author interview

Witch-A-Thon Giveaway #2: Win Paula Brackston’s The Silver Witch!

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What’s your favorite-colored witch? Tell us by Tweeting @LitNewEngland before midnight tomorrow, April 5, and you’ll be in a drawing to win Paula Brackston’s The Silver Witch, which doesn’t go on sale until April 21!

Brackston, who lives in the UK, is also the best-selling author of The Witch’s Daughter, The Winter Witch and The Midnight Witch. We had the privilege of talking with Paula in Spring 2014, shortly after The Midnight Witch was released, which you can hear in the Literary New England Radio Show archives.

So what is The Silver Witch all about? Here’s what the publisher says:

A year after her husband’s sudden death, ceramic artist Tilda Fordwells finally moves into the secluded Welsh cottage that was to be their new home. She hopes that the tranquil surroundings will help ease her grief, and lessen her disturbing visions of Mat’s death. Instead, the lake in the valley below her cottage seems to spark something dormant in her – a sensitivity, and a power of some sort. Animals are drawn to her, electricity shorts out when she’s near, and strangest of all, she sees a new vision; a boatful of ancient people approaching her across the water. 

On this same lake in Celtic times lived Seren, a witch and shaman. She was respected but feared, kept separate from the community for her strange looks. When a vision came to her of the Prince amid a nest of vipers she warned of betrayal from one of his own. Prince Brynach both loved and revered her, but could not believe someone close to him wished him harm, even as the danger grew. 

In her own time, Tilda’s grief begins to fade beside her newfound powers and a fresh love. When she explores the lake’s ancient magic and her own she discovers Seren, the woman in her vision of the boat. Their two lives strangely mirror each other’s, suggesting a strong connection between the women. As Tilda comes under threat from a dark power, one reminiscent of Seren’s prophecy, she must rely on Seren and ancient magic if death and disaster are not to shatter her life once more. 

If you didn’t already know, we’re in the midst of a 5-day Literary New England Witch-A-Thon. Check out earlier posts to see all the frighteningly wonderful things we have going on! The Witch-A-Thon ends tomorrow at midnight.

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Witch-A-Thon Giveaway #1: Win MJ Rose’s Witch of Painted Sorrows

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“Fear, desire, lust and raw emotion ooze off the page.” That’s how Pittsburgh Tribune-Review book reviewer Jeff Ayers describes Connecticut author MJ Rose’s latest novel, The Witch of Painted Sorrows.

Between now and Sunday, April 5, use the #witchathon hasgtag to Tweet us the name of your favorite fictional witch, and you’ll be in the running to win a copy of The Witch of Painted Sorrows, which many call Rose’s most provocative and magical spellbinder yet. One winner will be randomly chosen from entries.

Set against the lavish spectacle of 1890s Belle Époque Paris, the novel tells the story of Sandrine Salome, who flees New York for her grandmother’s Paris mansion to escape her dangerous husband. Yet what she finds there is even more menacing.

The house, famous for its lavish art collection and elegant salons, is mysteriously closed up. Although her grandmother insists it’s dangerous for Sandrine to visit, she defies her and meets Julien Duplessi, a mesmerizing young architect. Together they explore the hidden night world of Paris, the forbidden occult underground and Sandrine’s deepest desires.

There, Sandrine discovers her erotic nature as a lover and painter. But darker influences threaten: Her cold and cruel husband is tracking her down, and something sinister is taking hold. Sandrine is becoming possessed by La Lune–a witch, a legend and 16th century courtesan, who opens Sandrine’s life to a darkness that is either a gift or a curse.

The Literary New England Radio Show has been fortunate to have this best-selling novelist as a guest several times, including a 2013 interview for her novel Seduction and a 2012 interview for The Book of Lost Fragrances.

Rose recently spoke about her inspirations for The Witch of Painted Sorrows:

What attracted you to 1890s Paris?

Belle Epoch Paris was a mélange of many different styles of art, poetry and philosophies. The old guard still ran the salons. Impressionism battled for wall space with symbolism. Cults sprang up around occultism, spiritism and inspired artists and writers. All that diversity fascinated me. I spent a long time at the Gustav Moreau museum, looking not just at his masterpieces, but examining the hundreds of sketches hidden away. I searched out art nouveau buildings and visited museums to look at the work of the Nabis whose name itself which came from the Hebrew word for “prophet,” evoked both their mysticism and determination to develop a new artistic language. 

What inspired this book?

I was in Paris and visited an exhibition of a late sixteenth century female painter, Artemisia Gentileschi. She was a rarity and anomaly: A woman artist who succeeded despite enduring so much. While there was no suggestion she dabbled in the occult, her resilience and determination inspired me to create a woman named La Lune, a sixteenth century courtesan, the muse of a great artist who becomes a great artist herself. 

While she isn’t the main character in the book, she is at its heart.  It’s her descendant, Sandrine, who three hundred years later, comes to Paris and has to overcome society’s rules and mores in order to live out her passions — as a woman and an artist.

Art plays an important part in The Witch of Painted Sorrows— did you ever study painting?

Yes. I was six when I took my first art class. It was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. And I’ve never stopped studying or wanting to be painter. When I visit a city the first place I go to is the museum. I am more at home looking at paintings and sculpture than doing anything including reading. Of every subject I am always drawn first to art and artists.

