Today’s guest at Books and Wine Gums is the wonderful Jeannie Wycherley, author of Crone (published by Bark at the Moon Books).
Tell us a little about your debut novel, Crone.
Crone centres on two very different women. Heather Keynes is a bereaved mother. Her teenage son was killed when the car he was travelling in hit a huge oak tree on a rural road. Max had survivable injuries but he didn’t make it, and Heather can’t understand why, or move on with her life. Aefre, the crone, is a shape-shifting soul-sucking seductress, a foul witch, ancient and fearless. She periodically sleeps for great lengths of time, but now she’s awake and she wants to garner her strength, and liaise with her evil sisters.
When there is another accident at the same bend in the road, Heather goes to the scene and what she finds there sets her on a collision course with Aefre. Along the way she meets an interesting array of characters, who help her realise her own potential, and when she discovers that Aefre was the reason Max dies, furies collide because Heather wants her revenge.
At first glance Crone is a typical horror novel – there’s life and death, there’s love and hate, there’s loss and hope. However, you could also describe it as a supernatural thriller or mystery. There’s plenty to unravel.
I always wanted Crone to be multi-faceted, and so the dark has a light side, and not everything is as straightforward as it seems. Crone is a celebration of women, and the strength women have, and the good and bad in all of us.
How much did your choice of setting Crone in East Devon shape your choices regarding genre and character?
There was never anywhere else apart from East Devon (AONB) that Crone could be set. The novel grew from the environment. There is very little light pollution outside the towns here, and whenever you drive anywhere, you are travelling underneath archways of tree branches. On many moist nights, the sea mist travels inland and hangs motionless in the air. The land rises and falls like the curves of a woman’s body. It is fertile, it is mysterious and it is magnificent.
I’m a great lover of trees and the forests, and everywhere I turn, I fancy I see figures darting in and out of the shadows. The idea for Crone came to me when I was sitting in my car. I was pulled way over into the hedge (on what passes for a main road in these parts) to let a van come past, and I glanced across to my left, worried about the paintwork on my beloved car, and for a moment I imagined the face of an old woman staring back at me from the trees beyond. That was it! Crone was born.
The landscape is a huge part of the novel. The hills, the paths through the forest, the winding lanes and back roads, the cottages with their smoking chimneys – they all give a sense of place, and add to the sense of this being a folk story. The tangled trees with twisted branches, the moss and lichen, the dry crackle of twigs underfoot – they took me to the very heart of Aefre’s character, and I love that!
For Heather, the environment she lives in is incidental. She is as happy in the town as out of it, in a way that Aefre could never be, but you do get the sense that Heather is comfortable with all aspects of East Devon.
If the film rights to Crone were to be taken up, who would you like to play the role of Heather?
I’d like someone who looked a little lived in, someone who has seen life. Heather is in her forties, and grief marks you, doesn’t it? I think Rachel Weisz, with a soft regional west-country burr rather than her clipped English tones, would be a good choice, but I’m pretty sure there are any number of great actresses of the right age who would be wonderful in the role and have the right depth of character and emotion.
Personal writing choice: pen or keyboard?
Oh keyboard, definitely! I love my notebooks for scribbling maps and ideas, and character outlines, and colouring and sticking things in, but I procrastinate far less when I’m typing. Plus I’m quite a speedy typist these days.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Probably as soon as I could read. It is a tragedy that I didn’t follow it through. I always loved stories, reading and telling them. I loved drama and theatre and film. That creativity was my passion as a youngster, and I was good at it. When I told my careers adviser at school I wanted to write, he told me to be realistic. I went on to pursue my academic studies, and I found myself holding down a job that made me extremely unhappy. It wasn’t until I saw a counsellor to talk about my depression that we identified that a lack of creativity was the root cause. I changed the way I worked and this improved matters, but when I was offered redundancy, I took the leap. It was the best thing I have ever done, and I’m sorry I left it so late.
What is the best part of being an author?
Words. Words. Words. Words. Everywhere. Wonderful words that you string together that evoke a thought or a feeling. I wake up and I am so excited on the days that I get to write (I work part time and I copy write too so not every day is a creative writing day). I go to bed thinking about my stories. I live, eat, breathe, sleep my novels and ideas. It’s an endless fascinating process and it makes me so darn happy!
And the worst?
How skint I am.
Who are your writing heroes?
I write horror and dark fantasy, so it’s no surprise that I’m a huge fan of Stephen King. I love the fact that he knows the rules but he breaks them all. He’s fearless too about his characterisation, and elements of plot. Occasionally I’ll be reading one of his novels and think, “Blimey. I wouldn’t have done that.” I like plot surprises though, so I’m a very appreciative reader.
It’s probably not fashionable, but Charles Dickens is another hero. I love the quirkiness, and the way Dickens draws his characters. His pathos also appeals to me, and his use of language is just sublime. Above all though, is his evocation of place. You always know where in the world you are with Dickens, and that is something I think is missing in many modern novels.
I’ll also give a shout out to Susan Fletcher, because I think Witch Light is one of the best novels I have ever read. Such power in her writing, such imagination. I am deadly jealous.
If you had to be stranded on a desert island with three fictional characters, who would you choose, and why?
Good question! Oh so many friends *strokes the spines of all the books on my shelves*
Laura Ingalls Wilder – I know she’s not ‘strictly’ fictional, but at least she would be practical and be able to make us dinner with the very few ingredients around, she could probably fish, she could definitely make fires, and she would fascinate me with tales of her childhood.
Moll Flanders. Another character who is a survivor and has lots of derring-do.
Tom Thorne, Mark Billingham’s detective. He can handle himself, but he’s sensitive and analytical too!
Ah, so many words and delights I have yet to spring upon a waiting world! Haha! I potentially have three novels in the offing this year, but I’m not of sure of the order they will arrive. The Municipality of Lost Souls is a Victorian ghost story, a kind of Jamaica Inn meets the Walking Dead, and is an homage in many ways to my hero, Dickens. I adore this novel, I love the characters especially, so I want it to be perfect. I’m very excited about it.
Beyond the Veil is a supernatural thriller. At 8.42 am one Monday three people die at the same time. Before they can step ‘beyond the veil’, something else rushes out, and everyone is plunged back into the land of the living. Cue murder and chaos, some odd characters, and some witchcraft of course!
The Jumpers is a story of loneliness and jealousy. How far would you go to be like the woman you most admire? When two women face each other across the chasm of air between high-rises, one of them will jump, and the other will step into her shoes. It surely won’t end well.
In the meantime, I’m publishing my (long) short story ‘A Concerto for the Dead and Dying’ in January. It’s my first foray into vampire fiction, and didn’t quite work out the way I expected. It’s bittersweet, and all the more interesting for that. I hope people will enjoy it!
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions!
Thank you so much for inviting me Emma! It’s been great fun!
Jeannie Wycherley is the author of Indie Brag Award winning debut novel Crone, the short story compilation Deadly Encounters, and numerous other dark tales published across the globe. Jeannie lives in Devon, where the forest meets the rocky coast, with her husband and three dogs. She loves concocting meals in her cauldron, collecting cushions, and playing too many games on her computer.
Mailing list: http://eepurl.com/cN3Q6L
Crone: Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Crone-Jeannie-Wycherley-ebook/dp/B072BHCSQF/