Finbar Hawkins is a graduate of the Bath Spa MA in Writing for Young People.
He grew up in London and now lives in Wiltshire with his family, in a place steeped in myth and legend. He is a creative director for Aardman in Bristol, where he makes fun interactive things for children of all ages.
Follow on twitter @finbar_hawkins
In WITCH, siblings Evey and Dill are left to fend for themselves after their mother is murdered, accused of witchcraft. Evey has promised to take care of her sister - but she is also bent on avenging her mother's death.
This is a sweeping story of sibling rivalry and a drive for revenge, set against the chaos of England's Civil War.
We asked FINBAR HAWKINS to tell us more about WITCH, his debut novel:
Your day job is creative director at Aardman, can you tell us a little about that and what took you into writing your first novel, Witch?
Aardman is such a creative powerhouse, and everyday you're learning and being inspired by the people that work there. I work on the interactive side of things, helping to develop apps, mobile games, and console games, as well as interesting cross-platform projects that often use a lot of different media, video, animation and augmented reality. Technology is changing all the time, so it's fascinating to experiment creating compelling experiences for young people.
I've always written, but was starting to want to attempt something bigger, something for myself. And after an inspirational week with the Arvon Foundation, I continued writing the first draft of a novel, which got me accepted onto the Bath Spa MA in Creative Writing for Young People. 'Witch' evolved from the workshops I attended on the course, and became the book I graduated with.
What is Witch about?
It's the story of 15-year-old Evey who, along with her nine-year old sister Dill, witnesses the brutal killing of their mother by witch hunters. Evey is consumed by a lust for revenge on these men, but she has also sworn to keep her sister safe...
Why did you decide to focus on a family of witches and on witchcraft in this novel?
Aside from witches being endlessly fascinating, I was interested in perception and prejudice. Evey and Dill have been brought up in this witching world. What would it feel like, how would they think? How would they react to people who portrayed them as evil, or monstrous?
I was interested in imaginatively exploring how family dynamics would be both similar and different with these women - people get scared of what they don't understand, but Evey and Dill have feelings and fears that we can all recognise.
What was the reason for setting it during the Civil War?
The first Civil War led to a significant rise in witch trials led by an infamous witch hunter called Matthew Hopkins. The chaos of that war gave opportunities for men like Hopkins to point a finger of blame. I also wanted to set it during wartime because wars are still sadly very much prevalent on this planet, where young people are trying to survive on a daily basis.
How did Eveline, your main character, develop, and why did you decide to write Witch in the first person?
In that first term on my MA, we were given a brief to simply write something with a historical setting. Out walking, I remembered my mother saying that she always thought I should look at the Pendle witch trials. That started the wheels turning... if you were a teenager, growing up in the witching way, and that was all you knew, what would it feel like to have witch hunters come and shatter your world? And the first few lines came to me, so I found myself running home to start getting them all down.
The first person narration came because I felt instinctively that I wanted readers to have a sensory experience, to experience everything very closely through Evey's eyes.
Through Eveline and her sister, Dill, the novel also explores the relationships between sisters and mothers and daughters - why did you decide to focus on these relationships?
I am an elder sibling, and I'm fascinated with the dynamics of this in relation to a parent. The love and complexity of a sibling relationship is very distinct. Children naturally jostle and compete for their parent's attention, but the unavoidable bond between siblings is something that never goes.
Witch also gives us a feminist view of how women were controlled at this time, and how witch hunts were used to curb women's power. Was this something you set out to explore through the novel, or did it emerge as you wrote it?
Story flows from character, so this feminist theme emerged from exploring Evey's fiery nature and her journey, the people she meets, the new experiences she has along the way. One of the people she befriends, Anne, is noble born. And while I knew historically a bond between characters like Evey and Anne would be unlikely, I was quite bullish about this.
I wanted to make a clarion call for these women, that while they were from different parts of society, they had both experienced subjugations, and they could find a unity and together push back against male autonomy. It was a deliberate step in the book because, like war, racism and religious persecution, the control of women still exists in our civilisation, in some cultures far worse than others. The 17th century, in some respects, doesn't seem that far away.
How much research did you need to do into this period and the fear of witchcraft at the time? Did one story about the witch hunts stand out for you?
I did a lot of research! Not just books about the witch trials - of which there are many - but also the experiences of normal, working people during the Civil Wars. It was a time of complete upheaval across political, social and philosophical spheres.
I think Great Britain's history of witch hunts should be studied more closely by everyone, there are so many stories that stand out. There is one, that rather sadly sticks in my mind. A group of parliamentarian soldiers witnessed an old woman standing up, sculling across a river. They became convinced that she was moving magically above the water. She was hauled out by the soldiers who accused her of being a witch. In trying to escape, the woman was shot and killed.
There's something so desperate about this story. The soldiers are clearly in a hysterical, paranoid state. And the woman was doing something she probably did every day. So this recorded event has a lot of the things - war, persecution, control - that Witch explores.
Can you tell us a little about the town where you set the novel? How important is it for you to be able to visualise your settings?
It's hugely important for me to visualise my settings. I take lots of photos, go walking in locations, take notes on flora and fauna, sketch what I see. The setting for 'Witch' is Somerset, specifically the Mendips and the town, while never named, is actually Wells. The trial scenes are all situated in its town square.
Other than a great story, what would you like your readers to take from Witch?
There are some difficult subjects in 'Witch', and it does, necessarily, go to some dark places. But ultimately what I want readers to take from the story is that life goes on, that love is a far stronger emotion than hate, and that family and friends are the most important thing.
When and where are your favourite times and places to write?
I either like to write late at night, when everyone's asleep, or first thing in the morning when the subconscious is still tinged with dreams. I write in my study at home with its dark blue walls, which I find very cocoon-like. I also travel down to Cornwall when I can and write there. The sea is a constant charm, helping to sift your thoughts.
What are your favourite escapes from writing?
I like running, walking with friends, being out in nature, and where we live near Bath is so good for beautiful landscapes whatever the weather. Walking is also writing, as it's nice to be away from a screen, but things will come to you as you walk, so I often have to stop and note them down. I also like computer games, the immersion and storytelling of them. And I love watching films.
Have you read any other YA historical fiction that you could recommend to our readers?
For a classic, I've always been a fan of Rosemary Sutcliffe's historical fiction, 'The Eagle of the Ninth' and 'Will Scarlet'. For something new, I would highly recommend Kat Dunn's sweeping French Revolution adventure, 'Dangerous Remedy' - fearless heroines, action, science and magic, very much my bag!
WITCH is now out in hardback, published by Zephyr