Don’t you wish this was the kind of glossy magazine interview where I, the beguiling and mysterious journo sit in scuffed veggie leather pants and jacket, a tshirt covered in runes hanging to mid thigh coz over sized fashion is my thing with a massive black stoneware mug steaming with coffee?
It’s not THAT kind of interview, this was all conducted via email but lets weave a space, witches. Lets imagine for a moment that I arrived on horse back or motorbike to crumbled down ruins to sit with Nem. This interview took place against a backdrop of moody Welsh sky, waves crashing against a cliff face in the background. Lets pretend I put Fever Ray on in the background (a magic boom box or laptop okay) to ease my pre-interview nerves. Despite running a horror and gothic music radio show for a year and a half over 2013 and 2014, and doing a handful of interviews on student TV shows it’s been a long time since I have interviewed someone. The stage is set, Nem is walking over to sit amongst this crumbling bit of history while I ask him about his debut novel; Witcheskin.
First of all, what genre would you describe Witcheskin as falling into?
Nem: I’ve found it difficult to place Witcheskin because it has so many elements of different genres in it. Generally I say it’s Urban Fantasy because of its setting, but it is also a Romance and also Horror in some places too. Originally, it was going to be simply a romance, but the story evolved into something bigger as I was planning it and I couldn’t help but put some scary scenes in there. I find it difficult to stay within a single genre when writing because for me, a good story has lots of ingredients instead of just one, so I prefer to read Fantasies and Horrors that also have some Thriller, some Romance and some Mystery in them. I have tried to move out of the Romance genre but I can’t help my characters falling in love; when planning from a certain character’s perspective, I end up falling for their friend or colleague in the story so it ends up becoming a Romance before I’ve even written anything down, which can be frustrating! Witcheskin was always intended to be a Romance though because I wanted to focus on the love between Owen and Maredudd, it just so happens that I ended up including some other things that excited me too.
Which themes do you explore within Witcheskin?
Nem: The biggest theme is the one that is most personal to Owen, which is how he copes with life on a daily basis and how he views his own gender transition. There are a lot of times where he is anxious that being transgender is going to cause a problem or mean that someone doesn’t like him, so I wanted to include characters who loved and befriended him regardless. I approached this theme from a POV that’s personal to me and a lot of Owen’s experiences are based on my own. Because of that, I also included some scenes (which some people might feel aren’t integral to the story, and perhaps they aren’t) that allowed Owen to talk about his transition further and show the things he has to go through, which meant writing him visiting a nurse to receive an injection. I did this because I wanted people to see that being trans isn’t a hobby or a lifestyle choice; it’s not easy and if we weren’t certain that deep down in our hearts it was what we needed to do to survive, we wouldn’t do it.
Apart from that, I explored some of my favourites subjects such as Alien Big Cats and the Occult, both of which I have spent a lot of time studying and delving into. I also wanted the book to have references and nods to folkloric elements, some of which originate from the local area. I’m really into the unique aspects of localities, in particular the West Country and South Wales where I live, and I feel that a lot of local traditions, dialects and legends are becoming lost, probably because of the internet. I tried to ensure that the Welsh characters spoke as realistically as possible, too, which meant asking friends about local sayings and Welsh slang that I could use in my writing, and I also slipped some West Country ones in there too.
Had you always intended to explore those themes?
Nem: No, I began exploring the local slang and dialect by accident, mostly out of sheer curiosity, plus the idea of a mysterious creature slaughtering the livestock came later too. I have always wanted to write something about such a thing, so when I realised I needed more content to bulk out what was originally a rather dull and run of the mill romance story, I figured it’d be a great idea to add it in. Owen was always originally trans, although in his first incarnation, he was much younger and at the start of his transition rather than the age and stage he is at in the final version. I think that probably reflects the stage I was at in my own transition because the original plan was written several years ago for a short story, which then got abandoned, so by the time I picked it up again, I wanted it to reflect how I felt about myself. So in that way the story is very close to home for me. I wrote the story with the intention of giving a trans man a happy ending because I’m tired of media depicting trans people as always being so unhappy, usually a drama where they have a terrible life and then end up dying or being rejected by the person they love, and not only is it not realistic (because there are plenty of trans people who have made a happy life for themselves) it paints an inaccurate picture of what it’s like to be trans. This theme was something that happened on its own as I was writing, I guess I couldn’t help but add it in!
