Alfie Blackstack isn’t surprised to find himself an orphan. In life, his parents pursued flappy birds up cliff faces and teased hungry lions with strings of sausages. Alfie was a disappointment to them because he preferred quiet corners and nice books, being neither brave nor adventurous. Only now it appears his newly orphaned life will require just those traits. Alfie is dispatched to his hitherto unknown Aunt Gertrude and Aunt Zita, who live in a big draughty house in a spooky forest near a village called Little Snoddington. Alfie hopes for a peaceful life. Switherbroom Hall, his new home, has a snake-headed staircase and pots that mutter and hiss on the hob. His aunts’ chemist shop in the village is just as odd, here bottles and packets shuffle on shelves – to say nothing of a sign-writing cat and a bat that masquerades as a broken umbrella.
When the Famous Fagan Family Circus comes to town some of the locals (snarly tea shop owner, Mrs Mention, for one) are not best pleased. The villagers don’t like troublemakers and the last time the circus visited the clowns got loose and the acrobat goats ate the vicar’s underpants from the rectory washing-line. Travelling with the circus is a person like no other Alfie has ever met. Calypso Fagan is brave and funny and trapeze-swinging and bully-fighting and she lives in a painted bus. And — to Alfie’s surprise — she seems to like him. Which is just as well, because Alfie has never had a proper friend before and he’s bursting to tell Calypso some incredible secrets…
Welcome to my first book for children, a world of warring witches and sly familiars and spells and potions that actually work. This book was a while in the making. Having grown up in a big family of storytellers, I loved making up bedtime stories for my own daughter, Eva. I wrote some of these ‘everyday magic’ stories down and put them away. Discovering the stories nearly twenty years later, I realised that they still made me laugh and fell in love with Alfie’s world all over again.
Everyday Magic is a scary, fun adventure but it’s also a story about friendship, bravery and finding your place in the world. Alfie and his dare-devil friend Calypso navigate perilous times, finding out much about themselves and the people around them as they do so. I’ve come across bullying in various forms, as a child and an adult. How to triumph over bullies becomes one of Alfie’s major challenges in the story. Real-world themes might underpin the book but there is also much humour and anarchy along the way.
Writing a children’s book was the tremendous fun I hoped it would be – freedom to imagine and the challenge of mixing humour and darkness, wonder and possibility. Because I often put magical elements in my adult fiction, writing for children didn’t feel like a big departure. Whether writing for children or adults my goals are the same; finding a character we’ll follow down any rabbit hole, creating an immersive setting the reader wants to get lost in, saying something about the human experience in all its brilliant strangeness. I love the collision of different worlds in my stories. In Everyday Magic the witch world, circus world and humdrum village life converge, often to comic effect. I enjoy the challenge of mixing the fantastic and the everyday. It was great to tap into my own and Eva’s childhood preoccupations. We both adored stories about witches. As a child I wanted to become a famous trapeze artist and would spend hours hanging upside down on swings, attempting ‘stunts.’ Writing Calypso’s life in a travelling circus is the next best thing.
I’m plotting another Alfie adventure right now. I’ll run it past Eva first, of course, my little girl grown. It will be packed with old friends and new, danger and fun and a huge helping of everyday magic.