Stunning, isn't it? This is the rocky, magical coast of Tintagel in North Cornwall, with the view from the top of Tintagel Head. Where the remains of a rich Baron's castle now stands, and, if you believe the legends, where Uther Pendragon disguised himself as King Gorlois of Cornwall to seduce his wife Igraine, mother of Arthur. Tintagel, where Morgan Pendragon - Morgan Le Fay, of the Faeries, the witch - played on the beach and learnt the mysteries of the ocean in the turquoise but violent waves.
In CROW MOON, Danny is made a witch on Tintagel Head and the village there is run by Lowenna Hawthorne, Head Witch of the ecopagan Greenworld. There couldn't be a more perfect, romantic and magical location for a story about the power of nature and the power of love - in my opinion.
Last time I visited Tintagel I was lucky enough to find the tide out and so could go inside Merlin's Cave, a place of magic between worlds - water and land - submerged then reappearing like the realm of faerie where humans must take care, or they will be lost forever. I set a few scenes with Danny and Saba in a (drier and more hospitable) cave off this same beach - again, how cool would it actually be to have a safe yet magical lovers' retreat cave, listening to the waves crashing outside while your heart beat madly in your chest with the sheer passion of it all? Hard stone floors or damp patches be damned. It's ROMANTIC.
Last, Scorhill stone circle outside the village of Gidleigh in Dartmoor. Dartmoor is home to many witches, and many writers too. It must have something. Dartmoor is a rough, wide, wild place where, thousands of years ago, our ancestors honoured the land by erecting stone circles like this one as well as burial mounds, designating the land as sacred. Scorhill is Danny's local stone circle (lucky thing) and of course he totally doesn't appreciate it at all. But we can imagine that his mum, Zia, spends a lot of time out here, speaking to the ancestors and keeping the intricate balance of life and death for the villagers that rely on her.
I'm in Cornwall this weekend at the Truro Festival and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to reconnect with this most magical and beautiful landscape. If I can, I will be sitting in the circle, listening to the earth, listening to the sky and feeling the vibrations of ancient feet, of the wise ones that came before us.
This weekend, visit the most local stone circle or sacred site to you; be respectful; touch the stones gently; feel the energy of the pace. It requires no more skill than being present, being quiet and letting your mind wander.
When asked, I describe CROW MOON as a witchy eco-dystopia, but actually that's not entirely accurate. The Greenworld, where CROW MOON is set, is a green, ecopagan utopia, where people worship the holy land, live sustainably, wear wool and (in my mind) underarm shaving is pretty frowned upon. It's the kind of utopia that might have existed (or might still) had you taken the Greenham Common protestors, Starhawk and the 70s feminist goddess spirituality movement and Greenpeace and told them they could have their own island somewhere. Only, of course, Greenpeace wouldn't have taken the opportunity: they're too fearsomely committed to global change to enjoy being annexed from the rest of the world. Maybe the rest might have been tempted - goddess knows, it's a tempting prospect, what with UKIP, ISIS, the CIA (probably reading this blog post right now, like they read everything, apparently - hi guys!), Monsanto, Ebola, children dying in Syria, the melting of the polar ice caps, mass species extinction and . In fact, there was a Scottish island for sale a while back for two million quid – if it’s still available, join me there. Lets just go.
The dystopian element of CROW MOON is the Greenworld’s counterpoint: The Redworld, a crime and corruption-riddled Britain (and the rest of the world, as far as we know), polluted to within an inch of its life, where a pointless war for the last scraps of fuel rages on in Russia. In the Redworld, the lights are flickering and almost out.
Why is dystopia so popular right now in books for young people? I asked Year 10 students at Notting Hill and Ealing High School as part of their Utopia/Dystopia-themed World Book Day a couple of weeks ago, and they said, much as I have in the above paragraph, pretty much because the world’s going to crap. How right they were. The Hunger Games describes a world where a powerful, rich elite have all the resources, and the masses have none; anyone with half an eye on stats for global poverty will know that this situation is not just mirrored in the poorest nations in the world but in the UK and US as well as other European countries, some of which are in severe states of collapse.
