In 2014 I published a book of experimental poetry called Regressive Poetics. Here, I interview myself about it.
What is Regressive Poetics about?
Past life accounts translated via a digital medium. I liked the idea of an account of something being relayed from another time, and to be able to explore the notion of information being conveyed from “the other side”, ie past lives, or from people that are dead via mediumship. Mediumship always has this kind of inaccuracy about it. You see psychic mediums frowning and straining to get the right message through, and they can describe it as if they are trying to hear something very faint, or garbled. I think people remembering or re-experiencing their past lives is somewhat similar, certainly dreamlike, where things assume a symbolic importance rather than a literal one, or where things are alluded to, or where language is odd or nonsensical, but it has an internal logic within-the-dream. I was reading a book called Swan on a Black Sea which is an account of a series of mediumistic communications from the early 20th century where the medium describes the experience of conveying information as somewhat of a mixed grill – meaning that information, or meaning, is transmitted inefficiently from the spirit world to this one, and as well as that, the information comes through the veil of the medium’s own biases, her take on it. So what emerges is very often a mix of the original message, the distortion and the intermediary’s own effect on the language or the message. Her kind of hegemonic bias.
How does this book relate to your other poetry?
I am, overall, most interested in the relationships between spiritual practices and poetics. In 2010 I published another processual book called Taropoetics, which was also a durational work. I had dealt myself a spread of five tarot cards every week and free-written, as much in a trance as possible, inspired by them – their images, their associations, their juxtapositions. Like Italo Calvino in The Castle of Crossed Destinies I thought the tarot was a good tool to investigate chance procedures. After I had a year’s worth of writing I revisited the text and shaped it into 52 individual poetic pieces.
So Regressive Poetics takes a different type of spiritual experience – past life memory instead of fortune telling, or spiritual introspection, and works with that narrative. Both are ways to investigate the personal and both have their own kind of rules.
In terms of presentation, I also used the forward slash that I had used as the only punctuation in Taropoetics in RP, although the text is ordered differently and not as uniformly as in TP. I like the forward slash as it has that sense of onward motion, of distinction and cutting but also running together. So it works really well for language where there are quite opposing statements or thoughts, but they are joined together in one stream of consciousness kind of effect. Both RP and TP have that characteristic.
What works inspired you to create this?
Both works draw on Hannah Weiner’s Clairvoyant Journal and Susan Hiller’s Belshazzar’s Feast, among other things. Both of those have a thematic similarity – trance and clairvoyance – and I love Hannah Weiner’s jumbled, stream of consciousness text. Like taking free writing to its furthest conclusion. Belshazzar’s Feast is a film that aims to induce a sense of trance in the watcher and was transmitted on normal TV – so different in not being text based, but interesting because it’s aiming to provide a personal experience for the watcher, that may be illuminative and unconscious and different for everyone.
In terms of durational and process-based work I really also like Kenneth Goldsmith, I like that he has that totality of approach and can work over long periods of time. If RP was properly Goldsmith, though, it would be far more encyclopedic, like it would be a definitive voyage into all of my past lives and the past lives of everyone I knew, and he wouldn’t edit, he would just collate all the data, the language-data, into one big book or website or something. Then he’d probably do something clever with it like some performance art. Use it as an score for a happening or something. Maybe I should do that.
How did you construct the poems?
I found a variety of past life accounts, either published books or online, as well as online films of people talking about their past lives. The printed accounts I read into a digital dictation app that produces text, and the films I played directly into the app. So for the films there was one less layer of interpretation, as machine was talking to machine at that point.
I like to think of the stages of the work as meat, spirit and digital. So for the accounts that were read from books, you could look at it like:
Spirit (past life memory) Meat (recount into book) Meat (read into app) Digital (app translates and produces text) Meat (writer edits, adjusts, biased) Meat (printed in book) Spirit (poem exists as new entity, in creative ether)
Whereas with the film version, it’s Spirit-Digital-Meat-Meat-Spirit. It would be interesting to think about how you could eradicate the meat element altogether, although I don’t think you could. That’s the idea in Neuromancer, but as Stelarc points out, you need embodiment to enable digital. At least at the moment.
What questions did you ask of the work? Did anything surprise you?
I wanted to know how much derangement I’d get using this method, whether it was a good way to do it, or whether a manual cutup was better. And I wanted to know how something like a digital dictation app would differ from pure cutup. And I also wanted to see if anything truly enlightening or beautiful came out. Something that really reflected the otherworldliness of a past life experience, that kind of symbolism of the human experience, our spiritual destiny.
