Hi Paula and welcome to HJ! We’re so excited to chat with you about your new release, The Return of the Witch!
Please summarize the book for the readers here:
‘The Return of the Witch’ sees Elizabeth and Tegan, both powerful witches of very different kinds, face their feared enemy, Gideon Masters, once again. Only this time the hunter has become the hunted in a chase that will take all three of them back through the centuries.
Please share the opening lines of this book:
For a moment the sounds of the forest were denied me, replaced by a supernatural silence, as if there was no air to carry the noises of the nighttime. I had the impression that I was a prisoner in my own, senseless body, hearing nothing, seeing nothing, able to utter neither cry nor word. As I lay where I had fallen, unable even to feel the snowy ground beneath me, I fought to gain breath, to regain movement, to come properly to life once more. Then, just as it seemed I would suffocate in this nothingness, all senses returned.
Please share a few Fun facts about this book…
- I based Matravers on the village in Dorset where I lived until I was five. The county is known for its unusual place names, such as Toller Porcorum, Piddletrenthide, and Sturminster Newton. I think I chose something quite manageable! The local river is called the Piddle.
- While I was researching the seventeenth century I took to dressing in clothes similar to those my main characters would have worn. It is a measure of how used my family is to this kind of behaviour that they never even commented on it. The postman raised his eyebrows, but was far too British to actually say anything.
- The tunnels featured in the Victorian part of the book still exist. Many are spookily empty and closed off, some can be visited, and others have been turned into part of the famous Camden Market.
If your book was optioned for a movie, what scene would you use for the audition of the main characters and why?
Oh, what a lovely thought! I would choose a quiet, intimate scene featuring Elizabeth and Tegan. The rapport between the two would be crucial to the success of the story, so I’d want to see the two characters together. For example, early in the book, when they are at Willow Cottage:
‘Is that… is that the mouse I gave you?’ I asked.
Tegan casually reached out a hand and the tiny creature hopped onto it, ran up her arm, and settled on her shoulder, where it evidently felt most at home. ‘Yup, same one,’ she said, pausing to give it a quick scratch behind its ear. ‘Still going strong, aren’t you Aloysius?’
‘But, that would make him, what… nearly eight years old? Rather an ancient age for a mouse.’
Tegan stopped what she was doing and leaned back against the Aga. She folded her arms and stared at me.
‘When I met you, you were three hundred and eighty-four years old. You showed no signs of ageing or dying the whole time we were together. You disappeared off in a puff of bloody smoke to what you told me was some sort of witchy heaven, and now you pop up here again, calm as ever, telling me how to sweep snow off the path, as if you’ve just been down the shops for five minutes, and you have a problem with a mouse with an above average lifespan?’
‘Not a problem, no…’
‘You’re not the only one around here with any magic in you, you know? Aloysius was with me that night in Batchcombe Woods. The night it all kicked off. He was in the thick of that chaos, with spells and curses and fire… Something kept him alive then.’ She turned to kiss the mouse. ‘It’s kept him alive ever since, I guess.’
‘I’m glad,’ I told her. ‘I’m glad he’s been with you.’
What do you want people to take away from reading this book?
I hope readers will have been transported to another time and place, to have lived new and exciting experiences through the characters, and to have escaped from the rigours of the real world if only for a little while.
What are you currently working on? What other releases do you have planned for 2016?
Something new and exciting and top, top secret!
Thanks for blogging at HJ!
Giveaway: 3 Print copies of THE RETURN OF THE WITCH (US & Canada)
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Excerpt from The Return of the Witch:
This takes place when Elizabeth, having Time Stepped, goes to see her old family home.
By the time I reached the stretch of land that led to my childhood home the sky was dark with the promise of an imminent summer storm. The pace of my walking speeded my pulse and deepened my breathing, and yet it seemed there was scarcely sufficient air to be found, so humid was the atmosphere. All around me a tension grew, quietening small birds and sending tiny meadow animals into the shelter of the hedgerows. The sun dimmed in a thickening, bruising sky. I pressed on, hoping to reach the little house before the rain began. I crested the hill above the homestead breathlessly in my haste, only to have my remaining breath knocked from me by the sight that greeted me. The cottage stood in ruins! The thatch of the roof was gone entirely, and the walls were mostly crumbled to so much rubble. The barn and yard had fared no better. Oh, it was a desolate picture! I stumbled down the slope towards what was left of my home, of my memory. What had I imagined I would find? I had not seriously considered. There might have been a new family living happily there, perhaps, though given the years of war this seemed unlikely. Or some hardworking farmer might have made good the business, breeding cattle, perhaps, or pigs, maybe. But no. When I reached the place where the front door would have stood it was plain to see that the house had been deliberately set ablaze, and that this ruination had taken place many years earlier. When exactly, I wondered. And who would have done such a wasteful and heartless thing? As I formed the question I almost laughed aloud at my own naivety. Gideon. Of course, it had to be him. When I had chosen to run from not towards him, when I had shunned his help, spurned him, turned from the dark magic he would lead me deeper and deeper into, what did I think he might have done directly afterwards? He must have thrashed about in his rage, looking for a way to hurt me, to show his anger, to wound anything I held dear. What better place to start than with the destruction of my beloved home?
