Russian dolls
Michelle Harrison Michelle Harrison

I’m delighted to welcome the wonderful Lucy Strange to my blog for a Q&A and a very special sisters themed giveaway. I’ve read most of Lucy’s books and enjoyed them all, however when I read her latest novel, Sisters of the Lost Marsh, it leapt straight on to my list of favourite children’s books ever written. If you’re not already familiar with it, check it out at once – or better still, enter the giveaway. Fans of the Widdershins won’t want to miss this: sisters, curses, a magical fayre and wonderful characters – I highly recommend it.

Life is hard for Willa, Grace and Freya, and their three younger sisters. Six motherless girls working a farm, living in fear of their cruel father and the superstition that obsesses him – The Curse of Six Daughters.

With the arrival of the mysterious Full Moon Fayre, there’s a chance for the eldest girls to steal a moment’s fun, but the day the fayre moves on, Grace vanishes.

Willa goes after her, following a trail that leads into the dangerous Lost Marsh, where it is said a will-o’-the-wisp lures lost souls into the dark waters of the mire. If Willa is to survive and reunite her family, she will need to unravel the secrets her father has kept hidden, and face her own deepest fears …

There are two prizes in this giveaway, the first is a signed copy of Lucy’s Sisters of the Lost Marsh plus a signed copy of A Storm of Sisters, my latest Pinch of Magic Adventure.

Lucy is also very kindly offering an audiobook copy of Sisters of the Lost Marsh on CD

To enter this giveaway, leave a comment below and please state whether you’re interested in the books or the audio CD.

ONE entry per person, UK only, closes midnight GMT 28th May 2022.

Winners will be selected and notified by email.

Sisters of the Lost Marsh is published by Chicken House and available now. Click here to buy from Waterstones.


1. What was your journey to being a published author like? I’d always been a bookworm, ever since I was tiny, but I didn’t really start writing until I was in my mid-thirties. I was living abroad and feeling rather homesick and I think I started writing as a way of coping with that. Although my first novel, The Secret of Nightingale Wood isn’t about homesickness, there is certainly a feeling of loss and longing there, and a nostalgia for the British countryside too. I entered the first few chapters of Nightingale Wood in a writing competition, and that was how I met my agent. He helped me to develop the full first draft of the book which was then sold to Chicken House. And it’s been a bit of a whirlwind ever since!


2. Is the curse of the six daughters something you made up, or inspired by folklore? 
The curse itself is made up for this story (I love reciting it in a scary way when I do school visits!), but it is inspired by folklore and by old stories about siblings and curses such as The Six Swans or The Seven Ravens. I loved the idea of a curse that foretells the fates of the main characters in the story; a curse that they have to find the courage to confront in order to be free and to shape their own identities and destinies!


3. Where and when do you write? 
Whenever and wherever I can! For the past two years I’ve been writing full time, but juggling it all alongside being a mum to a small boy. I usually write at home on my laptop on the sofa or at the kitchen table – but I’m getting my very own writing shed in the garden this summer, and I am SO excited about it. A room of one’s own!! I usually need absolute quiet to write, and a good chunk of time to get myself into the right mindset. I find I do my best work first thing in the morning, before the real world has a chance to fill up my head with other stuff.


4. Are you superstitious? 
Not really . . . Having said that, I always salute magpies! I think superstitions can be infectious. If someone close to you has a superstition about something, it can be easy to “catch” it – like a cold! I think the superstitions of a society can tell us a lot about commonly held fears. And of course, most superstitions would suggest that we are never truly in charge of our own fate, which is an interesting thing to think about.


5. In the story, the eldest sister Grace is told by a fortune teller to run away. Have you ever had your fortune told?
Yes, once. I think – like Grace – I was hoping for something exciting and positive and reassuring, and – unlike Grace – that’s what I got! I think the idea of a true ability to see into the future is such a magical ingredient in a story – just like the crystal ball in your wonderful Storm of Sisters, Michelle!


6. The characters in your latest book were all wonderful. I particularly loved Grammy, and Darcy, and Dadder was an excellent villain. Who was your favourite to write?
Oh, I love Willa – her guts and temper and determination, but Darcy was probably my favourite. She’s such an enigmatic little thing, and so unpredictable. Sometimes she’s just like her sisters, like any other child, and sometimes she has a wisdom and strength beyond her years.


7. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? Advice to do with living in each moment and being content, and not dwelling too much in the past or worrying too much about the future . . . That being kind is more important than being clever. That it is so important to know yourself, and know what makes you feel comfortable and happy, instead of allowing yourself to be swept along with other people.

 8. What books would you recommend for fans of Sisters of the Lost Marsh?
If you like books about siblings, you will love Natasha Farrant’s books, Hilary McKay’s books and of course Michelle Harrison’s amazing Pinch of Magic series! If you like strange magical or fantasy stories, try Frances Hardinge’s books. If you like stories which include legends and folklore, try Kiran Millwood Hargrave.


9. ‘Strange’ is a lovely name for an author, especially as your books are slightly spooky. Is it real, or a pen name? I get asked this all the time when I do school visits! It’s my real name! 😀 I have to say, growing up and then working as a teacher, I always found Strange a slightly embarrassing name, but now – AT LAST! – I feel as if I own it!


10. What’s your top tip for aspiring writers? Be a noticer! Notice little details about the world that other people might miss, and challenge yourself to find the perfect words to pin those details down on the page.


Quick fire questions: 

* Favourite book you’ve read this year? 

A Storm of Sisters by Michelle Harrison and Song of the Far Isles by Nicholas Bowling.

* Have you ever run away from home?

Nope. I pretended to once, and I hid in a wardrobe for an hour or so, but no one noticed.

* Favourite story about sisters? 

Oh I love Hilary McKay’s Exiles series.

* Would you rather sleep in a scratchy blanket for a week or smell like a stagnant marsh for a month? 

Hahahahaha – um. I’ll go with the scratchy blanket please!!

* If you had a stall at the Full Moon Fayre what would you sell, or do? 

I think I’d sell something delicious like baked apples or spiced buns. And then I’d eat more than I sold.


The Widdershins’ fourth adventure is available now – I can’t wait for you to discover the mysteries of Wilderness, which is the frosty setting for the sisters’ latest tale. This is a story of a haunted hall, a highwayman and his secret love, and a stolen crystal ball said to be at the bottom of a frozen lake. At the heart of it, as always, there is a story within a story! I hope you love reading it as much as I loved writing it.

The book is available now from all good book shops and you can of course order online, links below:


Waterstones (plain white edges)

Waterstones (exclusive sprayed blue edges edition)

Hive (to support your local independent book store)

The Book Depository (free shipping worldwide – best if ordering from abroad)


If you’re a library user you may also be able to listen to A Storm of Sisters completely FREE by using the BorrowBox library app – all four Pinch of Magic Adventures are available there as audiobooks, and the first three are available as ebooks, too.

Want to know more about the Widdershins and how I write? Check out this brand new interview with me over at Golden Books Girl blog.

Finally, thank you so much to everyone who pre-ordered the book, and to those of you who entered the competition to win the Storm of Sisters mini book necklaces made by FromNewLeaf. The winners have now been drawn and contacted, they were:

Charlotte Clark, Rebecca Collison and Nicola Gregory.


Oi! Widdershins fans! You’ll love this one – I did. If you’re looking for a creepy, magical and atmospheric read, then you won’t do much better than this. I was a big fan of the first Aveline Jones book: The Haunting of Aveline Jones, but her second adventure is possibly even better. The blurb:

Turn on your torches and join Aveline Jones! Aveline is thrilled when she discovers that the holiday cottage her mum has rented for the summer is beside a stone circle. Thousands of years old, the local villagers refer to the ancient structure as the Witch Stones, and Aveline cannot wait to learn more about them. Then Aveline meets Hazel. Impossibly cool, mysterious yet friendly, Aveline soon falls under Hazel’s spell. In fact, Hazel is quite unlike anyone Aveline has ever met before, but she can’t work out why. Will Aveline discover the truth about Hazel, before it’s too late? The second in a deliciously spine-tingling, spooky series, where mysteries are always solved, spirits are always laid to rest, and everybody gets to bed on time.

