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jacket image for CROOKED DAYLIGHT by HELEN SLAVIN The 1st book in Helen Slavin's series features the not-so-normal town of Woodcastle. Follow The Way sisters' adventures in magic, witchcraft & suspense.You find me slumped over the keyboard. It is a posture I often assume when writing, in the belief that it assists the word pixies in picking the stories from my brain.

Lake Lore was the heralded title for my new full length Witch Ways book, the first in the central spine of stories concerning the fates of the three Way sisters, Anna, Charlie and Emz.

“It’s the wrong title.” the word pixies whispered. Lake Lore was the title I’d worked with and so it settled at the edge of my head. There are many things settled at the edge of my head; mostly it is litter and roadkill but occasionally there is a hoard of Roman gold in there or a bronze sword.

So then Witch Wake bubbled to the surface. I liked it. It was alliterative and contained an abundance of ‘W’ one of my favourite letters. My other favourite is ‘Z’ but I couldn’t work that in.  I, and my merry band of editors trolled along with ‘Witch Wake’ for a time.

“It’s still not right.” the word pixies whispered, more insistently “That’s not a title, ‘The Witch Ways; Witch Wake’ is a bit of a tongue twister.”

Titles are notoriously hard to think up. Few people know that ‘Wuthering Heights’ was actually titled ‘Cathy Come Home’ until Charlotte pointed out to Emily that there were in fact two Cathys and she didn’t come home.

There were fisticuffs at the Parsonage that evening. Both sisters were skilled in hand to hand combat from the many times they had been called upon to rescue Branwell from a brawl at the Lord Nelson or other local hostelry. Anne, it was claimed, had a double headed penny so that when it came to the toss as to who had to head into the Haworth affray on any given evening, she would shout tails and so either Charlotte or Emily would have to perform this sisterly task. For this particular title bout, Anne stood as referee.

Charlotte was fleeter of foot but Emily possessed the superior uppercut combined with a blistering and ambidextrous jab that often left her opponent with small sparrows tweetling around their head.

As the two siblings windmilled and widowmakered their way around the mahogany table in the back room, a sudden violent squall blew up outside. Rain and wind hammered at the window and Anne, taking her eye off the contretemps, glanced out and declared,

“Imagine being up on the moor tonight! It must be wuthering at the heights.”

Emily halted abruptly.

“What? Wait, what did you just say?”

Charlotte, at this juncture, was unable to retract a speedy cross, punching a hole in Emily’s bodice and winding her. In light of this Anne declared the fight void. The novel’s title was decided upon and the hole in the bodice was easily mended, Charlotte having famously tiny hands.

Sometimes, to decide a title, I play a kind of lexicographical poker. I write keywords on scraps of paper and then deal them out. I arrange. Rearrange. Stick and Twist. I did this for Lake Lore/Witch Wake/Mongrel Offspring as it began to be called in my head.

Very soon my head was spinning. I resorted, as I always do, to tea, that well known cure-all, and headed into the garden.

I sat back in the chair beneath the shade of the sycamore, apple and hazel trees. The hazel is particularly splendid having been grown from an actual hazelnut, buried and forgotten by one of the squirrels. It was cool beneath the leaves and the sunlight blistered through here and there. I noticed how many apples there are on the apple tree this year and looked forward to the crumbles before a bee drew my eye. Then a bronze dragonfly, bigger than a wren, zig-zagged his way across the shade. My mind wandered with him.

“Oh, look at the light…” I thought in a daydream fashion “Look at the crooked daylight of the branches.”

Wait. Crooked Daylight.

Suddenly, I was in Havoc Wood. My heroines, Anna, Charlie and Emz, walking a few steps in front of me, halted their usual gamekeeping patrol to turn and look at me. There was a brief exchange of nods before I followed them, down to Pike Lake.

 

Crooked Daylight was published by IpsoBooks on 29 August and is available to buy right now

 

“You can’t wear hats.” my son said to me the other day. “You just think you can.” This is what I have found out about offspring, they grow up, up, up a bit higher until they can pat you on the head, then, they tell you what you can’t do.

I can wear a hat. Watch me. Admittedly, due to my diminutive stature I cannot in all honesty wear one of the massive cartwheel kind found in such classic films as The Wicked Lady or Gone With the Wind. No. Well not in public at any rate. I do draw the line somewhere and I appreciate that with such a millinery delight on my head I would look like a field mushroom. But I can wear a hat. I pick up the hat and I put it on my head. Simple as.

