Tuesday, January 28, 2014

To Kepe a Hufband Faithfull - Five Questions with Ruth Warburton, author of Witch Finder

Last Thursday, we took YA author Ruth Warburton to John Mason School in our first event of 2014.

About 150 children listened to Ruth tell the story of how she came to write her Winter Trilogy, and read from her latest book 'Witch Finder'.

The series tells the story of Anna, whose life changes forever when she moves to the small town of Winter and events conspire to lead her - unwittingly and inexorably - to the discovery that she is a witch.

The books are a fabulous combination of adventure and romance - but with the trilogy at an end, Ruth has now taken her readers back a century or so to Victorian London and an altogether darker tale told in 'Witch Finder'. The story features the fearsome brotherhood of the Malleus Maleficorum, dedicated to hunting witches in the name of justice in Victorian London.

Ruth explained to her audience about the background to her books, the reality of witch hunts in the 15th and 16th century, and the religious-backed groups that set the laws for witch trials - and hunted down witches.

In researching her books, and to get inspiration for the spells that her characters use, Ruth has had to delve into some very old books indeed, getting to grips with anglo-saxon spellbooks, spells - and spelling.

As she explained, there was no real spelling 'standards' back then - if people could basically understand what you wrote, then words could be spelled in many different ways. There were also more characters in our alphabet. For example, the 'thorn' (written as Þ) was our 'th' sound, descended from the runic alphabet. This letter only slowly got replaced, often being substituted by 'y' when the printing press arrived (hence 'ye olde').

Ruth read from her books, and there were a lot of questions from the students, including my personal favourite 'if you were to write your books again, what would you change?' (the answer: I couldn't bring myself to rewrite my books, so nothing!).

A big thank you to Ruth and her publisher Hodder for travelling up from London for the event, and to John Mason School for being such great hosts. We had a chance to have a chat afterwards and find out a little bit about Ruth's writing life...

Five Questions with...Ruth Warburton's Writing Life

1.    What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently editing the sequel to Witch Finder (Witch Hunt). I’m just going through editing changes with my editor. It’s quite enjoyable, a bit like homework! Once that is over, I’ve got a new idea which I’m going to be working on.

2.    What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
Almost everyone experiences a dip at 30,000 words. Lots of writers give up at this point. The reality is that, with a new idea, the momentum carries you through, and those first 30,000 words get you set up. You need to take stock, appreciate that it’s a natural lull and PUSH ON THROUGH!

3.    What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?
The best thing is that children’s writing is cross-genre. With adults, there’s a lot of pigeonholing, and someone who reads (for example) fantasy might never read crime. Kids don’t read like that, they will usually be quite happy to read different genres. The worst thing is that there is less and less coverage for children’s books across the media and broadsheets. It’s a shame.

4.    Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing, thing or snack essential before you can start work?
A proper chair! I used to write on the sofa, or curled up in bed, but I gave myself back problems. I was given some advice that, when you get your advance, go out and buy a proper chair – it’s great advice! I went out and bought myself the ugliest office chair, but it’s really helped.

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?
The decision to write for children. I’d always written for adults, but as I work in that world (publicity for a large publisher) I didn’t think I could possibly show my writing to my fellow professionals, particularly if they had turned round and rejected me! Then I had an idea for a young adult book, and when I thought about who to send it to, I thought – I don’t know anyone, they're all completely different people!

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