We are loving the feminist stories that are reclaiming witchcraft as a positive force! As Cari Thomas discusses in the interview below, witchcraft has long been used to punish and control women. It is time for change!
Cari Thomas’ brilliant debut novel Threadneedle explores a world of magic where wielders are encouraged to feel ashamed of their abilities. Threadneedle is out now from Harper Voyager.
The idea that magic is dangerous and must be repressed is an old one and we’ve recently seen some excellent explorations of this idea (Frozen!). Why did you want to explore this idea? What did you hope to bring to the surface?
It is certainly an old idea, as old as any fairy tale. I think it’s an unavoidable theme if you are writing about magic because the two are intrinsically linked. Magic has always been encircled by fear and suppression. The witch’s hut sits outside of the village for a reason. This isn’t simply an invention in stories – during the witch hunt era, from the 15th to 18th centuries, approximately 60,000 people in Europe were executed for being witches. Around the world today, people are still being accused of witchcraft, and killed as a result. Love and fear of magic seem innate to the human experience.
On a deeper level, I believe this tension fascinates us because it resonates within each of us. The repression of our own power is something we all experience, whether this repression is at the hands of society, our family, or within our own selves. In Threadneedle, I wanted to peel back each of these layers. Anna, the main character – and a witch, of course – experiences repression within the wider magical world where old, dark forces are rising; within her own home, under the rule of her Aunt who teaches her to be ashamed of her magic; and within herself, on an emotional level. It’s this third and final level that particularly interests me and that I dig deep into in Threadneedle, bringing fresh questions to the surface.
Why is it important to link such repression to women? What comment did you hope to make about power and gender?
Firstly, it’s important because it’s true. During the witch hunt era, the majority of “witches” killed – around 80% – were women. Even the word witch carries a huge amount of stigma (as well as thousands of years of propaganda) that terms more commonly used to describe men with magical powers – wizard, warlock, sorcerer – don’t. What troubles me is why so many of the trials and prejudices of the witch hunt era still feel so relevant today. Why do ‘powerful’ or ‘outspoken’ women continue to pose such a threat? I wanted to explore themes of gossip and rumour in particular here, and how the power of stories is used to control and diminish; to polarise women, carving the ‘good’ from the ‘bad’. The channels for these stories might be different, the threats might be more veiled – but has the subject matter really changed?
You have a strong female friendship at the heart of your novel, something which we don’t see enough of! What common tropes of female friendship did you want to include in your story, which did you want to throw out the window?
My female characters form a witches coven which propels the action of the story. Covens are a key trope of many witch novels and I think the idea of them is so alluring because the individuals are drawn together by a greater force, that of magic. It’s a fun set-up to work with because, as in Threadneedle, if it wasn’t for the lure of magic, they may not be friends at all. They are each of them outsiders and, like many of the classic female friendship groups, they begin with their set roles: the rebellious one, the quiet one, the funny one, the highly-strung one. They are thrown
together into this cauldron of magic and the fun comes in playing with the readers’ expectations of where each of them will go and how they are changed by their interactions with each other.
I also wanted to take on the tropes of school hierarchies, gossip and rumour. The coven certainly takes this theme in unexpected directions, casting an old gossip spell that soon takes on a life of its own…
Stories of sheltered young girls having their eyes opened to the world are not short in supply. How did you go about creating something that felt fresh? Why is it that these stories resonate so much with audiences?
The coming of age story resonates because it’s an experience we can all relate to and remember vividly; a time of potent, overspilling emotion; of wonder and fear. The fun is in finding new ways to tell this story and that to me is all about the imagination. Drawing from a variety of influences, Threadneedle introduces a new world of magic, a world in which dark, wild, feminine, emotional magic bubbles beneath the surface of modern London. A world where magic is alive and witches use different languages to speak with it, each with their own distinctive flavour. A world in which Anna’s life is reduced to the language of knot magic – an age-old form of magic but given a uniquely dark twist in Threadneedle.
As I said, I also wanted to dig deeper into the emotional world. Emotions lie at the core of my magical system and rather than being vague powers Anna can draw on, I sought to get specific about her emotional canvas, using her Aunt’s dictionary of knots as a kind of vocabulary for both emotional repression and freedom.
Pitch us Threadneedle! Why should we pick up a copy?
Threadneedle is an embroidery of many parts. A dark tale of twisted magic, where knot magic is used to control and punish but, as the plot unfurls, you’ll also find yourself lost in a world of magical wonder – where a magical library lies buried beneath the British Library, where a vintage shop is alive with memories, where revellers get high at a witch club off Oxford Circus. Wound together with secrets, lies and mysteries, it’ll keep you turning the pages until every thread is unravelled…
Cari Thomas has always loved magic, inspired by her upbringing among the woods and myths of Wales’ Wye Valley. She studied English and Creative Writing at Warwick University and Magazine Journalism at The Cardiff School of Journalism. Her first job was at teen Sugar magazine where she ran the book club and quickly realized she wanted to be the one writing the books instead. She went on to work at a creative agency, spending her spare time researching magic and accumulating an unusual collection of occult books. She wrote her debut novel Threadneedle while living in London, wandering the city and weaving it with all the magic she wished it contained. She now lives in Monmouth with her husband and son, who bears the appropriately Celtic name of Taliesin.