The story is as old as the Bible — you can find parts of it in the Old Testament. Susy Mathew’s second novel, Elijah: Among The Shades of Time, marries fact with fiction. Elijahwas a prophet from Israel who defended the worship of Yahweh (the god of Israel) and locked horns with Queen Jezebel. “He had actually lived,” Matthew says. And so did Obediah and few other historical figures in King Ahab’s court. To connect these men and move the story forward, Matthew created Ruth — as the sister of Elijah. Major part of the story follows Ruth, and her transformation into a ‘qedesha’ (sacred prostitute) consecrated and set apart for Ba’al (usually referred to the weather god of the western Semites). It is not the first time Matthew has dipped into history. Her first book, The Bubble of Time, is based on a story in the Bible about the crippled beggar at Herod’s Temple. It took her 16 years to write the book. Elijah took a mere three years and she attributes it to “less distraction and more experience.”
The idea for the novel came about when Matthew was “day dreaming in Church”, while a preacher was speaking about Elijah who was running away from Queen Jezebel (he had massacred all her priests and she was after his head) and found himself in a cave. “In the depths of depression, Elijah says, ‘I am no better than my father’. That made me wonder about Elijah’s father — what he was all about,” Matthew recalls. Once she began pulling that string, she discovered a whole “ball of thread behind it”.
As a Christian, the story of Elijah was very much a part of Matthew’s childhood. “But it was just an ‘interesting’ story till I began researching it,” she says. And that included exploring the occult and the Dark Arts. Then, the magnitude of what actually took place on Mt Carmel, the historic duel between Prophet Elijah and prophets of Ba’al, themselves experienced warlocks and magicians, stood out as a glaring revelation. “It was an OMG! moment.”
The novel abounds in temple prostitution, homosexuality, murder and dark magic. Ruth, the temple prostitute, becomes Lilith, the concubine, after she joins the sisterhood of witches (in the Bible Lilith is a powerful demoness) and lives in Queen Jezebel’s palace, gets pregnant, delivers a boy who is taken away from her by the queen. And the intrigue deepens, with Elijah locking horns with the queen. “Lilith lives by the advice: If you cannot change your situation, change your mind,” Matthew says. She also insists that Ruth mirrors her in shades. Not the ‘practicing witchcraft’ bit, though, she laughs. “But yes, we definitely share a sense of mistrust of men.”
Matthew was not always fond of history. Until she paid attention to her teacher’s words: Do not think of history as dates and names; they are stories of mankind. “I have always wondered about the stories of the men in the Bible. And I like reading between the lines,” Matthew says. It also helps her understand religion, spirituality and God better.
For writing Elijah, Matthew reached out to few reformed Satan worshippers. But most of her research was done on the net. An architect, who chose to be a stay-at-home-mum, Matthew wrote her first book – 600 odd pages – by hand after dropping off her kids to school and before picking them up. “It was an anchor for my sanity,” she says. For Elijah, she made notes on her mobile and sent mails to herself. Matthew likens her two books to her children. “So different, yet both mine.”
A voracious reader, Matthew says like “most good meals, I may not remember the title or the author of a book that I read, but I remember the emotions it evokes.”
Matthew’s day job as Director of Wings Brand Activation — a PR and events management company — helps foot the bills for her writing which she says is actually an expensive venture with low monetary returns. “But the satisfaction outweighs that,” she swears.