After a messy breakup with his girlfriend, Alfie needs to get away for a while – so he decides to spend the summer holidays with his dad in a tiny village in the North of England.
In the local church graveyard, he chances upon a boulder with a strange inscription – and meets Mia, who then tells him about the local superstition surrounding the stone.
“If you walk three times around the stone and say “I don’t believe in witches,” Meg will come after you.’
Alfie, in a reckless attempt to show his bravery, accepts the superstition as a challenge. He thinks the story is nonsense. But it soon becomes apparent that he’s just made the biggest mistake of his life…
The Inspiration behind The Witching Stone
by Danny Weston
I chanced upon Meg Shelton’s story when researching witchcraft in The National Library of Scotland – and I was immediately intrigued by the local legend about her grave. (If you’d like to visit it, by the way, it’s in St Anne’s Churchyard, Woodplumpton, near Preston. You’re welcome)
The strange thing is I’d had no intention of writing a story based on Meg. I thought I’d just make stuff up, like I normally do. But that little legend I read about, that was the thing that hooked me, and I immediately knew I had to use it. Her grave, by the way, is the one with the great big boulder on top of it. You’ll also notice that it’s only a couple of feet wide. This is because they buried Meg head-down. Why? Because local people claimed that when they tried burying her the regular way, she kept digging her way out. They’d find her, all muddy, wandering around the graveyard at night.
I know. Gives you the creeps, right?
So… what exactly is this legend I keep hammering on about? It goes something like this. You might be standing in the graveyard, looking at that boulder and somebody will wander up to you and say, ‘If you dare to walk three times around Meg’s grave and say aloud, ‘‘I don’t believe in witches!’’ then she will come after you!’
So then I thought about all the generations of children who must have grown up with that story and the many who will have chosen to take the challenge simply because a friend dared them to, or because they wanted to impress somebody with their bravery. And of course, they say it and nothing happens to them. Everything goes on as before. Because it’s just a silly folk tale, right?
And then I thought, ‘What would happen if, just one time, the curse actually worked? How would somebody in the modern world deal with being followed around by a dead witch?’ It would be… awkward, to say the very least.
As I began to write, I found the answers I was looking for – and they were a combination of the funny and the scary. I decided that’s what I wanted this book to be: a balancing act between those two extremes. People often claim that a book can’t be both things. But… why not?
I wanted readers to be laughing in one breath, then freaking out in the next.
Did I get the balance right? That’s for the readers to decide. But I have to admit I had a lot of fun putting this book together. I just hope Meg can find it in her heart to forgive me… and that they continues to rest in peace.
Danny Weston is the YA pen name for popular children and YA writer Philip Caveney. He lives with his wife in Edinburgh. His best known books are the Sebastain Darke series for middle grade readers, and The Piper and The Haunting of Jessop Rise for YA readers. @ThatDannyWeston