Nikki McWatters has released a new novel called Hexenhaus, exploring the issue of witches through the ages. It was published by UQP, appropriately on October 31st. We asked Nikki to tell us a little more about her interest in the subject.
THE WAGES OF FEAR
The stories about the witch-hunts of early modern Europe have always fascinated me because they sound so surreal. How could people only a few hundred years ago have actually believed that witches and magic were real? How could they have accused their friends and neighbours of being in league with the devil? Up to 100,000 people were put to death for crimes as ridiculous as ‘flying on a black dog on the Sabbath’! I stumbled upon a tale of a witch trial in my own family history from Scotland and that became the seed for my book.
Hexenhaus takes place in Germany and Scotland during a time when society is riddled with fear and uncertainty and this climate of terror leads to some brutal treatment of my two characters, Veronica and Katherine, at the hands of men who are sanctioned by the state and church to torture them in order to get a confession to the charge of practicing witchcraft. I juxtapose these two historical threads with the contemporary tale of Paisley, a shy Australian girl, to show how, even today, people can become completely irrational when they take a small ember of gossip and fan it into a bonfire.
Witch-hunters and interrogators perpetrated cruel and inhumane tortures on innocent victims. During my research I often became deeply disturbed by this unfathomable evil. It was very difficult to put my characters through such pain and suffering, but I figured if those poor women, our foremothers, could bear it, I could bear to write about it.
In Veronica’s thread of the story, I weave fairytale elements into the narrative, contrasting the horrors of the witch-hunts with the beauty and tranquillity of the woods where my characters find a safe haven from a world bent on persecution. In the Scottish tale it is a child who becomes Katherine’s accuser, an innocent victim herself, of the adult hysteria surrounding her. This works as an analogy of how evil corrupts innocence. Paisley, living in a small country town, is faced with ludicrously implausible accusations levelled at her Wiccan mother while trying to navigate her way through a burgeoning romance with Ben.
Despite the darkness that touches the three young women in my book, I focus on the illuminating strengths that all three possess. Each one of them weathers her ordeal with grace and unwavering courage.
The witch hysteria in history was born of unfounded fears and fear can be a dangerous weapon of control when wielded by those in power. ‘A witch could be fair. A witch could be foul. A witch could be anyone at all because the witch lived in the thoughts and fears of people.’