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Emilia Hart Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Emilia Hart

Emilia Hart

An interview with Emilia Hart

Emilia Hart discusses her debut novel, Weyward, and the how the timelines she chose were relevant to contemporary events.

In Weyward, our heroines Altha, Violet, and Kate live in different time periods: 1619, 1942, and 2019. Why did you decide to incorporate three timelines, and what was special about these particular moments in history?

I wanted to write a multiple-timeline story for two reasons. It was important to me to make the point that male violence and control have continued through the ages, sadly to this day. That's why I started with Altha in 1619—in England, this was just the beginning of the witch-hunt frenzy, which worsened alongside the political situation throughout that century. Altha's trial is completely fictional, but was inspired by the infamous Pendle witch trials in 1612, and the 1619 trial of Joan, Margaret, and Philippa Flower (which I read about in Tracy Borman's excellent book Witches: James I and the English Witch Hunts). In each of these real-life examples, families of predominantly women—in which females were the main or sole breadwinners— were targeted.

The middle of the twentieth century was also an interesting time in terms of gender dynamics. As Europe was ravaged by the Second World War, women were entering the workforce by necessity, and gaining independence, in a way they hadn't previously. But for many women and girls, life was still oppressive. Violet leads an unusually secluded existence, but her contemporaries were unable to access legal abortions, open bank accounts, or take out loans.

Things have improved for women today. But too many women are still subject to male violence and control, particularly in the context of intimate relationships, and abortion rights are under renewed attack across the United States. I wanted to explore this in Kate's storyline, to challenge readers to ask: How far have we really come? How can we make things better?

That brings me to the second reason for including multiple timelines in the novel. Generations of brave feminists have fought fiercely for the rights we exercise today. I believe we have so much to learn from our older sisters, mothers, and grandmothers. I wanted the Weyward power—passed down from woman to woman over time—to remind us of this important legacy.

How did you approach the research for the historical elements of the novel? Did anything you learned surprise you?

The 1619 timeline required the most research. I focused my reading on the Pendle witch trials of 1612. These are some of the better recorded in English history, thanks to a pamphlet titled The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster, which was published by Thomas Potts in 1613. Thomas Potts was a law clerk who attended the trial (overseen by Justices Altham and Bromley), and his account purports to be an accurate record of the proceedings. However, modern historians have pointed out that it is extremely biased and sensationalized. As was typical of the time, the defendants were afforded little opportunity to provide their side of the story. I wanted to give Altha a voice on behalf of these women.

I was surprised to learn that some of those involved in the Pendle witch trials actually thought of themselves as witches—this was contrary to my preconception that all allegations of witchcraft arose out of a sort of local hysteria, or as a way of explaining natural medical events that weren't well understood at the time (such as strokes and seizures). While that was certainly the case to an extent, some people really did believe they had these powers and abilities. I drew on this when constructing the mythology around the Weyward women.

One bit of interesting research I sadly didn't manage to reference in the novel is that, up until the 1960s, frogs were used to test for human pregnancies! The poor frog would be injected with the woman's urine and would produce eggs if she was pregnant. I'm glad that technology has evolved since those days (and I'd say the frogs are, too).

Why does the natural world play such an important role in your novel?

For me, spending time outside is crucial to the creative process. While I must admit to a slight fear of birds, I've always loved walking in nature and immersing myself in its sights, sounds, and smells. I was raised in Australia, and so I'm used to very different landscapes than those found in England. I was lucky enough to spend several months living in Cumbria, where the novel is set, in 2020, and I totally fell in love with it. I wanted to learn all about the local birds, flowers, and insects! I love sketching, and so I spent a lot of time drawing the wildlife—especially crows and damselflies.

I also think spending time in nature—particularly time in isolation or solitude—is key for self-reflection and discovery. I really wanted to explore this in Kate's narrative. She leaves such a traumatic situation in London and when she gets to Weyward Cottage, she has to process that trauma—along with other painful memories from her past—to rediscover her power as a Weyward woman. This is something that is hugely confronting and frightening to her, so she's a little reluctant at first, and her changing relationship with nature is symbolic of that.

Finally, I wanted to pay homage to the environment, because, like a lot of us, I'm very worried about what climate change means for our planet. There's a real link between patriarchy and climate change— in fact, studies have shown that women are disproportionately impacted by climate change, in particular natural disasters. I do wonder what would happen if more women were in positions of power around the world—perhaps we'd be able to better protect our planet.

Which of your characters do you most identify with?

I think there's a little piece of me in all three of the Weyward women. I have an extremely close relationship with my siblings, and so I drew on that bond when writing about Violet and her brother, Graham. In other ways, I think Violet is someone I aspire to be like—she is extremely determined, courageous, and optimistic, despite all she's been through. I'm a little bit of a worrier, so that optimism in particular is something I really admire.

As for Altha, she's a bit of an outsider in her community, due to the position that the Weyward women hold in Crows Beck—healers with no male head of household, reluctantly relied upon by the villagers. I certainly felt like an outsider myself when I was growing up, probably because I was very bookish and quite shy. I often spent lunchtimes hiding away in the library!

Really, I probably relate most to Kate. When we meet Kate at the start of the novel, she's certainly someone who is unaware of her own abilities, her own strength. I think I've been guilty of that in the past. Fortunately, I've never been in a relationship with anyone as awful as Simon, but I did draw on my own experiences of trauma for her story. I also wanted to celebrate my love of books when writing Kate's character. She draws a huge amount of comfort from stories and poetry, as do I.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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Books by Emilia Hart at BookBrowse
Weyward jacket
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Read-Alikes

All the books below are recommended as read-alikes for Emilia Hart but some maybe more relevant to you than others depending on which books by the author you have read and enjoyed. So look for the suggested read-alikes by title linked on the right.
How we choose readalikes

  • Kathleen Kent

    Kathleen Kent

    Kathleen Kent is the author of the Edgar Award-nominated The Dime, as well as three bestselling historical novels: The Heretic's Daughter, The Traitor's Wife, and The Outcasts. Kent lives in Dallas, TX. (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    Weyward

    Try:
    The Heretic's Daughter
    by Kathleen Kent

  • Madeline Miller

    Madeline Miller

    Madeline Miller grew up in Philadelphia, has bachelor's and master's degrees in Latin and Ancient Greek from Brown University, and has been teaching both languages for the past nine years. She has also studied at the Yale ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    Weyward

    Try:
    Circe
    by Madeline Miller

We recommend 4 similar authors

View all 4 Read-Alikes

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