ALL HALLOWS EVE 2012 – GUEST AUTHOR: Laura Powell “Halloween and Bonfire Night, Burn Mark Style” & Giveaway (ends 31/10/12)
Halloween and Bonfire Night, Burn Mark style
I love witch stories and I love gangster stories, and so Burn Mark is a combination of the two – with a dash of conspiracy thrown in! The book came about because I started thinking about the ways in which a witches’ coven is like the mafia: they’re both secret criminal organisations hunted by the law, a source of fear and loathing to most people, but seen as quite cool and glamorous by some. And so Burn Mark imagines a modern world where licensed witches work for the state, but those who use magic illegally are hunted down by the Inquisition. As a result, some witches chose to keep their abilities secret. A life of crime is often their only career option.
I wanted my witches’ abilities to be frightening as well as sexy. They can create whirlwinds, shape-shift, see through walls, possess souls and fly through the air. My modern inquisitors employ techniques that were really used in times past to torment suspected witches. They test witches for the mark of the Devil by piercing them with needles, put their heads in metal cages (the Witch’s Bridle) and duck them in tanks filled with ice water. And they burn them too. But because this is the twenty-first century, human rights have taken some effect. Prisoners are drugged so they’re alive but can’t feel any pain while they’re burned at the stake. This is called “death by balefire”.
One of the first scenes in the book is the burning of a witch, show on giant TV screens in Trafalgar Square. Lucas, the son of a famous inquisitor, is watching. He’s been brought up to think all witches are deviants and terrorists and his greatest ambition in life is to become a witch-hunter. In contrast, Glory has grown up in a run-down East End coven. She longs to be a witch, because a life of crime is her only hope of getting power and respect. Her family has suffered horrible persecution at the hands of the Inquisition, and she lives in terror that one day the witch-hunters will come for her too.
Against all the odds, Lucas turns into a witch on the same day Glory does. Their paths cross when Lucas is sent to infiltrate Glory’s coven on the Inquisition’s behalf. And even though they hate everything the other stands for, when witch-terrorist attacks hit London, they have to team up to find out who’s responsible.
I had a lot of fun creating their contrasting life-styles. Lucas is posh, rich and privileged. Glory, on the other hand, is a bit of a chav! Most people in her life are out to exploit her in some way, and she’s had to become very tough to survive. Although she lives in poverty, she has rich relations – her cousin Charlie is the boss of London’s most powerful criminal organisation. He and his family live in a fabulously vulgar mobster mansion, and enjoy a life of luxury that’s been bought with other people’s blood, sweat and tears.
However, the witchkind community is very close-knit, in spite of all the rivalry. Witches take great pride in their work, and are fiercely loyal to each other. They gather together for two big occasions: Balefire Night, and All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween).
Balefire Night is the equivalent of Bonfire Night. When I was writing Burn Mark, I re-imagined British history to take account of the role of witches (for example, I thought that Wellington would use witches at the Battle of Waterloo to beat Napoleon). I decided to re-cast Guy Fawkes as a witch-terrorist – or witch-martyr, depending on which side you’re on. So on Balefire Night, ordinary people hold parties to burn images of Fawkes and other wicked witches, and let off fireworks to celebrate their defeat. But the covens treat this as a day of mourning. They drape their houses in black cloths, and burn candles and say prayers in memory of victims of the Inquisition. Glory would commemorate her granny, Cora Starling. Cora was one half of the glamorous Starling Twins, two beautiful blonde witch-sisters whose coven once ruled the East End. But the witch-hunters got her and she was drowned in the course of a ducking…
Witches save their partying for All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween). A coven would take over an empty warehouse or cellar to celebrate in secret. People would make an effort to dress up and show-off their bling. The poorer guests would get out their designer knock-offs, while the richer ones would drape themselves in stolen diamonds and furs. Glory would be sure to wear her big gold hooped earrings and lashings of black eyeliner and red lippy.
I’d imagine an incredibly big, incredibly noisy dinner party, with lots of boasting and swearing and drinking games. At the end of dinner, people would take turns to throw food – and punches – at an image of an inquisitor, kitted out in the official scarlet and grey uniform. Then the magic competition would start.
The thing is, they wouldn’t call it “magic” … because the word doesn’t ever appear in my book. I wanted to get away from the idea of wands and cauldrons and Latin chants. Instead, the power my witches have is called “the fae” and described as a “seventh sense.” So it’s an internal mental power, similar to Extra Sensory Perception, which can be channeled into other people, animals and objects. Witchwork is a ritualistic yet messy process, using bits of rubbish and mud and bodily parts.
It can literally be a matter of life and death. But things witches would get up to on All Hallow’s Eve would be just for fun. A “glamour” works to temporarily change somebody’s physical appearance, so the coven would hold a competition to look for the best celebrity look-alike. A “fascination” creates an illusion around objects (very useful for smuggling illegal goods), and would be used in a “spot the fake” contest. Then there’s scrying – conjuring somebody’s image in a bowl of water to spy on them from afar. This would come in very handy in a game of hide-and-seek.
If I lived in the world of Burn Mark, and turned out to be a witch, I’d probably be a nice law-abiding one. I’ve never been much of a rebel. But given the choice between a smart Inquisitorial cocktail do, and a coven knees-up, I know which party I’d prefer…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Laura Powell was born in London but spent most of her childhood in the Brecon Beacons. The Welsh side of her family are direct descendants of the Physicians of Myddfai, a family of twelfth-century herbalists who claimed to be the offspring of the Lady of the Lake. Laura studied Classics at Bristol and Oxford before going on to work in the editorial departments of both adults and children’s publishers. She now focuses on her writing, but has a part time job at English National Ballet, which she loves as she gets to spend her office hours surrounded by tutus, sequins and exquisite people in leotards!
ABOUT THE BOOK: Burn Mark is the first of a captivating new series of thrillers with a fantasy twist. In a world where witches are the persecuted underclass and inquisitors the ruling power, a shared destiny forges an unlikely alliance between the children of two ancient enemies. Glory is from a family of East End witches that was once feared and respected. She is desperate to become a witch herself and restore their reputation. Lucas is the privileged son of the Chief Prosecutor for the Inquisition, the witches’ mortal enemy. Becoming a witch is the worst thing that could happen to him, but it does, and on the same day it happens to Glory. The unlikely allies must overcome their differences as they are thrown into the centre of a conspiracy that could destroy their lives.
Thanks to Bloomsbury, I have TEN (10) finished copies of Burn Mark to give away to ten lucky winners.
All you have to do to enter is answer this question: What is the name of Glory’s granny? and fill out the form below
This giveaway is open to UK and Ireland only and ends 31st October 2012
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