Nem: YES! I don’t even know were to begin. All folklore fascinates me, but I’m particularly interested in British mythology, Welsh to be precise, but all folklore is fantastic. My favourite creatures are Werewolves, which I saved for the sequel to Witcheskin, but I couldn’t help but include some other forms of transformation in the story, such as the Selkie. Ironically, witches aren’t actually one of my favourite things! I have so many favourite folk tales I could mention here but I would probably end up turning this into an essay on the subject, and it’s hard for me to choose just one. I’ve always been interested in shapeshifters, and have been obsessed with Werewolves since I was a very small child after pouring over the cover of my parents’ American Werewolf In London VHS tape whilst being told I wasn’t allowed to watch it. As I grew up, I also went through a phase of being obsessed with Vampires and read Anne Rice almost religiously, but my love of Werewolves has never gone away. Every time I start a new project, I have to tell myself not to put in yet another Werewolf character!
Nem: I’m originally from Bristol in the West Country, but I’ve lived in Wales for 6 years now and it has had a tremendous affect on not just my writing but also my identity. My entire life I felt that I needed to live by the sea, and when I moved here, I suddenly discovered a feeling of belonging. One could almost call it fate. I connected with Welsh culture and language in a way I never thought I would, and I only wish I had come here sooner. Still there is Bristolian in me, so when I wrote Witcheskin I put some of that in Owen too by having him grow up in Bristol despite being born in Wales. At first he feels alienated from the locals because his accent is different and wishes he could return to Bristol where he felt he belonged, so I guess the story is also about Owen finding his place in the village and finally settling in. The sequel is set in Bristol, which was an opportunity for me to go back and reconnect with my Bristolian roots, too. Most of my work is a love letter to my heritage in some way. When writing Witcheskin, I chose not to set it in a particular village on purpose because I couldn’t decide on an exact area to place it, so while the village Owen in lives in is never named, it is definitely set on the Gower peninsula, which is one of my favourite places to visit and is an area of outstanding natural beauty. There are some places mentioned in the book that actually exist, too, such as St. Illtyd’s Chapel and the castle ruins Owen describes, which are based on Pennard Castle.
Nem: My wife, April-Jane Rowan, is the reason I became an author. I’ve always been a writer, and we’ve written together for many years, but it was only because she was working on her first novel that I decided to try and write a full length novel myself. I never wrote Witcheskin with the intention of publishing it, it was meant to be a self-indulgent romantic fantasy for myself but it became clear to me that perhaps other people might get something out of it. April suggested I should try submitting it to a publisher, so that’s what I did. Had it been rejected, I’m not sure if I would have pushed to find another publisher to take it, I was just incredibly lucky that the first publisher I submitted to said yes to it. My passion for writing hasn’t diminished and I still write for myself as the initial audience, because I love returning to the feeling of falling in love over and over again, so I never grow tired of it. I began writing as a way of escaping the world when I was a teenager and I would spend hours glued to my ancient computer, typing away (back then I saved my stories to floppy discs, which sometimes malfunctioned, and I lost an entire novel that way), because it allowed me to express myself and get away from the bullying I went through at school. I’d like to think I can give other people a chance to escape the world too when they read my stories.
Witchskin is the book for Bookclub Hexlibris in May. I am really excited to have an own voices trans story in an urban fantasy world featured so soon into the year as it’s a favourite genre as well as themes close to my heart.
Now that you have seen the many many links and read the interview this is the synopsis.
“Following the disappearance of his father, Owen returns to the Welsh village where his parents grew up to live with his mother and her boyfriend. While pursuing the mystery of cattle mutilations in the area, he meets Maredudd, an old friend of his mother’s, and learns something about his parents that they’ve never told him…”
OK dear readers, you will have all of May to read this bad body so don’t stress if you can not grab it straight away. I am really looking forward to this book. It has horror, romance, transgender m.c, is set in Wales. This should be incredible.