Slow Poison is the third book in The Witch Ways series by Helen Slavin. The three Way sisters; Anna, Charlie and Emz have inherited their grandmother's role as Game keepers of Havoc Wood but they know nothing of what this role means or their duties. They are still coming to terms with their grandmother's death and the tragic events of the previous year which saw the deaths of Anna's husband and baby son. However the arrival of mysterious stranger Ailith with a man's severed head wrapped up in rags means they have to figure out their responsibilities and get a handle on their strengths sooner then they might have expected. They girls are still tentative about any magical power they have, so much so that they don't even like using the word magic. Their magic however is very much needed because another stranger; the dark and sinister Mrs Fyfe has cast a strange spell over the town of Havoc causing disorder and nastiness with everything she touches and the girls will have to find a way to defeat her. This book full of sisterly love and witchy magic was a pure joy to read. The atmosphere is wonderfully evoked and the various different characters of the small town they call home are all brilliantly drawn. This is a perfect book for fans of Paula Brackston, Anna McKerrow, Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic and Sarah Painter's Pendleford Witch books. The publishers were kind enough to send me the first in the series Crooked Daylight and I can't wait to dive in and learn more about the Way family.
Friday, September 7, 2018
Saturday, September 1, 2018
Today I have the pleasure of welcoming Patricia Murphy to the blog to talk about her latest children's book Leo's War. Patricia is a bestselling children's writer who has brought history to life with her books.
During the Centenary of the 1916 Rising I visited many schools as my book Molly’s Diary, telling the story of the Easter Rising through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl, was a bestseller. These included my nephew’s Sennan school “The Mon” in Killarney. The boys were great crack, very informed. Afterwards when we were having photographs taken, the head Colm Ó’ Súillábháin pointed to a giant mural behind us of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty and said, “Behold the subject of your new book.” I had seen his statue in Killarney and was intrigued and read up a bit about him. The Monsignor’s story had everything, drama, jeopardy, and he was a charismatic, fascinating maverick. I was intrigued that all these hard-bitten military men and Italian aristocrats thought the world of him. But it wasn’t until I had an image of Leo and his disabled sister Ruby that the story sparked into life.
I have long been interested in this period of history. I’d previously read History by Elsa Morante and The Path to the Nest of Spiders by Italo Calvino. I’m a big fan of Italian cinema. Rome Open City, Rossellini’s masterpiece is one of my favourite films. It went into production within days of the Nazis leaving Rome in bombed locations and with many amateur actors. It is as close as a film could ever come to the living and breathing reality of the time.
As soon as I started to dig into the history of the Rome Escape Line and how they saved six and a half thousand Prisoners-of-War, partisans and Jews, I was utterly beguiled. I felt this was a story that needed to be told, the story of the Irish Schindler. Monsignor O’Flaherty is not unknown but he’s not a household name and I felt too his story has many contemporary resonances
for a modern child.
He is above all a humanitarian who behaved with compassion and courage in dark times. I am a documentary maker with a background in current affairs. I have investigated institutional abuse in care in the UK. I take an interrogative position on powerful institutions. But I am also open minded and the courage and ingenuity of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty transcended his times. But it was only when I had a vision of the character Leo and his disabled sister Ruby that the story caught fire for me. That was my “in”.
Q2. How much research did you have to do? and what kind of
research? Did you know much about Hugh O'Flaherty before you began writing?
I do a lot of research but I generally research and write in tandem. I usually have some inkling of the period. I do enough to get the outlines of the plot and then the story and characters starts to form and gestate. It’s all about the story and character for me and getting to the core of the facts and events to understand how the people felt and thought. We have the benefit of hindsight when we look back at a historical period, but those living though the times really don’t know how things will turn out.
I write from the point of view of a child and finding the child in history involves quite a lot of detective work. But you can find them, fleeting presences in other people’s narratives, reminiscences in memoirs by people who were children at the time. All the while I read, I am panning for gold, for the telling details and insights that will feed into my story.
I am particularly keen on first person memoirs and accounts and oral histories. This is the closest we can get to meeting people from the time, dispatches from the front.
Contemporary newspapers and letters are also good sources. But
ultimately the research only takes you so far. I am writing a novel that happens to be set in the past, my ultimate goal is a riveting story.
Tell us about your writing methods, do you plan meticulously or do you just write and see what happens?
A bit of both! Once the characters emerge from the murky soup of my imagination, I begin to write, mostly to get the voice of the character. So for example with Leo, I had a strong sense of an obdurate, stubborn boy who is picked on for being different. I ask questions. I often write reams that don’t get used to find the voice of the narrator.
