Today we have a double treat for you: author Paula Brackston has graciously agreed to stop by and answer some of our questions about her latest book, The Silver Witch, (see Tahlia's review yesterday HERE), and we also have a GIVEAWAY!
In case you missed it, here's the description for The Silver Witch:
A year after her husband’s sudden death, ceramic artist Tilda Fordwells finally moves into the secluded Welsh cottage that was to be their new home. She hopes that the tranquil surroundings will help ease her grief, and lessen her disturbing visions of Mat’s death. Instead, the lake in the valley below her cottage seems to spark something dormant in her – a sensitivity, and a power of some sort. Animals are drawn to her, electricity shorts out when she’s near, and strangest of all, she sees a new vision; a boatful of ancient people approaching her across the water.
On this same lake in Celtic times lived Seren, a witch and shaman. She was respected but feared, kept separate from the community for her strange looks. When a vision came to her of the Prince amid a nest of vipers she warned of betrayal from one of his own. Prince Brynach both loved and revered her, but could not believe someone close to him wished him harm, even as the danger grew.
In her own time, Tilda’s grief begins to fade beside her newfound powers and a fresh love. When she explores the lake’s ancient magic and her own she discovers Seren, the woman in her vision of the boat. Their two lives strangely mirror each others, suggesting a strong connection between the women. As Tilda comes under threat from a dark power, one reminiscent of Seren’s prophecy, she must rely on Seren and ancient magic if death and disaster are not to shatter her life once more.
And some info about our visiting author:
Paula Brackston (aka PJ Brackston) is the New York Times bestselling author of The Witch's Daughter, The Winter Witch, and The Midnight Witch(2014).
Paula has an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University, and is a Visiting Lecturer for the University of Wales, Newport. In 2007 Paula was short listed in the Creme de la Crime search for new writers. In 2010 her book 'Nutters' (writing as PJ Davy) was short listed for the Mind Book Award, and she was selected by the BBC under their New Welsh Writers scheme.
Paula lives in Wales with her partner and their two children.
What better way to research your setting than to actually live there! Now that we've gotten you up to speed, it's time to welcome our guest.
Hi Paula, and welcome to Once Upon A Blog!
Congratulations on your new book! The Silver Witch has quite a bit for folklore lovers to delve into. Thank you for taking the time to drop by and answer some of our questions today. We are certainly intrigued...
Gypsy: To start with, what was your initial inspiration for The Silver Witch? How did you arrive at the dual/connected story?
Paula: The lake itself was my main inspiration. I live just over the hill from Llangors, and have always found it a wonderfully atmospheric place to visit. I knew I would want to set one of my stories there one day.
My second inspiration was the singular appearance of the characters (which I don't want to go into here for fear of spoiling), and that gave me the theme of visions. I knew then that one of my witches would be a shaman.
I wanted to use two main characters and two time settings so that I could highlight the timelessness of the lake and the surrounding area. Of course Tilda's life is very different from Seren's but the power of the lake, its mystical qualities, its secrets, remain hugely important in both their lives.
Gypsy: How did you go about researching the book? Were there any specific texts of legends you referred to?
Paula: I spent a fair amount of time walking by the lake or just sitting by it. One side has a campsite and boat house, but development has been kept to a minimum. The greater part of it remains unchanged after hundreds of years.
Also, the crannog, on which the prince had his palace built on top of the lake, is still there. I was lucky to be able to attend a lecture given on the construction of this little man-made island. It's such an ancient and unusual place, it can't help but fire a writer's imagination.
The main text I drew upon was the Mabinogion, which is a book of Welsh folklore and legends known to every Welsh person or child schooled here. It is full of fabulous stories which clearly demonstrate the poetic nature of the Welsh soul.
And the crannog and the prince are mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles! That was a wonderful primary source to have.
Gypsy: What's the significance of Tilda (the modern day woman) being a ceramic artist? Was there anything unusual about working with clay (or clay superstitions or stories) you discovered you weren't able to use in the book?
Paula: I wanted a visual art for Tilda, and the ceramics also gave her creations that nice grounding, being, as you say, made from clay. I toyed with the idea of having her use clay from the lake shore to work with, but the soil is not really the right type, and it was winter, which would have made it difficult. I also felt that clay pots are something Seren would have had, and that the Celtic art used to decorate them could be incorporated meaningfully into Tilda's designs.
Gypsy: The Welsh people I've met have a great awareness of "mythic touchstones" in their day to day. Sometimes it manifests as superstitions, other times it appears in daily folklore rituals and habits. The synopsis mentions Tilda discovering certain powers after her move to the lake but was she one those types of people before then (did she show signs of latent abilities we should watch for)? How does the Welsh mentality show in Tilda's modern day to day before and after her move?