The app is quite different to a pure cutup, actually cutting up every single word, mixing them up in a bag and restringing it. Apart from the time restrictions for that method (reading into an app is much quicker), the app adds something to the source text. It changes it at source. A paper cutup can’t change the component words or rewrite your sentences – it can’t mishear and creatively recreate a sentence, changing perceived meaning and inference, which the dictation app does. It produces sentences that make sense, even if as a whole document the text doesn’t have a strong coherence. So that’s really interesting and different.
In terms of surprise, I didn’t know until I had read a few sections into the app how accurate it was going to be. There’s a certain amount of derangement that I needed for this to work, and it surprised me how inaccurate the dictation app was – which was a good thing. Additionally, it has a strong emphasis on digital language in its translation – so it often misheard words as web-language, so there are quite a lot of sentences about websites and internets and such, which is really interesting and presumably reflects a bias on the part of the app itself – a kind of programming bias towards digi-speak. I really like that. I like that there are lines like:
I feel strange, like I’m not acknowledged in internet intranets
like with a nice Ethernet-like portrait reading
without upsetting the 1950s into cookies.
He leads to me as inbox
The protected server is group of action.
and deterrent is dead/inside this ritual/burning in a past life online
The very first lines of text are a kind of meditation on the body and digital – meat and digital.
click here to request the inter body/performance is when the secret details are only
electric/not limited to stain the body/intended from the body/follow those ranges
across distance –
and there’s this section in The Protected Server is a Group of Action
The canine women in prison make your body. These people appear to have all your connections and have blood connections and laptops of things.
and in Omm Sety there is this great section where the online is conflated with the spiritual space, and I think that’s a really interesting comparison.
She inserted the first meeting regularly, so totally astral plane, and occasionally
Henry materialised my website on the bed, and then she was transferred.
I think there are also passages that have a surprising lyricism to them:
question/I found it very distasteful to think I could have one tiny
penis/she was so decided to forget about her and focus on my music limitation
hygienist/wicked dreams of myself stuck in watching women being beheaded in
front of me/until the dreams began picking the recurrence of the streams –
I also like that there are several references to the nature of language itself:
evenings are spent in feasting a music-making free Celtic language of symbols
She wrote her father excitedly, declaring this is my hand this is where I'm still here
otherwise all broken.
As child, Faye Morgan was always an outsider, shunned for the ancient and powerful magic that runs through her veins.
Ever since she was a little girl, growing up in the village of Abercolme on the wild coast of Scotland, Faye Morgan’s life has been steeped in the old ways – witchcraft, herbal lore and a blood connection to the dangerous and unpredictable world of Faerie.
But magic is both a gift and a burden, and Faye has more than paid the price of living between two worlds. Neither accepted by the villagers, nor welcome in the Faerie Kingdom of Murias after rebuffing the fickle and attractive Faerie warrior king, Finn Beatha, Faye runs from Abercolme, hoping to leave that life behind.
However, even in the twisted, cobbled streets of London, Faye finds her blood bond with Faerie won’t be broken. A Faerie War of the Elements is brewing and, though she doesn’t yet know it, Faye is fated to play a terrible part. If she is to survive, she must learn to embrace her own dark power and face Finn Beatha once more… but in doing so Faye will discover secrets in her own past that never should have been disturbed.
A gripping, magical, action-packed novel, perfect for fans of K.F. Breene's Natural Witch, Shannon Mayer and Laini Taylor.
My new novel, the first in a magical fantasy romance series, is now available for preorder! Here's a little of what it's about:
A completely gripping magical page-turner full of darkness, love and suspense. Perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas, Laini Taylor and Amy Bartol.
When Faye Morgan casts a wish into the Scottish sea one cold January morning, her call brings her to the attention of the wild and capricious faerie king Finn Beatha. Finn offers Faye an invitation – to follow him into another world or risk the eternal wrath of his people.
When Faye arrives, it’s to discover that everything in the glittering world of faerie has its price. A single misstep could mean she’s trapped forever – never to see her home again. She must have all her wits about her… but it’s difficult with Finn Beatha – passionate and dangerous – watching her every move. What secrets are hidden behind Finn’s marsh-fire eyes? Why do the faeries of the court whisper behind Faye’s back, and call her by the mysterious title: sidhe-leth? Is there something in her past connecting her to this place… and dare she find out more when every moment draws her further away from her old life – her old world?
A gorgeously sexy and enthralling read, you’ll never want to put this book down!
