Understand that what follows isn’t a swipe at Harry Potter – having read zero books and seen just one film I can hardly claim to know the man, but something in the story set me thinking . . . You spend years learning magic in an enchanted version of Grange Hill, then what? You leave and get a job as a bank manager? What’s the purpose of magic in the wider, troubled world, I wondered? A simple enough premise, but one that set me thinking hard, hard enough for me to begin writing my own story way back in 2007. That story became Wildwood, and at its heart is the purpose of magic.
If you could practice magic – what would you do with it? Chances are it’d involve gathering some kind of material wealth (go on, be honest) but when it boils right down, the ultimate magic is freedom. But how do you achieve real freedom in a world like ours, where most people do jobs they despise to pay for things they didn’t want to buy in the first place (hands up who really wanted a mortgage?) And so, shove aside all the consumer tat and all you really need is food, shelter and friends.
In this excerpt from Raven’s Wand – the first Wildwood novel – seasoned witch Ada is explaining to seven year old Rowan just why witches are reviled by the state, because through the use of magic they have no need to buy anything and hence cannot be made slaves of . . . now that really is magic.
Rowan had orders to wait in the orchards for Kolfinnia, but while waiting she was pressed into service by Ada Crabbe, one of the senior gardeners, given a broom and told to sweep. Ada was a gnarled old witch as thorny as brambles. The breeze picked up and Rowan felt a shower of last year’s leaves drift down, scratching and tapping at her hat. “Get ‘em swept up lass!” Ada barked.
Rowan began sweeping, all the while glancing around, hoping Kolfinnia would show. “Can’t I make plants grow instead?” she whined.
“Can yer ‘call’ plants?” Ada scowled.
“Erm, well,” she flustered.
“Aye. Thought not. Come ‘ere then.” She dragged the girl to a bed of marrows and stood her before them. They were only young plants but many bore small fruits. “Call ’em,” she ordered.
“Erm, I,” she stammered.
“Then watch,” Ada sighed wearily, and swept her aside. “Them’s young marrows.” She pointed with a gnarled finger. “Posh folks call ‘em cor-jets. But it’ll be a marrow in a tick, just see.” She fished for her wand, while Rowan obediently observed. “Now then.” She held up her wand and waved it. “You watchin’?”
Rowan nodded earnestly.
“This is ‘ow we ‘call’. This is ‘ow we stay fed, and most importantly – stay free.” She directed the wand at one of the small fruits. Her face grew serious and her lower lip quivered. Suddenly she stabbed her wand forward. “Grow up yer little sod!” she shouted. Her word was her will, and her will changed the world. In response, the slender fruit rapidly swelled in size.
Rowan heard leaves rustle and gravel crunch as it shoved them aside and achieved maturity in moments. “Mrs Crabbe!” she gaped. Grinning, she turned to find the old woman staring intently at her over the top of her battered spectacles but there wasn’t a trace of frivolity on her face.
“That’s why they hate us lass.” She sounded stony but proud now.
“Aye, cos a witch who learns to call need never toil in a mill, factory or mine for pennies, and can never be made a slave of. You understand?” Her seasoned hands rested firmly on Rowan’s shoulder. “Never!”
Rowan forgot her delight and instead felt something deeper, although she didn’t recognise it as the thrill of freedom. “I understand Mrs Crabbe.”