The Witch Ways: The Black Blank

Which Witch: The Black Blank

To celebrate the season of the witch, we’ve gone straight to the source. The wonderful and whimsical Helen Slavin, author of Borrowed Moonlight, gives us the low down on the imagination, research, and inspiration for the Witch Ways series. This week, let’s get to know the youngest Ways sister, Emz.

Emily, or Emz as she’s known, is the youngest of the sisters, and I’ve always seen her as the most powerful. This is not because I decided that. It is what appeared when I started to write the books. She brought this herself even though she is, at present, unaware of the exact nature of her own magic.

She’s still only 18 when she inherits the task of Gamekeeper, and I think Emily is stronger because she’s nearer to the days spent, free and wild, in Havoc Wood with their grandmother. When Charlie was a teenager running around with Aron and when Anna was away at university, Emz was still wandering the woods with Grandma, on patrol. The memories and the use of her Strengths are closer.

She’s always had an affinity with animals. She regards them as equal beings, and not in a fluffy bunny sort of way. Emily does not squirm at the idea that the blackbird chicks are a meal for the jackdaw’s brood. To Emily, it’s part of the wild. Emily is more comfortable in the woods, Leap or Havoc, than she is in town. She will cut through Leap to get to Havoc and vice versa, she rarely takes a short cut through town and, if asked, she probably couldn’t name half the streets. She knows the geography but it doesn’t matter to her, whereas in the woods she knows every path.

Her healing is a gift. Again it’s an instinctual thing. She doesn’t think about herbalism or research into healing, it is just there, in her hands, and always has been. She sees where the fault is. It’s almost an engineering idea, she can see where this bit of pipe should go and how that ought to tick.

She has not always been aware that anything she heals is bound to her. The bond might never be used or visible but it exists.

Emz’s other aspect of her Strength is her ability to see people’s ‘real’ faces. These are the genuine faces that hide behind our everyday masks. We all of us present our face to the world, many of us use phrases like ‘put your face on’ when we talk about make up or possibly ‘putting a brave face on’ when we’re in the middle of disaster. I’ve always been interested in the fact that a lot of communication is body language, that’s why it is sometimes hard to have a conversation on the phone. We can’t see the person and so we don’t ‘see’ some of what is being communicated. There are also people who have a better memory for faces and can ‘read’ people more easily. The way I see the Way sisters is that their magical Strengths are heightened versions of human traits. Emz is the sister who reads people.

Emz’s ‘real face radar’ is a Strength that is also a safety mechanism. Most of the time Emz does not look at ‘real’ faces, her Strength turns it down and she sees us as a normal person would. This is necessary so that she can function. There are times when she herself consciously clicks the Strength up a notch so that she can reveal someone and there are other occasions when the Strength warns her. It will show her a ‘real face’ even if she isn’t thinking about it. Certainly other people of an equal or superior magical persuasion can resist revealing themselves, but sometimes that resistance is, in itself, an indicator that something is wrong here. That’s the other thing about the Strengths: they come with interpretation issues. Emz has to try and work out what the warning is. She has to really look and understand what the real face represents.

The Way sisters are essentially human, and while they have their Strengths they also have distractions and stresses that mean they don’t always use those Strengths at full whack. They take their eye off the magical glittery ball.

When I wrote the first book, Crooked Daylight, I knew they were witches, but I did not sit down with a notebook in advance and say, ‘Oh yes, she’s got this gift and Charlie’s got that and Anna does this’. I put them in the wood, and then they showed me their Strengths. I wanted them to have useful skills rather than superpowers. Being invisible is all very well, but it doesn’t tell you much. I wanted them to be practical. I am chiefly inspired, in writing and in life in general, by Terry Pratchett and his witches, Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. I basically try to live by the witches wisdom, ‘It’s not who you are, it’s how you are’. It’s about boots and breadknives. That’s my baseline for the Way sisters.

Once I started writing Crooked Daylight, straightaway Emz could see real faces, and Charlie was better at finding the paths, and Anna was wired to emotions. I had an idea of witchcraft and storytelling, but actually the process was very different, and the three characters told me what they were doing. If it makes sense, I had a plan of the story but not a plan for the sisters. My usual writing method is to let the characters wander around in my head. They bring what they bring, and that, dear reader, is magic.

If you’re picking a card from the Paper Prophets to represent Emily then you might choose The Stand, representing as it does, all the trees and the wilder life of the wood. In reality, she’s The Black Blank, capable of anything but does not yet know it.

Emily is the Soul of Havoc Wood.

Thank you so much for following along with our #WitchWednesday content this Halloween season. If you’re not ready to leave Havoc Wood just yet, the third title in the Witch Ways series, Borrowed Moonlight, is out tomorrow!

As always, thank you for reading, and be sure to tweet us @AgoraBooksLDN for all things #WitchWednesday related!