The Pull of Magic and Mystery
I’ve published twenty contemporary romance novels so far. Next month, I’ll be publishing the twenty-first, and I’m working on the twenty-second right now. It might, therefore, occur to some people to ask me the question: why begin writing about magic and mystery?
The truth is, magic and mystery were my first loves. The first books I ever read were steeped in both. Even as a very young child, pretty much every book I read was about magical creatures, fairy tale lands, and gripping mysteries, usually involving smugglers, and secret passages, and spooky castles, or mysterious islands.
A Magical Childhood
Like many writers of a certain age, my love of reading and writing stemmed from my childhood infatuation with the books of Enid Blyton. I was lucky enough to have parents who read voraciously. They made frequent trips to the library and happily took me along. More than that, they treated me to three Enid Blyton novels every Christmas. What joy!
One of the earliest I remember reading was Enid Blyton’s Fairy Stories – a gorgeous, shiny, pink hardback, populated by fairies, goblins, brownies, and all manner of fairy folk. Of course I was enchanted. Who wouldn’t be?
Introducing King Arthur
One Christmas my parents (well, my mum really – Dad never had a clue what we’d got!) bought me Tales of Brave Adventure, and Tales of Long Ago. I’ll admit I wasn’t sure about them at first. They didn’t seem to be as interesting, sadly lacking in the magical creatures I’d grown used to reading about. But I settled down to read them anyway, and I was soon engrossed in the ancient Greek myths of Tales of Long Ago. But it was when I started reading Tales of Brave Adventure that the stirrings of excitement really began. The book was in two sections. The first was about Robin Hood, and trust me, I sobbed buckets when he died at the end. I can still remember the verse on the final page!
The second half was about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. I’d never heard of them before, but I was soon reading the stories for myself and growing increasingly spellbound.
The Mystery of My Island and Castle Infatuation!
As I got a little bit older I became fascinated by Enid Blyton’s mystery books: particularly “The Famous Five”, “The Secret of…” books, and “The Five Find-Outers”.
I absolutely loved The Famous Five, and was delighted that George had her very own island with its ruined castle! The first in The Secret of books that I read was The Secret of Moon Castle. I have a passion for islands and castles, obviously. Funny that.
By sheer coincidence my Castle Clair books have both. Who’d have thought it?
I also loved the Five Find-Outers books, which were mysteries set in a cosy village, with a bumbling policeman – the unfortunately named Mr Goon – who was unable to solve any crime before Fatty, Larry, Pip, Daisy, Bets, and Buster the dog.
In my twenties, my friend introduced me to Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy, which consisted of The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment. (She later published a fourth novel in the series, The Wicked Day, followed by The Prince and the Pilgrim. The Merlin Trilogy is now known as the Arthurian Saga.) I haven’t read those last two books, but oh boy, I was absolutely absorbed in those first three stories. It’s years and years since I read them, and I’ll admit I’ve forgotten most of the details. But I haven’t forgotten how they made me feel. How swept away and enthralled I was by them. You can read about a few of the other magical books I’ve read here.
That was how my love for the myths and legends of Britain and Ireland really began. The Celtic tales. The gods and goddesses. The folk heroes. The magical creatures that are said to inhabit these isles. Both my parents are descended from Irish immigrants, and I became fascinated by the idea of leprechauns, and banshees, and the Tuatha De Danann – the people of the goddess Danu – a supernatural race in Irish mythology. King Arthur, meanwhile, seemed to me to be the guardian of Albion, and I read lots of Arthurian novels and reference books.
Way Too Scary!
My sister – who it has to be said is great with presents – bought me a gorgeous notebook one Christmas. It had a slate cover and a matching pen, and I loved it. It made me determined to start writing a novel at last, and I sat down with lots of ideas and began to make notes. As I read those notes back to myself the next day, though, my spirits sank. It was such a huge subject! Full of intrigue and mystery, twists on the old myths and legends, references to famous figures real and imagined. How could I tackle that? How could I possibly do justice to all that history and mythology? I couldn’t. I’d never written a book in my life and there was no way I could begin with this. So I put the notebook away and went back to reading about those subjects instead.