This is the sort of series childhood me would have been obsessed with. I loved the summery vibe, the beautiful, immersive writing, the witchiness (anything with a witch bottle and standing stones and I’m there)! It’s an eerie, exciting adventure – I was definitely bewitched! If you enjoyed A Tangle of Spells then this is definitely a book for you. I’m a huge fan of Phil Hickes’ writing and was thrilled that he agreed to answer my questions about the book and all the kind of nonsense I like to know about other writers.

Phil’s publisher, Usborne, has kindly given me three copies to give away here – all you have to do is leave a comment to enter the giveaway. UK only, closes September 20th 2021 at midnight (GMT).

The Bewitching of Aveline Jones is published on September 16th, 2021 in the UK. Pre-order here.

What was your journey to being a published author like?

It was very long and frustrating, yet also enjoyable in many respects. I was probably writing seriously for around 10 years before I had a breakthrough (so hang in there if you’re in the query trenches)! I had no idea what I was doing most of time. No real grasp of agents, what they wanted, or how best to approach them. In hindsight, I wasted a huge amount of time sending out manuscripts that I now know, were wholly unsuitable. I was a headless chicken with a keyboard, firing off random Word docs. However, whilst I was constantly beset by self-doubt (and still am, like most authors), there was also a certain freedom and excitement that I miss. You never knew what might arrive in your inbox. You were free to scribble away and dream without deadlines or expectations. But I was overjoyed to finally find an agent and a publishing home with Usborne. It really felt like I’d scaled a mountain and I constantly look to the sky and send thanks and praise to the capricious Gods of Writing.

Where does your interest in spooky stories come from?

It’s an obsession that’s been with me since a small child. To this day, I’m plagued by a constant need to hunt down the next supernatural thrill, whether that’s a book, or a film, or a radio play, or a podcast. If I was to hazard a guess, it may be that I grew up in a cold, dark and gloomy house in Rochdale that overlooked a crumbling Victorian graveyard. I used to play there during the day, but at night, when the shadows lengthened, the atmosphere would change from fun to fear, and I would find myself staring out into the darkness, wondering if all the occupants were truly at rest.

Where and when do you write?

I’ve moved around a lot so am yet to find a permanent writing nook. Currently, I write with the Mac on my lap in a back room. It’s far from ideal, bad for my back, and I do need to try and find something a little more inspirational. I write on Sunday afternoon and Monday to Wednesday evening, aiming for a minimum of 500 words per night. I should do more. I need to do more. But I want fiction writing to remain enjoyable and not feel like a grind. It’s a fine balance.

Do you believe in the supernatural, and have you ever seen a ghost or experienced something otherworldly?

Yes I’m a believer. There’s just too much anecdotal evidence. Even if you discount 99% of it, that still leaves a huge amount of unexplainable phenomenon. I believe that certain people are sensitive to vibrations. I think painful or tragic events can linger in the ether. I’m certain there are dark places in the world where strange lifeforms still dwell. Personally, I’ve seen many UFOs. I’ve seen a vase fly off a table, heard footsteps when nobody’s there and felt someone (or something) touch the back of my neck. I’ve also had the sensation of not being alone or being observed by something unseen. I also once travelled to see a full solar eclipse and that’s an incredibly supernatural event. I’ve yet to witness a full ghostly visitation but I live in hope.

Do you plan your stories or go with the flow?

Much to my chagrin, I find myself unable, or perhaps unwilling, to fully plan a story. I like to go with the flow and see what happens. What usually happens is that I end up wasting thousands of words and drive myself to the brink of a nervous breakdown. But there are fleeting moments, when an idea jumps into your mind, or the words seem to just flow out onto the page, and it makes it all worthwhile.

Do you have another job, besides writing?

Yes, my day job is…writer! I work for an advertising agency. There are good things and bad things about it. But I consider myself very blessed to be able to survive financially through writing. In my experience at least, being an author doesn’t generate enough readies to live on. I hope that may change some day.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

“If you keep putting things on the conveyor belt, eventually, something will drop off the other side.” An old boss told me that about something unrelated to writing, but I think it applies perfectly to books. If you’re an author, and you keep going, and keep trying, sooner or later something will appear that resembles what you were trying to create. It also applies to putting feelers out there for agent/publishing opportunities. In fact, it applies to pretty much everything. The other best bit of advice I received was to use an internet blocker app.