I gasped as a dreadful thought entered my head. The graves! I turned to the accompaniment of a great rumble of thunder, very loud and near. Its echo was still chasing across the sky when I reached the small patch of ground behind the garden where I had lain my family to rest. If the condition of the cottage had shocked me, it was as nothing compared to what had been done to the graves. Where there should have been grassy mounds with the remnants of wooden markers, and even the broad, flat stones the villagers had insisted on putting on top of my mother’s burial site, instead was a mess of mud and churned earth and deep chasms gouged into the ground. Deep and empty. A flash of lightning blanched the scene a supernatural white for an instant, revealing the full horror of the desecrated graves. Nothing remained of them, save the holes. The bodies of my loved ones had each and every one of them been torn from the earth. And taken where? For what purpose? My mind began to chase all manner of feverish imaginings. There was no limit to Gideon’s depravity; nothing to which he would not stoop in his rage.
At last the storm broke. Rain pelted from the tumultuous heavens, washing over me, coursing down my face, mixing with my bitter tears. The wet ground release its pungent scent, letting loose the musty, potent aromas of summer trapped within it, filling the air with an overpowering smell of dung and rotten vegetation and loamy soil. It rained so fiercely that the noise of it was fearsome, and yet above it all I could swear I heard a voice. A voice I knew. A young man, saying my name, over and over.
Bess! Bess! he called.
My brother! I whipped around, searching through the downpour. ‘Thomas?’ I cried. ‘Thomas?’ Of course he was not there. They had all gone, in every possible way, they had been taken from me. But still I saw a shape, a figure, surely, moving towards me through the relentless fall of water. I reached out towards him, and as I did so I heard a child crying. Unmistakably, these were the sobs of a young girl. I turned again, scouring the blurred garden, unable to make sense of the distorted shapes even though the place was so dear and familiar to me. The storm, and a dizziness in my own head, and the shock and despair at what I had found, all conspired to affect my vision and muddle my senses. What was I seeing? What was I hearing? The crying continued.
‘Margaret? Dear Margaret, is that you? Where are you?’ A second shadowy shape joined the first, and yet though they moved slowly towards me, they seemed to get no closer. I stretched out my arms to my brother and sister, longing to be reunited with them, to comfort them. I felt myself sinking and looked down at my feet. The torrential rain had turned the dusty earth to sucking mud in a matter of moments. I attempted to step from its grip, but my boots were so heavy with the sodden soil that I could not lift them. The more I struggled the deeper I sank. Another crack of lightning rent the sky. Thomas and Margaret cried out for me. I twisted and struggled but was soon up to my knees. I fell forwards, pulling at my legs, trying to free myself, the mud all the time sucking, dragging, drawing me down, so that I started to slide back. Back towards one of the open graves.
This was no mere storm. There was magic at work here. I steadied myself, shutting the pitiful cries from my mind. I must not simply react. I must think beyond the obvious. I listened behind the heartbreaking voices that I had known so well, trying to hear the spell, the wicked murmurings that had conjured them. It was impossible to focus on what I could not see or hear when all the time I was slithering through the mire and had now reached the lip of the grave. I could see into the dark wound in the earth, and where I had at first thought it empty I now saw it contained a body, raggedly clothed and sullied with mud and decay, but a body nonetheless and recognisable as that of my beloved father! I knew it made no sense. I knew what I was seeing was not real. In truth, my father’s remains would be but bones and dust by now. This could not be his corpse, so freshly put into the earth. And yet, as I stared in horror, the body moved. My father opened his sightless eyes and sat up, moving silently towards me, beckoning me to join him in his grave.
‘No! This is not real!’ I screamed, clutching and clawing at the unnaturally soupy ground. As I could not see clearly, and that which I could see was all trickery and illusion, I shut my eyes. I began to chant a prayer to the Goddess, a plea for strength and protection. As I did so the voices and cries around me grew louder, and the rain fell with such force it filled my mouth as I recited the sacred words. I did not stop. Even though I was now sliding into the grave itself, I kept my eyes closed. I summoned my witch’s strength, the power of my own magic aiding my flailing limbs, so that at last I made some progress upwards. The effort required to work against Gideon’s spell and to fight against the turmoil he had created was quickly draining me, but I knew I must not allow myself to be pulled down into the grave, which was rapidly filling with water. Was this what he had planned for me all along? To lure me here and then drown me with the memory of my family, knowing with every passing second that he had won, he had finished me, and I had left Tegan to his non-existent mercy?
‘No!’ I screamed again, hauling myself up the collapsing side of the pit. At last I succeeded in dragging my upper body out. As I did so I saw three figures standing at the graveside, looming above me. I peered up, spitting out water and mud, trying to bring their faces into focus. It would have been better had I not done so. All at once I saw Margaret, not happy and rosy cheeked as I liked to remember her, but pale as death, the joy gone from her, tears making tracks through the grime of ages on her sunken cheeks. And Thomas, my dear, brave brother, was revealed to me as he had been at the height of his futile struggle against the plague, his skin bloated and covered with buboes, one eye enlarged, swollen and bloody, the other shut and oozing. And next to them my mother, who had sacrificed herself to save me. She stood quiet and straight-backed as ever, save for the unnatural angle of her head where the hangman’s rope had broken her neck. I screamed then, a long, bellow of pain for what I had lost, for what we had all suffered, followed by a cry of rage that Gideon should so disport and defile my loved ones in order to torment me.
I redoubled my efforts and hauled myself from the grave, yet still I could not stand. The ground beneath me was a bog now, and would not support my weight. I closed my eyes to the phantoms that surrounded me. I had not time to work the complex manner of spell needed to lift me from the earth, but I could summon a burst of energy, a pulse of magic that might, just might, be sufficient to free me from the sucking mud and allow me to flee from this terrible phantasmagoria. I brought to mind my hatred of Gideon. I made myself think of all the damage he had done, all the pain he had inflicted on me and on those dear to me. I drew a deep breath, breathing in the power of the storm. Let it work for me, this elemental energy. Let me turn it against him! With the next burning crack of lightning I flung myself upwards. I felt the fire from the sky sear into me as my body was hurled out of the swamp, directly through the spectres of my family, and sent skidding across the waterlogged ground. I landed heavily upon the heaped stones of the barn wall. I was winded, stunned, and in pain. I tried to stand up, but I was too breathless. As I lay in this helpless state another figure emerged from the gloom. This one, taller, heavier, stronger than those insubstantial others, strode towards me with great splashing footfalls. I cried out, rubbing mud from my eyes, attempting to see who it was, to get up and defend myself. I got as far as kneeling before two strong hands gripped my shoulders.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Paula Brackston’s debut novel, The Witch’s Daughter, was the little book that could–with a captivating story, remarkable heroine, and eye-catching package, it has now netted over 200,000 copies in all formats. Now Paula returns with its sequel The Return of the Witch, another bewitching tale of love and magic, featuring her signature blend of gorgeous writing, a fabulous and intriguing historical backdrop, and a headstrong and relatable heroine readers will cheer for.
After five years in the Summerlands, Gideon has gained his freedom. Elizabeth knows he will go straight for Tegan, and that she must protect the girl she had come to regard as her own daughter. In the time since she the dramatic night in Batchcombe woods, Tegan has traveled the world learning from all manner of witches, and she is no longer the awkward teenager and novice spellcaster she once was. However, her skills are no match for Gideon’s dark, vengeful power, and he succeeds in capturing her. Will Elizabeth be able to find her? Will they be able to defeat their nemesis once and for all?
In a breathless journey that takes them through history to the 17th and 19th centuries, witch pursues warlock. Three people steeped in magic weave a new story, but not all will survive until the end.
Meet the Author:
Paula Brackston lives in a wild, mountainous part of Wales. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University, and is a Visiting Lecturer for the University of Wales, Newport. Before becoming a writer, Paula tried her hand at various career paths, with mixed success. These included working as a groom on a racing yard, a travel agent, a secretary, an English teacher, and a goat herd. Everyone involved (particularly the goats) is very relieved that she has now found a job she is actually able to do properly.
When not hunched over her keyboard in her tiny office under the stairs, Paula is dragged outside by her children to play Swedish tennis on the vertiginous slopes which surround them. She also enjoys being walked by the dog, hacking through weeds in the vegetable patch, or sitting by the pond with a glass of wine. Most of the inspiration for her writing comes from stomping about on the mountains being serenaded by skylarks and buzzards.
In 2007 Paula was shortlisted in the Creme de la Crime search for new writers. In 2010 her book ‘Nutters’ (writing as PJ Davy) was shortlisted for the Mind Book Award. Last year she was selected by the BBC under their New Welsh Writers scheme.