The Witch in the Well

by Kim Wilkins
The Internet Writing Journal, June 2005
Cover of The Autumn Castle, by Kim Wilkins
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Although a number of the ideas for The Autumn Castle had been circling around in my imagination for a very long time, it all came together for me when I was in Germany back in January 2000. I was in Koblenz, at the confluence of the Moselle and the Rhine rivers, and I walked through a little crooked alleyway, into a cobbled courtyard surrounded by medieval-looking buildings. There I found a well, and the thought popped into my head that the well would be a great place for a witch to live in a fairy tale. I went back to my hotel and started scribbling.

I have long been fascinated with fairy tales. I think they are a significant primary source for writers of dark fantasy. There's a cruel logic in fairy tales, especially the German ones collected by the Brothers Grimm. Girls who behave get magic jewels and gold coins and marry princes. Girls who misbehave wind up spitting lizards, or being sewn in a sack and tossed in the lake. What rich material for an author, especially me: I'm very invested in girls who misbehave!

It took a few years before I came back to my witch in the well, and I returned to Germany at the end of 2001 to stay in Berlin for a little while and soak up the atmosphere. It really is a fabulous city, especially the old east of Berlin, where the streets are constantly changing. New shiny buildings are going up all the time, but lots of old crumbly buildings (some still decorated with Russian graffiti) still exist in the narrower alleys. I really love the contrast of old and new, so it was a perfect place to set an urban fantasy based on Germanic fairy-tales. I spent the time going to out-of-the-way art galleries, drinking German beer in scuzzy restaurants, and just wandering the streets at all hours of the day and night. I love Berlin, and I'd go back in a heartbeat.

By the time I returned home to Australia, I had 26 pages of notes and ideas for The Autumn Castle. I got off to a fast start (something like a third of the book in the first month) but then came to a grinding halt when I found out I was pregnant. Tiredness and morning sickness meant that I simply couldn't sit at my desk for long enough to produce anything. Then, when the worst of it was over, I got the most acute case of "baby brain" on record. I was so fuzzy and vague, I had real difficulty getting coherent words on paper. However, I did manage to finish it, and submitted it to my Australian publisher four days before my son was born.

At its heart, The Autumn Castle is a story about love, friendship and betrayal. That it also features shapeshifters, magical realms, and a billionaire murderer who wants to make a sculpture of fairy bones is not incidental, of course; but it is Christine, Mayfridh and Jude who star in this book: Christine's conviction that she is too ordinary to be interesting, Mayfridh's conviction that she is too interesting to be ordinary, and Jude's terrible secret are the points on this love triangle. Like all love triangles, something has to give. Where dark magic is concerned, it just means that the stakes are higher.

I loved every second of writing this book. I finished it in a hotel room (I have to get away from people and sharp objects while finishing a book) at 5.30 in the morning while it poured with rain outside. It was a warm, thrilling, delicious feeling. I hope those who read the book feel the same way.

Kim Wilkins** Kim Wilkins was born in London and her family moved to Australia when she was four. Kim says that during her teenage years she wrote reams of unimaginative fantasy fiction. In these stories an unpopular buck-toothed girl saved the world. Her heroines became straighter-toothed after she got braces. Kim Wilkin's first novel, The Infernal, was published in 1997. Since then she has published several fantasy novels as well as a young adult series about a teenage psychic detective. Kim's latest novel is The Autumn Castle, a fantasy novel featuring shapeshifters, magical realms, and a billionaire murderer who wants to make a sculpture of fairy bones. Today, Kim lives in Brisbane, Australia.

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