Writing a god
The God of the Hive was not the book’s original title. My working title (and I won’t be giving any spoilers in this post, so don’t worry) was The Green Man, but how we got from one to the other makes for a long and complicated explanation that is best boiled down to:
My editor (firmly, in June): The Sales department says “The Green Man” is too New-Agey.
Me (desperately, in September): Are we allowed to use the word “god” in a title?
We were, and we did.
Having settled on a title in a flailing-about, last-ditch, the-spring-catalogue-has-to-go-into-print-tomorrow conversation, I was (once the dust settled and I could sit down to think about it) astonished at how appropriate it was. And evocative. And faintly mysterious.
Because really, just who is the god of this particular hive?
There are two self-proclaimed candidates for the book’s role of divinity, however, I was more interested in the god of the land on which the busy hive was built.
The green man is an ancient figure in Britain, the personification of life as it springs up each year, then dies down again with the cold. He appears on pub signs across the land, he occasionally takes a place in a parade or ceremony, he peeps in and out of literature and myth. His image is a man whose beard is leaves, whose eyes and lips are barely discernable amongst the wild growth that springs from his mouth and nostrils. He is a corn god and a wild god; he is a god-man who draws his life from the very roots of the British Isles. (There is a lot written about him, as you might imagine, most of it as fictional as anything I have written.)
Robert Goodman is that god-man. He is a spirit of vegetation; he is a brother to that representative of chaos, the holy fool; he is a force of nature, and he is the force that directs nature.
He is also a man, with a man’s history, a man’s terrible experiences in wartime, a man’s need to be healed and to make his life anew.
You do not see the moment in which Goodman becomes a god in The God of the Hive. (That moment is described in “Birth of a Green Man,” a story that is not yet formally published, although I may make it available later on.) However, from the moment Goodman appears in the story, it is quite apparent that this man is not of this world, that he exists in a realm so far removed from the inwardly-focused bustle of London and the self-important concerns of the world of espionage, that he has more in common with a hedgehog living by a freeway than he does a figure whose command will shake the earth.
Except that Goodman is a god, and even a small, green, vegetative god has a way of influencing the world in manners at once unexpected, subtle, and subversive.