Sunday, 26 February 2017

Dress Down Sunday: Witch Way Now? by Lucy Fisher

 
published 2016
 

LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES



Witch Way Now 1


[Narrator/diarist Anna is attending a meeting of a coven of witches]

Gerald went and fussed with the stuff from the backpacks and put what looked like a cage on the other side of the fire from me. I didn’t dare move.

“Now we shall go sky clad,” he said and Mrs W and Mrs B led me to the edge of the glade and began to take off their sensible thick coats.

“Come on,” said Mrs B. “It’s far more effective if we’re sky clad.”
They carried on peeling off their clothes and I could see the men stripping beyond the fire on the other side.

“Everything off!” said Mrs B in her jolly way. “It’s quite warm next to the fire, you know.”

So I obeyed in a kind of trance. There we were, completely nude. The damp grass felt bone-cold and there were a lot of twigs. We went and stood together by the fire and she was right, it did get quite warm. We were hot in front. Behind us the wind was wuthering a bit in the bare branches. The men stood on the other side of the fire and I was glad they were mainly hidden from us by it. Fortunately I’d seen quite a lot of Greek art.


 
Witch way now 3


commentary: Witch Way Now? is described as a Paranormal Romance, though that’s a limited description of the content. I absolutely loved it: the book is eccentric and funny and very different, and it gives – amid various supernatural manifestations – a wonderfully convincing picture of life in the 60s, and the thoughts and experiences of young women (any time, anywhere).

The book starts as a teenage diary, and all too realistically so – that obsession with what you have to eat and what you wear, and the awfulness of social events. I am a great believer in the Eleanor Roosevelt remark that ‘no-one can make you feel inferior without your permission’ but as Lucy and narrator Anna truly say, ‘Eleanor doesn’t go to our school’.

It’s all there – gonks, trolls, Top of the Pops, tan corduroy skirts, Moon Drops perfume. Anna is a child with a comic one minute:
I got out an old Bunty annual when I got home and picked some possible futures: putting on my own circus with farm animals and of course ponies and saving the school sports field from a wicked property developer.
And the next is discovering she has supernatural powers. She gets pulled into the very dubious coven above, but decides to avoid them in future – which means she gets on the wrong side of them.

After some uncomfortable moments, she leaves school and goes to live in a hostel with other young women and takes different jobs. Her parents have moved and she gets involved in more doubtful goings on, another group of people interested in psychic and similar possibilities. It’s a good plot in a wandering way, you never know what will happen next, and Anna is an endearing heroine, who grows up a lot during the course of the book.

Again, the life is real – Anna goes to see the films Fantasia, Rosemary’s Baby and Belle de Jour in quick succession, as one does at that age. It’s funny too – Anna’s supernatural experiences are particularly enthralling, and I loved this conversation with a spirit friend:
“Halloween – I shall be abroad.”
“Oh no, where are you going?” I didn’t know ghosts had holidays.
“I mean I shall walk the earth and have power – and so will unpleasant spirits.”

Of course the young people visit Biba:
Witch way now 2Diana had been up to London to shop at this new boutique called Biba “But all the clothes are tiny! I got stuck trying to take off a stripy dress and the shopgirls just said ‘If you got into it, you can get out of it’ and I thought I’d be there forever with a dress over my head! It was so claustrophobic! I couldn’t see anything!”

And later:
Irene, Georgina and I went to Kensington Church Street (it’s not far) where all the trendy shops are, like Hung on You, and Biba. I tried on some dresses, but it was a bit unfair as they’d never fit the others. The girls selling the clothes in all the boutiques looked a bit like me - small and skinny, with long straight hair. But they all wear lots of way-out makeup with white eye-liner and painted-on eyelashes, and one had a daisy drawn on her cheek.
I particularly enjoyed all the details because I am the right age, but I wouldn’t want to suggest that you would have to have lived through the times to get the most from the book. (When I was younger it was assumed that we all would and could read books set in other times without the slightest problem, and that it would be interesting and informative for us, and I think that this was roughly true.)

Lucy Fisher is a good friend to this blog, and a very good writer - she has done a guest blog and has frequently recommended books and commented here - click the label below for more. She didn’t ask me to read her book, or suggest I review it.

But it does give me to think. I get sent many books, am asked to review them, or I offer to – I have probably obtained 20-25 new novels so far this year. Very few of them were as good as this book. One in particular – I will not name it here, but I reviewed it fairly recently – has been much touted, has had a lot of publicity and is said to be an authentic picture of the swinging 60s. But it just isn’t – it’s clear that the author has done only the most superficial research, and has no real feel for what the time and place were actually like. Witch Way Now? is about ten times better.

I truly don’t understand how so many mediocre books attract the attention of big publishing houses, while a book like this one is passed over. I very much hope more people might discover it and tell other people about it: I wish I had more influence on the reading public.

