Witch is Finbar Hawkins’ debut novel, and has been shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award and nominated for the 2022 CILIP Carnegie Medal. Set in the 17th century, Witch is about the power of women, witchcraft, fury, revenge and the ties that bind us.
After witnessing the brutal murder of her mother by witch-hunters, Evey vows to avenge her and track down the killers. Fury burns in her bright and strong. But she has promised her mother that she will keep Dill, her little sister, safe.
As the lust for blood and retribution rises to fever pitch, will Evey keep true to the bonds of sisterhood and to the magick that is her destiny?
We chatted with Finbar Hawkins about his writing journey leading up to his breathtaking debut.
Congratulations on such an amazing debut novel! You describe everything so poetically and exquisitely. Do you mind summarising Witch in a sentence or two for us?
Thank you! Witch tells the tale of teenage Evey and her journey to avenge her mother’s death at the hands of witch hunters, while sworn to keep her younger sister, Dill, safe from harm. The book is about who she encounters along the way, as well as her self-discovery, of her ‘witching way.’
Can you tell us about your writing journey?
I’ve always written really, ever since I was a child, always loved concocting stories and characters. My journey into novel writing started when I attended a week at the wonderful Arvon Foundation. The beginnings of the book that started there – that has since become my second book, Stone – enabled me to get on the notable Bath Spa University course, Creative Writing for Young People. Witch evolved from there and, after graduation, enabled me to acquire an agent, Catherine Pellegrino. We spent some time getting the manuscript just right before approaching publishers, and that’s how I met Fiona Kennedy at Zephyr, Head of Zeus, and knew instinctively that she was the right editor for me.
You have worked across many different types of media, from animation to now children’s novels. What do you find to be the most challenging part of writing Witch, compared to your other projects?
That’s a good question! I would say that the biggest challenge is getting to the end of that first draft. On other projects like games and animation, I’m often in a collaborative mode with a larger team, so we’re all bouncing off each other and everyone’s putting in ideas. Novel writing is about you sitting a desk until that draft is done, so it’s a solitary, immersed process. And then you rewrite it. And again… But at least with re-drafting you’re now in a small team of two with your editor, which is fantastic, because you have someone to bounce off creatively to make the book as good as it can be.
What’s the most exciting part of being an author (so far)?
It’s that reaction when readers like it, and feel passionate enough to write a review, or reach out to me on social media. You really can’t put a price on that feeling – that you have moved another human with your words and the power of your imagination. I write a lot about magic and the preternatural – I think that feeling is really the most magical of all.
You will appear on NYALit Fest and YALC soon. What should we expect from your panels?
Gosh, well I would imagine a veritable coven of witchery! The panels are called ‘The Craft’ and ‘I put a spell on you’ respectively, so expect lots of discussion about magical characters and settings, and how to cast a spell over our readers.
You have two teens! Do you get them involved in your writing journey?
Yes, I talk to them (hopefully not too much!) about the books I’m working on, and the ideas I have for them. My daughter, who’s older, has also very kindly read early drafts and given me feedback, which is invaluable!
The illustrations within the book are very lovely. Any story behind them? Did you draw them after you finished writing the novel or did they come before?
Thank you so much! I started drawing them as I was working on the edit, so as I was going into those drafts it was good to also think about certain moments and how they might appear on the page. I had very distinct thoughts about certain pictures before I started work – like the horse and the owl, because they are such important animals in Witch. Other images such as the hill with the crown of trees, or the quill of ink came along as I was immersed in the edit.
Can you tell us a little about your next novel, Stone?
It’s about a seventeen-year old boy, Sam, who, on the day of his father’s funeral, finds a powerful magical object, the eponymous stone. It’s about how Sam deals with his mental health with the help of his family and friends, both old and new…
Which YA books are on your TBR list?
Blimey O’Reilly, so many to shout about! ‘The Upper World’ by Femi Fadugba, ‘Such A Good Liar’ by Sue Walman, ‘When Our Worlds Collided’ by Danielle Jawando, ‘The Gifts’ by Liz Hyder, ‘Her Majesty’s Royal Coven’ by Juno Dawson.
Get your copy of Witch here.