Audiobook Blog Tour + Review: Being a Witch and Other Things I Didn’t Ask For by Sara Pascoe

Author: Sara Pascoe

Narrators: Fiona Hardingham

Length: 7 hours 40 minutes

Publisher: Sara Pascoe

Released: January 28, 2019

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fantasy

After a life of hurt and disappointment, Raya, the spiky-haired, Doc Marten-wearing 14-year-old decides it’s time to strike out on her own. She leaves the boring English village and what she’s determined will be her last foster placement for the excitement of London. But it turns out she’s a witch, with the annoying habit of time-traveling – by accident. And a sarcastic witch’s cat Oscar tags along for the ride. Why would she fling herself into the midst of the Essex Witch Trials in 1645 England?

After being arrested by one of history’s most notorious witch hunters, her social worker and witch mentor Bryony goes back to try to save them from the gallows. But returning to present day London remains out of reach when they find themselves in Istanbul in the year 1645. There, life is more amazing than she ever dreamed.

Sara Pascoe comes to writing after a career in psychology, where she had many wonderful experiences, from the chimp house to the halls of Congress, with neuroscience research in between. Originally from the United States, she moved to Great Britain in 2004. She lives in Bournemouth, on the southern coast of England where they run a B&B for English language students.

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Narrator Bio

Fiona Hardingham is an award-winning audiobook narrator who has voiced over 175 audiobooks specializing in YA, Children & Contemporary Fiction titles. She is the recipient of several AudioFile magazine Earphones Awards and this year was nominated for an Audie in the ‘Middle Grade’ category. She is a professionally trained actress and recently played a role in the eagerly anticipated ‘Pokemon Detective Pikachu’ as well as a role in ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ both out this coming spring.

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Miss Braxton snagged her sweater as she stood up. ‘Hi, Miss Reece. I’m ever so sorry to disturb you—my cat’s run off again, in this direction. I only live over there.’ She gestured towards an old stone cottage with purple trim and a turquoise door. Figures. It was beyond the field behind Angie’s cottage. ‘He keeps sneaking onto the trains heading for London. Thought I’d save myself the trip to whatever train station they throw him off at.’ And SHE’S supposed to sort out MY life? ‘Sneaking on trains? That pretty clever,’ Angie said. Bryony sighed. ‘I’ll give him that.’ ‘No, I haven’t seen any extra cats around. Have you, kids?’ Angie turned to look at Jake who sat at the table eating. He shook his head. Oh for God’s sake. I can’t miss my life because of some dumb cat. ‘No, I haven’t seen it. But, Miss Braxton—why don’t you use your powers to find him, being a witch and all?’ Raya gave an innocent smile: didn’t believe in all this witching stuff, thought it was a load of rubbish people made up to feel better about themselves. This woman certainly needed to.

 

What would it take to prove something was real when you absolutely did not believe in it for one minute? Like vampires? Werewolves? Another world? What about magic and witches? If you add that on top of the fact that they can time travel…then you are definitely on the right track. What would make them believable for you though? Say—if you accidentally traveled to an entirely different country and time—and you had to figure out where you were before anything bad happens or anyone notices that you don’t belong? Yep, that would certainly do it! Pascoe engages the reader with a bridge into the young adult and paranormal time travel genres. This story has a lot of interesting concepts of what being a witch might entail.

Raya is a young girl in modern day London. After seemingly failed attempts within the foster care system, she decides that she would be better off on her own. Except—there is this little problem—she is a witch. Not believing a word of it seems to be the easiest way to handle her dilemma; however, her accidental time-travel tendencies seem to think sending her back to the Essex Witch Trials would be a blatant way to prove her wrong. Not only does she accidentally travel back to the time period where witches are tried and persecuted out of fear, all sorts of women and children—who are not witches—are being accused based on circumstantial accidents of their own. Raya and a tag-along cat named Oscar must figure out how to get back home before things go really wrong—like losing her head. As if that wasn’t enough, they are transported to Istanbul with the help of social worker and witch mentor, Bryonny only to find that they’ve left one war zone for another. Picking up a few friends along the way, Raya must race against time to find a way for her and her friends to travel back home—back to safety.

Pascoe has one interesting tale of time travel and fascinating characters; however, there are a couple of flaws with the story-telling. First and foremost, the character development is fascinating and Pascoe spins an original twist on the meaning of time travel. Since the main character is a teenager, the reader would assume that this would be either a middle grade or young adult novel—yet, there is foul language and derogatory language throughout the read—which may not be suitable for this audience. The character differentiation was entertaining and distinct; however, Hardingham was very fast-paced within the first half of the novel which blurred scenes together and fails to deliver any emotion other than urgency. Her pace does even out a little throughout the remainder of the story if the reader sticks it out until then, but the beginning could cause readers to lose interest quickly. This book is recommended for new adult and those who enjoy the time travel or historical fantasy genre.

