Thursday, October 29, 2009

Interview with The Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children author, Keith McGowan

KN: Fay Holaderry quotes authentic phrases such as, "I'm at the end of my rope." What did you do to craft Fay's voice?

KM: The witch's voice came very naturally to me with no explicit thought of writer's craft. Her sense of humor appeared on the page fully formed, and I laughed, more as a reader of her journal than as the writer of it. I think somehow her wry sarcasm must just be a part of how I was raised; I come from a very sarcastic family.

KN: How did you ensure Sol and Connie were attractive yet imperfect characters?

KM: The fact that we are all imperfect is a major theme of the book. Nobody is perfect in the book. For me, the truth about humans is that we make many mistakes--at least I do. I wanted to enjoy that imperfection.

Sol and Connie's good qualities come through strongly, on the other hand, I think because of their sibling love for each other. Sol admires Connie's strengths and Connie admires Sol's strengths, and seeing each child through the other's eyes gives us a sense of admiration too.

KN: Please tell us one way your published book is different from an earlier draft.

KM: Everything, in a way, changed from early drafts to late drafts--I am very big on revision--although the core elements of the story never changed. One example of a change is the witch's journal entries. I had a lot of journal entries written; which ones to choose was the question. If you look very carefully and read the entries in the final book, you'll see there's a little story arc of its own in the entries. That, I thought, was how the journal entries should truly read.

KN: Forgiveness is a theme in the book yet the protagonist, Sol, does not forgive Connie while the antagonist, Fay Holaderry, forgives her dog. Why did you chose to have the antagonist forgive and not the protagonist?

KM: This was a very important element of the ending to me. Forgiveness is a big theme in the book, which goes along with the idea of all of us as imperfect people. One clue to what's going on is the title of the last chapter: "Old Enough to Accept Things." The witch is centuries old and has seen a lot of life, so she can forgive others their mistakes. She accepts life's ups and downs. Sol, on the other hand, is only eleven. His sister has done something very upsetting, and the book ends on the same day he finds this out. Sol is still upset and not yet ready to forgive. Sol's inability to forgive his sister her mistake, at least right away, is a sign of his own imperfection and his age. But, you know, I always thought that readers can forgive Sol for his own character flaws.

KN: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

KM: I'd just like to thank you for putting together great curriculum ideas, and to let teachers know that if they read the book with kids, I'd love to hear from them personally about the discussions. My website has a little contact link at the bottom, and also a page for teachers if you go to the "Mixed Up Files" page. I am a former afterschool director and teacher myself, and the child of teachers, so education, teachers, and schools are very important to me.

KN: Thanks for the interview!


  1. Great interview. I liek how Keith says that in a way everything in the book changed during the revision process. Having seen early drafts, I agree that a lot has changed, but the spirit and essence of the story, the thing that makes it so compelling, was there all along.