The Dragon Crown – Out Now!

Into the dragon’s lair.

The Witching Hours series lurched to life in 2015, in a series of scribbles made at the back of my university notebook. Writing in bright purple ink, I detailed all the horrifying things that could happen to Anna and Max, “the Crypt Kids,” listing all the steps of their adventure in Transylvania. I didn’t know if anyone other than me would ever read the story — didn’t know if I’d even succeed in writing it. But halfway down the page, I made a very specific note. It was a reference to a moment in a future book: a fourth sequel to a novel I hadn’t even started writing. It was exciting. It was ridiculous.

Three years and four books later, over the summer of 2018, I finally wrote that scene.

There was something pleasantly inevitable about writing The Dragon Crown. Book four had been a challenge: a collection of great scenes that took immense effort to fashion into a cohesive whole. In contrast, writing book five was a pleasure. No book has zipped along for me as quickly as The Vampire Knife did, but The Dragon Crown came close, always leading me easily into the next scene. Each time Anna fell, I knew where she would land.

And, best of all, at the end of chapter 12, is that scene, the one I wrote down in bright purple ink. I was utterly delighted to get there, and I hope any other readers who’ve followed the series this far will be delighted (and terrified) as well.

Book five also marked a return to my usual research process, which may also help explain why it came so readily along. Before writing The Vampire Knife, I read all of The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales; the next year, before writing The Genie Rings, I read as many of The Arabian Nights as I could get my hands on. To prepare for book five I read Monkey, the English translation of the seminal Chinese novel Journey to the West — and gosh was it fun. The opening sections were a bit slow, dealing as they do with the creation of the titular Monkey; but by the time the grand quest to obtain the sacred scriptures gets underway, this book becomes a blast. I loved reading five-hundred-year-old fairy tales that I’d never seen before, like the tale of the terrible goldfish king waiting beneath the frozen river, or the story of the farmhand Pigsy, whose appearance becomes more monstrous the longer he works. The book is jam-packed full of monsters and magic spells, and I stole a whole bunch of them to put in my own Chinese adventure: keep your eyes peeled for mentions of drowsy insects, magic winds, and some of the worst headaches imaginable.

The publication of The Dragon Crown also means that there’s only one book left in The Witching Hours. I feel sad that the series will soon be at an end, and I feel worried, too — because the events of book five have left Anna and Max more vulnerable than ever before. There are other scribbles in my old notebooks. I know some of the terrible things that are going to happen next.

This week, I will write the final chapter of book six. Will Anna and Max survive their last adventure? Will they make it out of those dark American woods, having avoided the colossal creature lurking within? I hope so. I’ve spent a lot of time with Anna and Max over the last five years, and it would be a shame to see them fall at the final hurdle.

But then again — some monsters have gigantic appetites.

Happy witching!

Witches 22

 

The Mermaid Wreck – Out Now!

A horrific homecoming.

One night last year, in the very early hours of the morning, I took a short break from writing my fourth book. I got up from my desk and walked into the bathroom, and was immediately startled by a very large huntsman spider clinging to the wall.

Despite their fearsome size, huntsman spiders are not venomous, and so I decided to carry the spider outside using my hands. After taking a deep breath, I grabbed the spider off the wall and trapped it between my palms, wincing as it scuttled around against my skin. Its legs were as thick as toothpicks.

But there’s another fact about huntsman spiders that I didn’t know at the time. While it’s true that they’re not venomous, their fangs never stop growing, and so the largest huntsman spiders have very big fangs indeed. And so, when this particular spider sunk its gigantic fangs into my flesh, it really, really hurt. I tried not to cry out as I ran to the back door, turning the handle with my elbows, throwing the spider into the darkness as far as I possibly could.

When I looked down at my hand, there was blood dripping down my finger.

I thought I’d open this post with my awful spider story to help communicate what a tricky novel book four was to write. There were some chapters that whizzed along in an adrenaline-fuelled blur, with all the confidence of a brave man scooping a huntsman off a wall; and then there were other chapters that felt like colossal mistakes, like a very foolish man realising he’s just picked up a massive, hairy, long-fanged spider. I hit so many dead ends that I sometimes wondered how Anna and Max could possibly escape the book in one piece; some nights would fly past without a single word being added to the story, the children forced to keep facing the same deadly peril.

But I finished. The bad times ended in an instant, and suddenly I had a new book: a story so dark, so spooky, that it was almost certainly Anna and Max’s most terrifying adventure yet. I had vanquished the spider. The Mermaid Wreck was ready to enter the world.

The Mermaid Wreck is the first of my books to take place in my home country, Australia, and now that it’s been published, I honestly could not be prouder of it. Throughout the writing process, I was determined to prove that an Australia beach could be scary enough to match the fairy-tale otherness featured in the series thus far: that it could be as creepy as a Transylvanian wood, or as desolate as an Iranian desert. At the same time, setting the novel by the seaside gave me the opportunity to probe some fears I hadn’t been able to use in the series before. Despite being Australian, I’ve never much liked the beach; I therefore took great pleasure in writing scenes featuring sharks and shipwrecks, churning waters and hidden rip-tides, revelling in all the things people fear when they step into the sea.

And there’s also a mermaid. I don’t want to say too much about her, for fear of spoiling the book for anyone who hasn’t read it, but I can confidently say that Sylvie is my favourite fairy so far. Writing her scenes was always a pleasure, and I truly hope we’ll see her toothy smile again before the series is through.

And that’s all I have to say on the matter. The Mermaid Wreck is the fourth book in The Witching Hours series, and it’s available in Australian bookshops right now. If you’re a young reader who thinks they might be brave enough to read it, then I wish you the very best of luck – and in the scariest of moments, when it feels like a spider might be caught between your fingers, I hope you’ll have the courage to see it through.

Happy witching!

Witches 21

 

(PS: If you’ve already read book four, then please be advised that book five isn’t too far away – it’s already been written, and should be arriving in Australian bookshops in October. Come back then to hear more about Anna and Max’s next adventure, high in the mountains of China!)