Today we travel to York to chat with Alys West about how teaching creative writing, copious amounts of tea, being a book whisperer, the Orkney Islands, witchcraft, folk music, Victoria Sponge, crocheting, Jane Austen, Loch Linnhe, and Scooby Doo come together as part of West’s past and current life.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I live in the beautiful city of York in the UK. My stories grow out of places and the tales which people tell about places. My work draws on my own experience of surviving trauma but always with the possibility of a hopeful ending. I have a MA in Creative Writing from York St John University and teach creative writing at the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of York. I’m also a book whisperer (like a book doctor but more holistic) and mentor to aspiring writers.
Book whisperer … I like that!!
In which genre do you write?
I write contemporary fantasy and steampunk. My books have magic in a real world setting and would be classed as urban fantasy except they don’t happen in an urban setting. I wrote my steampunk romance, The Dirigible King’s Daughter because I love classic romances with dashing heroes and feisty heroines. The fact that it’s steampunk allowed me to have added dirigibles and copious amounts of tea.
How many published books do you have?
Three. Beltane and Storm Witch (which are Books 1 and 2 of The Spellworker Chronicles) and The Dirigible King’s Daughter.
Where did the idea for your most recent book come from?
Storm Witch was inspired by visiting the Orkney Islands, just off the northern coast of Scotland. They’re incredibly beautiful and I fell in love with the landscape and the history. There’s a folk tale from Orkney about a young woman called Janet Forsyth who was accused of witchcraft because it was believed she could control the weather. I took that idea and asked ‘what if she had that power and couldn’t control it?’ That became the seed from which Storm Witch grew although I threw in a lot of other things along the way including a sexy, motorbike riding druid.
This looks like an amazingly beautiful spot. It’s wonderful how you were inspired by a folk tale tied to this location.
What do you do when not writing or marketing your books?
I listen to a lot of music. I’m particularly into folk music and go to as many gigs as I can. I’ve really missed live music during lockdown but it’s been great to see musicians performing online from their sitting rooms and gardens. I love to read and always have at least one book on the go. I also love baking and crocheting. I make an excellent Victoria Sponge and am very slowly crocheting a throw for my sofa.
If you could have a fantasy tea or coffee date with an author from the past or present, who would it be and what would you ask them?
I’d love to meet Jane Austen. I’ve loved her books since I was a teenager and I’d have so many questions to ask her like ‘Was Darcy modelled on anyone she knew?’ ‘Which of her heroines is most like herself?’ ‘What job would she have liked to do if careers had been available to women in her lifetime?’ If it was going well and we were really getting on, I’d also like to know exactly which steps Louisa Musgrove fell down in Lyme Regis as I wonder every time I visit.
What is the most enjoyable thing you’ve found through writing?
Friends. I’ve met such a lot of amazing, wonderful, creative people through writing and I’m incredibly grateful for each of them. Writers need to hang out with other writers as only another writer will understand if you’ve got a plot hole you can’t work out or a character arc that doesn’t fit. My writing pals are all over the UK and further afield and I don’t get to see them very often but we keep in touch online and they’re a really important part of my life as a writer.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve done or experienced to help create a scene?
I met a lady who was a practicing witch for coffee in Glastonbury. She was very open about the craft and explained to me the importance of intention in spellcasting. She gave me some great examples of times when magic had worked in her life. It was a fascinating insight and really helped me to develop the spellworker characters in Storm Witch.
That sounds like it was a ton of fun, and interesting!
If you were trapped in a cartoon world from your childhood, which one would you choose and why?
It would have to be Scooby Doo. I absolutely loved it especially that Shaggy and Scooby would somehow always accidentally outwit the bad guys. I’d like to be one of the ‘pesky kids’ who made sure the baddies didn’t get away with it.
Huge Scooby Doo fan here!! Loved watching this when I was growing up.
If you could turn into one of your characters for a day, which one would it be and why, what would you do?
I’d like to be Winston Grant for the day. He’s a druid, an archaeologist and rides a kickass black motorbike. I’d love the chance to experience the magical power I’ve given to the druids in my books. In Storm Witch, Winston is working at the Ness of Brodgar archaeological dig in Orkney which fascinates me so I’d like the chance to get my hands dirty and do a bit of excavating. I’m an absolute coward about motorbikes but I think if I was being Winston for the day I’d be able to leave that behind as he has no fear. It’d be fun to ride like he does and not be constantly worried about crashing into a tractor.
What’s the last movie you watched and why did you choose to watch it?
The last movie I saw in the cinema was Emma. I chose it because of my love of Jane Austen and I wasn’t disappointed. It was funny and tender and beautifully shot. Johnny Flynn wasn’t exactly the Mr Knightley I’d imagined but I soon got over that and thoroughly enjoyed it. The last movie I watched at home was Top Hat with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers which I’ve seen before. I love it because it’s pure Hollywood glamour. It’s got some wonderful songs in it and, of course, the dancing is exquisite.
These look like great movies! I’m adding them to my “watch” list.
What’s your favorite place to visit in your country and why?
I love visiting Scotland. Orkney has been my favourite place for the past ten years but I’ve recently discovered a little corner of Argyll near Castle Stalker which is absolutely perfect. It’s one of the most beautiful place I’ve ever stayed with panoramic views of Loch Linnhe. You can catch a tiny ferry across to the Isle of Lismore, go on glorious walks around the shore and I’m told (although I’ve not seen one yet) see otters.
It was great fun having you on MTA! Orkney sounds like a gorgeous, inspiring place. Thanks so much for sharing it with us, and for sharing so much about yourself. Wishing you all the best, Alys! – Camilla
Although not a witch herself, magic had always been part of Jenna’s life, guiding and nurturing her childhood. Her mother Nina was a member of The Order of Spellworkers and Druids, enforcing the laws of the magical community. But six winter solstices ago Nina was murdered. Six winter solstices ago the other members of The Order died or disappeared. And six winter solstices ago Jenna banished magic from her life, fleeing back home to Orkney.
Jenna thought she had re-built a calmer world for herself until her ex Hal returns, and someone starts to practice dangerous magic on the islands. When water, sea and sky elements are being manipulated to destroy, maim and kill, how can she deny handsome druid Winston’s plea for help?
As seer Zoe Rose foretells of a catastrophic storm which will engulf Orkney, Jenna and her friends must race against the elements to stop the storm witch. Only through chaos will Jenna find the answers she’s been searching for. Only through chaos can her heart decide who is the right man for her. And only through chaos will she finally discover who killed her mother.
Where to find the book:
Storm Witch is available as e-book and paperback from Amazon at https://smarturl.it/57nnjq
Website and Social Media:
Facebook: Alys West Writer or at her readers’ group: ‘Druids, Spellworkers and Dirigibles’
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