Are there any spooky or witchy books you’d recommend for fans of the Aveline Jones series?

There’s an author called Michelle Harrison I like. You may know her? Another recommendation would be Long Lankin by Lyndsey Barraclough. I really enjoy Chris Priestley’s ghostly tales. And I’ve read recent good ones by Ross Montgomery, Kat Ellis, Finbar Hawkins, Helena Duggan, Jenni Jennings, Robin Jarvis, Mary Downing Hahn, Emma Carroll, Allison Rushby and Danny Weston. And Jennifer Killick is killing it.

If you could come back as a ghost who would you haunt or what would you do?

Thankfully, I’m not sure anyone has wronged me enough for me to haunt them. But I do fancy the idea of lingering around suitably spooky places and giving supernatural skeptics a reason to reconsider.

What’s your top tip for aspiring writers?

Tell your inner critic to shut up and keep going.

Quick Fire Questions:

Ghosts or witches?


Ouija boards – yes or no?

A firm nope.

Favourite ghost story?

Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad.

If you had to, would you rather say ‘Wooooooooooh’ at the start of every sentence or do an evil cackle at the end of everything you say?

Evil cackle. Mwo-ha-hah-hah-haaaa!

Would you rather have a ghost in your own home or live next door to a witch?

Ghost in the home.


Thank you so much, Phil! I loved reading your answers and book recommendations, and I’m firmly with you on the ouija board. NOPE.




I’m delighted to host Claire Barker, award-winning author of the Picklewitch and Jack and Knitbone Pepper series, on my blog for an exclusive Q&A and giveaway. From the moment I discovered the first Picklewitch and Jack book a couple of years ago (thanks to another favourite author, Alex Bell) I’ve been a huge fan of this series and of Claire herself, who is one of the loveliest children’s authors in the business. I had the pleasure of meeting Claire a while back at a London afternoon tea held by author Emma Carroll, and I took to her warm, funny personality instantly. She is, as all the best people are, quite mad: Barker by name, barking by nature, and this comes across in her glorious books.

Picklewitch is a grubby, tree-dwelling, cake-loving little witch who lives in the garden of clever clogs Jack. As you can imagine, a cheeky, dirty witch and the school swot are a pair made in heaven, and much hilarity, magic and naughtiness ensue. I particularly love the language in these books. Claire has a talent for making up funny words as well as weaving in older, less well known words (such as my beloved ‘widdershins’) and she really knows how to turn a phrase. Each book is a separate adventure and they are all equally fantastic, I’ve loved every one of them and I’m crossing everything that there will be more from this duo. These books are aimed a little younger than my Pinch/13 series, so are great if you want a lighter read.

Claire kindly took the time to answer some questions I sent her. I hope you enjoy reading her brilliant and bonkers answers as much as I did. I’m also giving away a full set of all three Picklewitch and Jack books to one lucky reader. To enter the draw, just leave a comment below. UK only, closes midnight (UK time) Saturday 10th April 2021.


What was your journey to being a published author like?

Quick, bumpy, nightmarish, full of despair, hope, wonder and joy. In that order. I became an author by accident really. A very lucky twist of fate.

Where did the name ‘Picklewitch’ come from, and did her name ever change?

She has only ever been Picklewitch, right from the moment she popped into my head on a train. She’s known as Klarinde in Germany, which I find curious, like she has a twin sister.

Where and when do you write?

My best writing time is between 2 and 5 I think. I’ve had lunch by then and I’m not constantly distracted by the thought of biscuits.

My office is a shepherd’s hut, dating back to a time when I used to live on a little farm. My children were young then and all was animals, chaos, mud and laughter. Things are more peaceful these days, but it’s still a bolthole. I just had it craned into my new garden over a 15 foot hedge. It’s fair to say I’m quite attached to it. It smells of woodsmoke, roses, lavender and magic.

The spells in Picklewitch and Jack are fun and inventive. Have you ever tried casting a spell yourself, and do you have any spell books or witchy items of your own?

I think I was scared of witches as a child and it’s one of the reasons I wanted to make Picklewitch so accessible. I read an awful lot of books on witchcraft and met many witches – all of them delightful. However, I fear that if I cast a spell it would go terribly wrong. Then I’d frantically try and fix it, inevitably making it even worse. I’d be to witchcraft what Basil Fawlty is to the hotel industry.