An audiobook was provided to Turning Another Page by Audiobookworm Promotions and in no way affects the honesty of this review. We provide a three-star rating to Being a Witch and Other Things I Didn’t Ask For by Sara Pascoe.

Q&A with Author Sara Pascoe

  • Tell us about the process of turning your book into an audiobook.
    • It was quite a process for me because at first, I tried doing it myself. I set up a home studio, which is no easy feat because there are all sorts of normal house noises you don’t think of, like the furnace kicking in, and even the hum of the fridge in the floor below had to be dealt with. I was able to manage all of that, but then I realised my acting and voice are not up to it, especially with all of the various accents and characters. And I wanted to do the book justice. So, I started looking around for a narrator, and got really lucky with Fiona Hardingham!
  • Was a possible audiobook recording something you were conscious of while writing?
    • No, I hadn’t thought about the possibility of an audiobook at all when researching and writing the book. In fact, if I had, maybe I would have reduced the number of characters! I felt bad for making Fiona do all these different characters across country, accent and time. But in the final analysis, to me all the characters are necessary to the story. In fact, I had gotten rid of some characters from the earlier drafts. So it could have been worse!
  • How did you select your narrator?
    • I found her, and then I asked her if she’d be willing to narrate Being a Witch. I started out by looking on the internet at a lot of different book narrators. And listed Being a Witch on the ACX site so narrators could bid for the job. (ACX is the Amazon company where audiobooks are produced, where narrators and writers can find each other to work together.) Some lovely narrators came forward and auditioned, but none of them matched Fiona Hardingham. I had found her profile on ACX and watched and listened to her work. I was smitten. I thought she was perfect for the book, by far. But I knew it was unlikely she’d agree to do the job, as people are busy, and it’s very subjective what work you want to do, especially when you’re a sought-after book narrator like Fiona. But, she agreed!
  • How closely did you work with your narrator before and during the recording process? Did you give them any pronunciation tips or special insight into the characters?
    • Fiona, the consummate professional asked for detailed information about the book before she started. She asked for brief character biographies, and had me record all words that were unusual, or that I wanted pronounced in a certain way. Half the book happens in 1645 Istanbul, with Turkish names and terms. Luckily, I have Turkish friends who helped me get these (hopefully) right. Then, I recorded all of the words in question. And Fiona is brilliant at not only British versus American English, at also doing regional accents from both countries. She had me roaring with laughter – as though someone else had written the book!
  • Were there any real-life inspiration behind your writing?
    • Yes. I used to work as a psychologist including with foster kids. Their lives always moved me. What it’s like to not have anywhere that couldn’t just throw you back if you were a pain. Not to have anywhere to call home the minute you turn 18. And to have all these grownups nosing around your life like you’re a bug under a magnifying glass. The two foster kids in this book, the main character Rachel (Raya) and the younger boy, Jake are tributes to the kids I’ve known, but not based on any specific individuals. None of the details or names are from any real people or real lives that I’ve known about.
      The cat, Oscar is a tribute to a wonderful, huge, black and white stray who came to live with us, in the very real cottage and village where the story starts. The first place I lived when I moved to England was this story-book cottage at the edge of a village called South Nutfield (really). There was a farm behind us, and an old stone cottage across the field, just like in the book. Oscar had been living on his own for a while and was skinny and scraggly. It was a friendly village full of pets, and although everyone knew him, no one knew where he’d come from. My husband thought maybe he’d fallen off the back of a witch’s broom as they were flying over the field. Hence, Oscar, the witch’s cat character was born!
  • Are you an audiobook listener? What about the audiobook format appeals to you?
    • Oh yes, I love audiobooks. And I think they speak to a very deep, human trait reaching back to our origins.
      Human language developed about 100,000 years ago. But the first mass-printed books weren’t made until the 1400s. So, we had a lot of time on our hands, over 98,000 years, when we talked to each other before most people had anything to read, let alone the ability to do so. In addition to simple transfer of knowledge, “there are good berries over there,” “watch out for the new caveman, he’s a jerk,” we also developed or found in ourselves the appetite and need for stories. Since ancient times, across all cultures, we told each other epic poems, myths and stories through song, passing these down across generations. Recent neuroscience shows that the listeners’ brains synchronise to the storytellers’ – we really to get onto each other’s wavelengths it turns out!
      I love hearing someone tell me a gripping story, or new information I’d been keen to learn through audiobooks. I find there is something special about having this person’s voice bringing the narrative to life. The science showing how we sync our brains to the story teller’s makes a lot of sense to me, because I get drawn in like you can with a movie, but with your own imagination filling in the visuals. And I often feel refreshed afterwards, like after watching a good movie, as though you’ve been on a mini-vacation. It can be a magical experience.
  • Is there a particular part of this story that you feel is more resonating in the audiobook performance than in the book format?
    • More than a particular part of the book, I think it’s the fact of all these characters and accents, being brought to life by someone as adroit as Fiona that is especially wonderful in this audiobook. It was only once I started working to get the audiobook made that I realised what a challenge I had created for a narrator. When you ask for auditions you pick out parts of your book for people to narrate. I chose a selection covering the voices and accents, including Oscar, the cat who thinks he sounds like a movie star, so I could have an idea of the narrator’s abilities to do them all. Fiona really nailed it, you always knew who was talking, whether it was a human for the 21st or 17th century, in England or the Ottoman Empire, an animal, or a spirit being!
  • If you had the power to time travel, would you use it? If yes, when and where would you go?
    • After I read so much about the Ottoman empire in the middle 1600’s, I think I’d like to go back there. Istanbul was one of the most advanced cities of its time, and it was definitely the most diverse and very tolerant. Women from Venice and other European kingdoms ran away to Istanbul for better lives. And I would definitely want to go to the Turkish baths, the hammams. They still exist today, but nothing like what they were. Three different rooms where you went through a series of baths, showers under hot and cold fountains, massages and beauty treatments, all followed by coffee and pastries! I’m not a big beauty treatment person in this century, but these sounded so amazing, and they were also places where women would chat, make connections and get things done.
  • What do you say to those who view listening to audiobooks as “cheating” or as inferior to “real reading”?
    • I’d say, please have another think and give them a try. If you don’t listen to audiobooks, you are missing out on a deeply essential human experience, a wonderful experience that can be uplifting, mood-changing, and mind-expanding. Listening to audiobooks is different than reading and reading cannot be replaced for many uses. No one is saying that. It would be hard to use a recipe from simply listening to it, because you couldn’t look back easily to check amounts and ingredients for example. And hard-core academic learning requires reading and re-reading information you want to learn. Although I find listening to a book I’m also reading a very good way to reinforce the information. And audio is essential to some types of learning including languages and music.
      But putting aside the learning of new information aside, sharing a story, being brought into someone else’s world, is terrific, and shouldn’t be missed. As we now know from neuroscience, our brains synchronise when we listen to a story teller we find compelling. And how magical is that? Why not let yourself synch up to new thoughts and feelings and worlds. What could be more amazing?
  • What’s next for you?
    • I am currently researching and working on the sequel to Being a Witch. I don’t want to give away too much about this first book, but at the end Raya finds herself with a huge responsibility to undo something she accidentally did back in 1640’s Istanbul that has unravelled history. In this second book, she learns in Witching Academy that this unravelling can be stopped, but only if she does certain things. While she is living her life with this heavy responsibility, she stumbles into current-day horrors that run under the surface of all our lives. Through the lady who owns the dog she walks for pocket money, she learns of a powerful evil over 1000 years old that has gotten larger while remaining invisible. Although she had no intention of fighting evil this school year, she can’t unknow what she now knows. Now, what to do about it?

