This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
26.11.20 / Literary Horror / Jo Fletcher / Paperback / pp / 978-1784299675
About Witch Bottle
A deeply atmospheric literary horror novel about the nature of repressed guilt, grief and fear.
Daniel once had a baby brother, but he died, a long time ago now. And he had a wife and a daughter, but that didn’t work out, so now he’s alone. The easy monotony of his job as a milkman in the remote northwest of England demands nothing from him other than dealing with unreasonable customer demands and the vagaries of his enigmatic boss.
But things are changing. Daniel’s started having nightmares, seeing things that can’t possibly be there – like the naked, emaciated giant with a black bag over its head which is so real he swears he could touch it . . . if he dared.
It’s not just at night bad things are happening, either, or just to him. Shaken and unnerved, he opens up to a local witch. She can’t t discern the origins of his haunting, but she can provide him with a protective ward – a witch-bottle – if, in return, he will deliver her products on his rounds.
But not everyone’s happy to find people meddling with witch-bottles. Things are about to get very unpleasant . . .
Witch Bottle is literary horror at its finest, perfect for fans of Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney and Starve Acre.
Q&A With Tom Fletcher
Thank you Tom for taking some time to answer a few questions about your latest novel, Witch Bottle. Could you give us your own personal overview of what readers should expect within the book?
Thanks Stuart. I think that readers of Witch Bottle should expect the book to be magical, compelling, and slightly disturbing. The narrative focuses on Daniel and his experiences as a delivery driver, and delves into his past as well – however, he has repressed a lot, so some of his past and the reasons for his current behaviour remain sealed off even to him. As he finds out more about what’s happening around him, and more about what’s happened in his past, the mundane day-to-day gradually shifts into something more nightmarish.
What was your initial inspiration for the narrative in Witch Bottle?
Well – it was my time working as a milkman! I started to just record scenes and snatches of dialogue in a notebook as I did my rounds. As I was driving, I would see other vans and drivers with some regularity. One of these was a fallen stock wagon. I had this idea that I could use my notes from my rounds as the basis for a novel in which a fallen stock worker is the protagonist – but as I started writing, I realised that the activities and motives of the fallen stock worker would be better left unseen. And so I made the protagonist a milkman, and Daniel came to be.
What was the most rewarding and the most challenging aspect of crafting Daniel’s story?
Letting those repressed elements of Daniel’s past inform the current narrative – delivered by Daniel – without Daniel knowing what those events were. The end result is hopefully a richer narrative voice and more mysterious story.
I find books centred around repressed guilt, fractured memories and haunted minds so fascinating. They reveal so much about the human psyche. Which central theme in Witch Bottle do you hope the reader will connect with the most?
I feel like perhaps the general sense of chaos prevailing might resonate, given how relentless, strange, and scary the news cycle is. The slow collapse.
Which aspect(s) of the literary horror genre in particular appeals to you the most as an author?
Horror is just inherently compelling to me; there’s always a threat or a mystery, and the stakes are generally high. In addition, there’s a spark of pleasure that comes with tales of the supernatural – I think it’s something almost hardwired into people. I’d say – and perhaps it’s obvious – that horror is the genre of fiction that most successfully recreates the shivery communal joy of sharing ‘true’ ghost stories.
How did your experience writing Witch Bottle differ from your other novels?
This was the first time I went away to write. I stayed in a caravan on my own for a week, and got down most of the first draft. Normally it takes me much longer. Before this, I’d always been a bit sceptical that this approach would work for me – I’d never really felt the sensation of ‘flow’ that people talk about; however, this time I did, and I think being alone and concentrating the effort over a short period of time helped with that.
Is there a part of Witch Bottle in particular that affected you in certain way during the writing process?
There is a scene towards the end, narrated by Kathryn, in which Kathryn has something of a premonition – maybe allegorical – about Daniel’s daughter. I can’t say too much about it without giving anything away, but that’s one of a few scenes that I found upsetting to write.
Do you have a quote [From Witch Bottle – I forgot to clarify] you can share with us?
[If this is meant to be from Witch Bottle]
‘I think of Ellie, and Marianne, and Robert, and my mother, and I listen to the sound of something breathing, something outside of me and outside of the ghost, something far larger, the sound of something far greater inhaling and exhaling in the night, waiting.’
[If this is meant to be a quote I like / find useful]
‘All you’ve got to do is follow some people around and look at their existence for 24 hours, and it will be horror. It will just be horror.’ James Kelman
Did you always have your eye set on being a writer/author and what sort of books did you grow up reading?
Yes, I think so. I used to read a lot of talking animal books – Redwall, Duncton Wood, The Deptford Mice – and basically plagiarise them on scraps of paper around the house. I remember my parents getting a PC for the first time, and me being incredibly excited by all of the fonts in Microsoft Works.
Have you got a hobby/activity you do to wind down from all the writing?
I love board games and table-top role-playing games. The board games have taken a bit of a back seat during the pandemic, but thankfully rpgs are easy to run or play online – I’m very lucky to have a committed group!
Finally, have you read a book/article recently that you would personally recommend to the readers of this post?
On Fire, by Naomi Klein, is a collection of essays and articles on the climate crisis. There’s a focus on how best to respond, though, so it’s an inspiring read, as opposed to a despondent one.
About Tom Fletcher
Tom Fletcher is a writer of horror and dark fantasy novels and short fiction. His first three horror novels, The Leaping, The Thing on the Shore and The Ravenglass Eye, were followed by Gleam and Idle Hands, the first two books in The Factory Trilogy, his first fantasy series. His new novel, Witch-Bottle, is a deeply atmospheric modern gothic tale of grief and guilt. He lives in a remote village in Cumbria with his wife and family.