An Idle Witch

I got the idea for Gosha, the main character of the Witch of Cheyne Heath series, while I was reading “The King of Elfland’s Daughter.” I was struggling with the first book I was writing and wanted to read some old-fashioned high fantasy for inspiration. I got the inspiration, but it led me somewhere unexpected.

If I remember correctly, the hero of the book is sorting himself out in his father’s kingdom preparing to embark on a quest, when he comes across the local witch:

And in the end he went one windy morning up the hill of the lonely witch, and found her sitting idly in her doorway, having nothing to curse or bless.

“The King of Elfland’s Daughter” by Lord Dunsany

Just that one simple sentence triggered so many questions: why did she have nothing to do? Had she finished all the cursing and blessing that had come her way that day? Was she an efficient witch, good at her job? What sorts of blessings and curses came her way on an ordinary day?

I pulled out my notebook and tried a quick free-write. This is what I came up with:

Though she was, indeed, old, she was a trim and well-kept woman, not what you might expect of a witch, dressed in a skirt and jacket reminiscent of the styles of the nineteen-sixties, a time, he supposed, when she was still young, and perhaps new to the business of Witchcraft. He wasn’t sure if her idleness, seated as she was on her stool, one shoulder leaning against the door jamb, ankles crossed demurely, an ashy licentious fag suspended, neglected, from one lip, the imprint of lipstick carefully pressed around the filter, was a sign she was a bad witch, with no drive and no clientele, or a good witch, with all her chores fulfilled for the day, all her potions brewed, and her charms arranged. Was she just waiting now for the first results to make their way back to her? Had her scrying bowl told her in advance that he would be coming, and so she had finished her work in good time to leave her a moment of quiet contemplation before he arrived, her cigarette smoldering as she reminisced in the light of the setting sun.

The idea evolved pretty quickly after that. I’d been slogging away at the novel I was working on for about a year, and I thought I’d put it to one side , work on this new idea for a bit, then go back to the original one. That was about five years ago, and I’ve barely thought twice about that novel in all that time.

The novel I went on to write turned out not to be the beginning of the witch’s story. When I finished that book, I realized it was book nine in a series, and I needed to go back and write book one. So, book nine of Gosha’s story exists. It’s just going to take me a while before she gets there.

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