I love hats. I know that there’s a distinct anti-hat lobby in the fashion and trend fields but since fashion and trends have given us colour block shift dresses and slit knee jeans I don’t really care what they think.  Somewhere there is a committee of fashion designers sitting at a table chewing their pencils and saying ‘what idiotic thing can we make them all wear this season?’ See? I have all the jargon. Season. Trend. I also have some hats.

I have recently had to rescue my ‘summer hat’. This is an ancient article woven from some sort of plastic that looks like straw. It is a Kangol make and it has a floppy element of cloche to it in a muddy brown. I bought it one year when we were heading to Brittany so there was a threat of some actual sun. This hat has served me well. After it was duly rescued and refurbed with a darning needle, a bit of brown thread and quite a lot of swearing I tried it on. Pinned up the brim with a kilt pin and hey presto it looks stylish.

“You look like the Wicked Witch of the West” said my son. Ever the fashion critic.

I do not. Well, only when I wear the hat and I’m on my bike and the basket is attached. To the bike. Not the hat. This hat is multi-purpose as its less than natural material means it does the job as a rain hat too, the brim doubles as guttering.

Then there is my Fedora. This is grey felt with a black grosgrain band and it is a man’s size because, did I mention? I’ve got a giant head. Ladies hats don’t fit me. Ever. They teeter on the top of my skull like little doll hats. My Fedora is a lovely fit, except in a high wind. Like that time at Hengistbury Head when Stephen had to chase it down the cliff.

“What a shame he caught it.” was my daughter’s comment.

I also have a top hat. Tall and black and, well, top. This was an eBay purchase and I sometimes put it on to think in. I have to do this when no one is in the house because, as you might surmise, the ruling from the Brats is,

“You are NOT wearing that top hat.”

However, when I did last wear it to the Dunge Cheese Show, I won a dressage competition that I hadn’t even entered. I was just at the sidelines enjoying a handmade spinach and feta sausage roll when I was handed a rosette and asked to do a lap of the arena. I am still working my way through the prize oats.

All this hat nonsense has been brought up by the imminent opening of the Winchester Hat Fair. I received a flyer inviting me to the delights of this event (1-3rd July in Winchester rather fittingly) and naturally I started to consider my current hat collection and which might be appropriate to wear. I considered my little green felt one with the large plume of pheasant feathers. Yes. I just used the word ‘plume’. Then there is also my green velvet medieval style cap with the gold swirly embroidery, a standby for any civic events involving cats and people named Whittington. There is also the longstanding temptation of that twisty crowned witches hat that I have earmarked on Etsy, felted and concertinaed which is the hat of my very wildest dreams. Or what about heading to the British Hatter in Bath for a new purchase? Something sweeping and wide brimmed? Trimmed with a stuffed duck and a dotty veil perhaps?

I was aboard the top deck of the 265 and part way through Bradford on Avon when I realised that the Winchester Hat Fair has nothing to do with hats or millinery of any kind. It’s an arts festival! Fringe and Comedy and Street theatre of all kinds in the glorious city. Winchester has that historic twitch to it, streets that horses have gallopped to battle along. A wrecked bit of castle. King Arthur’s Round Table hanging in the Great Hall.

Ah ha. Change of attire required. I will whip off my wimple and pull on my raven feather cloak, unless it’s raining this weekend of course, in which case I’ll also take my sun hat.

 

You may have heard that my book, The Ice King, has just been published.  It’s a sneak peek into my new Witch Ways series, and you can get a copy to read for free here.

 

 

 

Spells. I’ve been right/write in the middle of the end of a second Witch Ways book, and I’ve been really working out the magic stuff. I’m picky as well as Pagan. I know what Strengths I want and how the mental mechanics of it must work.

Once again I must bow to the Pratchett school of Witchcraft and admit that I prefer a more hands on approach to the practice of magic and indeed, the not practicing it but steering well clear of the dangerous volatile stuff. I want my witches, all three of them, to be armed and dangerous, but only to those who mean harm and are dangerous. Ooh, I quite like that, I might use that sometime. Oh. I just did.

Anyone having a quick tramp round Glastonbury in their glass slippers can see that there’s some seriously heavy industry around Wicca and witchcraft. You don’t need to travel all the way to Diagon Alley to get kitted out these days either, you can, if you can’t get yourself down to Glasto, click and receive any number of witchery pokery goodies.

