The Witching Hours in the USA

Helpful tips for far away readers.

Howdy, United States readers! This is a message for you and you only. If you’re not from the US, look away now!

As you may know, my first book (The Vampire Knife) was released in the US in September 2018. Unfortunately for any readers who enjoyed book one, the rest of the Witching Hours series has had a much trickier time reaching the States. I don’t have any control over how my books are sold overseas, but here is the best info I have for tracking the rest of the series down!

Firstly: as of Fall 2020, a publishing house called Trafalgar Square has signed on to distribute book two (The Troll Heart) in the US. Hooray! Their email address is <orders@ipgbook.com> and the phone number for their customer service team is (800) 888-4741. If you pass that information on to your local bookshop or library, then hopefully they’ll be able to source you a fresh new copy of my terrifying second tale.

Secondly: if you Google with tenacity, and if you don’t mind paying for shipping, there are a number of Australian bookshops that will happily send you some of my books in the post. Book three (The Genie Rings) is quite hard to find anywhere, but Abbey’s currently has books 1-4 in stock, and Boomerang Books always seems to have a good range. I can’t maintain a live list of which stores have my books and which stores don’t, but for now, all of my books are still in circulation if you search hard enough!

I hope this information helps you track down some more of my scary stories. Good luck, and happy witching!

An Update on Book Six

Gigantic news?

Hello! How are you? Quite a year we’re having, isn’t it?

I often forget that I have a website, and as a result of this, I also forget to share helpful information. But I remembered my website tonight, and so here is some information you might be looking for: the sixth (and final!) Anna and Max book, titled The Giant Key, is scheduled for release in Australia on February 1, 2021. It would have been released earlier, but things got a bit weird this year, and we really don’t need any monstrous fairies making things even weirder.

But next year… well, in 2021, Anna and Max’s lives are going to get very weird indeed. I wish I could tell you about the hidden study, or the bone doll, or the thing that happens when Anna steps into the lake. But I can’t. It’s top secret. You’ll just have to be patient.

The Giant Key is coming. I hope it will be worth the wait.

Happy witching!

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Witch No. 16: Smelly Chantelly

“I smell a whiff of what I need to make my broomstick fly at speed…”

Smelly Chantelly isn’t the most famous of witchy books. My dad bought it for me at my kindergarten book fair, way back in 1996; even then, I was intrigued (and frightened) by the witch on the cover. However, more than twenty years later, Smelly Chantelly remains one of the weirdest picture books I have ever read. The illustrations are hideous. The main character is a slob.

And, to avoid burying the lead any longer: the book literally stinks. Smelly Chantelly is a scratch-and-sniff adventure, and Smelly’s foraged ingredients are pungently apparent on every page.

Smelly cover

The plot of the story goes thus. On the night before the witches’ fancy-dress ball, Smelly’s broomstick runs out of power, sending her tumbling through the roof of an old barn. As she makes her way home on foot, Smelly must find all of the ingredients required to brew a broomstick-restoring spell. (She’d also quite like to win the prize for Best-Dressed Witch, but that’s a secondary concern to getting her broom back in the air.) The child reader is implicitly invited to quest along with her, trying to identify which ingredient Smelly will add to her belt next.

It’s quite fun, really. All of the ingredients Smelly needs can be scratched and sniffed, and if you don’t spot the ingredient straight away, you can try scratching anywhere on the page. My copy from kindergarten has optimistic scratch marks on just about everything.

The only problem is that some of the ingredients smell truly, genuinely awful.

Smelly potion

On the fourth page of the book, the reader is told that Smelly’s breath reeks of mildew; the reader is invited to scratch and sniff. Later, Smelly trades her cat for a clove of garlic; the reader is again invited to scratch and sniff. At the end of the book, Smelly realises that the final ingredient she needs is her own smelly sock; the reader is again invited to scratch and sniff. All of these invitations should absolutely be turned down.

My biggest regret about Smelly Chantelly is that my favourite smell in the book (the bubblegum) was immediately preceded by my least favourite smell (the garlic). The bubblegum smelled great, but the order of scratching meant that the bubblegum very quickly became contaminated with the awful stink that came before. I don’t know who edited that aspect of the book, but my five-year-old self would like to give them a very stern talking to.

Smelly garlic

Overall, I still have really fond memories of Smelly Chantelly. Unpleasant as it could be, the concept of a stench-filled picture book remains delightfully transgressive, and the nightmarish proportions of the character designs further elevate that weirdness. (Smelly’s nose really has to be seen to be believed.) Furthermore, it’s a book from Melbourne, so chalk up another Australian witch in the records!

For the sake of completion, I’m going to finish this report by scratching the garlic again, which I haven’t done in approximately twenty years. I don’t want to do it. I’m really, really hoping the scent has faded.

