and the sinister Cousin Beatriz. And within shadows, in the guise of night, walks Alatiel, the creature Helena has become…
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