Why are you interested in the occult?

Being interested in and writing about the mystical and magical is in my blood. My great grandmother, who was French, hailed from a long line of Jewish gypsies. Grandma Berger read cards and used a crystal ball for decades to tell fortunes. She was the one who gave me a Ouija board when I was ten.

As I grew up, my great grandmother’s card and crystal ball readings continued, as did my interest in the paranormal and spiritual. Shortly before she died, and left me her own magical crystal ball, my great-grandmother tried to save my life. I was nineteen, and studying painting at Syracuse University. One morning Grandma Berger called my mother.  In an urgent voice, she told my mother that I was going to be in a fire that afternoon and she needed to warn me. My mother called, told me what Grandma Berger had said and asked me please, wherever I went that day, to stay near an exit. I did. But nothing happened. Or so I thought.

At nine that night my boyfriend, who went to Cornell, called. He sounded terribly shook up. His apartment had burned down that afternoon. He was all right, but all his clothes, books and records were destroyed. And along with them fifteen canvases I had painted. Through my paintings, I had indeed been in a fire.

Is there one place in Paris that Sandrine visits that readers can visit still?

Café de Flores. It opened its doors at 172 Boulevard Saint-Germain in 1885 and has been one of the best people-watching cafes in Paris ever since.  It’s not only one of the oldest but one of the most prestigious coffeehouses in Paris. Even though it’s next door neighbor is Les Deux Magots, frequented by Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, and others, Flore is the more prestigious and less touristy of the cafés. It’s worth waiting for a table on the terrace but the art deco interior with its red seating, mahogany and mirrors transports you back in time to pre-World War II.  They also serve one of the best fromage and jambon omelets that can be had in Paris.

Young Skins author  Colin Barrett brings ‘singular voice in contemporary fiction’ to East Coast

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Irish writer Colin Barrett, winner of the 2014 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, will be in Massachusetts and other East locations over the next two weeks for readings and signings to support his lyrical short story collection Young Skins:

  • 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 25, at Newtonville Books in Newton Centre, Mass., where he’ll appear with Single, Carefree, Mellow author Katherine Heiny
    7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 31, at the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan, where he’ll appear with novelist and short story writer Sam Lipsyte
  • 7:30 p.m., Thursday, April 2, at the Tattooed Mom in Philadelphia, as part of the Tire Fire Reading Series with several other authors

Called “a stunning debut" written by a “singular voice in contemporary fiction,” Young Skins earned rave reviews in the United Kingdom and Ireland and is now earning similar praise in the US. It consists of six stories and a novella. Set in the small, fictional town of Glanbeigh, the stories bring to life the jilted Jimmy, whose best friend, Tug, is the town terror and Jimmy’s sole company in his search for the missing Clancy kid; Bat, a lovesick soul with a face like “a bowl of mashed-up spuds” even before Nubbin Tansey’s boot kicked it in; and Arm, a young and desperate criminal whose fate is shaped when he and his partner, Dympna, fail to carry out a job.

Also the winner of the 2014 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature and 2014 Guardian First Book Award, Barrett–who worked for a Dublin-based mobile phone company before he went back to college to study creative writing–spoke about the influence his growing-up years played in his debut, among other topics:

Do aspects of your childhood in County Mayo appear in your writing?
The landscape, people and community influenced me. But above all, it’s a place to draw from in terms of language–the cadences, as well as the ingenuity and wryness and coded density of the vernacular. And the language of young people, which is a code within a code. But it took reading southern American writers like Faulkner, Hannah, and O’Connor, and the work of modern Irish writers like Kevin Barry, to realize what I had access to; that I was steeped in a language I could actually put on a page and call writing. Growing up, like most people, I thought literature was “fine writing,” and fine writing was something else to what was dropping out of me and my friends’ mouths.

What’s your reaction to Young Skins having received such significant acclaim?
I know I’m very, very lucky. Lots of books are published every year, and many very good books appear and disappear, as far as the market is concerned. I couldn’t possibly have anticipated the success of Young Skins; its ability to resonate with people. Completing it and getting it put out into the world–initially with my very small Irish publisher–was what everything hinged on for me for several years. I didn’t think beyond that.

The collection contains an ensemble of memorable characters. Do you have a process for creating characters?
I build them in images. Even if I never describe what they look like, I have to see them. And I get the characters interacting with their surroundings. I make them tactile creatures in a tactile environment. Just describing the way a character drinks a drink or drives a car does so much work for you. Actors talk about how much of acting is gestural, about bearing and comportment. A bad actor can’t sit in a chair in a credible way. Same with characters. They can say and do and think crazy things. But you have to be able to put them down into a chair in a credible way.

Many of your characters present themselves as being rough and even violent. Yet their interior voices show a real fragility. Do you think this kind of contradiction is an inherent part of being young?
I think it’s an utterly ubiquitous tension that everyone on the planet at almost all ages feels–that gap, or tension, between inner self and what it is you publicly present to the world. It is what being human is, existing in that interstice. If the gap between inner and outer self was somehow elided, we would all be angels in Eden, essentially, inhumanly connected. We would need not talk, and certainly not write. There is no place for art in a completed world.