Ruth Warburton, author of A Witch in Winter, joins us on the blog today to chat about her debut novel. Click here to see my review.
A Witch in Winter has quite a historic feel – the idea of witchcraft being passed down through the centuries, the history surrounding the town Anna moves to – all of which I loved. Did you ever think about making A Witch in Winter a historical novel, or did you always know that you wanted to write a contemporary book?
It was always a contemporary book in my head – I don’t know why – that was just how it started! I could definitely see myself doing something set in the past in another book though. I loved doing the research and weaving it into the plot.
What kind of research did you do for the book?
Mainly it was research in order to write the spells the girls use. They had to sound really convincing and authentically “old”, but the real spell books I found didn’t quite work in the plot. There are lots of real grimoires which survive from the middle ages and even earlier, but they aren’t what we would really think of as spell books – they’re often in Latin and full of complicated instructions about astrology and spirits and demons – they were designed to be read by learned men and are more like a whole study guide.
I wanted something a bit more rustic and domestic, with spells and charms the girls could pick out and use individually, a bit like recipes. So I researched the language and style of real spell books, as well as the language of early recipe books, and I also researched folk charms and superstitions, and tried to kind of combine all three into something close to what I wanted, but convincingly 16th century.
The setting of A Witch in Winter is nicely drawn – is it based on any particular town or historical site you have visited?
It’s a sort of mish-mash of elements of my home town of Lewes, combined with lots of holidays to Cornwall and Devon and Brittany. It’s not supposed to be any one particular place, or even any one particular part of the country, but I hope it has a convincingly back-water, small-town feel.
In the coming books (or in a separate series, perhaps?) will we be learning more about the history of the Grimoire Anna found in her house? Or learn the story of the original witch who wrote/owned it and how it came to be burned?
Maybe! Her story doesn’t crop up in the remaining two Winter books, but I might return to it one day.
Is there a particular character you especially enjoyed writing?
I really enjoyed writing Bran because he’s such a bastard – and gets worse as the trilogy goes on. It was great fun writing the scenes where he really let rip!
Are there any teasers/spoilers you can share about what to expect in the coming books?
Well… book 2 (A Witch in Love) starts just before Christmas, six months after the end of A Witch in Winter. And it ends just after Valentine’s day. What happens in between rocks Anna’s world and makes her doubt everything she thought she knew.
A Witch in Winter is your debut novel. What was it like receiving the news it was to be published and can you tell us a little bit about the whole publishing process?
It was completely unreal! I work in publishing (in adult publishing) which you would think would have made me more confident, but actually it only made me realise how incredibly hard it is to get published, and how even fantastic books can slip through the cracks. I am still pinching myself to be honest.
In terms of the publishing process, I did it like any other wannabe writer – I researched agents who represented YA and subbed my three chapters to their slushpiles. I got rejected, and rewrote, and then I got accepted by an agent which was incredibly exciting – although I didn’t take anything for granted at that point. That took about 18 months – from first setting pen to paper, through to signing with my agent. However after that things moved really quick – I signed with Hodder by the end of the month, and after some toing and froing, trying to fix the right publication date, the book was published just over a year later. (Which is quite quick, in publishing terms!)
Are there any particular books or novels you would recommend for readers who wish to learn more about the history of witchcraft?
There are lots of brilliant novels about witchcraft and magic but I don’t know if any of them are particularly historically accurate – for readers who’re interested in the historical side of things, maybe something like Celia Rees’ Witch Child?
Otherwise I did a lot of research on the internet – some of the grimoires and texts are available in facsimile form online which is interesting if you want to get a feel for what real spell books actually looked like (although you have to be careful to stick to historically verified texts, as there is a lot of frankly fabricated material out there). Another fascinating (and terrifying) book is the Malleus Maleficarum – The Hammer of the Witches – which is a 15th century guide to witch-hunting. It’s freely available online but makes for pretty tough reading.
A big thanks to Hachette Children’s Books for organising an author Q&A and for Ruth Warburton for kindly taking the time to answer some questions!
If you want to find out more about the author or the book, check out Ruth’s website here.