Book of Shadows notes • 22 December 2008 • The SnowBlog
Book of Shadows notes
There's a reader's guide up on the paperback page of Paula Brackston's Book of Shadows. But I thought you might like to read it here, since it's interesting. Reading Guide
Book of Shadows - Author's Notes
I have long been fascinated by the idea of Witchcraft, and wanted to write a book based on the notion - What if there are Witches living among us, here and now, using real magic? This in turn set me thinking about Witches in times before our own, and how opinions have altered down the centuries. In Bess's time (the sixteen hundreds) cunning women, or those using hedge craft to heal, were often accused of malecficia, that is, the use of magic to attempt to bring about bad events or harm to others. From our twenty-first century perspective this seems like fear and superstition causing panic and injustice, and we accept that most of these women were harmless, and indeed in many cases effective healers. But then - What if some of those women were true Witches? This gave me my start point for Elizabeth's origins.
By granting her immortality I was able to place her in other eras that I find fascinating. For me, there has always been a frisson of menace about Victorian London. It was a place of so much poverty and suffering, where the poor and the desperate rubbed shoulders with the wealthy but could only dream of the comfort and security their birth had assured them. The poorest, as always, were the most vulnerable, which is why I wanted Eliza (who of course had a strong social conscience) to live where she did, helping the prostitutes as best she could. I wanted to include Jack the Ripper as he symbolises all that was dangerous and cruel about the city as the century shuddered to a close.
I was particularly keen to position our heroine in the First World War. I wanted to see her tested to her limits, and to watch how she might be persuaded to use her magic to heal, whatever the personal cost. The very name Passchendaele conjures up suffering and emotion. The more I researched the third battle of Ypres, the conditions the troops and non-combatants endured, and the grim realities of the Field Hospitals, the more I knew Elise would be irresistibly drawn to such a place.
I was born in Dorset and although I moved to Wales when I was five I have spent many years visiting that part of England. I love the quintessentially English feel of the landscape. It is Thomas Hardy, and cream teas, and thatched cottages, and bucolic life, and all that is good and quiet and peaceful about the countryside. This setting, then, was the perfect foil for the darkness that continued to pursue Elizabeth and threatened both herself and Tegan.
I found writing Book of Shadows a wonderful and entirely consuming experience. My family had to put up with many long months of me going about with a distracted look on my face, or were forced to drag me away from one of the myriad books I devoured while researching. My children got used to all their bedtime stories being about Witches, or the seventeenth century, or medical procedures one hundred and twenty years ago. My son is now well informed on the weaponry of the Great War, and my daughter insists on dressing as a Witch for fancy dress parties. They are as thrilled as I am that Elizabeth's story is now going out into the world. I hope readers find themselves as bewitched as I was by the idea of secret magic being among us if only we care to look for it.
Points For Discussion
* Gideon is a dark, unsympathetic character, and yet Bess found herself drawn to him. Why is there such a strong attraction to people we can see are bad, and did you, as a reader, find yourself repulsed or intrigued by Gideon?
* How did you react to the Witch trials and surrounding procedures in the book?
* One of the themes of Book of Shadows is identity and trying to pinpoint what makes us who we really are. Is there a pivotal moment or event where Elizabeth realises magic is an inextricable part of herself?
* Names play an important role in the story. How are they used to reflect this theme of identity?
* Bess never uses her magic for personal gain. What do you think about the choices she makes regarding her use of the Craft?
* Why is Elizabeth's relationship with Tegan such a crucial one, both for her and for the story?
* The early seventeenth century and the early twentieth century were both times of great political instability and upheaval, whereas Victoria's reign provided decades of growth and prosperity for many. Which period in history did you most enjoy in the book, and why?
* The Passchendaele section is perhaps the most visceral part of the book. How did you find yourself responding to the horrors of wartime Flanders?
* Put yourself in Elizabeth's place. Are there things you would have done differently?
I do hope you enjoyed reading Book of Shadows. I am always interested to hear readers' comments, so feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org