Ever since we read Waking the Witch by Rachel Burge, we’ve been wanting to know more about the author and how the story came about. So imagine our joy when Rachel Burge popped in for a drink at the Emporium.
Why not grab yourself a cuppa and take a break to catch up with her too?
Monday Merry Meet: Rachel Burge
Willow: Hi Rachel, come through to the back and have a seat if you can find one. Sorry for mess. Amber has been creating the perfect pumpkin for the window display and we have an excess of them everywhere. In fact, you can take a pumpkin or two with you when you go home, if you’d like?
Amber: Carving pumpkins isn’t as easy as I thought and seeds and gloop go everywhere. If you let me use magic, it would have been tidier.
Willow: I doubt it. What would you like to drink, Rachel? We have our own blended teas, Yorkshire tea, coffee or something stronger? We still have some parsnip wine, raspberry gin or damson vodka.”
Rachel: I’ve never had parsnip wine and would love to try some. Thank you!
Amber: Congratulations on the publication of Waking the Witch. We were excited when it arrived on the bookshelf. I had a sleepless night when I started it, as I had to read just one more chapter. Can you briefly tell our readers what the story is about?
Rachel: Waking the Witch tells the story of a seventeen-year-old girl called Ivy who is searching for her mother after being abandoned as a baby. She tracks her down to a remote Welsh island, where she discovers a disturbing truth about her past and why her mum gave her up. The story draws on Welsh mythology and Arthurian legend and offers a fresh take on some well loved stories and characters, namely Morgan le Fay and Merlin. It’s feminist, witchy, and very creepy!
Willow: Though we believe witchcraft is a way of life not just for Halloween, there is always more interest in witch related books this time of year. How did you come up with the story? Was your inspiration character or plot based?
Rachel: I tend to be inspired by setting first and foremost. I was looking up “remote places in the UK,” looking for a good location to set a creepy story, when I came across Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli), off the west coast of Wales. Isolated from the rest of the world, the tiny island has no roads or amenities and only a handful of residents.
Bardsey has been a site of holy pilgrimage since the 5th century and there are 20,000 saints and holy martyrs buried there. As it’s only about a mile long, you can supposedly dig anywhere and find bones. I was also fascinated to discover the island’s few residents move to the mainland each winter and take their farm animals with them, leaving the place deserted. Could something sinister be happening there in the darker months, I wondered?
I became excited when I discovered that Bardsey claims to be the site of Avalon and Merlin’s last resting place. In some tales, he’s trapped in a tree, cave or tower. Interestingly, Bardsey has a tower in the form of a red-and-white striped lighthouse. After seabirds kept crashing into it (as many as a thousand birds were killed in a single night), they replaced the rotating white beam with a fixed red LED light, which birds aren’t drawn to.
I took these facts and used my imagination to come up with an explanation for what might be happening on the island. The result is Waking the Witch.
Amber: What a fabulous background story. I found the opening chapters in the butterfly room immersive. The imagery was vivid. What made you choose a butterfly zoo as a setting for Ivy’s job?
Rachel: I wanted to write about a character who undergoes a major transformation. I was brainstorming ideas and the image of a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis came to me. Butterflies symbolise metamorphosis, and I had a crazy notion that maybe my character could physically transform too. Once I had this theme and imagery in mind, I decided my character should be fascinated by butterflies and want to work with them.
Willow: It’s a good fascination to have. They’re enthralling creatures. We love to hear about author’s publication journeys. What was yours like? If you did it again, would you change anything?
Rachel: I’ve always loved writing and have wanted to be an author since I was at a school. After studying English Literature at university, I worked on a local magazine and then as an online editor and feature writer. As I was coming up to my 40th birthday, I remembered my childhood dream and started working on a novel in earnest. I came up with the idea for my first book, The Twisted Tree (a ghost story based on Norse mythology) while doing a tarot course with Maddy Elruna.