Nope. Still there. Still terrible. Huge regrets.

Smelly nose

Final Musings

— What? You’re saying it’s been two and a half years since my last witch post? Stop yanking my chain. I’m quite certain that this website is regularly maintained and updated.

— A begrudging thanks to author Joan Van Loon and illustrator Chantal Stewart for the fun times spent reading this book, but no thanks to them at all for the times spent frantically scrubbing my garlic-stained fingertips before bed.

— This is a tenuous connection, but The Witching Hours 6 is Anna and Max’s smelliest adventure of all. I’m sorry that book six hasn’t been released yet, but the way this year is flying by, I’m sure it’ll be out before we know it!

Happy witching!

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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!

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(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!)

Witch No. 14: Daisy O’Grady

“Does she wear a long black dress? Guess!”

As an Australian writer fascinated by all things witchy, I’m always on the lookout for witches with a distinctly Australian flair. Unfortunately, throughout my reading life so far, such witches have been virtually non-existent – with one notable exception. Daisy O’Grady is a terrifying Australian sorceress, her face gaunt, her hair wild, with a literal skeleton tucked away in her closet. She wears a macabre fox stole around her neck, and proudly mixes potions containing rats’ tails, toe-nails and dead lizards’ scales.

Oh – and she also happens to be the main character in a picture book for children.

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Guess What? is a 1988 picture book written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Vivienne Goodman. It’s a book that sets you up to feel uneasy from the very beginning, establishing a fleeting sense of distance (“Far away from here lives a crazy lady called Daisy O’Grady”) before slowly drawing the reader closer to its mysterious protagonist. Each of the simple, sinister questions asked by Fox (“Is she tall?” “Is she thin?”) gives a further clue to Daisy O’Grady’s identity, building and building until the conclusion of the story seems terrifyingly, unsettlingly inevitable. You hope that Daisy won’t be a witch. You hope there’s going to be a twist. You hope the book won’t give you nightmares.

And, well, there is a twist – but I’m certainly not going to ruin that here!

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Fox’s prose is a masterclass in creating a sense of looming dread, but it’s Vivienne Goodman’s illustrations that give the book its distinctly Australian flavour. Through a series of vivid, almost photorealistic pictures, Goodman provides a detailed insight into Daisy O’Grady’s world, documenting everything from her modest scrubland shack (complete with corrugated iron roof and brick outhouse) to the native animals that live both inside and outside her abode. Every illustration is cluttered with incredible, recognisable detail: The Weekend Australian lying crumpled on the floor; a reconciliation badge pinned to Daisy’s black hat; an ordinary tin of Keen’s Mustard sitting beside a jar of blowfly eyes. It’s a perfect snapshot of Australian farm life, filtered through a weird, witchy gauze. I’ve spoken earlier in this blog about my love for witch products in The Jolly Postman, and Goodman’s own creations – “Lifeless Lizards Scale Powder,” “Heinz Big Red Blood Sauce” – form a lovely complement to that text.

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I’ve always thought of Guess What? as being an edgy, enthralling picture book, and so I was recently fascinated (if not surprised) to learn that, in American libraries, the book was the 66th most challenged book of the 1990s. According to one library website I found, the book was most likely challenged because of its “age-appropriateness and offensive language” – and while age-appropriateness is too subjective to easily refute, I am truly baffled by the second accusation. Does the charge relate to Daisy O’Grady’s wicked collection of 1970s pin badges, which includes buttons that say Sex Pistols and ABBA is Dead? Possibly – but it’s hard to shake the feeling that certain parents were looking for any excuse to object to the book once they found out there was a witch lurking inside.

But don’t let those “offensive” badges put you off – Guess What? is a magnificent picture book, perfectly designed to spook a child even as it delights them. The world needs more witches like Daisy O’Grady: cursing, cackling and cranky while remaining entirely, wonderfully Australian.


Final Musings

— I first had Guess What? read to me when I was one year old. I know this because my copy of the book is signed to me by Mem Fox, with an inscription dated 1992. My witch lit credentials are super legit.

— Mem Fox is notable for having written many, many famous picture books, but my other favourite book of hers is Possum Magic, from 1983. There isn’t a lot of magic in Australian literature, but with these two picture books Fox sets out a vision of a mythic Australia that was hugely influential on me as a young reader. (I even had a pet brush-tailed possum called Hush, rescued from the forest beside our house.)

— From all reports, the best reading of Guess What? you’ll ever hear is by Mem Fox herself. I can’t find a video of her performance anywhere on the web, but my mum recalls that a great, urgent emphasis must be placed on the constant refrain of “Guess? Yes!” In lieu of a video, you can read about how Fox developed the book on her website.

That’s all for now – happy witching!

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