Most of my mornings start the same way: I march up the big hill with the dogs and fill my pockets with treasures – nuts, leaves, snail shells, pebbles. We crunch through the silent woods as crows watch us and buzzards sail on the thermals overhead. Then I make an eye-poppingly strong pot of coffee and go out to my hut to begin to write.
I love my hut. It’s basically the tree house I never had. On frosty mornings ribbons of smoke rise from its chimney and the windows glow. From my comfy chair I have a long view out of the window, across the field and all the way back to the woods. From here I can see all sorts of wildlife, hares, owls and weasels. On warm summer days little wrens gaze from the doorway and black birds hop about with worms in their beaks.
It’s not all bucolic serenity though – pheasants couldn’t care less about my work and hold duels on the steps, blazing and screeching. Swallows swoop over my head like fighter pilots and lovelorn honeybees stalk my rose-printed curtains. There is always a squabbling mob of sparrows nearby, fighting in the dirt. Recently the Blue Tits have taken to headbanging the window until I produce the ‘right’ sort of snacks. And only this morning mice stole my stash of hazelnuts when my back was turned. Once a buzzard dropped a rabbit on me.
The truth is, dear reader, I am at the mercy of nature. Even my chickens won’t go in a coop, instead choosing to sleep in a tree. The first time I saw them do this I was annoyed as I had spent money on a perfectly lovely house for them. But then I remembered they were, of course, birds and living in trees was probably their right. Then, working on the basis that if you can’t beat them, join them, I began to wonder what sort of person might live in a tree. It turns out the answer is a witch with a rucksack and a short temper.
The story came to me very quickly, as if it had been there all the time, just waiting to walk out of my laptop, bright and alive. I love writing funny books about relationships, because those are the ones I like to read. Friendship is such an important topic for children and embarrassing friends are a rich vein of comedy, especially when you stir magic into the mix.
Picklewitch is as wild as a blackbird; a fearless joyseeker who lives for the moment. Most of us try to control our day-to-day lives, and Jack is no exception. But Picklewitch takes this idea, smashes it into a thousand pieces and then dances on it. If I were a child today I might feel that the world is full of bad news and feel worried. This makes me sad, because really it is full of possibility. Everyone needs a friend that makes them feel brave.
If I could, I’d invite Picklewitch and Jack to tea in my hut. I would make a massive coffee walnut cake; one as high as your head, probably with silver balls on top. Flocks of birds could come and eat up the crumbs. Then everyone would be happy.
Claire Barker is the author of Picklewitch and Jack. When she’s not busy doing this she spends her days wrestling sheep, battling through nettle patches and triumphantly catching rogue chickens. She used to live on narrow-boats but now lives with her delightful family on a small, untidy farm in deepest, darkest Devon. She is a big supporter of libraries and still loves nothing more than losing herself in a good story. Claire is the author of middle grade animal fantasy fiction series Knitbone Pepper.