Wednesday, 7 March 2018

The Witch's Blood - How To Build A Fantasy World

I am thrilled and honoured to be involved with the Witch's Blood blog tour, and to have Katharine and Elizabeth Corr back on the blog. They are a hoot and a half on Twitter so to have them back is a delight!

I did hope to have Witch's Blood read by now but real life has thrown me through a reading loop "ARGH!" so I haven't read the third and final book at the moment. Actually, at the time of writing notes for how am going to introduce my stop, I am halfway through Witch's Tears and basically am trying very hard not to tweet Katharine and Elizabeth with the words "WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO MY POOR BABIES?!"

But I won't. So, without trying to spoil myself, all I can say is: how far will Merry go with her magic to save someone she loves? And given the chaos she and the people around her created, what will she have to sacrifice to set things right?

Before I hand it over to Katharine and Elizabeth, two quick things: First, if you want to check out Elizabeth and Katharine on Twitter (and why wouldn't you?), check them out at @lizcorr_writes@katharinecorr. And to them both, thank you both for including me in this tour!

How to Build a Magical Fantasy World: A Spell

Start with your base: a soup of childhood reading, history lessons, myths and fairytales, plus everyday, twenty-first century life.
The Witch’s Kiss trilogy is what’s sometimes described a ‘low fantasy’ – fantasy set in the real world. Merry, Leo and the rest of the characters exist (at least for the most part) in modern day Surrey. But there’s lots of other stuff going on: an ancient curse, witchcraft and fairytale characters come to life. As with all world building, the challenge was to make something believable out of this blend of fantasy and reality.

Add an Anglo-Saxon belt buckle for history.
We wanted our world to feel as if it was grounded in a real past, when magic was part and parcel of ordinary life (as it was for the Anglo-Saxons, even if not quite in the way we’re portraying). Spells have developed over time: newer ones have come into use to replace those that have fallen out of favour or been banned. There’s also the sense of the past affecting modern magical society. In The Witch’s Kiss there are hints of how witchcraft was forced underground by the arrival of Christianity (our modern day witches operate in secret) and in The Witch’s Tears Merry’s relationships are affected by historical feuds between witches and wizards.

Throw in some hart’s-tongue fern, for language
It made sense to us that spells from different time periods – and from different countries – would be in different languages. Witchcraft, especially in its modern setting, is international! Merry comes across or uses spells in Old and modern English, Latin, French and other languages she doesn’t even recognise. She’s also able to create new spells by putting bits of existing spells together.

Now, an old textbook or three, for knowledge
So, witches know spells. But how do they learn them? In The Witch’s Tears, Finn and Merry discuss the possibility of a magical school, but we didn’t want to go down that route. Our witches learn from other coven members and from books. Knowledge books are collections of spells, and wisdom books contain instructions, stories, traditions. In addition, each witch documents her spell-casting and magical experiments in a journey book. And then there are the Archives: a central repository of knowledge. From an initially oral culture, our witches embraced literacy with a vengeance. No wonder the patriarchy didn’t like them.

Finally, a looking-glass, to reflect our world
The witches and wizards in The Witch’s Kiss exist within a version of modern society, so we wanted to reflect some aspects of that in the books. For example, there’s sexism: wizards look down on witches. There’s social hierarchy: Kin House wizards (the group Finn belongs to) look down on witches and on other wizards. There are social problems: the covens still haven’t figured out how to sensibly – and sensitively – deal with rare, but usually unstable, male witches. There are rules around normative behaviour: witches don’t fraternize with wizards; both witches and Kin House wizards learn and perform magic according to particular and strictly enforced traditions; the covens do things the way they’ve always been done. But at the same time, people find ways around the rules: witches trade spells with wizards, banned magic is secretly still practiced, and the idea that witchcraft should only be used to help people is really more of an ideal. Just like in real life, magical society is messy.

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading our thoughts on magical world building. What do you think makes a great fantasy world?

Thank you to Andrew for being part of our blog tour for The Witch’s Blood! 

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