Over the course of many years, I thought about writing many times. I’d always wanted to be a writer, and my teachers had been hugely encouraging at school. I’d spent most of my pocket money on writing pads and notebooks, desperately trying to turn Chapter One into a full novel. Our waste bins were full of scrunched up pieces of paper (hardly anyone recycled in those days – sorry!) and I grew increasingly frustrated by my inability to stick with a story to the end.
The End At Last!
Years later, having got married and raised five children, the urge to write returned with a vengeance. I’d had the inspiration for some characters and I was desperate to tell their story for them and not let them down, as I had all my other poor characters. I don’t know what changed, but this time I stuck with it. It took me around three years to get it to the point where it was ready for publishing, but I felt a massive sense of achievement. That book was There Must Be an Angel. As many of you will know, I continued to write more books in the Kearton Bay series, before moving on to write other contemporary romance series.
But I was still interested in magic and mystery. When the idea for a series featuring witches popped into my head, naturally I ran with it. Using the same “voice” as I use for my contemporary romances, I drafted Belle, Book and Christmas Candle (now Belle, Book and Candle) and published it in time for the Christmas market. I wasn’t sure what to expect. My readers loved contemporary romance and romcoms. What if they didn’t want anything to do with witches and magic? I was nervous, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that many of them absolutely loved it. Soon I was getting messages asking for more witchy books, and I was happy to oblige, producing My Favourite Witch, and To Catch a Witch.
But then, I thought, that’s enough. I’ve scratched the itch. I’ve done what I wanted to do and written a witchy series. Be satisfied with that.
And So Does Mystery…
Except I wasn’t. Those witches kept popping into my head – or should that be zapping? They had more to tell me, and they kept reminding me of all the stories I’d loved so long ago, and the myths and legends that had intrigued me. I knew there was so much more to explore, and I wanted to explore it! I’d particularly enjoyed writing To Catch a Witch, as there was an element of mystery in that story, and I’d loved weaving the threads together to tell the tale.
My love for mystery novels hadn’t diminished. If anything, it had deepened over the years. I’d been gripped by Phil Rickman’s standalone novels which are dark, sinister, supernatural crime stories. I particularly loved The Chalice, because it took place in Glastonbury – a town that has long fascinated and intrigued me. I read a lot of cosy crime as light relief, and then I began reading Agatha Christie.
One of my favourite books by Agatha Christie was And Then There Were None. Yes, back to the island again! I loved the thought of combining an island with mystery. Having people stranded there, with no way of getting back to the mainland, discovering things about themselves and each other, wondering what was going to happen next…
What, I wondered, would happen if my St Clair witches were stranded on an island? How would they cope? What would they find out? The idea for Will of the Witch was born.
Will of the Witch is the first of the Witches of Castle Clair books to move beyond Castle Clair and the immediate witchy background, to explore bigger subjects, and dig a little deeper into our mythology. I was nervous about it, because I knew it had a lot more magical elements in it than the previous three books. What if people hated it? I decided I’d need a whole new look for the series, to signify the change in tone and “warn” people that Castle Clair was about to get a whole lot more magical and mysterious. I found an amazing cover design company who knew instinctively what I was looking for, and rebranded my series beautifully.
Luckily, people seem to love the new covers. And even more luckily, they’re enjoying Will of the Witch! It’s a good job too, because there’s a lot more where that came from. In fact, although The Witches of Castle Clair will end with Book Six, there’s a spin-off series coming your way not long after. I’ll be delving into all the subjects I’ve loved so much for so long.
Spookily enough, when I was planning this blog post I went looking for that notebook again. I haven’t seen inside it for years, so I was keen to dig it out and remind myself of the notes I’d made all those years ago. And the incredible thing is, when I opened it I saw lots of elements of Will of the Witch, and I’d headed the page with the one word that I’ve taken as a theme for both the Castle Clair books and the forthcoming series: unity.
I saw the names of the people I’d wanted to write about back then were the same names I’m writing about now. It confirmed how important it is to me to have this opportunity to finally delve into the world I’ve loved for so many years.
I’m also planning a cosy mystery series. I’ve already met my two lead characters, explored the setting, and have a series and first book title. and I’m really looking forward to putting my detectives to work. It’s just having the time!
I feel very lucky to be able to create my own stories of magic and mystery, and I can’t wait to get on with the next book. And the one after that, and the one after that…
And there’s no mystery about that at all. It’s pure magic.
Have a lovely week!