Today I’m delighted to welcome Anna McKerrow onto the blog. Anna’s debut YA novel, CROW MOON, came out the day before my birthday in 2015, which I absolutely considered a portent of good things to come. This stormy, sexy tale of witchcraft in a near-future time of disastrous climate change proved irresistible, and thankfully I only had to wait a year before the next instalment, RED WITCH. As we count down the days (okay, weeks? months?) to the final book of the Greenworld trilogy, I took the chance to quiz Anna about writing, magic, and the wonders of UKYA.
This post is part of the YA Shot Blog Tour. YA Shot is a one-day annual festival based in the centre of Uxbridge (London). The 2016 festival will take place on Saturday 22nd October 2016. YA Shot is run in partnership with Hillingdon Borough Libraries and Waterstone’s Uxbridge. I was lucky enough to attend last year’s event and had a splendid time, and it’s all in support of libraries and young people too!
Anyway… on to the interview! See how quickly you can guess the theme the questions are based around…
THE MAGICIAN: What is it that’s so appealing about writing and reading magic? And how can we create magic in our everyday lives?
I think it’s about power and transformation. In mainstream thought we tend to see magic as fantastical but WHAT IF one had the power to transform the world around them? That’s always the appealing thing. It seems to easy. Whoosh! Just like that. The thing is that we can, actually, transform ourselves into our best selves and live magically. Just, most people don’t realise that, and it’s less pointing a stick at something and more attuning yourself to the power and rhythms of the universe and also becoming intimate with your own deep dark motivations and heal them where they need it, and make it all work for you so that everything in life works just like magic.
THE HIGH PRIESTESS: All the best books have Tarot reading scenes. Happily, there seems to have been a recent surge in witchy fiction. Who are some of your favourite fictional witches, recent or otherwise?
They really do. Tarot RULES.
My favourite is Willow from Buffy because she’s a real girl, it’s part of her life but it doesn’t define her, she’s gay, she’s funny, she learns as she goes along and her witchiness is Wiccan witchiness ie based in reality.
THE EMPRESS: We’ve been nostalgic for the countryside for as long as we’ve been destroying it. Why is it such a source of inspiration? Has that changed in an era of climate change and urbanisation?
Loving these questions, Sarah. You rule! Why indeed?
I think despite urbanisation and the industrialisation of life for many – neither of which are inherently bad, of course, they just have some unfortunate consequences for the environment, for our health and for the wellbeing and that of the animals and plants that make up the delicate balance of our overall biosystem – we are naturally of the earth and so we long for it on a cellular level. Humans are made of the same elements that everything else is – we evolved here just like everything else and so we belong. Urban living is great but we need to recharge our batteries in nature too. Climate change wise, pollution, overpopulation etc – we’re ultimately just hurting ourselves, but seeing ourselves as one with the planet in a very real and practical way still eludes our political leaders.
THE HIEROPHANT: In Red Witch, Melz has her perception of the Greenworld challenged by people she meets in the Redworld. I’m really interested to see the Greenworld utopia compromised. YA grapples with identity and authority – can (should?) it encourage change to the status quo?
I think one should always question everything. If it’s strong and robust, it will stand up to scrutiny. If not, then it needs to reassess itself. Your teens are a time where you tend to start seeing that few things are that straightforward, and that shades-of-grey is more the norm than absolutes. That’s something that continues the more you get older I think, too. It’s healthy and natural to question authority, and especially instances of absolute authority.
THE LOVERS: Which are your favourite (not necessarily romantic) relationships to write in the Greenworld trilogy?
Hmmm! I like Danny and Melz’s interactions, and I like writing Omar a lot. Writing the teens arguing with the older characters is good too because you can really get into looking at things from both sides of the generation gap and really trying to feel the urgency and resistance both sides.
THE CHARIOT: I live pretty far from Cornwall and the sea, but I find myself drawn to both. It feels obvious to set the Greenworld there, but what were your reasons for doing so?
First – Cornwall has a proud history of witchcraft – check out the top tourist rated Witchcraft Museum in Boscastle to see that firsthand. Second, it’s a really romantic, magical landscape – crashing waves and cliffs and stone circles etc. Third, it has a mythical Celtic heritage, connections to King Arthur and faeries and stuff. Fourth, it remains a big focus for the contemporary pagan/witch/druid etc scene. Last, I love it.
THE HERMIT: What is your writing process like? (I love your Pinterest boards by the way! I’ve never really got the hang of Pinterest myself.)
Oh, thank you! I love a bit of scrapbooking so Pinterest is a joy. I’ve done boards for CROW MOON and RED WITCH there because it helps me visualise and also helps the publisher, and some fans I guess!
Writing wise I just plunge in and write instinctively and freely and let it develop and then go back and rewrite. I dislike mega plotting because then I’m bored and don’t want to write the thing. I have a low boredom threshold (Moon/Mars/Venus in Aries, Gemini Rising for you astrology buffs – restless to the max) which is why I like to keep busy all the time.
THE STAR: The UKYA community is generous and creative – what is it that makes it so special?
It is! Gods love UKYA – it’s been such a support for me as an emerging author. I think it’s just genuinely high levels of enthusiasm for books and writers and the joy of reading. It’s a very YAY!! heart-centred energy, as we say in healing circles, which is brilliant. For RED WITCH I had the launch in a fabulous occult bookshop in London called Atlantis Books, and after the launch the mother and daughter that run the shop said how much they’d enjoyed the launch, as usually they have quite serious book launches with lots of middle aged and older men, and this was predominantly female and lots of noisy YAY!! and hugs and wine and laughing. They were like “You girls are welcome back anytime!” – awwww.
THE WORLD: For me, a library represents a world of opportunities. The stacked shelves represent the sum total of thousands of people’s work. I’m delighted to support YA Shot in part because of its close relationship with public libraries. What do libraries mean to you?
What a lovely way to put it. I entirely agree. Also, like most people I guess, it’s about access. You don’t need to be able to afford to buy books to be a keen reader if you can go to the library, and the more you read, the better life chances you have. I was in my library every week as a kid and teen, reading everything. You have to, as a writer, I think, read voraciously. And the existence of libraries demonstrate the culture’s commitment or otherwise to national literacy. If there are good, well-funded libraries in every town and city and village, it’s a clear message that says WE VALUE LEARNING. If not, not so much.
THE FOOL: What advice do you have for anyone starting out as a writer (/in publishing/similar)?
As a writer – just write and read loads and be patient; it’s going to take a while for you to get good. Writing’s just the same as everything else: you wouldn’t expect to be able to play guitar like Eddie Van Halen from cold (sorry for out of date guitarist reference) so don’t think that you have to be a natural genius writer to be a writer, because you definitely don’t – it’s a learnt skill. And, dare I say, get some age and actual living under your belt at the same time so you have stuff to write about and some sense of reflection and understanding of human nature too.
Publishing – Do well in English at school if you want to work on the editorial side. Get an MA in publishing. Do work experience if you can afford to. Work in a bookshop. Be a book blogger and basically inform yourself as much as you can about books and authors and reading. Connect online with anyone in publishing, blogging, reading charities, libraries, schools, authors etc. It’s really competitive so you need to be prepared.
If that wasn’t enough #content for you all, Anna and I drew some cards for some of our favourite citizens of the Greenworld:
ANNA for DANNY: