A childhood spent roaming ruined buildings, and spooky forests and immersed in Celtic folk tales and library visits gave Scottish author Victoria Williamson a love for literature that never left her.
The physics graduate went on to teach and work all over the world before concentrating on her passion for writing. “After my debut children’s novel was published, I switched to writing and teaching creative storytelling full time,” she says. “Books were a huge part of my childhood, some of my earliest memories involved my parents taking me and my brothers to the local library, which felt to me like a magical place full of doorways to exciting new worlds. My mother read to us constantly – picture books like Ivor the Engine and The Velveteen Rabbit when we were small, and when we got older she read us adventure series.
“My father did something equally important to encourage us to read, and that was to read voraciously himself and to talk to us about books regularly. We learned from him that fiction was not just something to entertain children, and that reading was a serious business that could be a lifelong pleasure.”
Now Victoria is inspiring a new generation of young readers with her own novels including Hag Storm, which brings together her love of Robert Burns, changing seasons and a touch of fantasy. “My favourite season has always been autumn,” she enthuses, “with its mists, fallen leaves, and the sense of suspense that always seems to accompany ghost stories set at this time of year. I’ve always loved Halloween, and the seeds for Hag Storm were sown when I first heard the poem Tam o’Shanter when I was in primary four.
“The story of witches dancing to the music of the devil in the Auld Kirk at Alloway stayed with me, and when I turned to Scottish stories for inspiration for my books as an adult, that was the first tale that jumped straight into my head. Researching the life of Burns, I came across accounts of the young Burns hearing folktales of kelpies, wraiths and bogles round the kitchen fire, and I could imagine him being just as spellbound by the stories he was told by adults as I was as a child.”
She began to imagine how Tam o’Shanter could perhaps have been inspired by a childhood encounter with witches in the Auld Kirk and the foundations of Hag Storm were laid: “The story of Hag Storm is therefore a metafiction of the young Rab having a spooky Halloween experience which later becomes the basis of his own supernatural poem.”
The historical aspects of her tale required meticulous research and Victoria is careful never to take her young readers for granted. “Writing for children is particularly rewarding,” she says, “as they still have a sense of wonder about the world, and believe anything is possible. That’s not to say that anything goes when writing children’s books – without strict rules governing everything from how magic can be used to what the limits are on characters’ superpowers, the worlds created in those stories wouldn’t function properly.
“Children can be much fiercer critics than adults and in many ways are harder to please when it comes to fiction – mainly because they become so much more invested in the characters and the worlds they’re reading about. This can be both a blessing and a curse – on one hand it makes writing for the children’s market so much more exciting, as the worlds created can be so rich and compelling, yet it also makes the children’s publishing industry extremely competitive and difficult to break into for new authors.”
Looking ahead, is seems that Victoria hasn’t quite finished with writing about Rabbie Burns; “I would love to revisit Rab’s world and write more stories based around his childhood experiences. Having done extensive research on his life before the age of seventeen, I’ve discovered a real treasure trove of information on his early years. This has sparked ideas for many stories that could make up a series of tales around Rab’s experiences using the Hag Stone to solve spooky mysteries and ward off ghostly threats to his family and farm. But as with all books, we’ll have to wait and see how Hag Storm is received first before making any concrete plans for Rab and his future adventures with the supernatural!”
Hag Storm, £7.99, Cranachan Publishing, available to pre-order now.