I'm pleased to report that I have a trio of new adult books coming with the commercial publisher Bookoutre this year and next.
Daughter of Light and Shadows is about a young woman, Faye Morgan, whose life is turned upside down when she becomes romantically involved with the attractive and capricious Faerie king Finn Beatha. Set between a tiny village in Scotland and the hedonistic and evocative world of Faerie, Daughter of Light and Shadows is a sexy and suspenseful page-turner with a dark heart. It will publish in October 2018. The second and third book in the series will follow in late 2018 and early 2019, respectively.
I’m absolutely delighted to be joining Bookouture and am deeply impressed by the team’s professionalism and passion for a good story. I’m also SO excited to share my heroine Faye Morgan’s story of magic, faeries, romance and the wild Scottish landscape with readers; I hope fans of Outlander, Practical Magic and Sarah J Maas will love it...
My new publisher, Kathryn Taussig, said:
"Anna McKerrow is an absolutely stand-out writer and brings a real sense of dark mystery to her tale of love, passion and sacrifice. Lovers of commercial fantasy and YA are going to adore her characters – I certainly did! October can’t come too soon – I can’t wait to publish these wonderful books."
Hopefully I'll be able to share a cover reveal soonish. Until then, sign up to my newsletter to keep up to date with developments and more details about my faerie odyssey!
One of the things I love about Young Adult fiction is the way it addresses the issues and events that are directly affecting young people today. Not to say that those things aren’t affecting everyone else too - we are all sadly prone to family members dying; we all live in a world where rape culture goes largely unchallenged; adults can be bullied, and many of us will experience pregnancy. However, it’s specifically the impact of these events on teens and young adults that books like The Year of the Rat, Asking For It, Seven Days and Trouble explore so expertly. Those years can be tumultuous, and they’re the years that some hard truths have to be dealt with. I’m glad that YA provides support and a kind of coming of age fellowship for readers, as well as entertainment.
Some teen experiences are more eternal and universal than others. I became aware as I was writing Crow Moon that today’s teens are the generation that will be hardest hit by failures by world governments to find more sustainable fuel solutions; as we look ahead, right now, there could conceivably be a time not too far from now where the lights go out if we continue to depend heavily on fossil fuels. Fracking for shale gas and nuclear power, which reflect the UK government’s current priorities, are respectively unreliable, expensive and dangerous, and fracking in particular is disastrous for local environments (and house prices). Unlike previous generations, if you’re under 20 today your future contains serious wide scale and long lasting environmental threats. It does for all of us, but you’ll be the ones that have to deal with it the longest when the inevitable disasters occur: flooding, earthquakes, air pollution, water shortages, animal extinction, leading to the decline of natural habitats and wild spaces, leading to problems with crop growth and availability. Not to bum you out or anything - but really, yeah.
In the Crow Moon trilogy I wanted to raise questions about energy and fuel at the centre of a UK utopia/dystopia. Devon and Cornwall are the Greenworld, an ecopagan community, run by witches and shut off from the rest of the UK and the world, which is the Redworld - corrupt, polluted, with a vast gap between the majority of people in severe poverty and the top 1% extremely wealthy. There’s a global war for the last scraps of fossil fuel going on in Russia. The utopian resistance, the Greenworld (though nothing is as perfect as it seems) is not only run sustainably and without power, but it is explicitly religiously Pagan: it honours the earth as divine, personified as a Goddess, Brighid, drawing on Cornwall’s Celtic heritage.
Climate Fiction, or Clifi, which I regard Crow Moon as, as well as being a romance and a witch book, is often scientific in emphasis. I wanted to bring something different to the table: the simple and, to me, obvious, concept that the world we live in today could really do with being considered as a divine being. The earth is in dire need of being respected. Even without being religious or spiritual about it, we would all be looking at a much brighter future if past decisions about how to utilise the earth’s limited resources had been made with the understanding that earth is a living being (Gaia, as visionary scientist James Lovelock calls it - a living being) in its own right, rather than a store of goodies for us to exploit at will, and often only for a fast buck.
In Europe, our pagan heritage has the same kind of traditions as the Native Americans - honouring the cycle of the year, the changes in nature, light and dark; understanding the plants and animals we live alongside; knowing how the earth provides everything for us, and taking only what we need. In the Greenworld, these are the skills that the witches in charge have brought back to their people, and it’s one of the gifts that they can offer the Redworld. I hope that the young people who are this planet’s future know that they are the gift; their environmental awareness, education and compassion are what we need now.
