Interview with Jeanne Willis
19 May 2008Add to My Folder
Huw Thomas speaks to Jeanne Willis, author of Shamanka, about all things magic
I’d just start by saying ‘Wow’ to the book. Wow, particularly, to the ending – truly beautiful. I read the final 100 pages in Starbucks, refusing to go home and have tea cos I was gripped and then turned that last page and it did justice to the odyssey that prededed. What a book!
Thrilled and delighted that you like Shamanka. It is my strangest piece by far and I’m still not quite sure how it came to be, but I suspect I have an old trunk lurking in my attic somewhere which contains a goatskin bag that contains… now that would be telling.
Shamanka is unlike any other book I can think of. It doesn’t sit easily in any genre or follow predecessors. What prompted you to gather such a strange collection of ideas together?
You must thank my grandfather for much of this tale. He wasn’t a witch doctor but he was my constant and favourite childhood companion. He possessed a small wooden box with which he would mysteriously make fat pre-decimal pennies disappear before my very wide eyes. He could also make his tie-pins vanish and he could spin plates and speak a smattering of Swaheli which he picked up during the First World War. He also brought back strange relics
- miniature ivory scissors in the shape of a bird, carved ebony, necklaces made from hundreds of glass beads made by tribes who are now extinct. So Grandad who appears in various guises in most of my books – is the catalyst for the magic in Shamanka and the benign side of Yafer.
Where, oh where, did those characters spring from? It’s not just Sam (who is great), or Kitty – it’s the list they follow (including Mrs Reafy – my fave) along with people like the Inspector of Miracles, the Blue Barge Brigade and an Orang Utan?
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