Celine Kiernan is the author of numerous award-winning young adult and middle-grade novels. Her most recent books, the middle-grade fantasy Wild Magic Trilogy (Begone the Raggedy Witches, The Little Grey Girl, and The Promise Witch) tell the story of Mup Taylor's discovery of a world of strange and powerful magic--a world her mam is from. We love this series for its whimsical story, realistic characters, and fairy tale atmosphere, so we were thrilled to interview her for this month's feature!
Rapunzel Reads: What inspired Begone the Raggedy Witches?
Celine Kiernan: The Raggedy Witches books had a few different inspirations. The opening scene, as the witches leap from tree to tree hunting Mup’s family through the moonlit Irish countryside, is actually something that happened to me as a child. I have vivid memories of looking up through the window as my parents drove me home from somewhere, and seeing those very same witches leaping from branch to branch, exactly as I describe it. In the intervening years my grown up brain has concocted all sorts of logical explanations for it (Plastic bags caught in the branches? A particularly vivid waking dream?) Nevertheless, when I close my eyes and remember that
The other inspiration is also a memory of driving home. This time I was the adult and my own kids were asleep in the back seat. An indescribably huge golden moon rose up above the darkened hills. Every time I drove into a valley the moon would slip out of sight, and at the crest of each hill it would sail into view again. It was breathtaking and spooky and it stayed in my memory. I felt the moon was watching me.
These are just images, of course, and the books are far more than just images - they’re about bravery and self-determination and freedom of expression. But these strong images helped me find an atmosphere and a setting in which to explore those things.
RR: Who is your favorite character in Begone the Raggedy Witches, and why?
CK: I love them all, because all of them speak in a different way to the ideas I’m exploring in the books. Everyone is coming at their situation from such a personal angle and each of them have their own ideas as to how best deal with things. Right or wrong, they’re all interesting to me. But, saying that, Mup and Crow are probably my favourites (with Naomi and Dr Emberley of the 2nd and 3rd books a very close second) I love Mup’s straightforward kindness and courage, her fierce devotion to what's right; and Crow’s irascible determination to just be himself and do what he knows must be done. They’re so different to each other, and at the same time so alike. I love their honesty. They help each other grow, I think. They make a great team.
RR: Do you have any tips for an aspiring writer?
CK: Just write. That's all you can do. Write from an honest place, about things that are meaningful to you. In terms of style and storytelling and communication with your reader, try and make each successive project better than the one before. And by better, I mean clearer, more readable. Be brave in your story choices. Don't try and please others in the hopes that they will like your story. If you’ve something to say, say it - regardless of how you fear others may react. Don’t try and be anyone other than yourself. Tell your own truth, using your own voice.
RR: Begone the Raggedy Witches has an interesting world which feels detailed and whole, and yet manages to not be difficult to grasp. What were the challenges of creating it? Do you have a favorite part about it?
CK: That's such an interesting question, because for the most part the world building I do is unconscious. I start each project with a very strong sense of time and place, and with characters who I know represent a certain aspect of the story. As I get deeper into a book the characters flesh out and become real - often exceeding my initial idea of them, and challenging me in very delightful ways as I come to realise that they would never react to things in the way I had anticipated. The same is true for the world itself and for the magic/society/history holding the whole together. I rewrite a lot as I go along, going over the previous chapters repeatedly as I move forward. This forces me to question every aspect of every scene, I find myself going back and adjusting dialogue and description to strengthen worldbuilding or character as these things become clearer to me. By the time I get to the end of the book most things are very clear in my head, but sometimes not so clear to a reader who is coming new to the project. That's when reader feedback comes into play, and my editors and readers can help pinpoint areas that need clarifying or strengthening.
I think my favourite aspect of the books (apart from the characters, who are all so important to me) is the magic. I love the earthiness of the magic in these books, the fact that freedom of expression is connected to colour and song and language. It felt oddly true to me. It made me want to go outside and put my hands on the ground and commune with the earth.
RR: What books inspired you when you were growing up?
CK: A very difficult question to answer as I’ve so many. I loved Alice Through the Looking Glass - its off-kilter, almost psychedelic, dreaminess and darkness really appealed to baby me. I loved a lot of Ray Bradbury - Something Wicked This Way Comes is a particular favourite. When you go back and read it now it’s very over written especially in comparison to modern books, but it's so richly imagined and vivid that I still adore it. I adored Alan Garner's The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. I don’t think it stands up to rereading as an adult, but it was still a highly influential book on me as a child. As a teen I devoured Stephen King - he’s a tremendous writer. I adored and still adore the magnificent Shirley Jackson. We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House are must reads for anyone who wants to study sly, creepy, character driven stories with fathoms of subtext.