Last weekend I was fortunate enough to meet lots of lovely people at YALC, the Young Adult Literature Convention at London Olympia, run by Book Trust (who also happen to employ me). To get their full value from me being there on the Saturday, and to stop me eating all the chocolate in the green room, I ran two writing workshops, both of which were great fun.
However, since lots of people were really fired up by the second one in particular – Writing with the Tarot – and because even though I had about 30 attendees, I think still more people were aiming to come but got caught up with Judy Blume (fair enough; you win, Judy), I thought I might follow up with a (apparently very long winded – GET TO THE POINT ANNA AAAAARRRRGGHHH) blog about how you can use the tarot to help you get new ideas and start writing.
So this is what I said to my group. This workshop is not about how to read the tarot. We can’t cover that in 45 minutes. And it’s not about using the “proper” meanings in your writing either – although please feel free to do that in YOUR writing, you reading this, should you want to. It’s about recognising that the tarot is a collection of incredibly rich imagery and symbolism that you can use as inspiration.
They are pretty pictures (sometimes not so pretty – arresting, perhaps) that also contain many of the elements of story – people, in the Court cards (Kings, Queens, Knights, Princes/Princesses/Pages) and elsewhere, there are lots of people doing all manner of things. Looking forlornly out to sea, building a nave, shaking hands whilst wearing one large oven glove. Places – volcanoes, mountains, at sea, deserts, towns, gardens, houses; and situations - arguments, meetings, sexy times, chaste holding of hands as a precursor to sexy times, bargains being made, hard work being done, not so hard work being done, journeys, possibly with sexy times when you get there, reconciliations. There are also emotions and motivations –the psychological stuff. That’s usually covered by the 22 Major Arcana cards that you may or may not be familiar with (I mean, if you know the tarot, skip this whole section really, I don’t mind, I’ll never know) but it’s ones like The Lovers, Death (that doesn’t really mean death blah blah), The Hanged Man, all the ones you tend to see on TV when people are doing the tarot because they look dramatic, like Jane Seymour as Solitaire in Live and Let Die (see above).
The more domestic and everyday stuff is covered by the 56 Minor Arcana cards – the lesser wisdom. Though of course the whole system is a lifetime’s worth of study representing the crisscrossing connections of a web of human existence.
But as I said, you don’t need to know that. The point is, tarot is packed full of handy story elements just waiting to be combined. AND tarot is very hot in YA right now, what with The Raven Boys and Maggie Stiefvater's own artworked tarot set out soon, The Accident Season, The Mortal Instruments and (cough) Crow Moon using it in a variety of ways – more too, loads of books probably I can’t think of.
Here are some fun things you can do to help your writing.
(NOTE – I am assuming you have access to a tarot pack. If not, get one if you fancy, they’re not expensive, around £10-20, or more for something fancy – I have my eye on The Wild Unknown set. The classic pack is the Rider Waite; depending on your preferences you can get tarot themed with anything – vampires, animals, steampunk, whatever. I personally like the RWs, the Thoth tarot (great for this exercise as very visual), the DruidCraft Tarot, the Tarot of the Hidden Realm. )
1. Deep description
Take one card at random from the pack. Spend five minutes writing as deeply descriptively as you can about it without stopping. Notice everything can you can and be as specific as you can with your vocabulary – it’s not just pink, it’s cerise/magenta/fuschia/baby pink etc. Note everything down as gorgeously detailed as you can. Really go into the card.
2. Free association
Now, put that card back in the pack. Pick another card at random. You have five to ten minutes on this one, and your task is not to describe so much as to let it take you off on a flight of fancy. Free associate your brain off with this – again, free writing, so writing anything that comes into your head, without stopping. Enter into the flow, see where it takes you, no matter how bonkers. Doesn’t matter – no-one else is ever going to see this. What does the card or an element of it remind you of? If you were in the card, what could you hear/small/taste/touch? Is it like a dream? Go into the dream. Feel the feelings, make odd connections, see where it takes you.
Put that one back in the pack now and pull three new ones at random and put them all face up in front of you. Now, your task is to make connections between whatever you’ve pulled out and use all the elements somehow in maybe the start of a story, a scene, a descriptive passage, maybe a dialogue. See what suggests itself. This task is about doing what you did both times before – describe and free associate, and make links between apparently unconnected things. Because this is the essence of creativity, no? Seeing the links no-one else sees. In the workshop about 20 minutes worked for this but you could of course go longer, and it might even start you off on a tangent that takes you into a whole book and… you can buy me a drink if that happens.
Or a new tarot set.
