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Dress well to cast a spell

Former librarian James Nicol knows a thing or two about magic. He’s the author of the hugely popular Apprentice Witch novels. But imagine if you had the ability to sew memories into clothes – that’s a rare magic indeed and one possessed by the protagonist of his new book The Spell Tailors.ames has written a special story starter for us – perfect for inspiring your new class at the beginning of the year.


Objects have always inspired elements of my stories, and I’m constantly on the lookout for interesting and unusual items that might spark an idea. The Spell Tailors, my latest novel, was particularly special for me in this way as important elements were inspired by some items in my own home, from my own family.

In The Spell Tailors, Hen uncovers a lost family ability to sew memories into clothes, a rich and strange magic that has long been forgotten and feared. But he also starts to uncover strange stories, secrets and ancestors he never knew existed. All of this results from being sent to sort through the junk in the attic above the family’s shop and apartment.

When I first entered Hen’s world, I remembered two old biscuit tins that were stored under a spare bed. One had belonged to my mum, the other to my nana, my dad’s mum. Both had been passed down to me, and although I knew what was inside, I hadn’t yet made the immediate and obvious connection between them and Hen’s story. 

The red tin, the one that belonged to my mum, is filled with pieces of old lace, pouches of needles and sewing tools, an old cotton reel, a tape measure and even a blouse that I think dates from the early 1900s. When you lift off the lid, you are hit by a delicate perfume from the items. Who did these things belong to, I wondered, and how did they end up with my family?

The other tin holds countless photos and even some postcards, letters and a small prayer book. I’d long ago sorted them into piles, finding the photos of my immediate family and other faces I knew. But there were lots left, all these people who I would never know, lives lived and stories untold. Somehow, subconsciously, the forgotten clothes and the forgotten family members became an important part in the mystery and magic of The Spell Tailors!

So for your story starter, I’d like you to have a look around your house for an item or object or maybe at old family photographs and think about where those things came from, who they used to belong to – you can even imbue them with magical properties if you like! It will work best if you don’t ask anyone about them but use your imagination to create a story around either the object or photograph. Spend a few minutes studying your chosen item, and then spend about five minutes just jotting down a list of the words, thoughts and ideas that pop into your head as you study it.  Are there any ideas or thoughts that really appeal to you that you would like to write about? Now’s the time to pick up your pencil or pen and start that story!

THE SPELL TAILORS by James Nicol is available now from our bookshop Read the first chapter here