As well as being a gifted tarot reader, Maddy is a Norse shaman and talked a lot about the Norse gods while explaining the meaning of the different cards. One card that really captured my imagination was The Hanged Man, which shows Odin hanging from the world tree, Yggdrasil. The Twisted Tree is based on this particular myth and features the Norns and Hel, queen of the underworld.
Maddy also led me on several shamanic journeys where she contacted Odin on my behalf. He had some surprising advice for me, and even helped with several plot points I was stuck on. (But then he is the god of poetry and writing!)
Amber: I need to look her up. She sounds fascinating. I dabble with writing beyond my book of shadows. Do you have any advice for new writers?
Rachel: Try to get as much feedback on your work as possible. There are websites where you can look for beta readers, or you could join a writing group and read each other’s work. I’ve learnt a lot from the feedback of others. Although I now have an editor to read my work, I still try to get my books read by as many people as possible before they’re published.
Willow: I find I need my own space to perform spells and have my own rituals I perform beforehand. Do you have a particular writing routine?
Rachel: I write whenever I have a spare moment, usually in my office at my desktop computer. I don’t have a particular routine, but I will light candles and play spooky music to help me get into the mood to write.
Amber: We sell a number of candles in The Wishing Spell range which promise to help your day go smoothly. Which would you choose?
I would probably choose confidence, as it’s something I’ve always lacked, or a good night’s sleep.
Amber: This is a question we ask everyone because the Enchanted Emporium is plagued by ghosts and paranormal activity. Have had had any spooky experiences – has it influenced your writing?
Rachel: Yes, I’ve had several experiences which happened as a child. I grew up in a small two-bedroom house with my mum and my nan. Mum had me when she was 18 and I shared her childhood bedroom, which was filled with her collection of clown dolls. I don’t mean one or two – every surface was covered with them. One day, I must have been about seven, I was playing on the floor when I saw a doll move by itself. It didn’t fall off a shelf or slip from its stand, its hand moved as if it was beckoning me.
Other things happened, too. A door knob rattled when there was no one on the other side, and once when I was in bed I saw a white mist, like a whirlwind, hanging above my head. I asked my nan about it the next day and she told me that several of my relatives had died in the house. If there was anything there, then they were my family and wouldn’t hurt me.
Willow: I agree with your Nan about your relatives but clown dolls are horrifying at the best of times, never mind haunted ones. If we could blend a potion in our workshop to give you a superpower or special ability for 24 hours, what would it be and what would you do with it?
Rachel: I often have tarot readings to help me make difficult decisions, so I would probably ask for the power to see exactly what my various futures would look like depending on which choices I make. (I don’t believe the future is fixed. Instead, I think it changes based on our thoughts and actions).
Amber: What book would you add to The Enchanted Emporium bookshelf?
Rachel: Michele Paver’s Dark Matter, a ghost story set in the Arctic. It creates such a creeping sense of dread while you’re reading it and I was afraid to turn the light off at night.
Amber: What are you working on currently? Or is it top secret?
Rachel: I’m writing another spooky book. It’s set in autumn, my favourite season, and draws on the beauty and horror of the natural world.
Willow: Thank you so much for visiting the emporium. It’s been fascinating to talk to you and you’ll have to come back again when your next book is out. Maybe we can compare tarot card collections.
Rachel: Thank you for having me! It’s been lots of fun.
A darkly spellbinding story of witches, sisterhood and coming of age, steeped in Welsh mythology and Arthurian legend.
Ivy has spent years looking for her birth mother, but when she finally finds her on Bardsey Island, she is shocked by what greets her. According to folklore, the cormorants that fly over the remote Welsh isle are the terrifying witches of Arthurian legend – and they are searching for Ivy.
Her mum warned her not to come and to stay away from the lighthouse, but now it’s too late. As the shadows draw closer, Ivy must look deep within herself if she wants to survive. For not every story in folklore is true, and some evils aren’t what they seem…
An unputdownable new stand-alone novel from the bestselling author of THE TWISTED TREE and THE CROOKED MASK.
Our review can be found here.