There are some interesting books out there that do different, non-traditional storytelling with the tarot you can also check out – Italo Calvino’s Castle of Crossed Destinies, Rachel Pollack’s Tarot Tales and (cough, again) my Taropoetics, which is an avant-garde tarot writing project based on chance procedures. Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle uses the I Ching within a story about what would have happened if the Nazis won WW2 – in a way not dissimilar to Julie Mayhew’s The Big Lie, which I am very much enjoying.
Lastly, if you want to start reading the tarot and want a how-to book recommendation, you can’t go far wrong with Rachel Pollack’s 78 Degrees of Wisdom. There are lots more great ones - and not so great reads - on the market. Just the act of learning the cards in itself will fire you up creatively because of all the interesting concepts it contains.
So. Go forth, my friends, and rev up your writing, get inspired, get creative. Or, you know, sit in your bedroom reading tarot for yourself obsessively. Whichever.
1. Willow Rosenberg in Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Willow is, in my opinion, far and away the best modern depiction of a witch in popular culture, because she’s a normal girl. Kind of a geeky girl, actually. Oh - and she’s gay.
Admittedly, things go a bit fantasy here and there, especially later in the series when she becomes a supernatural demon-type with red eyes – the possibilities of a paranormal character and storyline is pretty tempting for any writer, and we do have to remember that Willow operates in a world where vampires are real from day one. So her role as a witch is always an interesting one, because Buffy mixes “real” occultism and Wicca, in Willow’s case, with storybook fantasy magic throughout the series. Hard to do but obviously Joss Whedon is a god.
So apart from being a brilliant representation of a young lesbian, with a sensitive and realistic relationship, Willow learns how to be a witch, and gets better over time. She’s bookish and reads a lot. She tries stuff out and gets it wrong. Her personal power develops because of her commitment rather than she just wakes up one day and poof! She’s a witch. Magic for Willow is not something she is born with or is bestowed by some kind of paranormal process. She works at it. Also, at one stage in the series, she has a virtual circle of fellow witches that help her cast spells online. This is in fact mirrored now by a number of virtual groups getting together to mediate and run healing sessions online. I remember thinking at the time how cool it was that Willow did that – boom, years later, I’m attending Goddess Healing Meditation via facebook on a Sunday night, 9pm-9.30pm.
2. Sandra Bullock as Sally in Practical Magic
Oh to be Sally in this film. Not only does she have just the most perfect hair in the world, but she has that lovely little herbal pharmacy-come-White Company-shop and makes lots of semi-medicinal potions in smart shiny bottles, and hooks up with a hot odd-eyed policeman at the end. What’s not to love?
Apart from the hair and the toiletries, what I really love about Practical Magic is that Sally belongs to a family of witches that are at least a little depicted as witches that do realistic things like attend seasonal festivals and help out local women with their love lives. Oh, and grow plants. (I love the earth energy in this film). The bringing the man back from the dead spell is obviously fluff, and irritating because they (presumably deliberately) mispronounce the Goddess they are appealing to for help as Heck-tate instead of Hecate – Heck-ah-tee, Greek goddess of magic, witches, the moon.
Still, midnight margaritas with Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing? Yes please.
3. Fairuza Balk as Nancy Downs in The Craft
In 1996, The Craft happened. I was 19, and already a wannabe witch.
Oddly, I didn’t really rate The Craft when I first saw it. I think it was because (spoiler alert) Nancy goes mad at the end of the film from being possessed by a made-up god, and I thought that was some kind of unnecessary party-pooper warning about the dangers of witchcraft. Despite that bit, the film has a great emphasis on four teen girls forming their own coven and, particularly in one scene, dedicating themselves to being witches in a thoughtful and semi-accurate way: being outside, somewhere beautiful; calling in the elements:
Nancy: Hail to the guardians of the watchtowers of the East, the powers of air and invention. Hear me! Us! Hear us!
Bonnie: Hail to the guardians of the watchtowers of the South, the powers of fire and feeling. Hear us.
Rochelle: Hail to the guardians of the watchtowers of the West, powers of water and intuition. Hear us.
Sarah: Hail to the guardians of the watchtowers of the North, by the powers of mother and earth. Hear us.
Nancy: Aid us in our magical workings on this May's eve.
