BOOK CLUB: Help the Witch
The day Help the Witch arrived on my doorstep was the day a magpie gave me a small fright. I had finished showering and stepped out onto the bath mat when a magpie landed on the windowsill outside, contorted into a monochrome demon by the wobbly bathroom glass. I let out a shriek, the magpie scarpered, and I gathered myself together again before leaving the bathroom and finding my copy of Help the Witch had been delivered. It seemed fitting that it arrived during an undignified encounter with nature, for that is why the author has gathered such a cult following. He takes both nature and humanity with a heap of salt, neither idolising them nor failing to acknowledge their simple beauty.
The author of Help the Witch is my pal Tom Cox, the man who once showed me the beavers that were secretly reintroduced onto the River Otter. This is his first collection of short stories - and his first foray into fictional writing, having made his name with a range of non-fiction titles culminating in his latest 21st Century Yokel, a simmering hotpot of writing inspired by walking, folklore and landscape. The brilliance of Tom’s writing is rooted in the cocktail of subjects he chooses to write about - not just beautiful observations of nature and landscape, but bright anecdotes about the people that drift in and out of his life, a unique way of writing about animals, and an underlying humour that never fails to stoke joy.
Aptly titled and with a timely publication date, Help the Witch is the perfect collection to flump into on dark autumn nights, but don’t look to this book for Susan-Hill-style terror - it’s far more subtle than that. These stories are conjured up from creaking floorboards, empty houses, swaying trees and faceless voices, and it’s what lies between the words that makes them so satisfyingly uncomfortable. Having said that, the story ‘Robot’ brought me the same horror I felt at reading Wells’ The Time Machine. I had to read a chapter of Harry Potter afterwards to take it off my mind.