By J.S. Watts.
Whilst given a free hand to write whatever I like for this post, it was politely suggested I might like to write about one of my published books. To date, I’ve had six published so I wasn’t sure which one to choose. In the end I’ve decided to write about my second novel, Witchlight, because it links to my current works in progress, which I shall be writing about in a later post, and also is a direct contrast to my first novel, A Darker Moon.
Witchlight is a paranormal tale that contains both light and dark. The brightness accentuates the shadow. For example, this is a story where death comes knocking - repeatedly. During the course of the novel there are eleven deaths (some more gruesome than others) and a large, but unrecorded, number of fatalities precede its narrative arc. There is a growing realisation on the part of Holly, my lead character, that, in a word fuelled by magic, appearances and indeed reality itself can be deceptive. In contrast to the growing gloom, however, there is also a fair amount of humour and a little romance.
This juxtaposition of light and dark got me thinking and led me to compare the relatively upbeat Witchlight with my first, decidedly dark-fiction novel, A Darker Moon. In many ways, one novel is the photographic negative of the other.
Both novels are cross-genre. A Darker Moon combines myth, dark fantasy and literary fiction (and has been called horror), whereas Witchlight, as already noted, is paranormal and arguably women’s fiction, though maybe that just makes it paranormal romance (or at least paranormal, with a hint of romance). Because I enjoy mixing genres, however, I always struggle a little with genre labels. I did not think of genres as I was writing the novels and ultimately both books are what they are.
A Darker Moon’s protagonist and narrator is Abe, a damaged anti-hero obsessed with uncovering the truth about the birth-mother who abandoned him as a baby. Holly, the heroine of Witchlight, was also abandoned as a baby, but has come to terms with the fact she will never know the identity of her birth-mother, until, that is, it becomes clear she has inherited unexpected witch-power from her biological mother (and no, I was not abandoned as a baby myself. These are fictional characters. It’s not a personal obsession, just a theme shared by these two stories).
Whilst Holly struggles with external reality and the day to day deceptions of a world suddenly revealed as magic fueled, Abe’s search for the truth is more often an internal struggle, taking place amidst a confused web of lies, secrets, memories and nightmares. From the opening sentence of the novel and Abe’s description of his earliest, most persistent memory, “huge, yellow eyes like two full harvest moons”, we experience the confusion of life via Abe’s personal vision.
Both novels share a contemporary UK setting and are based in, or partially in, London, but in contrast to Witchlight’s breezy touch, A Darker Moon is unashamedly bathed in shadows. A mythic, psychological fantasy, its tag line is, “A mythical tale of light and shadow and the unlit places where it is best not to shine even the dimmest light.” It seems I was riffing on the light/dark combination from the outset.
As already noted, there are eleven deaths during the course of Witchlight. The death toll in A Darker Moon is somewhat more ambiguous, (the whole story is one of potentially disturbing ambiguity), but is between zero and three - probably. I find it interesting that an ostensibly lighter book has more deaths in it.
Despite its shadows, A Darker Moon has threads of humour running through it. Black humour, of course, but humour nevertheless. Despite its overt humour, Witchlight has seams of night underpinning its narrative. I guess the question is, “Why?”.
Perhaps it comes of having parents who lived through the near-death experience of World War II, or of having a father who was an undertaker, but I find many of life’s blackest moments can give way to humour: gallows-humour admittedly, but still humour. Conversely, the pessimist in me knows that even life’s happiest moments have a lurking potential for tragedy. Dark and light. Light and dark. For me the two are inseparable: two sides of the coin of life.
Witchlight begins positively with Holly unexpectedly discovering, at rather a late age, that she has magic in her veins when her fairy godfather arrives to tell her she’s a witch. It soon becomes apparent, however, that magic is not like it is in books and films. Holly comes to doubt whether her fairy godfather is the avuncular charmer he appears and learns that when appearances are magically deceptive, she cannot afford to trust those closest to her, including herself. Accidents happen, people die, Old Magic, it seems, is on the hunt, but in the age-old game of cat and mouse, who is the feline and who is the rodent?
The cat and mouse metaphor is relevant and not just because most witches within the world of Witchlight have an animal familiar. I am a believer in Tennyson’s poetic assertion that nature is “red in tooth and claw”. Any story that has anything to do with human nature, or casts a passing glance towards reality in addition to fantasy, should be stained, however lightly, with nature’s spreading crimson.
The magic that Holly first encounters entertainingly spins pencils and has bowls of goldfish floating widdershins round a light fitting, but underneath the surface glitter there is shadowy Old Magic that commands far greater power than standard magic. As another saying goes, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Before the end of the novel Holly will have to confront the horrifying history accompanying her newfound power. There is definitely darkness shining through the light and, for me, the contrast between the two serves to illuminate both more sharply. J.S.Watts About Witchlight: (ISBN 978-0692406908) Holly has been mortal all her life. Now at thirty-eight, her fairy godfather arrives to tell her she’s a witch, and suddenly she's having to come to terms with the uncertainties of an alarmingly magic-fuelled world. Magic is not like it is in the books and films, and Holly starts to doubt whether her fairy godfather, Partridge Mayflower, is the fey, avuncular charmer he appears. When appearances are magically deceptive, Holly cannot afford to trust those closest to her, including herself. Accidents start to happen, people die, Old Magic is on the hunt, but in the age-old game of cat and mouse, just who is the feline and who is the rodent?