Hay Festival: Mysterious Magic


On Sunday, three fabulous writers of fabulous stories came together to talk about their stories and approaches to magic and how it is used in their worlds. It made for a fascinating discussion!

James Nicol, Sophie Anderson and Juliette Forrest have each drawn on their personal experiences and interests for their stories, resulting in wonderful worlds, engaging characters and exciting tales.


James explained how he grew up with stories containing the 'traditional type of witches', but that, coming from Norfolk, he was also surrounded by true stories of witches – of those persecuted at the witch trials often for nothing more than using natural remedies to help others. Finding the idea that witches can be helpful and not the 'enemy', he wanted to create a story in which the witch was the hero- where helping was her job and people would send for a witch to solve their problems. This was how he came up with Arianwyn, the wonderful witch in his first book, 'The Apprentice Witch' and now in his new one, 'A Witch Alone', both set in a fantasy kingdom where being a witch is a job.


'Twister' by Juliette Forrest is very different. Set in America, it follows the fortunes of Twister, a witch born in the woods in the middle of 'the worst storm in living memory' and so named because she wriggled around in her Pa's arms so much. Juliette spoke about a book she had read by a Native American shaman and how their belief that everything is linked to the land fascinated her. She loved the idea that her character was connected to nature and the natural word and wanted to develop this in her story. Through the power of a magic necklace, Twister is able to channel the elements, draw the souls of creatures and shapeshift into a wolf- powers she struggles to control and understand. Twister is a brave, vulnerable and loyal character, facing great dangers.

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For 'The House with Chicken Legs', Sophie Anderson drew greatly on the stories of her childhood. She told us how her grandmother would tell her lots of traditional Slavic stories, many about the witch, Baba Yaga, who varied from story to story, often portrayed as having iron teeth, rising in a pestle and mortar and having a house with chicken legs. In some stories, Baba Yaga was bad, in some good, and Sophie decided she wanted to use these stories to develop one of her own about this amazing character. The house is always on the move and Marinka, who lives in it with her Grandmother, the current Yaga of the family, is desperate to escape and live a 'normal life' instead of being destined to take over from her grandmother and spend her life with the dead, guiding their souls through the gate.

Three very different takes on magic, but each resulting in a fascinating and compelling story. It was a great session – such a pleasure to listen to people who connected so well and were really interested in each other's books. The event was full and everyone obviously enjoyed it very much.

'Twister' is on the long list for our 'Moving On' category this year and 'The House with Chicken Legs' is on our 'Quality Fiction' category long list. You can read a review of 'Twister' here and a review of 'The House with Chicken Legs' here. Their long list reviews will be posted soon.

The Apprentice Witch James Nicol

Chicken House ISBN: 978- 1910655153

A Witch Alone James Nicol

Chicken House ISBN:978-1910655979

Twister Juliette Forrest

Scholastic ISBN: 978-1407185118

The House with Chicken Legs Sophie Anderson

Usborne ISBN: 978-1474940665