The Witch of Endor in the Bible is very far from being a negative figure, so why then have women and others been persecuted for witchcraft in the UK for centuries?A J Dalton provides us with answers in a gripping introduction.
A J Dalton, best-selling novelist and creator of the metaphysical fantasy genre returns to discuss his new fantasy collection The Book of Witches. Dr Dalton-West, author of the best-selling Chronicles of a Cosmic Warlord series, is one of Britain’s leading experts on the sub-genres of British fantasy literature. He is also the keeper of forbidden arcane knowledge, i.e. the lingering presence of the Satanic in science fiction and fantasy texts.
Equally, Dr Adam Lively’s storied career as a literary critic, novelist, and broadcaster is highly enviable. Named one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists in 1993, he is also the son of Booker Prize winner Penelope Lively. His novels include Blue Fruit (1988), The Burnt House (1989), The Snail (1991), and Sing the Body Electric: A Novel in Five Movements (1993). His study of race and cultural attitudes, Masks: Blackness, Race and the Imagination, was published in 1998.
Read on to learn more about what to expect from the forthcoming The Book of Witches with two of Britain’s foremost writers of the fantastic as your guides.
Dalton: Following ‘The Book of Orm’, ‘The Book of Angels’, and ‘The Book of Dragons’, what does ‘The Book of Witches’ bring to the table?
While the witch is a common character-type in fantasy and horror fiction, we have to remember that there is also a realist aspect to the witch. There are witches practising today, and there is a tradition of witchcraft that goes back to the Bible (The Witch of Endor) and before.
Given the many centuries of persecution suffered by witches, there are socio-political sensitivities around how these women (and others) are described, represented, demonised and celebrated. The Book of Witches delivers a critical perspective in the introduction by Dr Adam Dalton-West of Middlesex University, and then offers eight short stories (including prize-winning authors) as a creative response.
It’s a contemporary and relevant collection… at the same time, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, instead showing how society and relationships might still be magically transformed in fun, funny and exciting ways!
Lively: Tell us about your story, ‘Greenford’, in ‘The Book of Witches’…
My story in the collection, “Greenford”, is really more about a modern-day magus than a witch in any conventional hat-and-broomstick sense, and about certain metaphysical, spiritual questions that haunt my writing at the moment. (It also takes and extends an idea from Peter Ouspensky’s suggestive little book The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin.)
“Greenford” is taken from a book I’m currently working on, “The Central Line”, which incorporates an interlinked sequence of such genre-straddling stories.
Lively: What kind(s) of fantasy writing attract you as a writer?
I think the kind of fantasy that attracts me as a writer (as a reader I am also attracted by other kinds) is that which finds the fantasy inherent in reality (i.e. in our experience of the world), rather than setting it apart in a different world or a different reality. For me, fantasy and reality are bound up together.
Dalton: What challenges does editing a collection like The Book of Witches bring? And how did you assemble your cohort of writers?
The challenges are considerable. Some of the writers are quite big names, so having to explain to them they have a grammar problem with the past perfect tense is something of a delicate matter. Then, some of the newer authors that we invited to participate (for the sake of cultural and creative diversity), needed considerable editorial help with genre-beats, and so forth.
Put it this way: I was six foot tall with a full head of hair before I started editing this book… now, I’m a bald gnome.
Dalton: Have you had dealings with witches, warlocks, ceremonial magicians, or any other magical beings? Is that the key to authorial success?
The key to authorial success consists of a set of arcane and sacrificial rituals. Those rituals are spelled/spelt out in The Book of Witches, as it happens, so get yourself a copy maybe. And I have actually had dealings with several ‘white witches’ in my time, and I used to listen to the band All About Eve quite a lot (as should everyone).
For budding writers, A J Dalton’s website is a veritable dragon’s hoard of expert advice on creative writing, finding an agent, and getting published. You can check out our previous interview here where the Doctor kindly shares his thoughts on writing, publishing, and all things fantasy.
Thanks to A J Dalton and Dr Adam Lively