Seven years and six months.
I had to count on my fingers just now to be sure. That’s how long I’ve been writing the Winternight books. Or rather, that is how much time will have passed from the day I started writing The Bear and the Nightingale to the day that The Winter of the Witch will appear in bookstores.
Seven years feels like a long time. It also feels like I started all this a week ago.
The first words of the text that would become The Bear and the Nightingale were written in a salt-stained notebook on a beach in Hawaii. I was twenty-four, sunburned, broke, living in a tent, scraping together a living as a farm worker, picking macadamia nuts.
The last words of The Winter of the Witch were written in a basement in London, after two weeks without sleep and a dire number of cupcakes.
The intervening words were written in Texas, California, and Vermont. They were written in Cornwall and Stockholm and Garpenberg, Sweden. They were written sitting by a fjord in Norway, and on the grass next to a grotto at Versailles, the very place where Marie Antoinette learned that a mob was coming to take her to Paris. They were written on a balcony in Nice, while I prayed for a breeze off the Mediterranean to get relief from the July heat. The writing of these books took up a half dozen time zones and nearly all of my twenties.
Rereading them, I can track my own evolution, which, though it contained neither household-spirits nor frost-demons, nonetheless paralleled Vasya’s. The Bear and the Nightingale was written in a spirit of restlessness. Ferociously searching for myself, I was still half-caught in childhood, thrashing hard against the constraint of other people’s expectations. I spent those early years frantic to get out and go somewhere, to do something, lest I wake up one day to discover that the urge to become had left me forever.
The Girl in the Tower is my journey book. It was, of the three, most wholly written while I was on the road, “going I know not whither to fetch I know not what,” as a Russian fairy tale puts it. For months, I hauled my backpack from couch to hostel to train station, choosing my next destination based on impulse, or the weather, or my dwindling budget, or ads seen in the subway. When I read The Girl in the Tower now, I can feel it full of my need for freedom and my loneliness, my hunger for more and my craving for stability. My time on the road taught me that freedom is worth it, but it also has a cost. That hard-won knowledge infuses every page of The Girl in the Tower.
And now we come to The Winter of the Witch. It is the end of Vasya’s story and also the end of a chapter in my life. I did not scribble this book in cafes in strange cities; I wrote the bulk of it at home, in Vermont, sitting by the woodstove, while an autumn and a winter passed outside.
By then I had turned thirty. I was certain enough of my strength, of my freedom, and of myself to revel in having a place to return to.
I didn’t intend to write a fantasy series, nor did I intend for Vasya’s adventures to mirror the spiritual journey of my own young adulthood. But how could they not? Who else’s soul infuses a book, after all, if not the author’s? If you look at the classical structure of an essay, then Bear is the thesis, Girl is the antithesis, and more than anything else, The Winter of the Witch is my attempt at synthesis, as Vasya (and I, too) attempt to reconcile conflicting desires for freedom and security, for company and solitude, and to carve out a place in the world.
Now the journey is over; Vasya has come to a turning in her long road, and so have I. Time for a new journey.
Come with me?