Witchfield: The writing process


The story is about a girl called Katie who likes being ordinary and just wants to fit in. Unfortunately for her, she has a mother who stands out like a sore thumb and some very out-of-the-ordinary, rather magical, things begin happening to her. On top of that, her best friend, Mayuri, isn’t her best friend anymore, a sinister sponsorship programme is taking over her school, her mother is acting more crazy than usual and the only person who really seems to understand her is a cleaning lady at school. Then she teams up with Themba, the cleverest (and most unpopular) boy at school, and together their investigation takes them deep into the town’s abandoned mine. What they find there is more terrible than they could have imagined. Can they save Witchfield before it’s too late?

How the book started

The title definitely formed first: a town that seemed ordinary and boring, but was not. Then the characters came, rushing, filling that space. A sensible girl who liked rationality and just wanted to fit in. A mother who stood out. The ups and downs of their relationship. The friends around the girl. A lonely boy with big glasses who had his sights set high above the limitations of the everyday. A mysterious mountain. Unwanted magic. A villain with a nefarious plot (of course). And a cat (there had to be a cat).

And so the ideas swirled around me, finally settling into a coherent plot that I could then work on. Which I did. A lot. Deleting and cutting and rewriting. And giving-up and starting again. And giving-up and… Let’s just summarise and say it took a long time.


A South African setting

I’ve always been fascinated by unconventional parent-child relationships and Katie and her mother gave me the opportunity to play around with this idea through their delightful, frustrating, bohemian ways. What I also really longed for in the story were the familiar contours of the South African landscape; a setting that reaffirmed that South African children’s lives existed in books too. Having said that though, this was not the point of the story. It was never created to fill a literary gap. I  wrote it because these characters arrived insistently in my mind and had to be brave and go on an adventure. That’s what drove the writing process, and if South African children smile because they recognise a little bit of themselves and their lives in Katie and Themba and Mayuri,  I certainly will be delighted too.


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