… Simon Marshall-Jones of Spectral Press sent me this gorgeous piece of art and said, ‘Don’t suppose you fancy writing a novella for me with this as the cover? It’s called “The Witch’s Scale”.’ Faster than the speed of light (figuratively not literally, pedants), I said ‘Yea, verily yea.’ Equally quickly I wrote a novella … two and a half years before the deadline.
As a working writer, I can’t afford to have stories sitting around that long, so I said to a very understanding Simon, ‘I’ll write you another.’ That first novella, renamed “Ripper”, went off to live with Stephen Jones in his Horrorology anthology, which is coming out from Jo Fletcher Books in October this year.
So, I wrote another novella (in between writing a novel, three short story collections, and about fifteen short stories). It was set in the Sourdough world … and it was one and a half years ahead of the deadline. Again, Simon was understanding when I withdrew it and renamed it and sent it elsewhere. That novella, now known as “Of Sorrow and Such”, will be published by Tor.com, also in October of this year, as part of their new novella series.
But never fear, I always had another idea for “The Witch’s Scale”, and I’ve spent the last several months making notes and plotting things out; last week it all came together and the story demanded to be written. So, I’m taking time off between the other novels I’m supposed to be writing, and getting a Real and True “The Witch’s Scale” down on paper … well, screen.
What I do like is that there are now three of my novellas with lines in them about the witch’s scale and where women appear on it. I’ve always liked putting little links between my books and stories, whether it’s simply reusing a street name or a repeated motif as a kind of Easter egg, and I really love the fact that this cover has inspired and informed several works.
Having started “The Witch’s Scale”, I’m happy to say it’s coming in nicely. It’s set in the Sourdough world, it’s in a town unofficially ruled by the Briars, a family of witches. The matriarch Gisela has brought up her great-granddaughters, Audra and viewpoint character Ani, to take over when she dies: Audra, the most powerful witch of the new generation, as the new head of the family; and Ani, who alone of the Briars has no eldritch skills at all, as the administrator. But when Gisela does pass away, Ani unexpectedly comes into a power not seen in the Briars for hundreds of years: the ability to speak to the dead.
Extract from The Witch’s Scale
‘How are you, Deirdre?’ I speak softly so as not to startle her, but she gives no sign at all of having heard.
The girl still faces the wall. All I can see is the back of her head, the dirty blonde, dishevelled hair she’s neither washed nor brushed since she gave birth to the stillborn boy seven days ago. She’s not bathed though I know her mother has tried to talk her into it. The room smells of old blood and dried excrement, stale body odour and some fresh vomit. She’s not keeping down the small amount of food Beres gets her to eat; I suspect she eats while watched just to get the woman to go away. Then Deirdre puts her fingers down her throat and brings it up again into the chamber pot. She’s not too fussy how much gets in and how much misses the receptacle; I notice that too.
The baby’s not yet been buried; it’s still summer so he’s in one of the cellars dug into the bank of the river where some folks store their fruit and vegetables to keep them fresh and cool. Beres has swaddled him and put him there, between the bottled preserves and the wheels of cheese, just until her daughter can be persuaded to name him. We do not consign our dead to the earth without a name; without their names they are not whole, they are lost, they wander.
Gingerly, I sit on the bed and put a hand on her shoulder, which has grown thin, the bones more pronounced as if trying to escape her skin. She shivers, the movement going through her like a ripple through water. It’s the first sign of life I’ve seen in her since the baby came too early.
‘Deirdre. Deirdre, you need to talk to me. Please.’ There’s a long frozen moment that’s broken only when she turns, a slow rolling from her side to her back, and I reminded of a dead fish sinking into the depths, rolling, belly up, then down, then up, then down, a terrible spiral that can end only one way. ‘Deirdre, I know it hurts.’
‘How can you know anything?’