Sunday 18 August 2019

WriteSide... with Niamh Boyce

Niamh Boyce
Niamh Boyce
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

What led you to write a novel about Alice Kytler, the woman accused of witchcraft in Kilkenny in the 14th century?

I was curious about sorcery and read about European witchcraft trial. I knew a bit about the story of Alice Kytler, but I didn't know it was real and thought it was a myth. When I looked into it, I was fascinated to find out that it was a true.

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It was Alice's servant Petronelle who was burned at the stake. How come she was targeted while Alice survived?

I think it was because there were fewer repercussions. Anyone who got off paid a lot of money, and the servant had no money. Alice was a wealthy woman.

How did you research this story?

It took me years to write this book, because I wanted to get the medieval setting right. There are books and articles about it. One of the best is The Templars, the Witch, and the Wild Irish by Maeve Brigid Callan. A local bishop also wrote an account of it, and there are archaeological studies that helped me form a picture of the time.

Was your previous novel The Herbalist also inspired in a curious way?

I was indexing 1940s copies of the Leinster Leader in a library and I came across a small story from Athy. It was about an Indian herbalist who was arrested for an offence against a girl. I asked a lot of locals about the story.

What quality do you admire in a novel - and which books would you take to a desert island?

One of my favourite books is Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss. It gives you the bones of a story, but leaves you enough to fill in. I love Artful by Ali Smith and the novels of the Icelandic writer Yrsa Siguroardottir.

If you weren't a writer, what would you be?

I always wanted to be a barrister, because I love the idea of arguing.

* 'Her Kind' is published by Penguin

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