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Michelle Harrison Michelle Harrison

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?

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.

***GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. WINNERS ARE LUCY GRIFFIFTHS, AYSHA SULEMAN AND FLORA. WINNERS HAVE BEEN CONTACTED BY EMAIL*** PLEASE NOTE THAT IF PRIZES ARE UNCLAIMED BY WEDS 13TH OCTOBER THEN NEW WINNERS WILL BE SELECTED AT RANDOM

 

 

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.

****COMPETITION NOW CLOSED****