Recently, I found a book that immersed me into the story from the start with an outspoken, waspish centenarian witch who reluctantly takes a woman under her wing. This is one thing I’m grateful to Facebook for as it kept popping up on my newsfeed making it impossible to resist. Today I am very excited to have The Woman and the Witch’s author Amanda Larkman popping in to to talk about her book, magic, reading and writing tips. My review for her book can be found here.
The Woman and the Witch Blurb
‘I see the wood first. A knitted shawl of green and black tossed across the shoulders of the ancient hills. I take a great gulp of breath, my lungs no longer compressed by cages of contorted bone. I want to drink the cool air like water, scented as it is with earth and starlight.But as I drift close to the house, I falter. Something is wrong. I will myself on, ignoring the whispers of pain beginning to curl up from my bed-ridden body. A ball of dread is growing in my stomach; it is so terribly black and heavy it slows me down. My hands shake. The light is gone.’Nothing ever changes in the village of Witchford until the day a hundred year old, bad-tempered witch falls and breaks her hip, and a fifty year old cleaner decides her life is over. Both are haunted by ghosts, but can Frieda help Angie to find out what her long dead father is trying to tell her? And can Angie help Frieda fight off the wolf who circles ever closer?
The Woman and the Witch https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B086K184T8
Airy Cages and Other Stories https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08KRJYZZT
Meet the Author: Amanda Larkman
Hi Amanda. I am thrilled you could join us today. Your book The Woman and the Witch bring together Frieda a 100 year old witch and Angie, who is in her 50s. They are two very different characters, do you share any of their traits?
I very much identify with Angie. The loss of her child was the way in which I processed the loss of my first son, James, who was stillborn at 42 weeks. But more generally, I wanted to explore a character who had ended up limping along in a marriage that died many years ago. At 50 she has resigned herself to a dull, unloved life that won’t change, her adventures are behind her. Meeting Frieda (as well as her husband’s affair) opens Angie’s eyes to everything she was capable of, getting rid of her self-limiting beliefs.
Frieda is a character I really enjoyed creating, very much based on my grandmother who I looked after for a short time when she was in her mid-90s. Absolutely uncompromising and not interested in pleasing anyone. She was very different to me – I hate upsetting people! – so I had a whale of a time having her go round being rude to people. She’s brave, strong and (despite her outward appearance and behaviour) kind. I hate the way our society overlooks and dismisses elderly people – especially women – and I wanted to explore a character who doesn’t give a stuff about ‘proper’ behaviour, and has the power to back it up, righting the wrongs she sees around her.
Angie is a character I connected to from the start, but she isn’t the young apprentice associated with books where a witch takes someone under her wing. Was this a conscious decision?
Both Frieda and Angie didn’t go down the path they were supposed to. Frieda absolutely rejected the idea of taking on a young apprentice and suffers because of that decision. Because of her father, Angie never discovered what she was capable of until she met Frieda. I supposed I subverted the young apprentice trope as I wanted to celebrate women no matter their age, while passing on and reinforcing the idea that it is never too late. Despite what society tells us, life doesn’t end at 29.
Her story gave me a boost to stop procrastinating and continue to follow my dreams. Frieda is a complex character and not the nicest person making her a joy to read when she gets her revenge however small on people by magical means. What came first the characters or the plot?
Definitely characters. The idea for the book sprang fully formed into my head when I pictured a plumber in a kitchen with a bent over, wizened old woman sitting smiling sweetly in the corner zapping him with invisible darts and making his tools fall to the floor whenever he reached for them. The idea made me laugh and got me wondering what else she could do.
The story deals with magic and ghosts. Have you ever had any supernatural experiences and if so, did this influence your storytelling?
Not really. I think of the magic in the book as being very real. I have read many studies that prove the power of nature, walking in the woods can lower your blood pressure, hugging a tree can help with anxiety… as well, of course, the recognised benefits of herbs and flowers. So. what I did with The Woman and the Witch was to take this to the next level and find a woman who could somehow harness the power and energy of the natural world.