That said, on my internet prowl of Witch Kit I feel that I’m not really sure what you’re ‘supposed’ to have and what you need. It is a bit like hiking I suppose, do I really need this solar powered charcoal grill or should I invest in this survival bag instead? Hm? My head was literally spinning (hey, witchcraft anyone? Spinny head is top of the to do list) after a brief browse over some ceremonial daggers. These are for your rituals (instructions online) and they go by many different names including ‘Athame’. You can have any dagger you like, long and thin, short and sharp, embossed, engraved, curly bits on the handle.

There’s any number of cauldrons and pots on the market too, take your pick. Plastic seems a bit of a waste of time really but I suppose it looks decorative by your hearth next to your magic stuffed cat. In Glastonbury there are actually some stuffed cats, not the cute cushiony kind filled with kapok but the dried and skinned kind made by taxidermists.

Dagger. Pot.  Magic cat. Check. What else? Nice velvet cloth for your ritual table anyone? Or a lovely sweeping black velvet gown for your next coven meeting or if you’re really proper, Sabbat? Pointy black hat? Victorian style boots? I am giving away my particular witchy preferences here. I am old school. You can have any colour you like as long as its black, any hat you like as long as its pointy. And black.

If you need to sort out your transport to the Sabbat then how about a lovely Lakeland Plastics besom? In this case I don’t think a Dyson will do it.

Oh, good grief I almost forgot! Wand? Where would the average witch be without a wand? Imagine getting to your chosen Sabbat and finding, on a search of the many and myriad silk lined pockets of your velvet coat, you can’t find your wand?

Imagine. You would be powerless.

And that is where the shopping stopped and the spell binding began. It is all very well having a wand but what if someone takes it from you? You shouldn’t need the wand itself, what you need is the power it represents. A wand is, if you look at it, a pointy stick. It could be a twiggy bit that dropped off an elm tree, a splinter that shaved off a chair leg, a chair leg itself. It doesn’t matter, it is the person wielding it that counts. The wand is just a point of focus so I wonder if a knitting needle wouldn’t do just as well? Especially a needle that has knitted a lot of jumpers with love and two-ply. Surely that must empower the needle and make it, essentially, a wand?

The ritual dagger? Does it have any power at all if you got it off the internet and it was made in China? There is a magical theory that things only take on a talismanic effect if they mean something to you, if they are imbued with a spirit of use. A ritual dagger is too glamourous a creature, it’s a fake. Your true ritual dagger should be something that you like the feel of when you use it, something that is to hand, it sits on the worktop or rests in the drawer.

Now I have to clamber back onto the psychiatrist’s chair here. My Grandma Ellen would cut you down to size with the phrase ‘You slept in the knife drawer’. By this she meant you were a bit sharp and needed to come down a peg. This phrasing is, effectively, one of my Grandma’s spells, not that she knew it. She had no interest in anything Pagan. She was all for the Pope. This phrase, and its idea of taking up the attributes of the knives, has stuck with me. I cannot put a knife away, butter or dinner, without thinking it. I am bound in a small way, to the knife drawer and its contents. Consider that at certain times of stress I think of myself having a short nap in the knife drawer and gathering in the strength. At other times I just hide in amongst the imagined blades for protection. For me, there is linguistic and memory magic in the word ‘knife’ itself, a word we were given by my favourite band of people, the Vikings.

So shouldn’t a breadknife be as useful if you need an Athame? After all, it is trusty and hardworking and familiar. My breadknife came from Ikea but it is the best cutter ever and, better still, it sounds like a sword as you pick it from the worktop. Bingo. The objects that become most talismanic belong to you and have power only because you alone know what that power is.

Is it wrong that I have a soft spot for ladles too? Just the sound of the word ‘ladle’ casts a mental spell for me, of soup and steel and fairytale. It is also apparent that almost all my pans are cauldrons. I thought I bought them because they are capacious but neat on the hob, the handles don’t stick out. Nope. I was filling the big black one with boiling salted water and my son commented “You’re cooking pasta in a cauldron.” He’s right. I bought them because they are cauldrons. Practical but magic.

It is not the weapon that matters, but the idea of actually being the weapon yourself. No one can disarm you if all your power is inside. I worked out that the most powerful room in my house is probably my kitchen. I love my kitchen and the cooking I do there. It is a messy wasteland scented with garlic and rosemary and slightly mouldering washing but, I warn you, don’t confront me there. All my power concentrates into that small, culinary space and, rest assured, the knives and ladles will be out.

 

 

 
 

‘a highly original talent’ – Beryl Bainbridge

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