Do you plan your stories or go with the flow?

I don’t so much as plan, as ask my 7 year old self what she would like to hear about. Then, as god of my own universe, I make these things happen on the page. Having said this it’s not a completely free form approach. I always begin with a character, then a sharp synopsis. The trick is not to dilute it.

Do you have another job, besides writing?

I used to work as a tutor, or in schools as a TA but now I spend a lot of time visiting schools instead. No time for a proper job!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Never feel intimidated. Everyone is bluffing.

The series is full of wonderful playful language and phrases such as ‘fudgenuts’ and ‘fopdoodle’. Do you have any favourites?

Quite fond of fudgenuts, savidge and hornswangle. Shakespeare made up hundreds of words, so I don’t see why we all shouldn’t follow his example. A lot of the words in the book are very old and used to be in everyday use but some are just fancies. I have a theory that some words, when placed next to other particular words, take on a sort of irresistible magic and become extra powerful. Language is our birthright – birds migrate, wolves howl and humans tell each other stories. It’s beautiful, colourful, musical and should make us want to pick up our skirts and dance.

If you could be a real witch for a day, what would you do?

I would cross the veil into the past, right on the spot where I am standing. Then I would buy a load of shares in Apple and Facebook.

What’s your top tip for aspiring writers?

Three tips:

Your voice is unique. Never try to be anyone else.

Character is plot.

You will need to become a merciless assassin, killing off anything that doesn’t work. Writing is not for the faint of heart.

Quick fire questions:

Badgers or Squirrels? Badgers of course!

Beach or woodland? Tricky, but I’d say woodland.

Favourite fictional witch other than Picklewitch? I love this question. Terry Pratchett’s Nanny Ogg. I’m sure there’s a big dollop of her DNA in Picklewitch.

If you could own a magical object what would it be and what would it do? A rocking horse that would transform at midnight and carry me across time.

Would you rather have birds living in your hair or bats living in your wardrobe? Birds (checks hair). Yes, birds. I once had chickens in my airing cupboard – does this count?

Would you rather fly a broomstick for one night or be chauffeured everywhere for the rest of your life? Broomstick for one night. I imagine the parking is far more practical.

Last year I was lucky enough to have an early read of a WONDERFUL new book by Zillah Bethell. Waterstones has hailed it as one of ‘The best books to look out for in 2021’ and I completely agree. It’s called The Shark Caller, and it’s published on February 4th (the same day as A Tangle of Spells – exciting). I loved it so much they even put my words on the cover, look!


The Shark Caller is the story of a girl called Blue Wing, a girl desperate to learn the secret of summoning the ocean’s sharks. Blue Wing’s parents were killed by a deadly shark, and now she wants revenge. When a newcomer called Maple arrives in her village, the two girls clash. Can they overcome their differences to find the treasure Maple’s father is searching for – and will Blue Wing avenge her parents’ death at last?

This was one of the best books I read last year and believe me, it’s special. The only other thing I’ll say is that it has a killer twist that I didn’t see coming at all!

The author, Zillah Bethell, kindly agreed to answer some questions for me which give a fascinating insight into her life and inspirations for the book. Her publisher, Usborne, has generously provided two copies for me to give away – see below for how to win. Now for the Q&A.

