Q&A with Melvin Burgess ~ The Northern YA Literary Festival

The Northern YA Literary Festival is back, and this time it’s a supernatural and fantastical edition, and once again us #NorthernBookBloggers are taking part! In case you didn’t see it yesterday I reviewed Melvin’s Burgess’ latest novel; The Lost Witch which you can find here. While today I am interviewing the author himself!

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Hi Melvin! Welcome to my blog A Cup of Wonderland and thank you for agreeing to this little Q&A today to talk about your latest novel The Lost Witch and about attending the Northern YA Literary Festival. Can you describe The Lost Witch in five words for anyone who hasn’t had a chance to read the book?

Five words? That’s a living hell! There are two types of books – those where you know what you’re doing and where you’re going, and those where you are exploring. The Lost Witch is the last sort, and they are sooooo difficult, to sum up. But I’ll have a go: Adventures in the spirit world

In The Lost Witch, there is a huge magic system. What was it that drew you to write about witchcraft and magic? Did you have any influences when developing your magic system?

It was the idea of the spirit world and the special powers and insights for anyone who had a special relationship with it that appealed. The idea that living things have a spirit is the oldest religion – people believed it for tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of years. It’s still the basis of all religious belief. If you know the spirits they can do things for you – carry messages, taken you to other worlds, inhabit other bodies, know things other people can’t know. It’s where all magic comes from. Once you decide that the spirit world is true, all these things are perfectly logical.

In The Lost Witch your main character is a young girl called Bea, did you find it at all challenging writing a young teenage girl?

It’s something that I’ve done before. Men and women and boys and girls have far more in common than differences. We’re brought up in the same culture, at the same time – we share everything around us. And |I’m familiar with girls and women. My mother was female! So is my sister and many of my friends. My wife is a woman. So why not? It would be much harder to do someone from a different culture.

We see Bea grow from a young teenager into a young woman within The Lost Witch. Because of this, we see Bea engage with a toxic relationship, where you conscious in including that and the sexual pressures which women encounter in your novel?

Yes, Bea is groomed by someone who is very charismatic, very selfish, very manipulative and much older than she is. He does it by isolating her and making himself the centre of her whole world, which is exactly the techniques that many abusers use in the real world.  So yes, I was very much aware of what I was doing there. I wanted my world to be like this one in all ways except for the reality of the spirits and the witches who know them, and unfortunately, there are a great many predators in this world as well.

The conclusion of The Lost Witch, is left open does this mean there is a chance for a possible sequel?

No story ever ends when the book finishes! You never know…

What is your writing process like? How does it work from getting the idea to paper and then to a physical book?

As I said at the start, there are books that you know pretty well before you start, and there are books that are an exploration. With this one, once I’d set up the witches and the spirit world – the Second World as they call it – I was delighted with how rich and exciting it was. On the other hand, it did take a very long time to write – over two years in this case, and many, many drafts.

On a day to day level, I always write the morning while my brain is a bit dopey but wide open. I take a lot of breaks to have walks, or baths, or some other activity which always the ideas to appear from… wherever it is they appear from!  After I’ve got the first writing down on paper I usually go over it the next day, or in a day or two. When I get to the end of the book, I have my first draft – and that is just the beginning. I think it was Terry Pratchett who said that the first draft is just the book telling you what it is -but sometimes the book isn’t sure itself at that stage. I Like working with a good editor, and Charlie Sheppard at Andersen is marvellous. She has such a good eye. It made writing this book a real pleasure.

Who was your favourite character to write?

Lars, of course! I based him on Loki, the Norse god of fire and mischief. A trickster figure – I’ve been wanting to write him for ages!

What is your favourite part of writing The Lost Witch?

Oh, the opening. That was the first thing I wrote – Bea’s first glimpse of the Second World when she comes across the hares being hunted on the tops. Right the way through, I loved that part.

If you were a witch what would you want your power/gift to be?

I would have the gift of leaving my body and entering into the body of another creature. I would love to fly like a falcon.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Just don’t stop. I’ve met so many people who want to write but in the end, it’s not always the most talented who get there – it’s the ones who just don’t stop. It’s hard, it’s hard being a writer. You have to love it. All the best books come from people who love the stories they tell.

Once again thank you, Melvin, for taking part in this Q&A and I look forward to seeing you at the Northern YA Literary Festival: Supernatural.

My pleasure! Thank you for having me!

Tickets for The Northern YA Literary Festival are still available and they are FREE and you can find them here!


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