Rachel Hollingsworth, “Raya” is a fourteen-year-old foster girl when we meet her in Being a Witch and Other Things I Didn’t Ask For. She’s a “turtle” hard on the outside from what she’s been through, but soft on the inside.

She grew up in East London, which is known as a hard-scrabble, working class area, until she was five. Her biological mother had problems with schizophrenia and couldn’t care for Raya by the time she was about three. She never knew her father was as her mother either didn’t know, or wouldn’t tell her. She’s an only child. Her maternal grandparents took care of her after he mother no longer could, but they had both died by the time she was five. She’s in in her fifth foster home when the story starts.

Raya is about 5’ 7” tall, and slender. She has blue-green eyes which she always thought looked like dirty dishwater. She finds her medium blonde hair boring, so dyes it jet black and has it shaved on the sides, with the top gelled in spikes when she’s allowed (most of the schools she’s gone to don’t allow it). She has a couple of facial piercings she got by lying about her age. She has almond shaped eyes and high cheekbones. She likes running although she has never joined a sports team at school, not being much of a joiner. And her experience as a foster kid has been to mostly be on the outside of most friendship groups in any of the schools she’s attended. She’s always liked reading, but her interests weren’t really formed for her at the start of the story, but this changes as she goes through a number of mind-bending and time-shifting adventures.

She secretly likes Sudoko and is pretty good at it. Before the story, her favourite food was Italian, especially anything with a white sauce, but she adores Turkish food after her adventures, now too. She prefers bold colours and funky, offbeat clothing. She secretly watches rom-coms, because she hadn’t wanted people to know she’s soft inside.

She can be spikey emotionally speaking, saying sharp things sometimes before she even knows what she’s said. She’s also kind and empathic inside, funny, impatient and has a decent brain.

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