Just for fun, I thought I would post the original opening to A Witch in Winter, which was the first scene I wrote when the story came into my head. I deleted it really early on, and I much prefer the spooky beginning the book has now, but it gives a bit of back-story to how Anna and her dad end up in Winter.
If you haven’t read the book, then I suggest you click here to read the proper beginning first.
A WITCH IN WINTER – deleted first scene
Don’t get me wrong – I love my dad. But I couldn’t stop myself hating him a little as we hurtled down the M25 to a house I’d never seen and a life I didn’t yet know. What made it worse was that he was so exhilarated – his fingers drumming on the steering wheel, humming along under his breath to The Rolling Stones on the car stereo.
“Shut up!” I wanted to scream. “Stop being so happy! How would you like to leave your friends, your school, your house – everything you’d ever known since you were little, just because your dad’s having a mid-life crisis?”
But of course I couldn’t say that. And when he turned and gave me a great big grin I managed to smile weakly back.
“God, this is great, isn’t it Anna? What an adventure! No more London smoke, no more mortgage payments, no more nine to five.”
No more nine to five for you, maybe, I thought bitterly. I’ve still got to go to college and get my A-levels. Somehow. With a break in schools in the middle that won’t help.
“Just fresh air, countryside, growing our own veg… You could get a horse!”
“I hate horses,” I thought. But I didn’t say it. Instead I turned my face to the window and shut my eyes, trying to block out the flashing green countryside.
I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t burst his bubble. This was the happiest I had seen him for years – and certainly the happiest since he lost his job. It was strange, if you’d asked me six months ago I would have said that working at Morgan Lockwood was the best thing in my dad’s life, the one thing that made him tick. And when he lost his job as a stockbroker he definitely acted like it was the end of the world. He sat around the house all day while his expensive suits gathered dust and moths. Some days I’d go to school and come home to find him still in the scratty old t-shirt and boxers he wore instead of pyjamas, still staring at the same plate of congealed toast I’d made for him before I left the house. The bills piled up and so did the dust; he’d got rid of our lovely housekeeper Magdala, but didn’t seem to realise this now meant someone else had to hoover and wash up, not to mention cook and shop. I did what I could after school, but it wasn’t easy fitting it in with my coursework and everything else, especially while he was sitting around doing nothing.
And then one day it all changed. I came home late to find him washed and dressed and eating a bowl of pasta while reading one of my history books, something I’d been given for further reading but hadn’t got around to because it looked so dry. I can’t remember the title now but it was something about the Victorian fishing industry.
“This is total rubbish, you know. Do you want some pasta too?” he said, and got up to put the kettle on. I was so surprised I didn’t say anything as he got out a plate and lit the gas – it was the first time in two months he had made anything more than a piece of toast.
“Are you alright?” he said over his shoulder, “You look surprised.”
“I am a bit.”
“I suppose all children think their parents are entirely ignorant, but I used to be rather good at history you know. In fact, back in the mists of time, I did a dissertation on the history of Cornish fishing ports. Which is how I know this book is entirely wrong on a number of important points. It’s really astonishing they publish such drivel.”
“Perhaps you should write your own.” I said faintly.
“Perhaps I should!” he said and disappeared into the larder for more pasta.
* * * * *
Amazingly it seemed like he might have taken me at my word, because from that day it was all comings and goings and mysterious piles of library books mounting up on the kitchen table, dwarfing the pile of red demands from the phone and credit card companies. Some days he wasn’t even there when I got home from school, just a note saying “gone off to do some research”.
I kept my head down, got on with coursework, and tried to be pleased that he’d found an interest and started to do some washing up at least. But then things got out of hand.
The first I knew about it was when I picked up the phone, expecting it to be Lauren or Suzie on the other end, only to find some calling himself “Mike from NH Estates” saying that the previous couple were now prepared to offer 10k off the asking price as their final offer, would Mr Winterson like to take it or leave it? I left the message on a post-it on the fridge with a big red arrow saying “WTF?!”
I didn’t see Dad that evening, but I came down to breakfast to find him on the phone saying “Great, super. Thanks Mike, tell them I’ll expect their surveyor as soon as convenient.”
He eyed me over the phone and made “Tell you in a sec” gestures with his hands while he said goodbye to Mike. Then he hung up and said “Good news Anna, we’ve sold the house. I’ve bought one in a lovely village called Winter – I know you’ll love it there.”