Paula: Tilda's new senses and powers only properly reveal themselves once she comes to live by the lake. Don't forget, she isn't actually Welsh.
Gypsy: I see you have an Afanc in the book. That's a fairly obscure Welsh mythological creature and only the second use I'm aware of in a novel! (*Seanan McGuire's October Daye series has one too - though her creature is quite different of course). Can you tell us more about this creature? What drew you to it in particular?
Paula: Who doesn't love a water-horse?! There is a well-established legend regarding this mythical beast, which predates written stories, and so relied on the tradition of storytelling to be handed down orally through the generations. It is now affectionally known as Gorsie (in the way that the Loch Ness 'monster' is known as Nessie). In most versions of its story it was tamed by a brave maiden who lived by the lake. She variously sang to it, or spoke softly to it as it slumbered with its great head in her lap.
Scientists tend to scoff at the notion that there might be a real creature like this in the lake. There are some frighteningly large pike in there, and lots of eels, but nothing has been found to suggest anything more 'dinosaur' like. Of course, mythical beasts are famous for being able to evade scientific detection.
Gypsy: Between the facts that Seren (the historical woman) is a shaman, Tilda (the modern woman) discovers powers that connect her with animals and dreams that contain symbolic creatures such as vipers, the manifestation of animals seems to play an important role in the book. Should we be taking a closer look at the types of animals that appear for clues about these women and their states of mind or where they are in their journeys?
Paula: The animals in the book are certainly significant. In Celtic stories, witches are often represented by hares, or sometimes dogs. They were believed to be able to shapeshift into these creatures. And of course snakes were seen as possessing strong powers, whether for good or evil. It is significant that the vipers in this story are always bad, as they were also linked to fertility, and this is an issue that leads to some of the most important conflicts in the story.
Gypsy: In mythology the Afanc is connected with King Arthur (or at least Merlin and Percival, one of the Knight of the Round Table). Are the Arthur, Merlin and Round Table legends important to this book? Are the legends referenced in other ways as well that readers should look for?
Paula: The setting of my story, and the sources I have drawn on, pre-date the main versions of the Arthurian legends. Whether or not the actual king on which they were supposedly based existed, or if he did would have been known to all the Cymru in the early tenth century is debatable.
I do use the character of Merlin in my book Lamp Black, Wolf Gray, which is out in August. The setting for this story is the thirteenth century.
Gypsy: Is there anything else people who love fairy tales and folklore should keep an eye out for in The Silver Witch?
Paula: I hope the book will appeal both to folklore buffs and those who take the story on without any prior in-depth knowledge. If readers would like to know more about the legends and myths that have inspired me, I recommend taking a look at the gorgeous stories in the Mabinigion.
Gypsy: Thank you so much for answering our questions today! We wish you every success with the book and look forward to seeing more mythology and obscure folklore brought to life in the future.
Paula: Thank your for your interesting questions!
Ladies and gentlemen, Paula Brackston! *much cheering and applause*
Note: All photos were taken by Paula Brackston near Llangors Lake & Brecon Beach in Wales, except for the last photo, which is also of Llangors Lake (the setting of The Silver Witch) at sunset, taken by Karen James.
If you want to hear more about The Silver Witch and Paula's writing and research process, along with her many inspirations, you can follow along on her Virtual Blog Tour. Details are listed below.
The Silver Witch will be available for purchase on April 21, 2015, and is available for pre-order now. You can also purchase other 'witchy' books she's written (all are stand-alones).
And now for the GIVEAWAY we promised!
To be entered into the drawing for a lovely hardback copy of The Silver Witch,
you can do one of two things - or do more than one and get multiple entries!
Note: We have confirmed we can open the giveaway to all countries! However, due to shipping issues, hard copies can only be mailed to US, UK & Canadian readers. E-books will be sent to winners living anywhere else.
1) You can link to this interview here at Once Upon A Blog via a Tweet, Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook or use any other social media (make it public so we can see please) and put the link in the comments either below OR in the comments of the 'pinned' GIVEAWAY post that will (hopefully) remain at the head of the blog for the week. Our elves will check each link - and each verified one = one entry (yes - that means you could eg. Tweet and Facebook and get 2 entries!). One link only per comment please! (No limit on comments. Duplicates of your own links don't count.)
2) You may instead (or also) put the title of any UK fairy or folk tale in the comments below or in the 'pinned' GIVEAWAY post (that includes English, Scottish, Welsh AND Irish fairy & folk tales for this purpose!). Each verified UK tale = one entry. One title per comment please! (No limit on comments. Duplicates of your own tale titles don't count.)
The giveaway will run until a week from today, finishing on Tuesday April 21st, 2015, at Midnight (PT), with the winner being announced on Wednesday, April 22nd, (after our elves do their number-crunching and calculating...)
(That's "good luck" in Welsh)