  1. How long did it take you to write The Shark Caller, and what was your journey to being a published author like?

It took me about a year to write The Shark Caller in between working and looking after two children. I started writing after studying English Language and English and French Literature at university. I decided that I wanted to write my own books, not study other people’s. I won £1200 in a short story competition with my stories We Wear Watches and The Ship and the Ordinary Star. This was a huge amount of money to me (still is) and it encouraged me to attempt my first work of literary fiction, Seahorses are Real – a controversial novel about the generational cycle of abuse and how violence is perpetrated by women as well as men. I followed this up with a tragi-comic novel (my homage to Zola) set at the time of the Paris Commune called Le Temps des Cerises. I wanted to use cliches in this book for comedic effect and to voice the general public (a little like the Greek chorus). Then I wrote Girl in Profile which is inspired by the painter Gwen John (sister to Augustus) and her relationship with the sculptor, Rodin. It’s really about creativity and parenting and I wanted to explore perspective in my writing so the novella is a series of vignettes like paintings, sometimes going in close, sometimes distant with a real focus on symbols. My editor, Penny Thomas (of Firefly fame) suggested I try and write a children’s book. I think that perhaps she was a little tired of editing my adult fiction!. That’s when I wrote A Whisper of Horses and got my agent, Julia Churchill. A Whisper of Horses is set in an alternate reality and it’s really about the importance of trying to follow your dreams, however quixotic or difficult they seem. I chose horses because they are quite magical and magnificent creatures to me as I never saw one until I came to the UK. After that came The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare. This is about water as a commodity and a political issue (not just an environmental one) and also an exploration of AI and what it means to be human. Most recently, The Shark Caller – an exploration of time and forgiveness, I think, and an attempt by me to preserve some of my memories of Papua New Guinea.

2. You grew up in Papua New Guinea, where the book is set, and didn’t own a pair of shoes until you were eight years old. Were there other things you didn’t have (or did have) as a child, that western readers would find unusual?

I had no books, no toys (except an action man sent to my brothers with a scar on his cheek), no television, no computers, no sweets, no chocolates, no school. I had enormous freedom, the ocean, dancing, oral storytelling, beaches. When I came to the UK I didn’t like authority (still don’t), didn’t understand cultural referents, but was very athletic because most of my young life was a physical exploration of my environment. I am astonished here that many of my peers are frightened to be alone in the mountains etc. I am much more frightened of a sale day in a city!

3. Where and when do you write?

In my head, lying on my bed. I work it all through in my head, hearing the words and sentences. I think this is because I grew up with oral storytelling. I don’t do a first draft etc. I simply rework in my head until it sounds right. I think it was MacNeice who said he slightly preferred the sound of words to the sense of them and this is how I feel. I remember trying to hear a word in my head to do with blood or the colour red and I knew it had three syllables and in the end it was ‘garneted’. Then I speak the words into an old tape recorder and eventually type up on the computer. When my children were a little younger they took great delight in changing the speed on my old recorder so that when I played it back I sounded like a demented Bugs Bunny or a crazed psycho!

4. Have you ever been face to face with a shark?

Yes, they are generally pretty shy creatures and won’t attack humans unless threatened. I do remember a dog being taken by a shark once in the shallows of the sea. Crocodiles were more of a threat in Papua New Guinea and often take the last person crossing a river, snatching a limb if they can to snack on!

5. Do you plan your stories or go with the flow?

I take a very long time thinking about the ideas I am writing about. In Le Temps des Cerises I took about 6 months researching the Paris Commune whereas Seahorses are Real just wrote itself. With Girl in Profile I studied the paintings of Gwen John in great detail – often women sitting passively in a room, waiting it seems for something to happen and this gave me the idea for the final character to be an older woman in a care home. In Auden Dare I looked into LAWS (Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems) and the topic of water rights being used politically in many countries. After lots of thinking I then just go with the flow, lying in bed!

6. Do you have another job, besides writing?

I have always had another job and deliberately took work that could fit around writing and then children. The result has been poverty at times which is alright before you have children but harder when they come along. A wealthy person once told me you must do it for your art and not worry about the money which was a little irritating at the time. As a student I ate beans cold out of a tin and liked to imagine there was some kind of liberation in having no money at all (Balzac in his garret kind of thing) but since having children who seem to grow at an alarming rate – my son is 6ft 2 already – it feels more like a constraint at times. The pram in the hallway, no room of one’s own… The juggle of money, creativity and nurturing is endless and precarious.

7. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Don’t give up. It’s very hard advice to follow nearly all the time! I often give up for months on end and then I feel even more depressed so I go back to not giving up and so it goes on in a nightmarish rollercoaster ride…

8. Did the title of your book ever change, or was it The Shark Caller from the start?

I called it Book of the Long Now because it’s about the idea that forever can last a moment I suppose. Then I think Usborne called it Swimming the Forever Sea for a couple of months, then there was the possibility of The Sorcerer of the Sea and finally it fell to the strong but simple The Shark Caller which I think is a great title and I’m pleased with it.

9. The story explores grief, and the village witch is able to speak to the dead. Have you ever attempted to contact ghosts or spirits yourself?