Nancy, despite being the “bad” character who “goes too far” with the magic and ends up in a bad way, is pleasingly gothy, punky and troubled, and has the advantage as a fictional witch of being someone that, again, learns how do magic rather than someone that has exceptional natural powers, which is often the go-to approach for witch fitch (my term), and the case for her fellow character, “good” witch, Sarah. She is the one that takes the girls to their local new age shop (which, apparently, in real life, she bought). The film apparently had a Wiccan high priestess as an advisor, and you can see it in the detail of the rituals they conduct and the overall philosophy they follow, though only so far of course. Nancy is by far the coolest character in The Craft, and I think subconsciously I based my character Demelza at least a little on her.
4. Vivienne Le Fay Morgan / Morgan Le Fay
The archetypal witch, Morgan Le Fay – Morgan of the Fairies – is Queen of Magic. Enchantress and sister of Arthur, she is represented in a variety of positive and not-so-positive ways by a number of authors. In Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon and Fay Sampson’s Daughter of Tintagel, she is a priestess of the Old Religion. In some poetry she is more the Goddess herself. In Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, Geraldine McEwan plays her as Morgana, a batty old crone with crazy hair living in a subterranean dry-iced lair, sticking her talons into eggs full of blood (wherever one would get THOSE - the blood looks suspiciously like sweet & sour sauce. Ohhh the production value). Eva Green played a gorgeous seductress Morgana Pendragon in the (criminally, in my view – it was brilliant, much better than the BBC’s crap Merlin) discontinued TV series Camelot.
My favourite, though, is Dion Fortune’s Vivienne Le Fay Morgan, witch and Sea Priestess, in the books The Sea Priestess and Moon Magic. She’s a proper witch, knowing the mysteries of the sea, and inducting a clueless civil servant type into sea and moon magic whilst all the time it’s implicated that she is the original timeless Morgan Le Fay herself, Queen of Magic. Tinglingly good.
5. Gloria and Stella in Switch
Switch was another series that never made it past the first series, and it really should have because it was/is (you can still see it on Netflix) absolutely brilliant. The premise is that four young witches share a flat in Camden and do magic (admittedly of the finding a boyfriend sort) by getting together over a large cooking pot, chucking some random herbs in it and joining hands for a “SWITCH”. The good thing about it is, though, as well as featuring a black character and a lesbian, and being funny and well-written, that the four characters represent (very clearly, IMO) earth, air, fire and water. So, Stella (Lacey Turner in a pleasant change from Eastenders) is earth and is businessy, works in advertising, wears nice clothes, has plenty of money. Jude’s a sexy, creative Leo; Grace is a sensitive, caring water sign and Hannah’s an airy free spirit traveller.
The other thing I loved about it was Gloria, Grace’s mum, played by Caroline Quentin, is a wonderful, warm, funny and pretty well depicted pagan mum that’s involved in a the community, and appears in a couple of episodes chivvying the girls along to be better witches and to come and take part in a solstice.
6. The Halliwell sisters in Charmed
I can’t really narrow it down to one of them. I loved them all. If I had to pick… Piper, probably. She owns a bar and she’s got the best hair. Again, a mega series of the 90s, now on perpetual rerun, Charmed is about witch sisters living in modern day San Francisco, in an awesome house with a big family grimoire in the attic which always seems to have the information they need in it, despite the series being about a trillion episodes long and I’m sure the book isn’t that big.
Charmed (which has the best theme music of probably any TV show apart from maybe Robin of Sherwood in the 80s) has the central premise that the three sisters are the Charmed Ones, possessing special unbeatable powers, and are guardians of humanity against a wealth of horrible demons and paranormal beings. The Charmed Ones operate the Power of Three, the combination of their power together being virtually unstoppable. The thing I like about this is that three is a sacred number in terms of the Goddess in paganism and witchcraft, with the Goddess – the feminine aspect of the universe, being depicted as a trinity of Maid-Mother-Crone. The sisters don’t represent this as they’re all young – although Piper becomes a mother – but at least the notion of a powerful trinity of women is in there somewhere, as it is throughout literature from the three witches in Macbeth onwards.
(Other favourites are Xayide in The Neverending Story, Susan Sarandon in The Witches of Eastwick, and all the witches in the original book – oh and the (again discontinued) TV series Eastwick; Tenar in The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin, Circe in The Odyssey and Madame Serena in the much underrated 80s film Teen Witch, which has to be seen if only for its bizarre song in the girls changing room in an otherwise not musical film at all.)
So that’s my 6 – or in fact 9 – favourite fictional witches, with footnotes of many more which deserve their own post. That’s another post for another time. But in the meantime - merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again, dear friends. The Power of Three be with you; SWITCH, blessed be and hail to the guardians of the watchtowers of the east, west, north and south.
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.