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>> A 'Second World' of witchcraft and hidden powers

A 'Second World' of witchcraft and hidden powers

A 'Second World' of witchcraft and hidden powers

THE LOST WITCH, the new YA novel by celebrated author MELVIN BURGESS, takes us to a world of the 'other' where witchcraft, spells and ancient folklore are hidden but survive within the modern world.

This is a richly crafted story of magic and the natural world for older readers ages 14+. The Lost Witch explores family, guilt and abusive relationships through Bea, as she grows from an ordinary girl into a powerful young witch.

We asked author MELVIN BURGESS to tell us more about writing THE LOST WITCH:

Q: How long did you spend writing The Lost Witch and how did the process of writing it compare with other books you have written?

A: It was a long one - a good couple of years. In fact, the roots go back way before that. I wrote down notes for the first chapter way back in the 90's, and the idea was developed as an online graphic novel with Lime studios eight or nine years ago. But most of the work has happened over the past two years.

There are two sorts of books - those where you know where you're going, and those that are more of an exploration; The Lost Witch was the latter. The books I've written before that are most like it are Bloodtide and Bloodsong - same thing, exploring a world and creating it at the same time.

In Witch, Bea awakens to the existence of a hidden world - the Second World - the world of the spirit. Exploring that was a very satisfying and exciting adventure for me, but it took many drafts. I had a lot of help from my editor, Charlie Sheppard at Andersen Press, and in the same way I had a lot of help with Bloodtide and Bloodsong from Sarah Hughes. These are the kind of books where I do need a lot of help.

Q: In the novel you delve into myths, magic and witchcraft - why did you decide to bring in this fantasy element and how did you decide on the setting, Hebden Bridge?

A: If you're writing about a witch, and the witch is a real witch, there's going to be some kind of magic world, or religion. That was there right from the start, back in the 90's when I wrote down the idea of Bea coming across the Hunt chasing three hares across the moors, in whom the spirits of witches were running for their lives.

As for Hebden Bridge - I live there! Of course it's easy to use a place you're familiar with - it's real, it's all there right at hand. And Hebden is famous for its witches...

Q: Your characters bring an updated approach to witchcraft and how it might combine with today's technology, how did that idea develop and how did you decide on the 'rules' for this world of witchcraft?

Like everything in the book, it all goes back to this idea of the spirit world. This is the basis of all religion, that underlying every living thing - maybe underlying every existing thing, even - there is a spirit of some kind.

Once you accept that idea, it all makes sense - the way the spirit can travel from world to world... the way the spirit of someone can travel in the body of another creature... that the spirits of the dead can live on, here or in another world.

In legend, the spirit can be captured and trapped in a bottle, or a tree, or a stone - so why not a machine? If you put the spirit of a greyhound into a motor bike - see him run! Or an eagle into a plane...

Funny thing - it all makes sense...

Q: There are echoes of Norse mythology in two of your (fabulous!) key characters, Odi and Lok, how did they develop and why did you want to bring the layer of Norse mythology into the story?

A: I've loved Norse mythology since I first came across them as a boy. The gods, the stories, all come from our own northern moors and hills. They are ours in a real sense, a deep sense, in a way that the Greek and Roman gods can never me.

Those who know will guess early on that Odi and Lok come from Odin and Loki - my two favourite gods. Both with a very dark side - Odin who is the god of violent death, who will only accept the sacrifice of kings and princes, who knows everything that will happen and everything that has happened - he had to be in there.

But the one I was keenest on using was Loki - the Trickster. Loki is a complicated god - beautiful, silver tongued, clever, funny, shameless and fundamentally untrustworthy. I've wanted to use a trickster figure for a long time, and Loki is the best of them. And with all the recent acute awareness of grooming, what better time than now?

Q: Through the novel, you explore the main character Bea's transition from a child living at home to a powerful young woman; is this transition into adulthood and its potential what draws you to writing for YA's?

Your teenage years are the years in which you become an adult, the person you're going to be for the rest of your life. It's primal and seminal - we all remember that time - the music, the friends, the films, the TV shows, and of course the books. This is the age when the past is turned into the future - an age of transformation. So yes - that's why I love writing books about being that age.

Q: At the heart of the story is an exploration of how a young person can be drawn into an abusive relationship, and how damaging that can be. Why did you want to write about this and did you need to research this subject before writing about it?

A: Older people have been taking advantage of younger people forever, but we are much more aware of grooming these days. Even so, it's not often portrayed accurately in fiction. It's not so long ago that even talking about sexual abuse, for instance, was taboo; people would genuinely rather keep it secret that stop the abuser from moving on to the next victim. I think we're still scared of talking about it.

I wanted to show it, how it works, the psychology of it. It's a fascinating study and it also makes for a great story. Once the reader begins to realise what's going on, before Bea herself, it creates a great story.

As for research - I didn't do a lot specifically. I did a lot of work about this for my book Nicholas Dane, and also for Kill All Enemies, to a lesser degree. I think I already understood how it works - although it has to be said, that when you write fiction about this sort of thing, you come out wiser than when you went in ... I hope!

Writing fiction at its best is a journey of discovery, and I hope the same goes for the reader as well.

Q: You also show how judgmental society can be when a young person gets it wrong; do you feel society is quick to condemn young people, and particularly young women?

A: Society at the moment in incredibly judgmental all round. But yes - the young get it worse because they have less power, less money, less experience in how to fight their corner. We live in an age in which the old have a sense of privilege way above their actual importance.

Q: What would you like your readers to take away from The Lost Witch?
A: Ah! I would never presume to tell them.

Q: Other than your novels, what other kinds of writing do you do? What are you working on at the moment?

A: At the moment it's just novels. I'm writing what I call a quartet. Four authors, writing separate novels set in the same world - a dystopian UK. Watch this space!

Q: Where is your favourite place and time to write, and what is your favourite escape from writing?

A: My favourite place is at the kitchen table when there's no one in - I'm there right now! My favourite escape is wildlife holidays. I'm a deep wildlife nerd - all the way from rock lice to elephants. You name it, I'm interested in it.

Q: What are your current favourite YA reads?

A: Current favourites - Marcus Sedgewick's book, The Monsters we Deserve is a beautiful thing. I'm also very impressed by Juno Dawson's book, Clean. It's very much in the spirit of Junk and it's a fabulous read.

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