Matt Wingett – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Matt Wingett to the blog. Matt is the author of The Snow Witch which was published by Life is Amazing on 1 September 2017.

Matt kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about The Snow Witch.

Donitza, The Snow Witch, is a young woman on the run from a dark and deeply horrifying past. She has travelled the length and breadth of Europe, never able to settle down, never able to put down roots, because she made a promise to her mother she continually seeks to meet, and because of her restless blocking of her own history.

Only when she arrives in the unnamed British seaside town in the book (actually Portsmouth, Britain’s only island city) and is stranded there by a freak snow storm does she begin to make connections with the locals. And that’s when the trouble for her begins.

2. What inspired the book?

I was walking down a street in my home town when I saw a young woman playing violin on the street, with a guitarist. I was entranced. The pair of them had a wonderful presence and I found them intriguing. They were exotic, young and free. After they finished I approached them and told them they looked amazing, and would they come for a coffee? Ha! Creepy old guy syndrome, right? But they got that I was a writer and came along. They told me they were folk players from the Appalachian Mountains, and were going to tour Europe, busking to make a living. My home town is a seaside resort and commercial dockyard, and they were just about to catch the ferry to the mainland.

I loved the idea of being free to travel thanks to the violin on your back and I thought about a story in which a lone young woman turns up in a British town and starts to have an influence on it. I thought at first I was going to write something like Joanne Harris’s Chocolat – but me being me, the story become darker and grittier. I had an opening idea of Donitza walking through the snow – an image that just came to me – and I soon realised the mood in this story was dark and menacing from the start.

It’s a very different story from that of my two itinerant musicians, but it was thanks to them that it began.

3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?

I used to plan everything I wrote. I was a scriptwriter with ITV’s The Bill, and they required that I submit a detailed account of the story before they commissioned to script. It was a useful discipline to learn and after a while, the process became internalised, and I thought about plot progression automatically. Later, I realised the act of putting a plan on paper can be very limiting, but it’s great if you have a “product”, like The Bill, you want to get out on screen. Commercially, it’s probably a smarter thing to do to plan, to get product created for a specific genre. But the nature of writing can also be an exploration of ideas where characters and events lead you where they want to take you. The problem with planning too much is that too rigid a structure will mean your character walks past doorways they could have entered that would have been far more interesting than the appointments you have prepared for them. In this case, the writer should not be a bullying PA to the character, but an interested companion, offering the character options to see which fits them best. The dangers of not planning, however, are great. You can just get lost and not see a way forward. That’s why the internalised discipline of plot progression I got from writing The Bill is so useful. It also means rewrites. I rewrote The Snow Witch 28 times.

4. Having been through the publishing process a few times is there anything about the process of creating a novel that still surprises you?

I also run a publishing company, so produce books on local history and community projects for writers. One of the things I love is finding images for the front cover that really fit the book. You never quite know what you’ll turn up. I am lucky enough to know some extremely talented artists who are all too happy to feature on the covers of books. I also collect rare books and have many with old engravings. It’s amazing how easy it is to recycle engravings that are hundreds of years old, and how details taken out of context can look really modern. The cover of The Snow Witch is a detail from a 19th Century engraving. It looks to me like it could have been done yesterday.

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

I give public talks, deal in rare books and give workshops on public speaking, as well as writing. I write songs, too, and play guitar. I read history and some fiction. Ha! This sounds like one of those job interviews, where you have to prove that actually, you really are interesting, honest! So, let me think… I also juggle with chainsaws while riding a motorbike.

Oh. You caught me lying. However, I am obsessed with The Three True Art Forms. These are: Circus, Pantomime (British pantomime, not silly pretending things are there play-acting) and Punch and Judy. Every other form of creation is simply filling in for time until the circus pitches up.

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?

I’m split between James Joyce’s Ulysses, Melville’s Moby Dick and the Wonder Woman Rebirth set of graphic novels. (Did I mention that Wonder Woman is the only film ever made?)

7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

I have never been asked the question I used to hear celebs asked on chat shows in the 1980s: “When did you realise you’d arrived?” There is a reason I am not asked this. I’m still on my way. My answer, of course, would be a smart-Alec: “When people started asking me when did I realise I had arrived.”

Nobody as yet has asked me this question. 😦

About the book

A woman on the run arrives in a British seaside town, a refugee from a horrifying past. Trapped by a freak blizzard, she finds unexpected kindness from the locals – except for one man who seems hellbent on possessing or destroying her. Unable to leave the icebound city, she is drawn into the lives of its people, whose stories force her to face her own cruel past.

What is she running from? What dark secret does she carry with her? – And how can she escape it if she won’t acknowledge it exists?

The Snow Witch is a tale of loss, love, murder, obsession and witchcraft, rich in magical scenes that delight, horrify and intrigue.

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