Ahead of the launch of Here be Witches, we caught up with Sarah Mussi to talk about the latest instalment in the Snowdonia Chronicles series.
1. Was there any such thing as a good witch in Welsh mythology or were powerful female figures usually treated with suspicion? Was it fun to write about two strong female characters leading the battles for good and evil?
Interestingly in Wales witches were treated a lot less harshly than in the rest of the UK, and in certain places they were revered and honoured as wise women. Wizards too enjoyed the same good press! It seems that in Welsh mythology in the Mabinogion bad witches were relegated to beyond the Breacon Beacons to Gloucestershire! The Mabinogion has a number of sorceresses and women with great power like the Lady of the Lake and Blodeuwedd most of them are beautiful and kind but with a deceptive or dangerous streak especially when wronged! However in all mythologies there are wicked witches and Wales in that respect has some too – especially in local legends.
It was wonderful to write about two strong female figure battling for good and evil – and I loved writing into the story the female wise mother archetype: Granny Jones too!
2. The series draws on a certain traditional fairy tale written by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. Other recent teen books (such as the Twilight series) have similar themes; did you set out to put your own spin on a traditional love story?
WOW – I didn’t really think about Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve when I conceived The Snowdonia Chronicles and to be honest I’m not sure that The Snowdonia Chronicles really draws that heavily on the tale of Beauty and the Beast – even though there is certainly a beauty (who is very practical and not obsessed by self at all) and a beast – albeit a very noble and majestic one and not at all ugly. Rather than chose the boy next door and be satisfied with living on beautiful Snowdon, Ellie hankers for adventure, fantasy, something different, exotic and entirely her own.
3. Through all the epic drama, Ellie and the gang always maintain a sense of humour, which we think will really appeal to readers. Did you watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail on repeat before you started writing?
Haha! No I didn’t watch Monty Python on repeat at all – but I LOVE dry British humour and listen to the various Radio 4 comical shows at 6.30 every day!
4. In Here be Witches you pack in a smorgasbord of characters from Welsh mythology. Do you have a favourite? We like the Knockers best!
Yes I really wanted Here be Witches to introduce the reader to some of the great mythologies of Wales. I loved writing the sections with the Knockers, but my favourite mythological character is the giant Idris Gawr. I adored thinking of him up atop Cadair lying on his lonely bed. In fact I climbed up Cadair with my sister to be sure of the location and was very tempted to spend the night up there to see if the myth was true and anything could improve my poetry!
5. Rhiannon plays a much more important role in this book. She’s quite a complex character and she’s certainly not always to be trusted. Do you like her and is she anything like her counterpart from Welsh mythology?
Yes, Rhi definitely develops in this story and hopefully starts growing up. She was always a kind and loving girl, but her adventures in Here be Witches teach her to become more aware, less self-centred and more thoughtful – and she definitely needs to for her role in Book Three Here be Wizards when she will have to face some very scary truths!
In the Mabinogion as Miranda Jane Green says Rhiannon draws in the international folklore motif of the calumniated wife: "Rhiannon conforms to two archetypes of myth ... a gracious, bountiful queen-goddess; and ... the 'wronged wife', falsely accused of killing her son." In The Snowdonia Chronicles – Rhi is gracious and beautiful and rich - living in the equivalent of a palace – her Dad’s hotel. Like the Rhiannon in the Mabinogion she sets her sights on a lover that was not meant for her (George) but unlike her mythical counterpart she never really gets him. In Here be Witches Rhi is wronged and tricked, but she invites that because of her misplaced affections for George – so, yes, there are similarities.
6. Finally, can you give us some exclusive insider info on what’s in store for Ellie and the gang in Here be Witches?
Well … I’ve mentioned giants and Cadair Idris and a misled Rhiannon … but the real insider info is the witches’ spell that wakes up the old magic and with it Ellie’s old enemy Oswald! Ellie and the gang have got to find a way to break the spell and SURVIVE – and that involves being chased by weird wolves, attacked by a subterranean, underwater monster, the Afanc, and dealing with a magical mirror that cannot be trusted!
BEWARE when you start reading Here be Witches … it is not for the faint hearted!