You, like me, probably believe in the power of books.
The greatest joy of reading is connection – in finding your own thoughts and experiences echoed on the page. I gave a lot of thought to this while writing my debut novel, Weyward.
Weyward is about three women linked through time by the need to break free from male control. Kate, the novel’s modern-day protagonist, flees an abusive relationship in London for a remote Cumbrian cottage inherited from her Aunt Violet.
As she heals from her trauma, Kate uncovers a powerful secret about the women in her family, dating back to the 17th century witch trials. A secret that could save her – or destroy her.
I began writing Weyward during the early days of the pandemic, fuelled by anger about the increase of domestic violence during lockdown. At the same time, I was also reading about the 1612 Pendle Witch Trials. The two seemed horribly linked. I wondered: how far have we really come in the fight against misogyny? How can we keep going?
For me, the answer is by connecting with the women around us, and those who came before us. And story is connection. At the heart of the novel is a manuscript written by Altha Weyward, on trial for witchcraft in 1619. Her descendants, Violet in 1942 and Kate in 2019, both find and read Altha’s story. For Violet and Kate, the act of reading – of connecting with a woman who lived centuries before – is life changing.
Kate in particular finds solace in the written word: she inherits Violet’s library – including works by Sylvia Plath, Angela Carter and Virginia Woolf, some of my own literary heroes – and is inspired to work in a bookshop. For her, books are not just an escape; they’re a life raft.
I’ve always loved books. A shy child, I spent most lunchtimes reading. I wasn’t always included in playground games, but that didn’t matter when I had my favourite characters waiting for me on the page. A love of reading led to a love of writing – it seemed the closest thing to living inside a story. Even now, I’d still describe myself as a reader first, a writer second.
Witchcraft might not be real, but it’s easy to find magic in the world. Just pick up a book.