Death (and sex) in Mexico by Marcus Sedgwick #SaintDeath

MARCUS SEDGWICK was born and raised in East Kent in the south-east of England. He now lives in the French Alps.

He is the winner of many prizes, most notably the Michael L. Printz Award for 2014, for his novel Midwinterblood. Marcus has also received two Printz Honors, for Revolver in 2011 and The Ghosts of Heaven in 2016, giving him the most citations to date for America’s most prestigious book prize for writing for young adults. Other notable awards include Floodland, Marcus’ first novel, which won the Branford-Boase Award in 2001, a prize for the best debut novel for children each year, My Swordhand is Singing won the Booktrust Teenage Prize for 2007, and Lunatics and Luck won a Blue Peter Book Award in 2011.

His books have been shortlisted for over forty other awards, including the Carnegie Medal (six times), the Edgar Allan Poe Award (twice) and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize (four times). He has twice been nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, in 2016 and 2017.

Marcus was Writer in Residence at Bath Spa University for three years, reviews for The Guardian newspaper and teaches creative writing at Arvon and Ty Newydd. He is currently working on film and book projects with his brother, Julian, as well as a graphic novel with Thomas Taylor. He has judged numerous books awards, including the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the Costa Book Awards.

He has illustrated some of his books, and has provided wood-engravings for a couple of private press books.
His latest titles in the UK are Saint Death and Snow.

@marcussedgwick
marcussedgwick.com

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Death (and sex) in Mexico
by Marcus Sedgwick

Mexican culture has a long, and I mean very long, relationship with Death. We only need cast our minds back to the human sacrifices of the Aztec and other pre-Hispanic peoples of Central America.

From then till now, the Mexican mind has had a much more open conversation with Death than we find in many other parts of the world. Some argue that this special relationship with death shows a familiarity and comfort with human mortality. Others that it shows an especial fear of it. Who can say? Yet everyone knows these days about The Days of the Dead – November 1st and 2nd – during which Mexican people celebrate their ancestors, with parties, feasts, flowers and little sugar skulls with their beloved’s name on. But for many Mexicans, Death isn’t just ‘for Christmas’, it’s a year-round commitment.

That’s why, although she may have originated elsewhere in South America (no one’s quite sure), the emerging, officially-banned-by-the-pope folk saint known as Santa Muerte has really taken off in Mexico, and in Mexican communities abroad.

Santa Muerte plays a big role in my latest book, providing it with a title ‘Saint Death’, lots of the background to the story, and much more besides. So who exactly is Santa Muerte? Well, to be honest, no one knows exactly who she is, where she came from, nor when she began. At first glance, she looks a little like the European grim reaper, but she’s most definitely a woman, despite that all we can see of her is her bones. She wears dresses and veils, she comes bringing a feminine nurturing to her devotees – she’s there to be prayed to, to have requests asked of her, she’s there to aid the sick, the poor, the needy. But also the rich, evil and vain. She’s not picky – she serves anyone who reaches out to her, according to her followers. And her followers include prostitutes, policeman, drug lords, the destitute, prisoners, prison officers and so on and so on.

She’s not the only female figure of death in Mexico, though. There’s another figure who is constantly mistaken for Santa Muerte. Her name is Catrina, and she looks like this, or at least, this is how she looked when she started out:

Catrina was a woodcut cartoon, one of many works by an artist of the people called Jose Guadalupe Posada, who used this image and others to satirise the rich and vain of Mexican society in the early 20th century.

But Catrina was not content to stay like this. And since NOTHING goes together better than sex and death, over the years, Catrina has got sexier…:

and sexier..:

and sexier…:

I had better stop there.

The sexualisation of death is nothing new – we see it all around us in popular culture, in films, music, in Hallowe’een costumes and so on. Horror films use it particularly, especially teen horror films, and that’s a big clue as to why these two things seem to belong together – not only are they (perhaps) the two biggest things we’ll ever think about, we also first tend to start thinking about them properly when we enter adolescence. And what a scary but wonderful time that can be.

Something we’re afraid of, something we’re attracted to (and perhaps also afraid of) – things that give us both pleasure and fear, combined. It’s a powerful mix and it’s no wonder that Catrina got sexier, nor is it any surprise that it’s Mexico who she calls home, just as Santa Muerte, Catrina’s older and more forbidding cousin, does.

Any writer will tell you that love and death are the two greatest things to write about. Or, putting that more bluntly, sex and death. Some writers will even tell you there’s actually nothing else to write about. Best of all is when we put the two together. Writers know it, Freud knew it: everything we do and are, in the Freudian view, is explained by our motivations around sex, and our fear of death. Eros and Thanatos, they’re called, these two gods, hovering above us as we go through life.

Most people are pretty happy thinking about sex. Lots of people are much less happy thinking about death. That’s just one of the many reasons why Mexico is so interesting.

© 2017 Marcus Sedgwick

A potent, powerful and timely thriller about migrants, drug lords and gang warfare set on the US/Mexican border by prize-winning novelist, Marcus Sedgwick.

Anapra is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the Mexican city of Juarez – twenty metres outside town lies a fence – and beyond it – America – the dangerous goal of many a migrant. Faustino is one such trying to escape from the gang he’s been working for. He’s dipped into a pile of dollars he was supposed to be hiding and now he’s on the run. He and his friend, Arturo, have only 36 hours to replace the missing money, or they’re as good as dead. Watching over them is Saint Death. Saint Death (or Santissima Muerte) – she of pure bone and charcoal-black eye, she of absolute loyalty and neutral morality, holy patron to rich and poor, to prostitute and narco-lord, criminal and police-chief. A folk saint, a rebel angel, a sinister guardian.

Saint Death is out now!

Books reviewed:
The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick
Midwinterblood
She Is Not Invisible
A Love Like Blood
Flood and Fang (The Raven Mysteries #1)
Ghosts and Gadgets (The Raven Mysteries #2)

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