Thank you for visiting the cupboard. I now have a new blog here.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Moss Witch by Sara Maitland

I just wanted to draw your attention to a wonderful story that is on the shortlist for the BBC National Short Story Award and currently available to listen to online, or download, as a podcast.

'Moss Witch' is set in a remote tract of ancient woodland in Western Scotland and involves an encounter between a young bryologist (his hair, 'the colour of winter killed bracken') and a Moss Witch (her face, 'carved with long wrinkles running up and down her forehead and cheeks'). The story is beautifully read by Hannah Gordon and I'm not going to give anything else away because I don't want to spoil it, you will just have to listen to it. Even better, listen to it and buy the book it's published in too (details below).

There is something so magical about moss; I grew up in a house beside a wood, and even in the dead of winter, when empty branches let through so much stark grey sky, and the air is bitterly cold, there is a softness to the wood where the ground is carpeted, and the trees clothed, in moss. I'm sure moss softens sounds too, creating a special hush and adding a sense of otherworldliness to the places where it thrives and hides. 'Moss Witch' captures this perfectly.

Author Sara Maitland, a writer of novels, short stories and non-fiction, is no stranger to writing fairy tale and folklore inspired fiction (see her two most recent collections Far North & Other Dark Tales and On Becoming a Fairy Godmother). She is also currently working on a book about fairy stories and forests.

'Moss Witch' is published in When it Changed, an anthology edited by Geoff Ryman, and published by the brilliant Comma Press, a Manchester based independent publisher who have a talent for bringing wonderful books into being (I've read two of their other books this year Under the Dam, by David Constantine and Stone Tree, by Gyrðir Elíasson, which if you love haunting, well-crafted short fiction I'd highly recommend).

When it Changed is the result of a collaboration between writers and scientists 'Composed collaboratively – through a series of visits and conversations between leading authors and practicing scientists – it offers fictionalised glimpses into the far corners of current research'. Maitland effortlessly combines the scientific detail, I imagine she gleaned from her scientist, with magical prose.

I urge you to listen to 'Moss Witch' when you get a quiet moment. I've only really discovered the delight of listening to audio stories this year, and I find that especially when my eyes are too tired to read, but I'm still longing for a story to help me divide work from sleep, they are the perfect accompaniment to a bath (be sure to cleverly wrap your MP3 player though - I've already lost one to steam damage!).

You can download or listen to 'Moss Witch' and the four other finalists here.

The winner will be announced live from the awards ceremony tonight at 7.15pm on BBC Radio 4's Front Row.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Sara Maitland!

The photograph is of a tree in the woods by the house I grew up in.


  1. Wow! That story is amazing! I just sat back, closed my eyes, and listened. Hannah Gordon's reading is just superb. Thanks so much for the link.

  2. Just a little note to say Sara Maitland was awarded the runner up prize for 'Moss Witch' and the award was won by Kate Clanchy for her very moving story 'The Not-Dead and the Saved'.