BOOK CLUB: Each is­sue we’ll pick a bril­liant book to read. This month, we dab­ble in magic.

In the Moment - - Contents - Words: Sarah Ditum




Meet Rosie Strange: bene t fraud in­spec­tor, Es­sex girl, un­will­ing owner of a witchcraft mu­seum and re­luc­tant in­ves­ti­ga­tor of the su­per­nat­u­ral. The star of a new se­ries of books from Syd Moore, when Rosie takes pos­ses­sion of the mu­seum – her in­her­i­tance from an es­tranged grand­fa­ther – her rst thought is to sell up and cash in.

But the mu­seum ap­pears to have other ideas. Al­most im­me­di­ately, a des­per­ate fam­ily ap­pears, beg­ging the mu­seum’s cu­ra­tor, Sam, to help them nd the bones of witch Ur­sula Ca­dence in or­der to free their son from pos­ses­sion. Rosie might be a thor­ough ra­tio­nal­ist, with no time for sto­ries about de­mons and fa­mil­iars (crea­tures, we learn, that help witches to cast their spells and carry out mis­chievous deeds on their be­half), but that doesn’t mean she can re­sist an ur­gent plea or a wild ad­ven­ture. In­evitably, she and Sam set off to nd Ur­sula.

It’s a mis­sion that will take in dou­ble-crosses, ne­far­i­ous cults and the frankly in­cred­i­ble – but above ev­ery­thing, this is a story about Rosie, one of the most ap­peal­ing char­ac­ters to have emerged in ction for a while. She’s smart, she’s sharp, she loves her hair-straight­en­ers, and her cyn­i­cism makes her the per­fect com­pan­ion as Moore leads you into a world where the im­pos­si­ble might just be hap­pen­ing.

The novel draws on the real Es­sex witch tri­als of the 16th cen­tury, with Moore keep­ing one eye on her story and one on the re­al­ity of a world where poor women were (and still are, with witch-hunts continuing to­day) scape­goated and de­monised. As Rosie re­alises, be it Es­sex witches then or Es­sex girls now, it’s all about us­ing stereo­types to keep women down.

With a gal­lop­ing plot and masses of charm, Strange Magic is an ir­re­sistible cel­e­bra­tion of keep­ing an open mind. Af­ter all, as Rosie is told: “ab­so­lute scep­ti­cism can be just as blind­ing as ab­so­lute faith.”

Why did you de­cide to write about witches?

My nan was fan­tas­tic with fairy tales and she’d make up sto­ries, and, like most writers, I was also an avid reader, but I iden­ti­fied more with the witches than the princesses or the fairies. The witches, they were out there do­ing things.

They had magic and they could y.

As I got older, I started to re­alise that the re­al­ity was a lot more nu­anced and com­plex. I was gripped by a huge sense of in­jus­tice. Part of me re­ally liked the fact that witches were as­so­ci­ated with magic and spells, and they had this as­so­ci­a­tion of be­ing closer to the earth and more in touch with the rhythms of na­ture.

Some of them, of course, were heal­ers who used herbs as po­tions. But ac­tu­ally, if you dig deeper, you nd out that th­ese women were scape­goated and op­pressed. It struck me that we didn’t know the names of the witches. Where are their com­mem­o­ra­tions? Where are their tales? So that’s when I started to write about them.


Strange Magic ex­plores the idea of witchcraft and fe­male power...

Th­ese peo­ple were vic­tims. They were bul­lied and they were mur­dered. And the rea­son we have to re­mem­ber this is that witch hunts are still go­ing on. It’s great the witch is now seen as a de­fi­ant, non-do­mes­tic as­pect of fem­i­nin­ity, but there are women still walk­ing in the shadow of su­per­sti­tion and per­se­cu­tion. The witch will be a fan­tas­tic fem­i­nist icon, but there’s a lot of work to be done.

Rosie isn’t an im­me­di­ately sym­pa­thetic char­ac­ter. As a bene t fraud in­spec­tor, she’s kind of the mod­ern witchfinder, isn’t she?

I think she can be quite in­sen­si­tive at the be­gin­ning of the book. And there are el­e­ments of the witchfinder in that she goes by the rule­book. The com­pas­sion el­e­ment isn’t as de­vel­oped as you would like in a bene t fraud in­spec­tor! But this is one of the things I’m hop­ing will change in her char­ac­ter arc as we progress through the se­ries. She’ll nd out that the world is more nu­anced; there are a lot more things we don’t un­der­stand.

A re­ally great part of the book is the idea that not ev­ery ques­tion has an an­swer.

I am mar­ried to an athe­ist and we have a lot of very dy­namic con­ver­sa­tions be­cause I like that there are mys­ter­ies in the world. I think it’s okay to have ar­eas where we don’t know the an­swers. Some­times, mys­ter­ies should just be cel­e­brated.

And yet, in terms of plot writ­ing, you’re very good at re­solv­ing mys­ter­ies.

In terms of ctional worlds, you can only go so far be­cause read­ers want to know cer­tain things about what hap­pened. I am one of those read­ers who’s like, “Tell me! Tell me!” I spend ages on my plots, any­thing from three to about six weeks. I’m quite vis­ual so I need to have it plas­tered up on the wall. Once I’ve got it done, I’ll write it in a chrono­log­i­cal time­line, and then chap­ter by chap­ter. Maybe I’m a bit of a con­trol freak, but I need to know where I’m go­ing.

How far do you see Rosie go­ing?

I think she can go and go, to be hon­est. She’s de­vel­op­ing nu­ance, and read­ers will pos­si­bly be able to guess where her char­ac­ter’s go­ing, but ob­vi­ously there are two el­e­ments to the Strange se­ries: one is the Es­sex witch and then there’s the Es­sex girl, and she’s go­ing to com­bine them.

We’re also read­ing...

How To Be Hu­man by Paula Co­cozza (Hutchin­son, £12.99). A woman re­cov­er­ing from a breakup nds her­self drawn into a strange ob­ses­sion – with an ur­ban fox. This ut­terly orig­i­nal Gothic tale plots men­tal dis­in­te­gra­tion and cel­e­brates a “rewil­d­ing of the heart” that hap­pens when we let na­ture in.

Syd Moore lives in Es­sex and has writ­ten two pre­vi­ous mys­tery nov­els. The se­quel to Strange Magic, Strange Sight (Point blank, £8.99), is out in Oc­to­ber and Syd is writ­ing the third book in the se­ries. BE­WITCHED BY STRANGE MAGIC? SHARE...

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