Firebrand: An Interview With Seth MacGregor

I was over the moon to recently receive a copy of Firebrand, the first book in the Rebel Angels series by Gillian Philip. If you haven’t read this book, I can’t recommend it strongly enough. It’s an action-packed fantasy adventure that really had me gripped start to finish, and its fabulous anti-hero, Seth MacGregor, has kindly agreed to be interviewed here today! Eeek! Yes, you heard me. Seth (not Gillian – I’m hoping she’s busy getting the next books in the series ready for release as I can’t wait to read them), the bad boy faerie who fights too much, drinks too much and tweets about BBC dramas that just don’t get it right.

I don’t want to give too much away, but to give you a taste, the book starts with Seth about to shoot an arrow into his half-brother’s heart. He and Conal (his half-brother) are exiled from the land of Sithe behind the Veil to our own land – except it’s the sixteenth century, and witch-hunting is getting too popular for comfort. Firebrand gives one shocking turn after another in Seth’s story; but I have to say that although the story itself is high-paced, the plot gripping and the detail incredible, for me it’s the characters that make the book so memorable.

Gillian obviously knows her characters inside-out as they jump off the page into real, full-blooded life. In fact, I have heard that she was writing a different book entirely, set in our own time, when one of its characters demanded his own story be told instead, and I can certainly believe that of Seth. Even though he’s a brat on more than one occasion, my heart was bleeding for him right from the start and by the end of the first chapter I was completely in love with him. His relationships with his family and friends are complex and totally believable and add so much to the book’s impact and drive.

But enough of my waffle, let’s hear from the man, er, Sithe, himself.

Hi Seth! Welcome to My Little Notepad.

I love the relationship between you and Conal. But what would you really change about your brother if you could?

Good question. Apart from him being such a bossy git? Let me see. Make him second-born? That would have saved a lot of hassle… well, maybe not. He’s good at the older-brother thing, I’ve got to admit. Just one thing, then: he does have a hell of a temper.  One of those slow-burn, explosive tempers. It’ll get him in trouble one of these days. And let’s face it, trouble’s my department.

Is there anything from our world that you would take back to your dun? I mean, there was a distinct lack of chocolate as far as I could see…

Just between you and me, I do take stuff back (including chocolate. There’s a guy called Sulaire who’s crazy for it). And your whisky’s got an awful lot better over the centuries; I take that back with me now and again. Your clothes – they’re great, really beat the old days. The Boss shops for me; she picks out some nice things. Ah… and bits and pieces of technology. Sionnach’s addicted to his iPod Touch.

What’s the one activity you would really have liked to have done with your father?

What? Not bothered. I don’t think about it. Not ever. Why would I bother pining over that? Doesn’t concern me. Not one bit.

Bet you’re really glad we don’t burn witches anymore. Tell me one other thing about our world you would change.

You ask good questions, you know. I think your world is great. I prefer mine, but really there’s a lot to like about your world. I don’t hate it the way I used to. Things have got better in a lot of ways.

Tell you what: I’d switch off all the lights at night. Every single one. Then you could see the stars. And if everybody had to look at the stars every night, you’d realise what a big universe it is and what an amazing stroke of luck it is that you live on this gorgeous habitable planet in the middle of all that space dust, and you’d stop trying to wipe each other out. Mostly over superstition, I might add.

I mean, I know the Sithe do love a fight, but we’re not trying to achieve our own mass extinction in the shortest time, y’know? Well, except for one of us. But we won’t talk about her.

How do full-mortal girls compare to Sithe girls?

You’re all gorgeous. I love full-mortal girls. You’re different but you’re great, you know? Obviously, you don’t live nearly so long, but… look, how can I put this tactfully? You don’t involve so much commitment.

Wolves or water-horses?

That’s like asking me to choose between my children. (Though obviously that’s not a bad thing where I come from.) Let me put it this way: wolves for companionship. Water horses when you’re in a really tight corner with a Lammyr after you.

I’m very intrigued by the idea that Gillian was going to write a different book but you took over and demanded that this story came first. Were you this demanding while she was writing? And do you keep shouting at her when she’s writing other books?

You have to understand (which she doesn’t, by the way) that when I call her the Boss, it’s with a massive dose of sarcasm. Why wouldn’t she want to write my story? She should have started there in the first place. So me taking over, it was for her own good.

As for her other books – oh please. It does my head in. She insists on writing books that don’t involve me, but believe me, I bug her the whole time. Some guy called Nick Geddes tried to punch me, once. That was a great scrap. I think we called it a draw in the end.

Who do you think should play you in a movie of Firebrand? (ask Gillian what that is…)

I’ve asked her this. She says she was watching a movie called Stage Beauty when she first saw me clearly. The guy was called Billy Crudup. I find it really disturbing and annoying that he was wearing a frock at the time.

I don’t think you’re how most people would picture a faerie. Do you ever see yourself in sparkly tights and wings? Why do you think we got it so wrong?

See my answer above about the frock. Good grief. I don’t know why you got it wrong – maybe because we’re hard to see? So you reckoned we must have wings, be very small, yada yada… Maybe it was just too much Buckfast.

I do know that the Boss’s daughter had those wee gossamer things all over her room when she was smaller and it drove me nuts. Too bad she never woke up and saw the real tooth fairy when I was putting the pound coin under her pillow. Ha ha. That would have been fab.

I know Gillian has a book shortlisted for the Royal Mail Awards for Scottish Children’s Books (good luck with that, everything’s crossed!). What would you do to treat Gillian to celebrate Firebrand winning an award?

In that unlikely event, I think she should be treating me. But that aside, she’d probably be happy with a good movie and a fish supper down on the seafront. She’s very easily pleased, you know.

And she says to say thank you for the good wishes, by the way. And for keeping me out of trouble for an hour.


(Note from Gillian: Gods, he’s a bighead, Rebecca. I do apologise. I hope this is OK.)

I hope you all have a read of Firebrand. The Times recently called it the “best children’s fantasy novel of 2010” – I think I would call it one of the best fantasy novels I’ve ever read.

Follow Seth on Twitter at @sethmacgregor

Gillian’s website is at blogs with other children’s writers at , at, and at She’s also on Twitter as @Gillian_Philip.

NB There should have been a picture of the book but I’m having trouble with WordPress. I’ll get one posted asap!