I have a pack of angel cards which I occasionally look at and perhaps the law of attraction means that the card I pick is oddly accurate or prophetic. I grew up in a culture where all things have an energy that goes beyond the passing of this life and I certainly believe that. I have had experiences where a butterfly, dragonfly or creature has appeared at a time when I am thinking about a person who has recently died. Often a bird is trapped in a room or a butterfly sails past. When driving on the motorway I once saw a hawk next to a rabbit (both alive) and I felt the presence of my late mother very strongly. I nearly always see a hawk just before I take a long car trip. A psychic once told me I was a super sensitive which means that you are simply very intuitive I think. If you are a writer (an inhabiter of skins) then I think you intuit more than you think or reason.

10. What are you working on now?

I am working on my second contracted book for Usborne which is concerned with identity. When you are stripped of everything – your name, your memory, your home  – then what is left? I think it can only be the will to survive. I have set this book in the vast space of the Australian interior. Australia and Papua New Guinea were once geographically connected and many times I heard about First People struggles and the horror of the Stolen Generations. It is also about the songlines which are the First Nation’s GPS system. If you know the right song you can travel through the desert which is a thing of great wonder to me. At the moment I am calling the book 22°S though this may have to change!

I am also working on a new piece of literary fiction called The Camelopard in which I am trying to experiment further with abstraction and narrative perspective – a process I began in Girl in Profile.

Quick fire questions:

  • Book or Kindle?

Book for the tangible papery smell, new, old, foxed, scribbled on, borrowed or stolen!

  • Walk or cycle?

Walk. Every day. In the mountains. I love biking but I get a little annoyed by the ‘beautiful ones, high on diesel and gasoline’ (Suede I think, misquoted I know!) as I call them with their lycra and their puffy breathing!

  • Cats or dogs?

Cats for their superior mystical beauty and dogs for their cold-wet-nose-in-the-hand-unconditional-love loyalty. BOTH!

  • Haribo or chocolate?

Haribo to keep the children quiet, and for me an After Eight mint as it reminds me of my great aunt Jean.

  • What’s your current ring tone?

Atomic by Blondie. I always dance to this at the end of a night out clubbing with my friend and I am so missing my dancing these days. Oh your hair is beautiful. Oh tonight!

  • Would you rather have a spider living in your hair or a mouse living in your shoe?

I don’t have many shoes and am often barefoot so the wee mouse in the shoe can have a very happy home with me.

  • Would you rather swim in shark infested waters for one minute or sing Baby Shark every day for three years?

Shark infested waters every time!


Thank you so much for answering these questions, Zillah, I loved reading your responses.


Buy The Shark Caller from Waterstones here.

One of the loveliest things about being an author is that I often get asked to review books, especially those of debut writers. Just before Christmas my publisher sent me a manuscript they thought I’d like, and from the moment I read the first sentence I knew it was special. If you like my books, I really think you’ll enjoy this, too. It’s called The Vanishing Trick, by Jenni Spangler, and not only did Jenni kindly answer some questions about the book for me here, I’ve also got a limited edition proof copy to give away to one lucky reader. Here’s what it’s about:

Step into a world of secrets, folklore and illusions, where nothing is as it seems and magic is at play…

Madame Augustina Pinchbeck, travels the country conjuring the spirits of dearly departed loved ones… for a price. Whilst her ability to contact ghosts is a game of smoke and mirrors, there is real magic behind her tricks too – if you know where to look.

Through a magical trade, she persuades children to part with precious objects, promising to use her powers to help them. But Pinchbeck is a deceiver, instead turning their items into enchanted Cabinets that bind the children to her and into which she can vanish and summon them at will.

When Pinchbeck captures orphan Leander, events are set into motion that see him and his new friends Charlotte and Felix, in a race against time to break Pinchbeck’s spell, before one of them vanishes forever…

Q&A with Jenni

1. How long did it take you to write The Vanishing Trick, and what was your journey to being a published author like?

I started it nearly eight years ago! But there were long stretches in there where I did no writing at all due to multiple jobs, babies, studying etc. I think compared to some of my friends I’ve had it easy! I’m lucky to have a supportive family behind me who took me seriously when I said I was going to be a writer and helped me find the time and space to write.

