The legendary Garry Coulthard of grimgarry.com tells all about growing up near Pendle (not to mention his dalliances with real witches). He also discusses the researching and writing of his new story in The Book of Witches available through Amazon, Waterstones (soon), and all good retailers.
Based in North West England, Garry has both a BA and an MA in Creative Writing, and while he goes by the name Grim, he’s actually quite a nice chap, but some of the things he writes about…
Be sure to check out Garry’s little corner of the internet too. In his own words, “It’s quite dark, smells unusual and I don’t think I’m alone. I’m glad you got here when you did!”
Follow him on Twitter: @GrimGarry.
Research & Realism in Writing
For me the most important thing, in any story like mine, is for it to be grounded in reality. Or if not reality, certainly in social/cultural history. The story of the Pendle Witches was one of the first bits of folklore I ever came across, probably because I live in the area. So, my initial quest when thinking about writing the story was to discover a) What happened to the Pendle Witches and b) What practises were in place at the time?
There has to be that edge of believability about it because as writers it’s all too easy to come up with something and make it work for the story’s sake. Unfortunately, when something is conjured from sheer imagination alone, it often feels flimsy. It’s so much better when you take something real and subvert it enough so its fantastical whilst still having that edge firmly rooted in reality. I went back and found some of the key players in the witch trials, found some of the methods of how they were ‘encouraged’ to confess and ran with them.
I also looked to the present, asking modern witches about how they interpret magic, where it comes from, etc. That’s why most of the magic used in my story has a natural element to it. I also consulted a working police officer to ask how they would deal with the situation the characters are presented with in the story. It turns out modern law enforcement has little idea of what to do when the supernatural starts kicking off!
The Landscape of Pendle Hill
Growing up in Lancashire I think you’d struggle not to have heard the story of the Pendle Witches at an early age. I have super fond memories of trolling up Pendle searching for witches on Halloween with my Mum and Dad, me in full costume, which consisted of a cheap witch’s mask, a bin bag and a paper pointy hat. Witchery becomes ingrained in your cultural understanding. I think it’s because Pendle Hill dominates the landscape so much. You look at it and your immediate thought is, witches.
I read the Mist Over Pendle as a child, (man, that was hard going) because the appetite was there to learn more. I feel that having an interest in and learning about these things runs parallel to learning Maths or Geography at school, or looking at bugs and dirt out in the park. If you’re interested in it at a young age you just devour the information. You just want to learn about anything that is remotely interesting to you.
Then, that knowledge skews your brain into always looking for those things, the same way it does if you’re interested in architecture or science. I can’t think of many more topics more interesting than folklore and the supernatural. For me learning about the ghosts of Chingle Hall, The Pendle Witches or the Black Dog of Chipping, was no different to the subjects I’d learn at school, except they were wildly more exciting. And still are.
The Modern Witch(es)
I think the notion of a modern witch is far different to the historical harridans of times long gone. For a start, saying you’re a witch now is much more accepted, in the sense that you’re not immediately placed in chains, beaten black and blue or drowned. There are more questions and curiosity, even if people are inclined to dismiss it as nonsense.
Being a witch is okay, it’s cool. The character of Willow in Buffy The Vampire Slayer didn’t do any harm to the cause whatsoever. In fact, I think she helped by showing the masses what modern witchcraft could look like (even though she did end up being the big bad in season 6!) The maligned wart-nosed woman the past seems to be far less of a ‘thing’ now.
Modern witchcraft is empowering in the same way it was destructive in times gone. I think now witchcraft is a new-old way of getting in touch with yourself and with the natural world around you. In these grim times, we could all probably do with a bit more of that.
Many thanks to Garry Coulthard.