Tag Archives: Zephyr

An interview with… Finbar Hawkins

In an interview with Finbar Hawkins in April 2021, he told me all about the research he did into the notorious witch trials in the UK for his debut YA novel, Witch.

He said Witch, came about from an exercise in his first term of an Arvon foundation course where they were asked to write something with a historical setting.

“While out walking the dog (and a deadline looming!) I started thinking about the Pendle witch trials. And from there I thought about what it would have been like as a teenager experiencing the arrival of witch finders at her home, uprooting her family, how she would cope and strive for survival.”

Finbar Hawkins

Finbar explained that ever since childhood, he has been fascinated in myth and legend – one of his favourite books at home was the Reader’s Digest, Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain, reading about our country’s history of witchcraft. The early woodcuts of the trials also struck him– how they graphically portrayed these women as malevolent devils. He learnt that witchcraft, an ancient practice, was the victim of religious persecution. People, who for centuries had helped a community, were considered a threat to organised religion. And during the English Civil Wars the trials came back with vigour, witches largely being blamed for the suffering brought upon by the chaos of the fighting.

He said there are a lot of books about witches and witchcraft, and there’s a large body of academic work devoted to its study. So he simply dived in and found particularly useful books. An all-round primer, which he found fascinating is The Book of English Magic by Philipp Carr-Gomm and Richard Heygate, this gives a brilliant and in-depth appraisal of our magical history. Witch Hunt: The Persecution of Witches in England by David and Andrew Pickering was incredibly useful, gathering records from every county across the centuries. This book really helped Finbar to build a picture of the general hysteria around the trials. And for an in-depth study into witches, their portrayal and their importance as symbols, The British Witch by P.G.Maxwell-Stuart is exhaustive and thorough.

In Finbar’s book, the witchfinder, Jacobs, is based on the real-life and self-titled Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins. With his associate John Stearne, this determined young man cut a swathe across the East of England over the course of a bloody year in 1646. Witchfinders by Malcolm Gaskill was his go-to piece of research to understand the circumstances that led to Jacobs’ campaign.

He also visited an exhibition of Goya’s sketches of Witches at the Courtauld Institute (https://courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/what-on/exhibitions-displays/archive/goya-the-witches-and-old-women-album.

“These sketches definitely helped with the coven and crowd scenes in my book.”

Finbar Hawkins

Finbar revealed Spellbound was a wonderful exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford https://www.ashmolean.org/spellbound  He told me that they had a copy of Matthew Hopkins’ The Discovery of Witches (1647) which is chilling to see. Not only did this notorious man kill over a hundred women, he encapsulated and really celebrated his act for posterity.

An important part of Witch is Evey’s voice, and her way of seeing the world. Finbar wanted her to have this very specific, lyrical way of speaking, to make her sound very different to the norm. She’s also grown up in the West country so he wanted her to have that accent as part of her speech patterns. He used online accent archives to get the rhythms of her speech right. Dialectsarchive.com and also searched on YouTube for interviews with people from the West.

Witch is set in Wiltshire and in particular The Mendips area. He wanted the girls, Evey and her younger sister, Dill, to be travelling across the hills and valleys of this area. To achieve the dramatic sweep that this beautiful setting gives Finbar walked the area a lot, made notes on flora and fauna and took lots of photographs. He also found sketching in location really useful for details and sensations.

He photographed a tree in his local woods for a lot in backstory planning – Evey and her family refer to this as the ‘Wolf Tree’ and part of her initiation is ‘finding’ the stone, where it has been placed by her mother in the mouth of the wolf. These scenes never actually appeared in the final book, but the stone in the story is referred to as the ‘Wolf Tree Stone’.

“I took shots of my daugher’s hand holding a stone he found while walking on a beach in Cornwall. Having physical objects around you helps, feeling what they feel like, what details you can see in them, these will find their way into your writing.”

Finbar Hawkins

You can find out more about Finbar and his work @finbar_hawkins on Twitter and Instagram.

To read the complete feature you can purchase a copy of #231 Apr 2021 Writers’ Forum by ordering online from Select Magazines.

To read my future Research Secrets or Writing 4 Children interviews you can invest in a subscription from the Writers’ Forum website, or download Writers’ Forum to your iOS or Android device.

You can buy copies of Witch by Finbar Hawkins from your local bookshop, or online at uk.bookshop.org, an organisation with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.

