In 1998, a sixteen-year-old girl is found dead on school property, dressed in white and posed on a swing, with no known cause of death. The novel opens with this image, as related to us by the narrator, Violet, looking back on the night it happened from the present day, before returning to relate the series of events leading up to the girl’s murder.
After an accident involving her Dad and sister, Violet joins Elm Hollow Academy, a private girls school in a quiet coastal town, which has an unpleasant history as the site of famous 17th century witch trials. Violet quickly finds herself invited to become the fourth member of an advanced study group, alongside Robin, Grace, and Alex – led by their charismatic art teacher, Annabel.
While Annabel claims her classes aren’t related to ancient rites and rituals – warning the girls off the topic, describing it as little more than mythology – the girls start to believe that magic is real, and that they can harness it. But when the body of a former member of the society – Robin’s best friend, with whom Violet shares an uncanny resemblance – is found dead on campus nine months after she disappeared, Violet begins to wonder whether she can trust her friends, teachers, or even herself.
1. What three words would you use to describe The Furies?
Oh, that’s such a good question! I’d probably say it’s a dark, eerie, and angry book – more so, in some ways, than I’d originally intended…!
2. What was the writing process like for the book, did it come together quickly or more gradually?
I think the best word for it is probably “feverish.” I had the first chapter – the dead girl on the swing, with no known cause of death, and the narrator, who accepts responsibility, but doesn’t regret what she did – before I had anything else. I wrote that, one afternoon, in my pyjamas – and then shelved it, not really knowing where it was going.
A couple of months later – on Valentine’s Day, actually – the characters, and a rough outline of the plot, fell into place. For the next seven months, when I wasn’t at work, it was all I thought about. I was completely absorbed in the world of the book, until one day, it was done. Coming back to the real world was a bit of a shock, honestly. I missed it.
3. What was the hardest part about writing the book?
The thing I’ve always struggled the most with – but found the most fascinating about really good fiction – is plot. It’s still the thing I find hardest to do. I’m pretty good at coming up with a beginning, and an end – but working out how to get from one to the other is hard.
For me, the only way through is a sort of constant, obsessive rewriting – which eventually results in a (hopefully) fairly pacy plot, but which is also spectacularly unproductive. I think there are about 120,000 words of The Furies which didn’t make it into the book that I eventually sent out into the world.
4. Reviews for The Furies have been amazing – what does it feel like to have such a big buzz around the book before it’s even released?
Honestly, I’m waiting for the knock at the door, or the phone call telling me there’s been a terrible mistake. Writing is obviously a pretty solitary activity, so when one person reads your work and says they like it, it’s a thrill. Having this kind of buzz before it’s even published… It’s so far beyond what I could’ve hoped for that it all just seems like a dream I’m yet to wake up from.
5. What was your inspiration for the story?
It was a combination of things. I knew I wanted to write a book about teenage girls, because… Well, they’re fascinating. That period of life – I remember it so vividly, being filled with so much potential, and so many new thrills… So I wanted to explore that. And the idea of witchcraft has always been fascinating to me – less for the magic and spells than the idea of women standing outside of the culture, in the face of persecution, and even death. It’s a powerful idea – and I think it’s why witchcraft is seeing such a boom in today’s culture. 6. Now that The Furies is about to be released, what are you working on next?
I’m currently knee deep in a novel about memory, psychiatry, and ghosts – which is still too much of a mess to say much more about, but… It’s getting there. And I’m also about to start my PhD at Birmingham – in the very appropriate topic of female rage in literary modernism and contemporary women’s writing.
7. Finally could you recommend us a good book you read recently?
Oh god, there are so many! The last brilliant book I read was Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, which I finished a couple of days ago. It is exactly as good as everyone’s saying it is.
Katie is a writer living in Worcester, UK, whose debut novel The Furies is set to be published by Harperfiction (UK), St Martin’s Press (US) and eight other territories worldwide.
A graduate of the University of Birmingham, Katie has a BA(Hons) in English and an MPhil in Literature & Modernity. She is set to return to Birmingham in 2019 to complete a PhD in English Literature, with her thesis on female rage in literary modernism and the #MeToo era.