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Author Spotlight: Mary Watson talks The Wren Hunt

I'm thrilled to be featuring Mary Watson on the blog! Mary grew up in Cape Town where she worked as an art museum custodian, library assistant, actress in children's musicals, front-of-house duty manager, and a university lecturer. Her doctorate is in film studies and she's always been obsessed with stories. Mary attempted her first book (with illustrations) when she was five. At sixteen, she had a vivid dream about a girl and her father who walked a magic garden, hiding an awful secret. This grew into a collection of connected short stories, Moss (Kwela, 2004) which she wrote under the mentorship of André Brink at the University of Cape Town. She was awarded the Caine Prize in 2006. Her second book, The Cutting Room (Penguin South Africa, 2013), is about ghosts, sort of, and crime.

Mary's young adult fantasy, THE WREN HUNT, released yesterday, on November 6th. Check out the synopsis below!

Once a year, Wren is chased through the woods near her rural Ireland hometown in a warped version of a childhood game. Her pursuers belong to the judges, a group in control of an ancient, powerful magic they stole from her own people, the augurs . . . but they know nothing of her real identity. If they learned the truth, the game would surely turn deadly.

Though she knows the risks, Wren also goes on the hunt, taking a dangerous undercover assignment as an intern at enemy headquarters, the Harkness Foundation. If she can uncover a long-buried secret, she can save her family and end the judges' reign once and for all.

But as the web of lies, deceit, and betrayal thickens around Wren, she hurtles toward a truth that threatens to consume her and reveal who she really is. Not only has she come to the attention of powerful judge Cassa Harkness, but she is also falling dangerously in love with the one person she shouldn't. And she may need to decide which she'd rather lose, her heart or her life.

And now, here's my chat with Mary!

Hi, Mary! Welcome and congrats on The Wren Hunt. Can you share a little about the story and what inspired it?

Wren goes on a secret mission to steal information from a warring druid faction. The Wren Hunt is a story about belonging, about finding your way in the world. When I first moved to Ireland, I felt lost for a long time. Eventually, fed up of being homesick, I decided I would fix it by writing something I could only write here. It was a way of writing myself into the country where I live.

Your prose is packed with creepy, magical vibes. How important was this mood to The Wren Hunt, and what are your tips for authors looking to craft the ‘right feel’ for their books?

I think it’s linked to voice, that mysterious quality that defines a book. Magicky, off, and oblique is what comes naturally to me. My imaginary worlds are filled with moss, damp boughs, cavernous corridors, wet leaves and wilted petals, rotten Ophelias and something of this is evident in most of what I write. I do find it useful to create an aesthetic, perhaps through Tumblr, or Pinterest, especially if I’m trying for something different. If I’m able to clearly visualize the world, it helps to create the atmosphere I’m looking for.

Did Wren’s voice come easily to you? What did you love most about writing her?

Wren’s voice came before everything else. On the anniversary of my mother’s death, I started writing a story about a girl at her mother’s grave, and that sense of being a little lost, displaced and uneasy in the world is central to this character. I loved writing Wren because she’s not perfect, she doesn’t always know what’s best, but her story is about finding her inner strength and learning to rely on herself.

As a fantasy writer, I’m always interested in world building and crafting mythology. How did you go about constructing these things for The Wren Hunt ?

I had a feeling for the magic of the world before I started writing it. I was fascinated by augury, astrology and other forms of divination that seem to involve deciphering patterns. I began to dream up ways in which patterns could be an underlying form of magic, an invisible web. It seemed to me that this was a kind of design, an art. After researching druidism, Brehon law and ancient Irish society, I liked the apparent contradiction of making the more elitist, rigid, rules based community the group who connects with nature. Essentially the two factions are the clash of art and nature.

I'm a firm believer in the idea that every story teaches the writer something new, so what did writing The Wren Hunt teach you?

So much. Everything I write (and delete) teaches me about telling stories, so there’s that. But one of the main things that this book helped me with was being in the here and now. Writing this book made me connect, in a different way, in a heady, magical way, with the physical world around me. I would stand in the nearby woods, thinking of a girl running from boys. I would watch the birds lifting from a hedge, first one and then three and imagine this was telling me something. It was like I could feel the story in the landscape, and that really helped my attempts to ground myself in the place I live.

What are you reading, watching, or otherwise currently infatuated with?

I’m late to this, but recently read Tana French’s In the Woods, which I loved. I’m off on holidays and have Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus, and Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir to take with me. The Ember series is one of my favourites, so saving it has taken enormous self control. I’ve been waiting impatiently for Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

And finally, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far in your publishing career?

Grow another layer of skin, then another. When you think that maybe your skin is thick enough for the disappointments, the rejections, the waiting, the vulnerability of putting your creative work out there, then grow one more. The writing life requires us to be more than a little robust, I think.

Many thanks go out to Mary for taking the time to tell us more about her writing process and how THE WREN HUNT came to be. Be to sure to add this magical YA fantasy to your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) order your copy (WRITE) NOW from retail sites like Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, or request it at your library, or local independent bookstore!

For more information, follow Mary on Twitter, and visit her full author website at

And, as always,


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