My fellow Quercus writer Louise O’Neill’s amazing novel – AND WINNER OF THE YA BOOK PRIZE, HURRAH!!!!! – and feminist dystopia ONLY EVER YOURS describes a world where girls are bred to be pleasing partners or concubines for men/boys. Her excoriating look at the way a society encourages image and “beauty” obsession/body dysmorphia in girls, encouraging women to compete against each other for male attention, is totally real, now. The setup of the dystopia is fictional and the rules a little different, but this is happening now. This is what we are fighting against, now. We’re still fighting it just like we were when Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid’s Tale. Which, incidentally, the teachers at NHEHS were just a little bit too happy to be really convincing as.
Dystopia is an essential element in our cultural understanding at all times – whether in the middle of several global apocalyptic wars or in relative peacetime (NOTE: this never exists) because it provides a way of visioning the possible consequences of our social choices and norms. Brave New World visioned the negative consequences of genetic engineering and the abolition of God for the master of mass production, Ford. Post world war two, 1984 visioned a totalitarian all-seeing, all-knowing state deep rooted in political spin, brainwashing and propaganda. Huxley and Orwell were responding to the challenges and concerns of their times as they saw them, just as O’Neill and Collins are, and just as I am in CROW MOON. There isn’t long before the lights go out, and escaping to an island is not an option. So what are we going to do about it?
I've had such a tremendous response to the CROW MOON cover that I thought it would be interesting to show you some of the developments it went through before it became the stunning, modern-yet-esoteric image we know and love.
Quercus went through a few different concepts before coming to me with the beginnings of the cover which uses US artist Alex Cherry's Little Bird graphic of a girl's head in profile. As you can see in these initial "mood" designs, the profile is blanked out against a seascape background, but the idea for the crow profiled against the girl was there from early on. These initial images were sent to me with a firm message that they were for me to get a rough sense of the feel they were going for, rather than being finished pieces. The feel was romantic but mystical, with a nod to the Cornish sea which is a huge part of the imagery of the book. It was also an early decision that it would be a girl's profile rather than a boy's, even though the main character in CROW MOON is a boy, Danny. The rationale was that even though Danny is the point of view character, the story itself is driven forward by a cast of strong female characters; and, realistically, the main readership for the book would likely be girls rather than boys.
The next stage of the cover was one I really liked actually (though I prefer what we ended up with) - it was more representative of the feel of the Greenworld, but I think ultimately Quercus knew they should go for something with more of a sharp, modern edge. So we went from the green-tinted folded paper texture background and a light green font to the red, black and white of the final. You'll notice that the shape of the crow changed, though. Interestingly, red, black and white are the classic colours associated with what pagans call the triple goddess: the three stages of womanhood, often reflected in mythology - maid (white, crescent moon, virgin) mother (red, full moon, fertile woman) and crone (black, dark moon, wise woman). So I like to think that the Goddess had a hand in the final colour scheme.
MAGIC JUST GOT REAL was mine, I'm proud to say; I've always had a fondness for copy and titles.
In terms of titles, also, CROW MOON went through a few. It started off at a very early stage as THE YOUNG WITCH'S SURVIVAL GUIDE, which I'm still going to use somewhere. Then it became THE FIVE HANDS, which was pretty rubbish (although it makes sense in the context of the story) then GREENWORLD, which I liked, but it was apparently "too middle grade fantasy" - which I could see. A WANTED WITCH was suggested, but I didn't like that. The path to CROW MOON involved a day of brainstorming about circles and spirals, curses and witches and spells (I put the question up on Facebook and a summary of the book for title ideas - one friend suggested PASTY SPELLS in response to "a book about witches in Cornwall" - obviously the best suggestion ever). CROW MOON was in a list I emailed to my editor and my agent in the late afternoon; I really didn't think they'd go for anything so (to me) obviously witchy, but they did. And I knew it was the right choice.