BOOK CLUB: Each issue we’ll pick a brilliant book to read. This month, we dabble in magic.
EVERY ISSUE WE’LL PICK A BRILLIANT BOOK WE THINK
YOU’D LOVE TO READ AND WE’LL CHAT WITH THE AUTHOR TO FIND OUT MORE. THIS MONTH, WE DELVE
INTO STRANGE MAGIC BY SYD MOORE
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.
I THINK IT’S OKAY TO HAVE AREAS WHERE WE DON’T KNOW THE ANSWERS. SOMETIMES, MYSTERIES SHOULD JUST BE CELEBRATED.
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...