The Swindle Witch by Rose Butler

Ailith Foster arrives at the palace in the middle of the worst storm in a generation, and introduces herself as the new Royal Witch.  She is welcomed, given rooms of her own and fine clothes, and allowed access to every part of the palace. 

But Ailith has a secret – she isn’t a witch. She has no magic powers, only a sharp mind and good hearing. This is the biggest trick she’s ever pulled. But, she reasons, what is magic anyway? She settles into her role and quickly ingratiates herself to the members of the Court, telling fortunes (repeating gossip), providing charms (usually tea with dirt in it), and performing minor miracles of healing (something she actually knows how to do). For the first time in her life she makes a friend and begins to feel at home again, healing the wounds of the past. 


But Ailith’s not the only one in the palace who isn’t as she seems. Someone else is plotting something which will have a much bigger impact than Ailith’s ruse. Pulled into the plot against her will, she at first reacts only to protect her job and the comfortable life she has built in the palace. 

However, as the depths of the plot are revealed, Ailith realises she isn’t just fighting for her own best interests anymore.

About the Author

Rose Butler is a graduate of Bath Spa University’s BA in Creative Writing and MA in Writing for Young People. She is a writer, poet and photographer based in the South West, where she lives with her boyfriend, copious books and, hopefully one day, a puppy. She has performed her poetry at a variety of events, including the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Bristol Harbour Festival, as well as twice representing her university at UniSlam.
Growing up in rural Spain, Rose found companionship in her books – generously supplied by relatives in the UK – which prompted her to begin creating stories of her own. The story that ended up becoming her undergraduate dissertation began life as a much worse draft eight years previously. Similarly, the idea for The Swindle Witch had been brewing in her mind for several years before she finally put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and began bringing sections to workshop with her MA peers. Under the guidance of her tutors, particularly her manuscript tutor Jo Nadin, Ailith and the other characters of The Swindle Witch have grown and begun to tell a story Rose was excited to see through to the end.
As an author, Rose prefers to write for a young adult audience, but also has a soft spot for picture books and middle grade, stemming from years of wanting to entertain younger cousins. In her writing, Rose enjoys playing with fantasy genres, but also finding the magical elements in the everyday.

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The Swindle Witch by Rose Butler, introduced by Isobel Clara

I was plunged headfirst into the world of The Swindle Witch through an afternoon storm that turned the blue sky black. Rose’s writing immersed me completely. The way she can bring a place, an environment alive, is startling and immediate. Then, I met Ailith herself. Bursting with wit and a castle’s worth of cunning, I knew readers would love her just as much as I did from the first moment she lied.

Ailith Foster has been bouncing from town to town, pulling tricks to make ends meet, ever since she was forced to leave her village. When she gets her hands on a document that proclaims the holder to be the new Royal Witch, she decides to take on her biggest trick yet. Despite having no powers to speak of, Ailith assumes the role and creates a space for herself within the palace. However, when she discovers a group plotting to overthrow the current ruler, everything she has built is threatened and the past she has run so far from is brought back to haunt her.

Intrigue, power, and politics – Ailith wields these as deftly as Rose does a story. They demand your attention, and richly deserve it.

What was your inspiration for this story?

People sometimes laugh when I say this, but BBC’s Merlin. I always loved the tension of Merlin trying not to be found out as magical, then I wondered what it would be like if it were the other way around: if the person was only pretending to have magic. I also had a really strong image of the opening – of someone arriving in the middle of a horrible storm and declaring themselves the new Court Witch… Everything just spiralled from there, really.

What was your most memorable moment on the MA?

Having my tutorial with David Almond, even though it did have to be over the phone due to the pandemic. He was so lovely and encouraging that it really made me feel a lot more confident in my work and made me want to keep plodding away at it until I’m happy with the result.

Oh, and deciding to completely rewrite one of my essays at 1am the night before it was due. That was fun.

What is the most important thing you learned on the MA?

That everyone has imposter syndrome. I was lucky enough to be on the course with some truly AMAZING writers, and to hear them say that they were struggling, or not happy with their work, really put my own doubts into perspective. I need to keep reminding myself that I have two degrees in writing. I do actually know what I’m doing!

What’s your favourite part of the writing process?

First putting an idea on paper is the best bit for me. There’s a rush of adrenaline and all the potential of the story is so exciting! Of course, after that it can get a bit more stressful trying to figure out any plot holes, but those first few pages are so exciting.

What do you like doing when you’re not writing?

Reading! I’m something of a book hoarder, so I’m on a project to read all (most of) the books I already own before I buy any more. I also really like baking and cooking, and I learned to crochet over lockdown!

What is your top piece of advice for aspiring writers?

Even if you doubt yourself, keep going. Just like any other skill, writing takes practice, so don’t be disheartened if you’re not immediately at the level you want to be. Just keep at it, and if you can find a little group of other writers to swap work with, that can be really helpful.

What was your favourite book as a child?

I’m going to be cheeky and say two: I, Coriander by Sally Gardner, and North Child by Edith Pattou. I brought both of them with me to uni to have as comfort reads; they’re two of the main stories that inspired me when I was younger, and they have a special place in my heart.

What place in fiction do you most want to visit?

That’s a tricky one! The obvious answer would be Hogwarts but… as much as it’s dangerous, I’m quite tempted by the Old Kingdom from Garth Nix’s books. Also, I think the Discworld would be a real laugh.