In Haunt

Did you know that witchcraft still is very much alive in the UK? Published in August 2020 (link here) with Kristell Ink Publishing 'The Book of Witches' reveals more, a thrilling collection that not only explores the past of witchcraft, but also its continued practice, and what it is to be part of marginalised, and even demonised, groups in modern society.

Although people may have certain stereotypes as to what a ‘witch’ is in their heads – usually stirred up by spooky stories and Halloween traditions – there is so much more to the subject. ‘The Witch of Endor in the Bible is very far from being a negative figure, so why then have women and others been persecuted for witchcraft in the UK for centuries?’ Dr Adam Dalton-West states, opening the book with a range of alternative examples and fresh points of engagement in a gripping introduction. Dalton-West is also the Editor of the book and devised the concept, a fascinating follow-on from his previous edited collection The Book of Dragons.

The format of The Book of Witches is not only significant in that it attempts to shake off the inherent negativity associated with witchcraft, but provides a refreshing critical-creative angle. This means hard-hitting stories as well as history and theory. Researchers have joined forces with exciting creative writers including Adam Lively (Granta Best Young Novelist), AJ Dalton, and Manchester-based Isabella Hunter, who Haunt Manchester previously interviewed about her passion for horror fiction here.

The Book of Witches

The history of witchcraft is explored from a range of perspectives, highlighting angles and aspects that are often neglected. This includes some of the chilling truths behind the Pendle Witch Trials, why Henry VIII was the first to outlaw witchcraft and the real reason why ‘Witchfinder General’ Matthew Hopkins was keen to fuel a craze.

Yet despite containing many accounts of hardship and the horror of people being persecuted under the accusation of ‘witchcraft’, The Book of Witches also offers hope. Crucially, the collection reflects on the innocent individuals who suffered persecution and how it still persists in some areas of society today – and yet through learning and awareness, there is still the possibility of transformation.

Eye-opening and informative, described as ‘Dedicated to every woman or person who has suffered persecution or demonization for who they are’, The Book of Witches is an innovative addition to the ongoing cultural and creative discussion of witches in the UK.

Here at Haunt Manchester, we decided to speak further to the author Isabella Hunter, who is also a model for Manchester’s Kiku Boutique and involved in the collection. Growing up in Lancashire – the county where Pendle Hill is itself located– Isabella found herself drawing on local folklore in a whole new way, exploring areas of her creativity she had not ventured into before, and writing at the time of a Pandemic…

Hi Isabella! You are involved in 'The Book of Witches' anthology. How did this come about and why do you think that popular interest in witches continues?

“I was previously involved in The Book of Dragons by A J Dalton. In November 2019 he reached out to me again, inviting me to participate in the follow up - The Book of Witches. I think witches are popular because they are such a varied topic that there is always something different to say. It is especially popular with female readers, such as myself, because it is something which is unequivocally for women. I think that is why an anthology is such a good medium for the subject because you get the different interpretations of witches from each author.”

Have witches had an influence over your own creative work previously? 

“I haven't written about witches previously. It is probably one of the few popular supernatural beings I haven't used before. It is one that I have in a lot of my 'To be written' pieces and because they are so versatile the genres are quite varied including queer romance all the way to horror. I grew up in Lancashire, which has a strong history of witchcraft, and the infamous Pendle Witch Trials. So it has been something that I have grown up being acutely aware of rather than it being something that happened in a far away part of the country I couldn't point to on a map. I've always been interested in witches and have owned my own tarot decks and practiced aura reading, so writing about them really was an inevitability.”

Why do you think creative fiction on this subject matters?

“I touched on this a little before but witches will always be important in fiction. They are one of the few enduring images of empowerment for women, people of colour, and people with disabilities. When you think of some of the most iconic feminist media of the 20th and 21st century you won't be looking long until witches show up - Charmed, Buffy, American Horror Story, and The Vampire Diaries to name a few. The coven is the perfect symbol for female community and solidarity and that is something that we still need today, especially when things like the #MeToo movement highlight many of the shared experiences women have. There is so much that can be done with fiction about witches that it is probably never going to fade from popular culture.”

Do you think the recent Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown situation has changed your creative practice at all?

“I started writing this before lockdown but I needed to get it finished by the end of March. I started isolating about mid-march then straight into shielding due to my history of Lymphoma. I struggled writing this but that was because the genre was such a departure from what I normally do and even plotting the story in full was hard. I ended up doing a massive push once I was isolating because at that point I wasn't working from home and the deadline was inching in. I'm not unfamiliar with writing in less than ideal situations. I had my laptop brought to me in the hospital when I was kept in with the flu because I had promised a publisher a story for the end of the week!

“However once I got 'At The Witching Hour' out of the way I have pretty much not written. We need to give ourselves time to relax and now that I am working from home full time I am only writing if I want to write. It is a pandemic at the end of the day you don't need to beat yourself up for not being productive enough.”

Why would you recommend people to perhaps try 'The Book of Witches', even if they have not read around the subject much before?

The Book of Witches is a fabulous gateway into the world of witches especially if you're unfamiliar with the history behind them. The introduction gives a great background to really draw upon as you read through each story which is unique and will explore a different aspect of witches. Anthologies in general are fantastic for giving a wide variety of stories so that anyone will be able to pick it up and find something they can enjoy, and The Book of Witches is no exception. These stories aren't all black hats and broomsticks. There are modern witches and their historic ancestors, magics of every kind, and genres ranging from comedy all the way through to the gothic and horror.”

What are your future creative plans? 

“I really want to get my novel finished and start trying to get the ball rolling on that however steam is running low right now. I won't fully abandon shorts though. I have a piece surrounding a kuchisake onna seeking revenge on her husband which I'm writing for fun as and when the need takes me. I also want to start my queer romance witch story, which will probably fall in about novella length, following a group of witches all trying to find what they want to do in the world while also finding love. It is a far departure from what I normally write but it will definitely be nice and light-hearted (hopefully) and a refreshing change of pace.”

By Emily Oldfield 

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