* * * * *
Winter. Just the sound of it made me shiver. What kind of a place was called Winter? Somewhere drab, cold and remote, for sure. Somewhere I definitely didn’t want to be. Dad thought it was a great joke because of our surname – but to me that just made it worse. It was like this place was pretending to be home, even stealing our name, when in fact it was cold and strange and had no connection to me at all.
Dad had offered to take me there of course, but I felt sick to the heart and said no, thanks, I’d rather wait. It was a done deal in any case, so what good would seeing the new house do? If I hated it, it was too late to say so. And I was hardly going to love it. Dad showed me the details on a badly-photocopied bit of paper. There was a little dark picture of a small house in the middle of a field in pouring rain, with the words, “Wicker House, Winter” below, and on the other side shakily typed details about fitted carpets and electric fires and coving and original features (“in need of considerable updating”).
I knew we’d have to sell the house where I grew up – Dad had made that clear from the moment he lost his job. What with all the cutbacks he said that at his age he was very unlikely to find another one, and the mortgage was too high for him to maintain for long.
But I had thought we’d be moving to a flat in London, maybe a less fashionable area than Notting Hill but somewhere nice, just a bit rougher around the edges. Somewhere I could commute to school on the tube and still see my friends. Dad only shook his head when I asked “What about school?”
“I’m so sorry Anna, we’re already a term’s fees in arrears. You’d have had to leave anyway at the end of this term. If we were moving anyway it seemed like a good idea to get a fresh start for both of us – somewhere where we could get a decent place for our money with a nice comprehensive close by. The house in Winter needs a bit of work but I got a good offer for this place, so I can clear the mortgage completely and pay off all the bills, including your school fees. I never wanted to be in London anyway – it was only work keeping me here.”
I, I, I! What about me? I loved London! There was plenty keeping me here, I had friends, a life – all my favourite shops were here, the theatres, the cinemas, the markets. What the hell was there in Winter?
A fishing museum, as far as I could make out. And a “good school with some outstanding features” (according to Ofsted, anyway). And our new house.
* * * * *
So here we were, tearing away from London, and everything I’d ever known at 80mph. With all our possessions in the back of a lorry following somewhere behind. And nothing, but nothing to look forward to, ever again. Except Winter.
I shut my eyes and tried to block out Dad’s tuneless hissing of “Jumping Jack Flash” and wished, more strongly than ever, that I wasn’t here, that we weren’t on this motorway and, above all, that we weren’t going to Winter. I wished Dad would just stop the car right here, and tell me it was all a joke, that we were going back to our old lives, that Morgan Lockwood had offered him his old job back and we didn’t need to drive another mile closer to Winter.
Beside me I heard Dad’s humming abruptly stop, and a sharp intake of breath. I opened my eyes. Dad’s hands were gripping the steering wheel, his knuckles white, his foot stamping uselessly on the accelerator. We were in the fast lane – and suddenly we were barely doing 40. Lorries thundered past on the inside, blaring furiously. A green sports car behind us stamped on its brakes just inches away from our bumper and the driver screamed obscenities through the windscreen.
“Don’t panic, Anna,” Dad said, clearly panicking. He frantically jiggled the gear-stick, checked the petrol gauge as the car slowed still further. “Christ, what the hell’s going on?” There was a rising note of fear in his voice as another lorry roared past barely inches from my window. I felt my own pulse rise in response to Dad’s fear as I realised how dangerous our position really was. We were trapped in the fast lane of a four-lane motorway, completely unable to move, cars and lorries tearing past on all sides at 80mph. Suddenly it looked like we might not reach Winter at all – and I desperately wanted to.
Then, inexplicably, we were picking up speed. Dad gave a shaky, incredulous laugh, the speedometer passed 40, 50, 60, and we were back up with the rest of the traffic. The green sports car overtook with a two fingered salute through the window.
“The same to you, sunshine!” Dad yelled back hotly and then slumped back in his seat.
“What was that all about?” I found my hands were trembling with spent adrenalin.
“I have no idea,” Dad wiped sweat off his forehead. “It was like the accelerator just didn’t connect any more for about 30 seconds. I really thought that was it, our number was up. I tell you what, I’m getting the car serviced the moment we arrive.”
We were both quiet for the rest of the journey. It seemed I should be careful what I wished for. There might be worse fates than Winter after all.