Book Review: The Time Traveller and the Tiger

TitleThe Time Traveller and the Tiger

Written by: Tania Unsworth

Illustrated by: Helen Crawford-White and Laura Brett

Published by: Zephyr

The Time Traveller and the Tiger is a remarkable book about a young girl called Elsie who aspires to be a writer. She goes to stay with her Uncle John where she discovers a tiger skin in the spare room and an exotic flower in the greenhouse..

This book is different from other books in that it is cleverly written from several points of view. The first chapter is from John’s point of view of the inciting incident that sets the story in motion – when he killed the tiger which he regrets. The story continues from the future in Elsie’s point of view until she is transported back in time to 1940 India where Great Uncle John is a boy again. From that point the story is mainly Elsie’s point of view, with intermittent chapters from Mandeep’s and the tiger’s point of view, really getting into the tiger’s head with dramatic effect and in a humorous twist from Sowerby, the antagonist’s point of view and his untimely death. I enjoyed the different points of view and gaining a deeper understanding of the character’s motivations and emotional state.

I was captivated by Great Uncle’s John’s regretful decision to shoot the tiger and carried along with Elsie’s goal to prevent him making the same mistake again, changing both their futures and ultimately saving his brother’s life. Tania’s writing flows easily from scene to scene with realistic dialogue and amusing exchanges. She creates a stunning, colourful world set in India with her vivid and evocative descriptions of the animals and vegetation. These are enhanced by the truly breath taking charcoal illustrations of the Tiger scattered throughout the pages.

The Time Traveller and the Tiger touches on issues of sexism and racism as the attitudes and opinions of the time are perceptively portrayed and expertly balanced by Elsie’s views and feelings of these dated and bigoted opinions.

The timeless message of preserving our wildlife rings loud and true from every page as the plot highlights the plight of the tiger and other endangered species and gives young reader’s options at the end of the book how they can help protect their planet from such species dying out altogether. The timeless message of preserving our wildlife rings loud and true from every page.

This book was previously reviewed for Armadillo Magazine.

Book Review: Witch

Title: Witch

Written by Finbar Hawkins

Published by: Zephyr

Witch is a remarkable debut novel, which encompasses the themes of betrayal, family, friendship, identity, revenge, self-discovery and sibling rivalry. The graphic descriptive nature of the opening scenes makes them emotionally difficult to read but sets the tone and atmosphere of the book. The fear and superstition, which permeates this novel draws the reader in.

The fiery, red-haired main protagonist, Evey, is a fascinatingly flawed character who blunders through life, heart first. Her voice is unique depicting the time and place the novel is set – firmly in 17th century Wiltshire. She is determined to avenge her mother’s death at the hands of the vicious witch hunters which conflicts the promise she made to her mother that she would keep Dill, her younger sister, safe.

Keeping this promise is confounded by the fact she is jealous of Dill, believing she was their mother’s favourite as she inherited the magick and this is why their mother gave Dill the mysterious scrying stone and not her. This jealousy is magnified by Evey’s constant rejection of Dill’s nick-name for her, Eveline of the Birds. Their complicated relationship is well constructed and realistic.

Evey is torn between the duty of the promise, her love for Dill, and the tormenting jealousy that threatens to rip them apart. She refuses to accept magick also flows through her own veins and she is the strongest witch of them all. This refusal to accept her fate makes her an unreliable narrator.

In her anger, Evey steals the scrying stone from her sister in the night and goes to hunt her mother’s murderers who are gathering for the witch-trials. She leaves Dill with their mother’s elder sister, Aunt Grey, who unknown to them is a collaborator with the witch hunters. Finbar Hawkins clearly shows how accusations of witchcraft were used as a weapon against independent, strong and resourceful women, portraying an era where women were persecuted for using traditional herbal medicines.

A dramatic grim depiction of cruel times and the strength found in sisterhood and friendship. I particularly liked the friendship and love between Evey and Anne, ‘Green Eye’ the daughter of Lord Whitaker the local magistrate. Together they fight against the male dominated system and their betrayers. When the line between using magic to heal and using magic to harm becomes blurred, Anne is there to steer her on the correct moral path.

The plot concludes in a climatic crescendo in the final scenes when Evey is finally forced to accept her powers and realises she has to work with her sister to bring balance. Her gradual acceptance of her powers is highlighted by the change in her emotions and how she grows to understand her mother and the gifts she has inherited.

This novel is a spectacular emotional roller-coaster steeped in history, myth and folklore.