Skolthan – Witches, magic & mystery by Damaris West
Skolthan is a book about an island. In a sense it’s an island within an island within an island because an isolated community goes all out to defend a physical island (based on real life), while within and beyond that physical island is a place so wonderfully beautiful, tranquil and perfect that evil forces wish to get hold of it and corrupt it so that they’ll have destroyed the goodness at the heart of the universe itself.
I was inspired to write the book by the original island on which it’s based, which is Scolt Head Island off the coast of North Norfolk. It’s uninhabited, apart from a Warden looking after the birds, and you reach it either on foot at low tide, or by boat. It has golden sands and white-winged terns like I describe.
My protagonist Hilda is a reclusive alter ego who lives in a tumbledown house on the site of a bungalow where we spent family holidays until I was about 6, on the seaward side of Holme-by-the-sea. I remember so clearly the shimmering heat on the marsh, and finding everything interesting, mysterious and timeless.
The evil characters in the book reflect the fact that eccentric people are readily absorbed into a Norfolk village. My characters have the hypocrisy as well as the wickedness to want to take over the whole world for their own purposes which are essentially negative, much like Lucifer’s. There could be no more sinister job for a snatcher and sacrificer of babies than a midwife.
In the climax of the book, I wanted to show that in their effort to preserve good, the good people almost tip themselves over into evil. It’s not a happy ending exactly, but I think it’s an appropriate one.
I would hope that people would read my book both for its strong atmosphere and the power and mystery of its storyline. After all, the ‘good’ people are made up of a bunch of semi-impoverished coastal-dwellers, holders of a secret which they can impart to no-one else, not even their spouses. The equivalent of their combating the witches and warlocks might be the waving of a rather thin stick at the advance of a tank.
I wrote the book while I was working alongside my husband as Director of a Tuition Agency. I was determined to allow myself time to write, so I set aside Fridays for that purpose. They were not always respected, but I did try. We actually called those days ‘wobbly cat’ days because I did my writing on a laptop which required many attempts and much patience to get started; the customised start screen which I was trying to reach was a cat that sort of shivered.
Written just on Fridays, and including some drastic cutting and revision, the book took me 2 to 3 years. The most difficult part was definitely picking up the threads when I’d had a week to totally forget where I was.
The title ‘Skolthan’ obviously derives from ‘Scolt’. I wanted it to have an Anglo-Saxon or Viking ring about it because it’s on the East coast. The cover design is a composite of some of the elements of magic and mystery found in its pages.
I did a lot of research for the book, mainly for individual scenes so that I knew how to make elderflower wine, and how much would be left of a human body after it has been burnt. My evil forces are fairly original so I didn’t have to check them against anything, but I did do research about talismans, leylines, dream sightings and the like so these would line up with people’s experience of reading about them.
The main thing I learnt from the actual writing of the book is that it’s important for me to write where possible ‘in a rush’, so I don’t waste time picking up the threads of my thought. I also found out how much I enjoy writing about evil characters.
I would say to my readers: bear with the scene-setting at the beginning as it’s definitely going somewhere!
Review: “So if you love Witches, magic and all the rituals that go with it then this book is for you.”
About the Author
Damaris West (born Damaris Naylor) was brought up in Cambridge, but it is her family’s property near the sea in Norfolk, where they went for every holiday and all the weekends they could manage, which has inspired much of her writing. It was a row of four farm labourers’ cottages with three-quarters of an acre of land, and to her it was the Garden of Eden.
Following gaining a degree in Modern Languages at Oxford, she went on to train as a librarian and then as a Montessori nursery teacher.
After meeting her husband, Clive, she used her skills and knowledge to home-tutor pupils with ages ranging from three to eighty. When it became clear that demand for tuition exceeded what they were jointly able to offer, they set up a tuition agency which over the course of its operation achieved national coverage.
Damaris’ work so far consists of a large body of poems, short stories (some of which would be enjoyed by children), a collection of anecdotes about her life in Italy, and two novels – Queen Anne’s Lace and Skolthan.
Clive and Damaris now live in a rebuilt farmhouse in the Umbria region of Italy with their three dogs, all originally rescue puppies. As the main Italian-speaker of the family, much of Damaris’ time is spent on domestic and administrative duties to do with the house and its occupants, but she escapes whenever she can to work in the garden and orchard, and writes a daily blog about her life and the natural history around her.
Damaris writes for Any Subject Books (www.anysubject.com).
Connect with Damaris
From the primitive cottage where she lives a hermit-like existence, Hilda can reach a tidal island which gives her access to a beautiful world, a fragment of the one-time Garden of Eden.
She is almost unique in possessing the gift to pass through to this other world, but her gift puts her in danger from sinister forces that wish to use the island’s power to secure their own domination.
In a bid to rescue a mother and her unborn child, the intended victims of a horrific ritual with cosmic implications, Hilda and her friends must outwit a charismatic warlock (Hilda’s former husband) and the arch-witch Alice, embodiment of evil, who masquerades as a midwife.
Their mission culminates in an act which threatens to tip them over the edge into the same evil world which they are so anxious to destroy. Nonetheless, good prevails, but at a terrible price …