What made the biggest difference to my writing was connecting with other writers who pushed me to improve. In particular, wonderful E.L. Norry who has been reading and critiquing my work for years, and lovely Lindsay Galvin who mentored me through #writementor in 2018. Without the two of them believing in me and holding me to high standards, I’d never have found my fantastic agent and earned a publishing deal.

2. As much as I enjoy fictional settings, I always love it when the real world creeps in and I was delighted to see Stafford and Coven mentioned (I used to live in Stafford and took the bus through Coven to uni)! What made you decide to weave these places into your story?

Like you, I love a mix of real-world and magic! It makes it feel like any of us could stumble on magic some day. I moved to Staffordshire about the time I began writing this book, and there’s something magical in the air here. We’ve got the pottery factories where poor workers lived short, hard lives, and huge manor houses where rich people lived in luxury. I wanted to explore that contrast, which is where the idea came from for Leander, penniless and alone, secretly living in a forgotten room in a grand stately home. I’m sure I’ll come back to Staffordshire as a setting for future stories, too.

3. Where and when do you write?

Whenever I can squeeze it in! I do have a little desk but I’ll just as often write in bed, in a café, or at work – wherever I can get ten minutes of quiet.

4. There are mystical themes of fairies, folklore and the tarot in your book. Are you a believer or do you see these things as story fodder only?

I don’t believe that fairies or fortune-telling are literally true. But I do think there’s a kind of magic that comes from sharing stories, and these folk-tales and beliefs are stories we’ve been telling for thousands of years. There’s something irresistible about them! I love to learn about local legends and superstitions, and including them in the book felt like keeping them alive and continuing them in my own way.

5. Have you ever had your fortune told?

Yes. When I was about 15 I tagged along with some of my mum’s friends to see a medium and fortune teller. The woman gifted me a set of tarot cards, told me I had ‘the gift’. Even at that age I was a sceptic, but it did make me feel pretty special and I still have the cards. No psychic visions so far! I must be a late bloomer…

6. Do you plan your stories or go with the flow?

I’m a planner. I’ve tried going with the flow but I just tie myself in knots.

7. Do you have another job, besides writing?

Yes, I’m the site manager for a scrap yard. It’s not glamorous! I’ve also been a drama teacher, police dispatcher and 999 operator. Like a lot of writers, it took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.

8. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Don’t give up on a dream because it will be hard work, or take a long time. Time passes no matter what, and five years from now you’ll wish that you started work today.

9. Did the title of your book ever change, or was it The Vanishing Trick from the start?

The original title is spoilery, so I won’t say what it was. When I submitted it to my agent I renamed it ‘The Orphan Thief’, then we brainstormed together to come up with the current title, which is definitely the best of the three.

10. What are you working on now?

My next book is another magical middle grade book about a real inventor from the 1840s named Joseph Faber. He created a machine called ‘Euphonia’ which could mimic human speech – an amazing achievement for his day. Unfortunately, audiences hated it because it was so creepy and scary! In my story, Faber has a secret – the machine speaks the future, telling him of terrible tragedies he can never avert. When his new assistant, plucky 12-year-old stagehand Hannah Rabbit, learns about this, she sets out to solve the mystery of Euphonia and prevent the prophecies coming true. I’m really excited about it – it’s another chance to mix up real places and history with magic. I hope readers will love fearless Hannah and her determination to do the right thing.

Quick fire questions:

Book or Kindle? Book
Tea or coffee? Tea
Cats or dogs? Cats
Beach holiday or city break? City break. I sunburn too easily for the beach.
What’s your current ring tone? Just the default one – boring!
Would you rather have a fox’s ears or a squirrel’s tail? Fox ears – it’s hard enough finding jeans that fit already.
Would you rather spend one night locked in a witchcraft museum or one night camping in the woods? Witchcraft museum please! Sounds great!

Thank you so much, Jenni, for answering my questions and providing such a fascinating insight into your book. You can read my review here.

The Vanishing Trick is published by Simon & Schuster UK on April 30th, 2020. Pre-order here.

I have one proof copy to be won. To enter, leave a comment below. Closes midnight (GMT) February 29th 2020. Winner will be announced here and notified by email soon after the closing date. UK only.