I was lucky also to find a memoir A British Boy in Fascist Italy by Peter Ghiringelli. His father was a fascist supporter and his family had been deported to Italy when Mussolini entered the war. Now Leo is half Jewish and his mother is in the Resistance, so their circumstances were very different. But it was helpful in giving me an insight into how other children would have treated an English-speaking outsider. Peter’s father helped the Resistance later on incidentally. The experience of living in an oppressive regime changed his thinking. There were also other children who were involved in the Resistance and running messages for the Rome Escape Line. Often these were the children of the helpers who hid fugitives at great personal risk. I took threads from these accounts and wove them together.
Sometimes I have a kernel of an idea that turns out to lead to a rich seam. Leo’s Jewish roots took me into the fate of the Jewish ghetto in Rome during the Nazi occupation. And his encounter with an old school-friend who had deserted from the Italian army and become a partisan linked into the Italian Resistance.
The planning comes in when I have the shape of a rough draft and some of the writing done. I’m a great fan of post-it notes. I write out the plot points and turning points on different coloured post-it notes for each main character and snake them along the
pitched roof of my study in the attic. But it’s quite an organic process.
Q3. You have written a number of books for children based around important historical events, it's clearly a passion of yours. What is your favourite period of history and why?
I loved history from an early age. My maternal grandparents were always telling stories about their childhood and family history too so I got hooked from an early age. I was always fascinated by the different threads that make up the warp and weft of family lore. My maternal grandfather for example was in the Fianna Boy Scouts during the War of Independence. But his grandfather had been a Surgeon-Major in the British army. My paternal great-great grandfather was in the RIC. But two of his sons were rebels.
I’m a bit of a magpie when it comes to history, I can find something interesting about most periods. I have a strong interest in the English revolution in the 17th century but a lot of my interests cluster in the 19th and 20th century history and obviously Irish history. I am also fascinated by colonial history, mainly from the point of view of the colonised. The expansion of empires has shaped so much of our world today. I’m interested in certain themes, power and the structures of oppression and the position of women, the history of science for example. I’m fascinated by the dynamics of change.
I don’t expressly write about these aspects for children but I’m very interested in how children feel who are caught up in conflict. That is an abiding concern and interest.
Q4. Do you have any tips for aspiring writers? Especially those with an interests in writing historical fiction for children?
My main advice for aspiring writers is to keep writing!
-Honour the impulse to write and create by making an appointment to write regularly. Even its just ten minutes a day, first thing when you wake up or last thing at night. Even if at first you just winge or moan on the page, it’s amazing how quickly your real interests emerge. Then before you know it, you might have a kernel for a story or a poem.
-Don’t critique yourself when you write. Allow the words to flow when you are in the creating phase. Then go back later and edit wearing a different hat. Every word isn’t sacred. Think of it like gardening. Slash away at the deadwood and the overgrowth to let the healthy plants emerge. But none of its wasted because its all part of the process.
-Don’t be swayed by what other people are doing or what’s popular now. Look within; follow your heart and interests. By the time you have jumped on a trend the market will have moved on.
- Don’t be too hung up about genre or form. You might think you are a novelist but find that you are more comfortable writing scripts or poems. It’s all storytelling, all creativity.
Specifically with writing historical fiction, these are some of the considerations that help me.
- Pick a period of history that fascinates you, that comes alive in your imagination. Your story about Vikings or Victorians is more likely to live in the imagination of the reader if it’s something that really absorbs you.
- It helps me to write about and for children by seeing it through
the eyes of a child. So think about the point of view. Is it a first person narrative or a third person omniscient narrator? Children are usually scrabbling in the margins of history, caught up in the sweeping tides created by adults. But even if they are often invisible, they are engaged in their times seeing events with keen vision. You only have to read Anne Frank’s Diary to see how fresh and humane a child’s eye can be.
- Don’t feel you have to know absolutely everything about the period. It helps of course to read widely and become informed. But history is a protean, partial thing. There isn’t one story. There are gaps in our knowledge, controversies still rage. Allow your imagination to catch fire and trust your story instincts.
- I see it like a bird building a nest. I gather twigs from all kinds of places. Be open to drawing on a diverse range of sources. I am often inspired by photographs for example, and films. I find certain objects have a powerful magic. For example, I remember years ago seeing Chiodi, otherwise known as bobjacks, in a museum in Italy. These were the primitive devices made of nails welded together that were used by the partisans in ambushes to stop Nazi vehicles. Somehow they lodged in my memory and found their way into Leo’s War. Paintings and music too are a great resource. They have a powerful ability to evoke the atmosphere of the time.
Chiodi picture credit Patricia Murphy
Thank you for your thoughtful questions Lisa. I really enjoyed answering them and thinking about the craft of historical fiction.
Thanks so much Patricia for such great answers
Other Titles by Patricia Murphy include:
Molly’s Diary – the Easter Rising 1916 https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1781999740/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p1_i0
Dan’s Diary – The War of Independence 1920-22 https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01LBUWY74/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i3
Ava’s Diary – The Irish Civil War 1922-23
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