The top picture is The witches Sabbath, by Luis Ricardo Falero.

Picture of people getting changed in Biba from the 1960s. 

Clothes from the Biba mail order catalogue.
























23 comments:

  1. So glad you like it! Of course it was me getting stuck in the dress and thinking I'd be there for ever. xxx

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    1. Enjoyed it so much - and yes would have guessed. Oh God, communal changing rooms. How I hated them.

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    2. It still happens. I have my own story involving a pair of really skinny jeans when they first came out in UniQlo. Rolling about on the changing room floor totally stuck in them (still got the muscly calves, TOTALLY not designed for skinny jeans), luckily I'd popped into the disabled person's changing room so there was plenty of room to contort and wriggle around in desperation trying to squeeze the damn things back down over my calves...

      There may have been ensuing ripping of seams around the knee area in the end...

      I never did find a pair of slim-fitting royal purple denims that fitted.

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    3. To this day, while I LOVE UniQlo for really good quality shirts and tops (their flannel shirts are wonderful and wear like cast iron, I'm still wearing two 9-year old flannels that still look good and get tons of compliments even after over 100 washes), I'm still frankly too scared to even look at another pair of their trousers.

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    4. That's hilarious Daniel - I think we all have our own changing-room horror story. I love Uniqlo cashmere, but have never ventured to the trouser section. And ALL my friends wear the puffy jackets and coats.

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  2. So glad you enjoyed this one so well, Moira. It does sound like an authentic look at the times and culture. And I do like the wit and the character development. You raise an interesting question, too. Big publishers rush towards some books, and not others, and I don't think their choices are always based on a book's real quality.

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    1. It is a most enoyable book. And, yes, absolutely Margot. Lucy's is by no means the only book I have that feeling about.

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  3. I was just looking at Lucy's blog yesterday, and noticed this book, with interest but some reservation because while I do read books about the paranormal occasionally, I do also avoid romances. So it was good timing to see your post, which encouraged me to go back to Amazon to read some from the "Look Inside" feature. And fortunately and unusually, it is actually available here.

    Which is a long-winded way of saying I will get a copy and read it soon. In 1966 I would have been going off to college so I may be a bit older, and much of the UK details may be over my head, but I am sure I will like it anyway.

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    1. Oh great Tracy - I think you will like it, as it does have a crime element too. And honestly, there is something really different and special about it.

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  4. Glad you enjoyed it, but not one for me thanks!

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  5. I was a split second too late for Biba and thousands of miles away, but I adored their entire vibe. For years, my dream was to live in the Big Biba store.

    I also HATE when I have books pushed at me. I can remember getting angry at Amazon for shoving "Atonement" in my face for the longest time. Of course, I eventually broke down and LOVED it when I did. An exception though.

    This one sounds right up my alley. I'll give it a gander.

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    1. I was a bit too young and provincial for Biba, but it was my idea of the perfect shop, and I did pore over their mail order catalogues.
      And I think you would enjoy this book.

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  6. If I were really rich, I think that one of my dreams would be to have my own tailor. My big problem is that I don't really seem to fit the average sizes of clothes, with the result that my changing room experiences tend to resemble Harry Houdini struggling to release himself from a straitjacket. I'm also becoming disenchanted with belts as the years go by. As a teenager I tried wearing braces for a while, and though they're not really popular anymore there really isn't anything better for keeping up one's trousers.

    I think people are becoming more fed up with publishers making boring choices about which books to publish. For a long time all crime novels seemed to be about serial killers offing their victims in the most revolting way possible, but Golden Age stuff, with proper plots, less violence, and even a sense of humour, has made a comeback. Publishers of other genres should take note.

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    1. I read a 1930s book on fashion a while back, and the top designer's comments were a revelation: basically she said 'don't blame yourself if clothes don't fit. It's not your fault, and clothes should fit you rather than vice versa.' Obviously her idea of getting everything custom-made isn't entirely practical, but it was a good encouraging thing to hear!
      And books resemble fashion too: clothes shops say 'look, the teal and puce jackets were really popular!' - but there wasn't anything else to buy. People want to read so they buy what publishers put out. But I wish it was more reader-led - as you say, there are a few good omens...

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  7. Moira: The Witches Sabbath has to be the ultimate in what goes on under the clothes!

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    1. Indeed! I love the term skyclad, though not terribly likely to try it out myself. Wouldn't suit Canadian witches I guess, for climate reasons.

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    2. Well put and most apt as I have just walked back to the office with toque and gloves and Hudson Bay scarf and parka and boots and it was still cold. Maybe that is why I cannot recall witch stories from Saskatchewan.

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    3. You'd have to put your wizard hat and robes over the top I guess...

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    4. 'I like a healthy breeze 'round my privates, thanks.”

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    5. Harry Potter! A wizard at the Quidditch World Cup, yes?

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