Where did you get the idea for this book?
I think a combination of remembering my grandmother, reading articles on the restorative power of nature, and hitting 50!
What is your favourite book?
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.
Who is your favourite author?
Oooh impossible to choose! The ones on my list whose books I automatically order without even knowing what they are about (in no particular order) are… Marian Keyes, Sophie Hannah, Nicci French, Jilly Cooper, Kate Atkinson, Jenny Colgan, Liane Moriarty, Maggie O’Farrell, and Lisa Jewell.
It is a cruel question because it is hard to choose a favourite but some of my go to authors are on your list too. What are you currently reading?
I’m teaching Chaucer at the moment, and the whole pandemic nightmare has meant I am finding reading anything challenging really hard. So, I am currently working through Marian Keyes’ back catalogue (again) and am looking forward to re-reading ‘Rachel’s Holiday’.
Is your writing influenced by the books you have read?
Yes, definitely. I read all the time and have to work hard to not let someone else’s style leak into mine. I think I’ve only just found my voice or style and it took my thirty-five years!
Where is your favourite place to read or write?
Bed! And if my family won’t let me stay there, the kitchen table.
When did you begin writing and how did being published come about?
I’ve got drawers stuffed with terrible novels I’ve written every few years since I was about 15. I’ve spent thirty years sending them out to agents and never had any luck. I felt ‘The Woman and the Witch’ had an important message, so I spent three years making it the best it could be. Most of that time was chucking great chunks of it out and re-writing the damn thing! With a full-time job and two demanding children it was very hard to find the time and I had to be terribly selfish.
When I was finally happy with it (and I was really sick to death with it by the end!) I sent it off to agents again. Most didn’t even reply, but a couple said they liked it but as it was difficult to categorise they didn’t think it would sell well to publishers.
This time instead of giving up I thought ‘sod it, what would Frieda do?’ and decided to publish it independently. I was expecting to sell a handful of copies and for it to sink into obscurity, but people seemed to have liked it and I’ve had some lovely reviews that have sent me over the moon! I am so happy people have enjoyed it as well as being kind enough to come and tell me they liked it.
I loved it as you can see from my review here. Do you reread books or do you only read them once?
Re-read old favourites all the time.
Quite a lot of people have decided to write during lockdown. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
I can only say what worked for me; everyone is different, so it’s all about finding what works for you. Marian Keyes has put together a series on becoming a writer on YouTube and its brilliant and FREE!
- Write every day – I aim for 1,000 but sometimes life gets in the way. But it does get you into the groove. Even if putting a word down feels like climbing a mountain, just keep putting one foot (or word) in front of another. Eventually the brakes will come off and you’ll write a great whoosh of thousands that will tumble out of you. The next day you might be back to one word every ten minutes, but the whoosh will come back.
- Get a first draft down. Even if it’s utter rubbish, get the draft down. It’s much easier to work on a rubbish draft than it is a blank page.
- Don’t let anyone see it until you finish it. You need to get what is in your head down first and then tweak it. People will interfere and make you lose confidence, which is death to anything creative. Wait until your draft is pretty solid before exposing it to the cold eyes of a beta reader!
I agree with Marian Keyes series, it is wonderful and she is so open and natural in her approach. It can be found here for those wanting to give writing a try or need some advice.
Thank you Amanda for joining me today, it has been great chatting to you and I hope to read some more of your work in the future.
Amanda Larkman was born in a hospital as it was being bombed during a revolution. The rest of her upbringing, in the countryside of Kent, has been relatively peaceful.
She graduated with an English degree and has taught English for over twenty years. ‘The Woman and the Witch’ is her first novel.
Hobbies include trying to find the perfect way to make popcorn, watching her mad labradoodle run like a galloping horse, and reading brilliant novels that make her feel bitter and jealous.
She has a husband and two teenage children, all of whom are far nicer than the characters in her book.
Social Media links
Have you read Amanda’s book? Do you have any writing tips? I would love to know your thoughts below.
Take care and stay safe.