The Next Chapter

Ami McKay on finding magic wherever you go

Ami McKay talks to Shelagh about her latest novel, which is steeped in the magic (figurative and literal) of 19th century New York.
Ami McKay is the author of The Birth House and The Virgin Cure. Her latest novel is The Witches of New York.

Ami McKay has a knack for creating vivid female characters who persevere in the face of hugely challenging circumstances. Her latest novel, The Witches of New York, is set in New York in the late 1800s. The book features all manner of supernatural phenomena, but at its heart, it's about female relationships and the obstacles and social prejudices that women face.

Ami McKay joined Shelagh Rogers from Halifax to talk about the book.

A magical setting

The late 1800s in New York was such a turning point in women's history. So many women were trying to make inroads into what had traditionally been a man's world in terms of education, being business owners, having a say in politics and society. There were really some amazing, strong women, and I wanted them to be the main characters of this book. It was also a time when science and magic were melded together in people's minds. People still believed in magic in a big way. We might see a contradiction now, but back then those worlds collided. The study of the spirit, and the idea that there might be a way to connect with the spirit world, was as much a scientific endeavour as it was an occult or religious practice.

Witches, healers and female strength

I really wanted to explore the idea of what a witch is. And as I explored that, I found that the word witch hadn't always been a disparaging term — it had meant "she who sees things that others do not," a healer, a person who understands herbalism and magic and is a diviner. It was only in subsequent years, through the ages, that the word became a disparaging term and was used against women in order to suppress their wisdom, their strength and their rights. 

Finding magic in everyday life

I have been lucky my whole life. My mother was an amazing storyteller in her own right, and she constantly admonished me to look for magic in the world and to note this or that — a feather that landed in our path or a clock that stopped when we heard of someone's death. She firmly believed those things are no accident, and that's a gift that she gave me, to not ignore those things. Because we ignore them at a bit of peril, and if not peril, then at least a lack of something in our life that could be really special.

Ami McKay's comments have been edited and condensed.